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INTERPRETING THE TIMES

Luke 12:49-12:59
Key Verse: 12:56

Our Lord Jesus told us about his coming again in a parable so that we might understand better and be ready for it. Among all the preparations in life and history this will be the greatest preparation. He wants us, in the eager expectation of his returning, to be faithful and wise servants who can feed God’s flock of sheep the spiritual food at the proper time. In the Bible the purpose of Jesus’ coming is expressed in several ways. In Luke’s gospel we have learned that he came to preach the good news of the kingdom of God. However, today’s passage makes us go deeper into the purpose of his coming, and know what he expects from us.

First, division for true peace (49-54). Look at verse 49. “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” Whenever we hear about the fire in the west burning up so many trees in the mountain, we are surprised and dreaded. Then what an awful statement it is when Jesus said, “I have come to bring fire on the earth.” Through studying the Bible we learned that God once judged the earth through the flood and final judgment would be by fire. Apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 3, “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat…the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (3:12b, 10b). Yet, certainly, when Jesus said, “I have come to bring fire on the earth”, he was not talking about the final judgment by fire. It is a biblical constant he came to save sinners. His earnest wish was to bring God’s salvation to each of the people of the earth. Then what does fire mean in verse 49? It can be best understood in the light of John 12:31, in which Jesus said, “Now it is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Here judgment on this world through which the prince of this world would be driven out and salvation of mankind are written together. Both are woven together in God’s redemptive history. Jesus said continually in verse 49, “how I wish it were already kindles”, which means not yet kindled, although it was his earnest wish.

Look at verse 50. “But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed.” Here baptism refers to the baptism of death. In Mark 10:39, Jesus said to two ambitious disciples, James and John, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.” In saying this Jesus predicted their death following his own death. Then why did Jesus speak of his death as a baptism? For his death on the cross would be the baptism of God’s wrath poured out upon him because of man’s sin. The cross of Jesus is the combination of God’s thorough judgment for man’s sin upon his Son and its consequent marvelous salvation of God. Jesus’ suffering on the cross was more than physical pain. Before taking the cross, he said to his disciples at the place called Gethsemane, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mk 14:34). And in his prayer he said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Lk 22:42,44). On the cross he cried out, “My God, my God, who have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34). So here in verse 50, he said, “how distressed I am until it is completed!” We don’t want to be blamed for anything let alone to be condemned and judged for others’ sins. But our Lord Jesus was blamed, condemned and judged for all our sins. The cross of Jesus is the refuge and shelter from God’s dreadful judgment of fire. May we live in this grace each day.

Look at verse 51. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you the truth but division.” This seems to be another shocking proclamation. In Matthew’s gospel it is written, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (10:34). In Luke’s gospel Jesus questioned, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?” Apparently the answer to this question is to be “Yes.” In the song of Zechariah, he said of Jesus, “…the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (1:79). And at the time of Jesus’ birth, the heavenly host sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to me on whom his favour rests” (2:14). It is obvious that Jesus came to bring peace to mankind. But here to his own question, Jesus answered, “No.” And then he said, “I tell you, but division.” How can we understand this? In the upper room dialogue Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (Jn 14:27). Here we see there are two kinds of peace, the peace Jesus gives and the peace the world gives. So when he said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No”, Jesus was speaking of the worldly peace, like the peace of Rome.

Then now think about his coming to bring division. Look at verses 52-53. “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Here the word “divided” is written two times and “against”, nine times. It is true that where Jesus enters, there is division due to the conflict in the zone. This is true in a person and in any human bond. At the presence of Jesus a man with an evil spirit cried out in the inner conflict, “Have you come to destroy us?” (Lk 4:34). When Apostle Peter preached Jesus’ death and resurrection at Pentecost, those who heard the message said in their troubled heart, “What shall we do?” (2:37). We know that this inner conflict is for the true peace, peace with God through Christ Jesus (Ro 1:5).

When Jesus told his disciples about the signs of the end of the age, he said, “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death” (Lk 21:16). In John chapter 7 Jesus’ brothers could not understand Jesus who was doing the miraculous works of God in secret not in public, and told him that he had to show himself to the world to become a public figure. Then the author commented, “For even his own brothers did not believe him” (7:3-5). And when Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, he said to the crowd, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Lk 8:21). In this world family bond is the most precious and the strongest. Yet, this bond cannot remain true without Jesus and cannot last forever. The bond should be recreated.

The gospel of Jesus divides human relationship. When one accepts the gospel and believes in Christ Jesus, he becomes a child of God and belongs to God. He is not of this world anymore. Then his relationship with others who are of this world definitely suffers. He is hated by them (Jn 15:18-19), and the relationship can come to the point division is unavoidable although painful. The cross of Jesus divides any human centred relationship. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that Christ crucified is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection brings peace with God and with others centred on Christ. Thus Jesus brings true peace. A divided family can be united and can have true peace with one another when the family members, one by one, accept Christ Jesus as Saviour and Lord. 1 John 1:3 says, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father and with the Son. We should always check whether our fellowship is with the Father and with the Son Christ Jesus. In this fellowship our love must be sincere through the obedience to the truth (1 Peter 1:22). Sincere love hates what is evil and cling to what is good (Ro 12:9). There can be a time of division or conflict for the fellowship in sincere love.

In our times united way is popular, and the words like “acceptance” “openness” “inclusiveness” and “tolerance” are prevalent. If genuinely used, these words are good and significant. If not, these are disguise and deception. Why not all nations and all peoples and all religions be united through acceptance and tolerance? Yet, behind all these there is evil one’s scheme to eliminate Christ. Any union without Christ means union under Satan, and people in that union suffer tremendously without true peace throughout their lives. True peace comes through the gospel, so called the gospel of peace, and that brings true unity. This peace related to Jesus’ baptism we had talked about. So Isaiah 53:5 says “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” The peace gives is such a costly peace. May we keep this in each one and among us at any cost, and spread this peace bearing the pain of division and conflict, before the division becomes eternal.

Second, interpreting times (54-59). Look at verses 54 and 55. “He said to the crowd: ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, “It is going to rain,” and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, “It’s going to be hot,” and it is.” As for us, we hear or watch weather forecast and come to know what kinds of clothes we should wear or if we should take an umbrella. Most people are very sensitive to the weather condition to see if it is the nice weather so that they can enjoy it. Then why does Jesus talk about the weather?

Look at verse 56. “Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” Why did Jesus say, “Hypocrites!”? Hypocrites are those whose inner thoughts and outer acts are different. Jesus said in Luke 11, “You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people!” (11:39,40). Hypocrites are foolish people. Then why hypocrites here? It was because they tried to show themselves to be spiritual, although they did not know spiritual phenomena at all. They seemed to be sensitive to the physical phenomena, but not spiritual phenomena. They could not read spiritual weather, but only natural weather. In fact they were mundane and foolish.

Jesus said, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” What is the difference between interpreting the appearance of the earth and the sky and interpreting times? The former needs a physical eye and the letter, a spiritual eye. They did now know how to interpret their time because they did not have spiritual eyes. They had no spiritual eyes and discernment because they had no God in their hearts. We can say that we study the Bible so that we can have spiritual eyes and godly, correct view of ourselves and the world and our times. Jesus said in Luke 11:34, “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness.” In saying this Jesus taught the importance of one’s correct view. And correct interpretation is possible when one has a correct view.

The time Jesus lived on the earth was a very distinctive time in history. Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 10;23-24, “Blessed are the eyes to see that what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but could not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” He also said in 11:29-30, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.” God sent his Son into this world according to his promise made even from the very time man fell in Genesis chapter 3. In order to send his Son to this world, God prepared the nation, Israel through one man Abraham. God raised a king like David, as the shadow of the Messiah. Indeed, the Son of God came as a descendant of David, being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of virgin Mary. He did many good things no one could do and spoke the words no one could speak. Most importantly, as we thought of, he came to bring fire on the earth so that he might bring God’s marvelous salvation to mankind through his death on the cross. He came to bring division on earth so that he might give true peace. He would die, rise again, ascend into heaven and come again on the earth. But the chosen people, the Israelites, did not know these at all. Particularly, their religious externalism prevented them from seeing the significance of the coming of Jesus.

As for us, we should know what God has done in history, what he is doing in our time and what he will do in the future. More specifically, we are to know what God has been doing in my life, and why I am here and what my life direction should be in God’s leading to serve him in this generation. When Moses was 40 years old, God called him at the mount of Horeb, saying, “Take of your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” God called Moses to deliver his people from the bondage of Pharaoh and lead them into the Promised Land. And Moses made a decision of faith. The author of Hebrews described it this way, “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking forward to his reward” (Heb 11:24-26).

Apostle Paul said in Romans 13:11, “Do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” As we studied in the previous passage, Jesus assured again and again that he would return and he would come again, especially at an hour when people do not expect him. As 2 Peter 3:3 says, “In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desire. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.'” However, with the eyes of faith we see that all human history is heading toward the second coming of Christ Jesus our Lord: great earthquakes, and severe famines, pestilences and unknown disease, climate change, cruel wars and dreadful events, the fundamental truth being thrown to the ground, and extreme hatred toward Christians, etc. (Lk 21:10-11, 25; Da 8:12). These are according to the prophecies of the Bible. The time we live in seem to be more and more difficult to serve the Lord and do his work. However, we should know further about our time. Amos 8:11-13 says, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it. In that day, the lovely young women and strong men will faint because of thirst.” May God have mercy on us to have spiritual eyes to see and interpret our present time correctly and be prepared to meet the hunger and thirst of many young people.

Look at verse 57. “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right” How important right judgment is in everything! Right judgment is especially related to right interpretation. We need to learn to judge for ourselves what is right before God. Correct self-judgement builds us up and makes us grow mature. Look at verses 58-59. “As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” Most importantly all need to be reconciled to God through his Son Jesus so that no one may be thrown into dreadful judgment of hell.

We thank and praise God for Jesus, who went through the baptism of God’s wrath upon himself so that he might bring salvation and peace through reconciliation to God and we might belong to him, the eternal family of God. May we bear this costly grace and serve his will in our present time for his soul saving, especially among young people through, the gospel.

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