To Cast Fire on the Earth

Sermon preached on Luke 12:49-59 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 05/15/2022 in Novato, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Last week’s passage warned us to be prepared for the second coming of Christ.  Today’s passage continues to develop this concern by helping us to think about what we should be doing here and now in light of that truth.  Christ is coming again, and we need to recognize that, and prepare accordingly.  So then, we’ll consider this in three points today.  First, we’ll consider this idea about how we need to rightly interpret the times we live in.  Second, we’ll consider this lesson about settling with your accusers.  Third, we’ll consider how Jesus says that he came to bring not peace but a sword.

So then, we begin in our first point to consider how to rightly interpret the times we live in.  I’m referring here largely to what you’ll find in verses 54-56.  Jesus turns to address the crowds and gives them a lesson out of their own lives.  He acknowledges how they are able to discern the weather by interpreting the signs.  If they see a cloud rising in the west, they think, “Okay it’s going to rain.”  Or if they see a south wind blowing, they know its going to be a really hot day.  Notice that he says they are good at making these predictions, because for both examples he says, “and so it happens”.  As they predict, so it happens.  But this is effectively a parable, in that Jesus is making a figurative application here to them.  Jesus isn’t ultimately concerned to compliment their weather prediction skills.  Rather, he then goes on to give an application in verse 56.  He applies this to them to say that they aren’t able to interpret the present time.  They can interpret the times when it comes to weather.  They can discern what will happen based on physical signs.  But Jesus says they can’t look at the signs of what is going on spiritually and in regards to redemptive history to determine what is soon coming.

Interestingly, he calls them hypocrites for this failing.  A hypocrite is someone to pretends to be something that they are not.  In this circumstance, surely Jesus refers to their religious hypocrisy.  The people held themselves out as religious people.  They acted like they knew so much about God and his ways.  They surely prided themselves on their knowledge of God’s Word.  As an example of their outward show of religion, was their common practice of wearing phylacteries on their foreheads and arms.  Those were little boxes that contained small portions of the Scripture inside them.  The Jews would have held themselves out as experts of the one and only true God who made the heavens and the earth.  They would have held themselves out as wise to the ways and plans of God.  But Jesus says they weren’t.  They may have deceived themselves even.  But Jesus shows that their ability to forecast the weather was a skill that they did not possess regards to God and his plans.  They missed the signs that should have signaled God’s working in their day.  However wise they claimed to be of God’s ways, they weren’t actually that.  Thus, they were hypocrites, religiously speaking.

I appreciate that Jesus says this to the crowds, and not just to the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus has already called those religious leaders hypocrites, but now he says the same to all the people.  Just like you don’t need to be a professional meteorologist today to have some basic ability to discern the weather, so too everyone should have some basic ability to discern the times we live in, redemptive-historically.  That of course, assumes that everyone should have at least some basic knowledge of the Scriptures which tell us the signs to be looking for and what they mean.  But that is correct.  We are to look to be teaching everyone God’s word, young and old, simple or wise, male or female, to any and all.

So what were they to discern about their present times?  Well, as we said, in context Jesus has been talking about the final day of judgment when he comes back at his second coming.  Again, I reference our teaching last Sunday from the previous passage here in Luke 12.  That is referenced further at verse 49 when Jesus says that he has come to cast fire on the earth.  Earlier John the Baptist had said in Luke 3:16 how Jesus is one who would baptize with both the Holy Spirit and fire.  Well, the fire that Jesus will bring is one that purifies the elect but destroys the reprobate.  This chapter says that the impending day of judgment that will come at Jesus’ second coming is something in that present day they needed to be planning for and expecting.  Just like when it looks like rain, then you grab an umbrella, so too the judgment is soon coming and they should be recognizing this and planning for it.

Interestingly, Jesus then tells us in verse 50 of something that will have to happen first.  When talking about discerning the times, it is quite relevant that he speaks of something that will come before he pours out this fire.  He says in verse 50 that he has a baptism to undergo.  He says he is distressed until that happens.  This is clearly a reference and prediction to the cross.  The crowds were unable to discern and predict the times, but not Jesus.  Here he tells them of his impending death on the cross.  That must happen prior to his second coming in judgment.  We are thankful, of course, because that is why we can have hope to be spared on the day of judgment, as we trust in Jesus and his atoning sacrifice on the cross for our sins.

In this first point then, we are seeing how they didn’t discern the signs of the time properly to realize the days they were in in terms of redemptive history.  Remember, that the prophets had given various prophecies about the coming of Christ and all that it would entail.  They were supposed to see those signs starting to come to pass.  Think of the different quotes we’ve seen already in Luke where Jesus references something that the prophets had foretold that was now coming to pass in his life and ministry.  This prophecy about his suffering then judgment is also further explanation by Jesus about how to understand the signs and interpret the times.  As Luke brings out in multiple ways, the Scriptures foretold that the Christ would have to first suffer and then enter into his subsequent glory.  The day of judgment would be part of that subsequent glory when he returns to judge the living and the dead.  But first he would have to suffer this baptism of the cross where he endures God’s wrath poured out upon him for our sake.

Let us now in our second point turn to this teaching about settling with your accusers in verses 57-59.  Here again, Jesus appeals to something in their own lives in order to teach a point.  It again serves like a parable because I think he is again making a figurative application.  You see, he references a scenario when someone is at legal odds with someone.  He directs this scenario in the second person.  So, he speaks directly to everyone in the crowd to imagine what they would do if they find themselves in such a situation.  He tells them to imagine that someone is accusing them of an unpaid debt.  Notice that the presumption here is that the accusation is correct since the last verse implies that they do in fact owe the money.   So, the scenario is that you owe someone a debt of money, and you are on the way to court.  The civil magistrate is going to hear the case, and Jesus basically says imagine you know you are guilty and that you aren’t going to win the case.  What should you do?  Jesus says if you know that is the situation, of course what you should try to do is to settle with the person before you get to the court.  Beg, plead, grovel, whatever it takes, to make things right with your accuser, because otherwise you will end up in jail and won’t get out until you do pay the debt.  And you probably aren’t going to be able to pay off that debt very well from jail.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.