Baptism by Fire (Luke 12)
- Order of Service: Prayer & Preaching
- Hymns: LSB #968, 941, 781, 655
I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a Baptism to be baptized with, and how great is My distress until it is accomplished (Luke 12:49-50).
Jesus brings together two wonderful images that illustrate His true reason for coming in the flesh. “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Fire and Baptism. These two purify, but these two also divide.
When fire comes from Heaven, it divides those who follow God from those who do not follow Him. God rained down fire and sulfur onto Sodom and Gomorrah for their rampant homosexuality. Lot and his daughters were spared. He rained down fire and hail upon Egypt, but none fell in the land of Goshen, where Israel dwelt. Elijah called down fire from Heaven to prove that YHWH is God. The prophets of Baal were slaughtered. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walked in the midst of the fiery furnace. Glorifying the living God instead of bowing down to a lifeless idol. God divides His people through fire. The fires of Hell are the ultimate separation by fire.
Baptism also divides. At your Baptism, your parents and sponsors made vows that you would renounce the devil, all his works, and all his ways. You repeated these vows as you were confirmed in the faith. Your Baptism separates you from the faithless world around you so that you may live for Christ. You are separated from the world like the Israelites were separated from the Egyptians at the Red Sea. Being purified by the fire and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus tells His Apostles, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a Baptism to be baptized with, and how great is My distress until it is accomplished!” Jesus eagerly sought His mission to be completed. Jesus was truly baptized by fire. His Baptism was His death while suffering the flames of Hell to forgive you your sins. God cast the fires of Hell upon His only-begotten Son so that the division may become final and complete.
But this fire was cast only at the right time. It is only the proper fire of the Messiah's suffering for the sins of the world. Nadab and Abihu, Aaron's sons and presumed heirs to the priesthood, offered “strange fire” to YHWH. They were struck down because their fire separated them from God. James and John, the sons of Zebedee and members of Jesus' inner circle, wanted to commit the same sin. But Jesus rebuked them with a fiery word from His mouth, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people's lives but to save them.”
Only Christ's death on the cross saves. No other fire. No other Baptism. Everything revolves around Calvary. God came in the flesh and died so that you might be saved. He comes near to you because He is a God at hand and not far away. And He brings His Word to you. “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” His Word which is “like fire … and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces.” His Word purifies and separates. It saves through faith and confession.
But His salvation divides us. Divides us as Christians from non-Christians. Divides us as Christians from each other. “From now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.” “A man's enemies are the men of his own home.”
The one house is Christianity. We are to be one in Christ. But we aren't one. We are so divided. Catholics and Lutherans. Baptists and Methodists. Reformed and non-denominational. And these groups are divided even further!
Why are there such great divisions? Part of it is Jesus. His Word doesn't carry the same weight in some churches as it does in others. For confessional churches like ours, God's Word is the most important thing. In liberal churches, society's pressures and hot-button issues are the most important thing. Jesus is either God incarnate in our midst or just an order of God on the side.
How can this be? The Antichrist has come into their midst. The promised beast who mocks Christ. “Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. … It performs great signs, even making fire come down
from heaven to earth in front of people,
and by the signs that it is allowed to work … it deceives those who dwell on earth.” “But that's that wacky Revelation stuff!” you might say. “Give me something I can understand!” Jesus Himself warns us, “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” St. John also writes, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that Antichrist is coming, so now many Antichrists have come.” “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.”
The devil is very active in the Church through the many Antichrists he has sent into her midst. Antichrists such as gender equality, homosexuality, social gospel, traditionalism, relativism, rationalism. I could spend all day speaking about these Antichrists and how they seek to divide the Church. Maybe I'll have something written up later this year on these things.
But the Church is first and primarily divided by Jesus' holy Word. Jesus has spoken against all these things through the plain words in the Bible. The devil sends his Antichrist spirits into the Church, but the Church is called to test the spirits. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This is where Jesus divides three against two. Where His Word speaks against what society wants the Bible to say.
Testing these spirits and finding them lacking, you follow the examples of the saints. We saw Abraham last week. He was commanded to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham had to wrestle with God's divisive Word. Could the command and voice have been a demonic voice? It could have been. But Abraham had faith in the one true God. He knew God's Word. God had promised a nation through Isaac. Descendants as numerous as the stars. Even if this commandment were demonic, Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead so that the promise would be fulfilled. God's Word could not be broken. Not even by Satan.
Moses turned away from his riches and his life of ease. He chose “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” He chose Christ and the continued promise to Abraham over all the riches of Egypt. Forty years he spent in Midian, tending his father-in-law's sheep. Forty years he spent in the wilderness, leading a rebellious Israel to the edge of the Promised Land. He tested God's call to lead Israel and became one of the greatest heroes of faith.
Tomorrow, the Church celebrates the Festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We celebrate her faithful death as she remained with St. John as he was the bishop in Ephesus. When the archangel Gabriel came to her, she wondered about Christ's virgin birth. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” She believed Gabriel's message and submitted to God's will that she would be the Theotokos. The mother of God. She wrestled with the words and promises, but ultimately she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Throughout her life, she continued to wrestle and test what had been said and written about her son who had saved her.
Not only do you follow the saints' examples. You follow your Savior's example. Jesus founded and perfected your faith by coming down from Heaven. Leaving all the heavenly joys behind for the joy of saving you. This is why He was so eager that His fire be kindled and Baptism be accomplished. He wanted you to enjoy the heavenly joys that awaited Him once He completed His sacrifice.
And Jesus completed His sacrifice gladly. You have been completely saved from all your sins. You are destined to live forever with Him in Heaven. This is why He was so eager for His fire to be kindled and His Baptism accomplished. Fulfilling the promises of salvation so that those who believe in Him can firmly believe His Word, test the spirits of the Antichrist, and live with Him “in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”
The Church needs a Baptism by fire. She needs another Pentecost, another Reformation. The Church needs Jesus to separate her once again by bringing His Word in its truth and purity to the hearts of His people. But this isn't some grand hope for the future. It is a present reality. As faithful pastors stand in the pulpit, preaching God's holy Word as the Apostles did at Pentecost. Separated from the rest of the believers by tongues of fire. As faithful Christians pick up their Bibles, studying God's Word in their homes with family and friends, seeking to be baptized by holy fire. Separated and purified to strengthen the Church as she grows closer to her Lord. Amen.