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See clearly and judge rightly. Luke 12.49-56

Luke 12.49-56

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem – his 'exodus', death on cross

Click to listen to this sermon here

There is an urgency about his teaching
He is teaching about the kingdom of God.
He is calling people to repentance and to live as citizens of the coming Kingdom

And in particular, in Luke 12, he is calling people to see clearly and to judge rightly.

The chapter begins and ends with Jesus warning the people against hypocrisy.
‘Krites’ literally means ‘judgement’, and ‘hypokrites’ means ‘judgement over’.
In Luke 12.2, he says to the crowd, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy’. Beware of their teaching – of the judgements that they make
And here in 12.56 he accuses the crowd of hypocrisy, of being able to make judgements about things like the wind, but not seeing deeper.

Jesus has not just come to bring fuzzy, spiritual feelings, or to give advice about how we can live more successful or fulfilling lives.
He has not come to simply bring comfort in difficult times, with the assurance of the love of God and of a better world to come.
He is a revolutionary. Literally. He has come to turn the world not upside down, because it already was upside down. He has come to turn it the right way up.

He has come to shake people's deepest convictions, to challenge our judgements.
He tells them that he has come to bring fire to earth (Luke 12:49): the burning, all consuming and purifying judgement of God.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is the challenge about himself

He tells them that he is the central figure in the Kingdom of God, in human history: that he is the Messiah, the king of the coming kingdom; that he is the eternal divine Son of God, the perfect reflection of God.
And he tells them that we are judged by how we see him and respond to him, by how we judge him.
In a sense he judges nobody. As he says in John’s gospel, he condemns nobody. He has come to speak words of truth and mercy and to speak of God’s forgiveness. He speaks the words of God and we judge ourselves by how we respond to them.
If we choose to reject him, then we will be rejected. If we receive him and his free gift of forgiveness and of the Holy Spirit, we will live.

One of the thieves who was crucified beside Jesus joined in with the verdict of the world on Jesus. He saw the crucified Jesus, the Jesus who – in the worlds eyes had failed – and he mocked him. 
But the other thief did not join in the mocking. He sees himself and he sees Jesus, with a right seeing, with a right judgement. He challenges the other: ‘We deserve punishment for we have done what was wrong’. But he also sees the innocence of Jesus, and he sees the false judgement of this world, and he calls out to Jesus, 'remember me when you come into your kingdom.'

And there is another challenge. Jesus has come to establish a new family, a new nation, 'a holy nation, a Royal priesthood' that is not united by blood, by biological family, but consists of people who are identified by faith in him. This is a family which takes precedence over our human families - indeed, we read in this passage, that it will split human families.

father against son … (Luke 12:49)

I want to say a few words about this, because it is easy to misuse this text.
Jesus is not saying that people who become followers of Jesus should abandon their families. Far from it.

The OT command to honour our parents remains in force.
Jesus challenges those who neglect to care for their parents because they cite religious obligations.
Paul speaks of how those who do not care for their families are worse than unbelievers.

But what he is saying is that if there are ever situations where you are forced to make a choice, a judgement, between your family and faith in Christ, then you are still to honour them, but Christ must come first.
And Jesus here speaks of situations where people will so hate what he stands for, that if members of their family become Christians, then they will be accused of betraying their families and they will be disinherited, disowned and maybe their lives will be threatened.
Sanjit was a young man I met in Hyderabad who came from a Muslim family. He became a follower of Jesus. And his family rejected him, and put a fatwah on him.

Jesus is speaking about how he has come to bring a new way of looking at things.

So, for instance, he speaks about the clouds in the west and the wind from the south. People look at them and know what the weather will be like. The clouds in the west mean rain. The wind from the south means scorching heat.
There is a saying in English: ‘Red sky at night, shepherds delight. Red sky in the morning shepherds warning.’ And it is often the case. If there is a red sky at night, it means the following day will be fine.

Jesus rebukes the crowd – not because there is anything wrong in judging the weather from the clouds or the wind – but because we are only seeing the surface level of things or people: we are not looking deeper. 
We are looking at the external and not at the internal. 
Indeed, more than that, we are looking at something or someone as that which is completely other from me, which either threatens me and must be rejected, or is only of interest if it is useful to me, and can be used for my purposes, or is attractive to me and must be possessed. 
We are looking at something or someone not as something or someone that has its own integrity, and that has been created by the God of love, but as something that can be used. 
We do not look deeper at the person or thing in their eternal perspective; we do not see them as something or someone that is loved by God, spoken into existence by God.

Jesus tells us that when we look only at the outer, we are hypocrites, literally false judges.

And Jesus has come to introduce to us a new way of seeing.

We see that in our reading from Hebrews.
We are told of men and women who lived by faith, looking at the invisible, at the coming kingdom.
They did amazing things, ‘walked through the sea .. conquered kingdoms .. shut the mouths of lions .. received their dead by resurrection’.
But the passage also speaks of people who, because of their faith, were willing to endure terrible suffering (‘they were mocked, flogged, chained and imprisoned. They were stoned to death, sawn in two, killed by the sword. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground’).
And they did it because they did not judge as the world judged, but because they judged rightly. They saw the coming Kingdom of God and they lived for the Kingdom of God.

And Jesus has come to challenge the goals of our lives: seeking success, status, power, wealth and happiness. He shows us a new way of living: the way of the cross, self-denial, liberating dependence on God, costly obedience even if it includes suffering and persecution.
He speaks of the baptism with which he must be baptized. He is talking of his death. He talks of the stress that he is feeling (unusual). He doesn't want to do it. But he prays 'not my will but yours be done'

This is dramatic language: fire, judgement, division.
But Jesus is speaking here of the clash of two kingdoms - a game of thrones on a cosmic scale.

Pray for the grace to see clearly and to judge rightly.

Pray that we may see the person of Jesus as the centre of history
Pray that we may see his people, the Church – not the institution but the people of God who have lived in different times and who live in different places, but who have put their faith in Jesus – as our true and ultimate family
Pray that we may see other people with the eyes of faith - as people created by and beloved by God

And pray that we might see the simple things of this world, the wind and clouds, not just as something to be used by us, for instance to forecast the weather or to tell us if we need to carry an umbrella, but as signs of the love of God, of the kingdom of God.

In a few moments we are going to take bread and wine.
They are bread and wine and biologically they remain bread and wine.
But as we eat, pray that we might eat with faith, looking beyond the visible to the invisible. Because then we will see the bread and wine as the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, as his body and blood, and they will become for us a sign of the love of God, of the presence of God with us, of that which unites the family of God and of the kingdom of God.


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