A House Divided (Luke 12:49-53)
Some people have to turn their backs on family in order to come to Jesus. There was a good friend in West Virginia who came to worship with his wife. He had attended so long with her that Todd knew the truth. However, Todd also knew that if he obeyed the Gospel, his relationship with his parents was going to change. His parents lived right beside of him, they were members of a large denominational church in town, and they were already angry that this young girl had stolen their son away from that group.
That decision weighed heavily on Todd. He and I were quite close, and he would often reveal just how much pressure he felt. One afternoon, his father had colon surgery. While the rest of the family was huddled in one part of the waiting room, Todd and I sat and talked in another part. Todd told me that afternoon that he thought it was about time he became a Christian. Yet, it took a gospel meeting a few weeks later before Todd obeyed the gospel. Today Todd is an active leader in the church because he understood that no one can come before Jesus.
Some of you have needed to make the same drastic change in your life. You have had to turn your back on the teaching of parents or the pleadings of a spouse or the encouragement of a child to follow Jesus. Those of us who were raised in the church by godly parents cannot fully appreciate the struggle that some of you have faced in life. For some of you, your faithfulness to God is a daily struggle with your family.
That shouldn’t really surprise us.
- Jesus Himself had that battle in His own life. Jesus’ family went to stop His preaching, for they said, “He is out of His mind” (Mk 3:21). Jesus’ brothers did not believe (Jn 7:5).
- Jesus taught us that our allegiance to Him outweighs our allegiance to family. “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Matt 19:29). “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:26).
In this morning’s text, Jesus talks about the division He brings to the family. This isn’t a lesson we want to hear. Because the vast majority of us have very loving families, we’d rather talk about loving our families. If we have loving families, it’s easy to love in return. But, Jesus was never about being easy; He was about being right. In this mornings’ text, Jesus teaches us: “The closest relationships are severed because of Jesus.”
Text (Luke 12:49-56)
Jesus views his work as sending fire on the earth.
- Fire in Scripture is often a symbol of judgment. Luke 3:16-17. Jesus will come again “in flaming fire” taking vengeance on His enemies.
- Judgment certainly fits this context of family division. Jesus separates families as one separates wheat from chaff. It seems that the fire here is that separating of the wheat from the chaff in families.
Jesus wishes this judgment were already kindled. I don’t think that we should read this as if Jesus were saying that He wants people to be judged. Instead, He wants people to come to Him. As families are divided, people are going to be coming to Jesus.
Jesus’ baptism was, of course, the suffering of the cross. The cross obviously fits the idea of judgment. On the cross, Jesus took the world’s judgment upon Himself.
Jesus is distressed until it has been accomplished. Wouldn’t you also have been greatly distressed until God’s judgment was off you? Jesus knew what the cross was going to mean, and His heart is greatly troubled.
Jesus came to bring division rather than peace to this earth.
Jesus would divide households. In the ancient world, this would have been quite a striking statement. Extended families in the ancient world lived together, and Jesus says that He is going to upset that whole culture. But, we need to understand that Jesus calls us to a different life than this world can offer.
“The closest relationships are severed because of Jesus.”Jesus here lists some of the closest family relationships possible.
- Parents and children are expected to love one another. Children are to honor their parents: ““Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise” (Eph 6:2). Parents are to love their children: e.g., Older women are to “admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children” (Tit 2:4).
- In-laws are part of our extended families. In the ancient world, it was common to have one’s in-laws living with you, especially if you were the wife–sons would build on to the parents’ home when they married. Ruth is an excellent example of the care given to in-laws in antiquity–she remained with Naomi even after her husband died.
Why would Jesus upset the “social applecart” so badly? Because absolutely nothing can stand between us and God. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37).
“The closest relationships are severed because of Jesus.”
Don’t let anyone stand between you and Jesus. God has always demanded first place in everything. “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex 20:3). “He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Col 1:18). I know this text doesn’t specifically speak of our heart or our loyalties. However, if Jesus is to have the first place in every single thing there is, surely our hearts and loyalties are included.
How do you put Jesus before your families?
You must decide what is important.
Throughout history God has called upon His people to make a decision. “Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, ‘Whoever is on the LORD’s side–come to me” (Ex 32:26). Joshua’s farewell address: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh 24:15).You need to do some serious soul-searching to determine if Jesus is really more important than anything else in this world. I’ve known people who were content to serve Jesus when it was convenient. But, when the going got the least bit rough, they were happy to do what was easy.
Where are you in your service of Jesus? Are you really willing to follow Him regardless of the cost? You need to decide.
You must deny yourself.
Following Jesus means that it’s not about you–it’s about Him. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt 16:24). As we come to Jesus, we die to self: “We were buried with Him through baptism into death” (Rom 6:4).As we follow Jesus, we deny our desires, our goals, our wants, and make them subject to Jesus. How many of you would have loved to have slept in a little this morning but you got out of bed and got yourself to worship because you love the Lord? How many times have you had to apologize, not because that’s what you wanted to do, but because that’s what following Jesus demanded?
In our family relationships, Jesus must come first. That may not be what we want. Yet, that is the life to which our Lord has called us.
You must let your light shine.
1 Peter 3:1-2. Living a consistent Christian life is an excellent way to reach our family. Families see us at our best and our worst; we must allow them to see that Jesus lives within us. As we let our lights shine within the family, I firmly believe that will improve our family relationships. That is the great paradox at work here. However, God knows what is best for our families, and His way is best. Are you following that best way this morning? Do you need to come to Jesus, deny yourself, and begin putting Him first?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.