Despite the expectation that he would bring peace on earth, Jesus declared that his advent (coming) would bring fiery division, even within families. Do not miss the kingdom significance of his coming. Settle your accounts with God before Judgment Day by accepting God’s offer of Jesus judged for you.
Introduction – After the Thanksgiving holiday, Christmas season races upon us. We know what to expect: music, movies, parades, shopping, wrapping, lights, decorations, cooking, travel, traffic, parties, eating, family, letter writing and receiving, concerts and plays, Christmas Eve service, stockings, getting and giving gifts, perhaps Santa Claus, hopefully snow, and finally some peace and quiet!
Holidays are exciting, but we have difficulty with dashed expectations. We tend to get caught up in the noise of the season without stopping to think about what is really important. We interpret the times of upcoming seasons pretty well, but are we ignoring the “spirit of the time” God means to show us? We used to call this season before Christmas Day “Advent” to remind us of our need to prepare for God’s coming king and kingdom. What have we lost of Advent season that we need to regain?
I. Describing the Season
A. Setting the world on fire (v. 49)
1. Why begin Christmas season with judgment—one of today’s most offensive teachings in the Bible? Because when we take a closer look, we discover Jesus and the gospel portrayed with great beauty. But someone may ask why do we even need a God who is the ultimate Righteous Judge? Can’t we just love one another? (1) This is not a question that anyone who has experienced cruel and unrequited injustice ever asks. Since the beginning, the strong oppress the weak, the evil tyrannize the righteous, the majority overpower the minority. The philosopher Nietzsche observed the basic human desire is a will to power. In such a world there is no true justice, no real peace. Only an iron boot maintaining control for the rulers of the present time. (2) This world’s only hope is in an ultimate Righteous Judge who will settle accounts and set the world right. The only hope for lasting peace is an all-powerful and all-righteous God to judge the earth. (3) There is no better candidate for ultimate judge than God. Disagree? Who else would you nominate?
2. Is Jesus a troublemaker? If Jesus is the promise of peace on earth, why does he bring so much division? It is important to note that Jesus is not the cause for division, rather his coming is the occasion that brings out the division that already exists between those who love him and those who oppose him. You see, only those who prefer the status quo complain of a judge setting the world on fire. To people who are fine with their place in the world, and with God at a comfortable distance, the idea of God the judge is offensive. But to those who cry out for justice, for eternal peace, for the burning away of sin from creation, the news of God the judge sending Jesus to light the world on fire is gospel—the best news of all.
B. Not peace, but division in relationships over Jesus (vv. 51-53)
1. No peace on earth? Jesus tells his disciples a paradoxical saying meant to shock them out of prevailing notions. They thought when the Christ came to earth he would bring peace, harmony, shalom. This is true in a very important sense. The biblical teaching that the Christ is the man of peace is overwhelming (cf. Ps 72:3, 7; Lk 1:79; 2:14; 7:50; 8:48; Jn 14:27; 16:33; 20:19, 21; Rom 14:17; Eph 2:14; Col 1:20; Heb 6:20-7:2). But the promise of Christmas season is not what most of us hear: “peace on earth, goodwill toward men [in general].” A more accurate translation is “peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2:14; cf. Rom 5:1), which also makes better sense of how various people respond to the coming of the Prince of Peace. Anyone who observes our society today can see this first advent “peace” actually brings deep division. It is a spreading peace that overtakes the prevailing powers by gospel proclamation and humble living. This spreading peace brings the existing division to the surface.
2. What kind of division? A polarizing conflict even within households. Families that are otherwise united in love and affection will sharply divide over belief in Jesus. For example, a family of five (father, mother, son, son’s wife, and daughter) will be divided over Jesus and his message: three against two, and two against three. In other words, the felt division will flow both ways: from believer to unbeliever and especially from unbeliever to believer.
Warren Wiersbe noticed that “Jesus does give peace to those who trust him, but often their confession of faith becomes a declaration of war among their family and friends.” Some of you can relate to this, and it is painful or fearful to think about. You might wonder, “But what will my family think of me?” Some of you are paralyzed by the thought of sharing the gospel of Jesus with certain family members, even though you want to because you love them. “Will they get angry?” “Will they still love me?” “Will they clam up and shut me out forever?” That is nothing but the fear of man. You’re cowering before an idol of family approval. Teach yourself to fear God by reminding yourself of gospel truth. If you lose approval from some family members, what is that compared to the approval of God? As a forgiven sinner you have God’s eternal approval because God approves of you as he approves of Jesus. You’ll never be rejected by the only one who ultimately matters! With trust in that knowledge you can risk family rejection with a humble yet confident attitude.
II. Discerning the Season
A. What we see and understand (vv. 54-55)
In an agrarian culture dependent on rain for food and water, predicting the weather was an important skill. By watching the signs in the sky, the people became quite accurate at interpreting these data, which allowed them to maximize the land’s fruitfulness.
These days most of us are not farmers, so accurate weather predictions don’t matter as much. We live in an Information Age, so our predictions might be related to the stock market, sports champions, political elections, real estate trends, grocery prices, etc. Today, if something can be analyzed, there is likely a magazine, website, or app to distill predictions into helpful advice. We can be pretty sophisticated, and we see and understand plenty.
Now it’s tempting to pat ourselves on the back. “Those blind fools couldn’t see the significance of Jesus and the coming kingdom right in front of their noses!” Be careful. Yes, Jesus is speaking to the crowds, but his culture was deeply religious. This blindness infects people regardless of being religious or irreligious. What do you choose to predict and prepare for? What are the most important things for you this season? Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? How about all those items on your holiday to-do list? Be honest now, how many of you wish every year at the end of the season that you had slowed down to take it all in, to savor it, and to meditate on the advent of the Son of God? But the next year you don’t make any significant changes. You know Christmas season ought to be a time of repentance and prayer to prepare for celebrating Jesus Christ. But you ignore what you know, and make excuses justifying the hustle and bustle of the season. Why do you do it? Because you think you know what time it is, but your life says you really don’t.
B. What we choose to ignore (vv. 56)
1. There are two conceptually different words for “time” in the Bible. Chronos time is controlled by the clock, the calendar, and the schedule. People who only account for time as chronos tend to think of time and a commodity to be managed and spent. They tend to view life as a stream of successive moments flying by.
The classic rock band Pink Floyd, wrote a nihilistic song called “Time” which sounds like it’s straight out of the book of Ecclesiastes, from the life perspective “under the sun.” The song begins with the arrogance of youth, when days seem long and you “fritter and waste the hours” at home doing nothing because you think you’ve got so much time. “And then one day you find ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun! And you run and you run to catch up to the sun but it’s sinking, racing around to come up behind you again. The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older—shorter of breath and one day closer to death.” This is a chronos accounting of time.
2. Kairos time has a purposeful, providential element. It literally means “appointed time.” Not all time is kairos time. Only when circumstances converge by the guiding hand of God do those few and precious moments emerge that possess the ability to become momentous turning points. Kairos time is pregnant with meaning. The secular version of kairos time is expressed in the Latin saying “Carpe diem” (Seize the day!). Jesus told the crowds the present time was kairos time (Lk 12:56). The Bible also says today is kairos time (2 Cor 5:17-6:2). We can redeem the meaning of Carpe Diem. Seize the day to lay hold of Jesus. Seize the day to join in the kingdom of God. This is kairos time.
III. Preparing for the Season
A. Settle your accounts with God (vv. 58-59)
The prison is a debtor’s prison, where people who can’t or won’t pay their debts are detained until the creditor gets his money. This still happens in the USA, where about a third of states jail people who fail to pay debts and fines. In the first century, the accuser was the creditor suing for payment, the magistrate or official was the judge, and the officer was the bailiff responsible for delivering the guilty to debtor’s prison. On one level, Jesus’s words are good practical advice. If you are a debtor in arrears and have a court date, best to settle beforehand than come before the judge. But clearly Jesus is using this story as a parable to teach a spiritual truth.
Say you’re way behind on your credit card bills. Then one day the collection agency rep knocks on your door and demands payment. But you’re not alarmed, because you figure you’re good for the money. So you tell him you don’t have the money right now, but that you’ll pay the whole debt if you can have a little more time. But this time it’s different. Surprise! He refuses and has you arrested. On the way to the police station where you’ll be booked, you have one last chance to settle your debt with him before you get locked up forever. You figure, either you can keep your life and lose your freedom, or you can give him everything you have and keep your freedom, hoping he accepts your life possessions as payment.
The point is to recognize that the parable is true about your situation if you have not made your peace with God through Christ. If that describes you, then you are the man being hauled off to court by an accuser. Jesus says that accurately describes you right now! You have a debt much too large to pay. It’s a sin-debt, and you owe payment to God because ultimately all your sin is against him (Rom 3:9-31). This leaves you with three options. (1) You go to court and plead your relative innocence before the judge, hoping to win and buy yourself more time. This is a fool’s errand. You can’t win because the judge is God and he is perfectly just. (2) You go to court, plead guilty, but throw yourself on the mercy of the court, hoping your debt can be erased or reduced and your creditor doesn’t get paid. This also is a foolish strategy. Your creditor must be paid, and a just judge will see to it. Jesus announced that the coming of the kingdom is kairos time for settling accounts. (3) Settle with your creditor before you get to court by accepting his deal. What are his terms?
B. Let the threat of judgment drive you to worship Christ judged for you (vv. 50, 57)
1. Jesus is the Great Divider of humanity because he is the creditor at the door, but he is also the merciful and loving Savior, who saves us from God’s judgment. How? A clue to the answer is in verse 50. He was “baptized” in God’s judgment for those who will follow him. He was crucified in our place. In other words, God is a judge willing to bear his own judgment in our place! God the Son willingly died on the cross to pay the sin debt of his people. The creditor forgave sin, not by erasing its penalty, but by paying it in full.
2. Only your creditor can forgive your debt, and he has absorbed the loss by paying for it himself. Of course this should create a restored, loving, thankful, servant relationship between you and God. You can’t help wanting to give your life to the creditor who has paid your debt. To follow him, work for him, love him, spend time with him, tell others about him.
Someone will say, “But I believe that already! Why doesn’t it help me during Christmas season when my life gets so crazy?” The answer is that you don’t believe the gospel enough. Dig deeper to discover your particular heart motivation that leads to the Christmas craziness. Perhaps you don’t want to miss a single holiday activity. Is it because you value belonging and can’t bear to be left out? Apply the gospel to your heart until you believe it by reminding yourself that in Christ you belong to God and you’ll never be left out. If you believe this gospel truth, then what’s missing a party or two? There will be others, and if you miss them, so what? If Jesus was treated as an outsider, as one who didn’t belong, and lived through cosmic loneliness when all his friends deserted him and even God turned his back to the cross, yet was ultimately accepted by God—for you, then surely you can bear being left out of a holiday activity. But you’ll never do this if you’re satisfied with your present love for Jesus, because you won’t press deeply into the gospel to love him more deeply. It’s a biblical truth that he who thinks he has been forgiven little loves little, but he who know he has been forgiven much will love much (Lk 7:47).
Conclusion – Again, let’s revisit the Pink Floyd song “Time.” Frustrated by the pace of life, and looking back on all the time spend running around accomplishing stuff that now seems meaningless, we find a small measure of happiness when we finally slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures of home. In other words, time is still meaningless, but I’ve found a way to enjoy it. Then the song curiously ends with a glance of bewilderment at a people who seem to understand time and prepare for it well. “Far away across the field the tolling of the iron bell calls the faithful to their knees to hear the softly spoken magic spell…” You see, even a jaded unbeliever like the author of “Time” marvels at the mysterious attraction of “the softly spoken magic spell” (i.e., the gospel) because it animates the faithful. Advent season is like that. But only the ones who begin ignoring the chronos noises of Christmas season, and listen for the kairos “tolling of the iron bell,” will find themselves on their knees in wide-eyed wonder, remembering Christ’s first advent, and prepared for his second advent. Listen. Do you hear the advent bell toll? It tolls for thee.