Luke 12:49-59 (AD 29)
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (angels in Luke 2:14).
“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division” (Jesus, in Luke 12:51); after which, Jesus went on to talk about families that will be divided against each other.
So, which was it: was Jesus bringing peace or division?
He brought both.
Peace, because in our natural state we are “enemies” of God (Romans 5:10). That is, we have a sinful nature and are therefore away from God, and moving further away all the time. Not because we’re especially awful, but because however nice we are, we act as if we are our own god, or we make up other gods such as ambition, health or family. We naturally reject God and are heading to an eternity without him. Thus, God ‘sending’ people to hell is really just letting them keep on going where they’ve already decided to go – permanently away from him.
Peace with God was achieved by Jesus being punished in our place. His perfect life was imputed to us – that is, on judgement day God will treat us as if we lived the perfect life that Jesus lived.
Just as the perfect life Jesus lived is given to us, so the sinful life that we are living was given to him. ‘Our’ punishment was given to him, instead of us, so that God is now at peace with us. And not merely at peace but fully reconciled, adopted.
The division Jesus brings is that a lot of people don’t like it when someone becomes a Christian. Sometimes it’s merely, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ In some cultures people will try to kill you for it. For example in Muslim countries it remains the case that according to Islamic law a Muslim who recants their faith is under automatic sentence of death. The division then is not a breakdown of relationships so much as people turning against us.
Even in countries where Christianity is either popular or at least tolerated, being a Christian arouses suspicion, dislike or even hatred in many people.
‘Who do you think you are?’ [A child of God, just like we want everyone to be.]
‘What makes you think you’re better than me?’ [Nothing. I’m not better than you.]
‘Why do you hate gay people?’ [I don’t. They’re made in the image of God, just like I am, and need saving from their sins, just like I do.]
‘Why are you trying to govern other people’s lives?’ [I’m not. But I’d be lying if I said how we live and what we believe doesn’t have consequences.]
‘Why can’t you just let people do and think what they want?’ [I DO let them do whatever they want. But I’m going to say something to them about it for a similar – but much bigger – reason that I’d say something to a smoker who insisted their habit would never hurt them.]
There are some Christians who take a perverse pleasure in being hated, but Christ’s persecution did nothing but bring him grief for himself and his persecutors. He wept over Jerusalem, as we should weep over the souls of those who continue to reject Christ, praying that they would turn to the Saviour.
As Christians, therefore, we thank God for the peace we have, and give the news to others.
And we humbly accept the division that people choose to impose on us, remembering that their real argument is not with us.