The passage this morning contains summaries of three separate pieces of Jesus’ teaching.
First, the necessary divisiveness of Jesus’ ministry of the cross (12:49-53). These words about Jesus coming to “cast fire on the earth,” or that he had come to bring about “division,” are surprising. What can Jesus mean? Jesus is saying that his salvation will cause separation and division, even among family members. “For from now on in a house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.” We sometimes wish that all was always plain sailing, that gospel ministry and Christian holiness never had any opposition or challenges. But that was not the life of Jesus. That is not the effect of the message of Jesus. And it is not the realistic expectation of the followers of Jesus. There is only one way to God, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ—that message alone has enough to cause division between those who accept Christ and those who do not. But there is also an eschatological element to this divisiveness—the coming judgment based upon our response to Jesus—as the next two pieces of teaching consecutively emphasize.
Second, the interpretability of the human condition and the need for salvation. Sometimes we act and speak as if figuring out the meaning of life, our human condition, the reality of God, sin and salvation, was all impossibly difficult. For sure, there are complexities in theology and in the Bible and in Christian doctrine. But the way of salvation is simple enough for all to grasp, understand, and believe. In the same way that a normal human being can look up to the sky and know with a fair degree of accuracy whether it is about to rain or not, similarly we humans can look around at our world, look inside at our hearts, and know full well that we are sinners in need of salvation. What is more, as we look at the world and hear of wars and rumors of wars, we are able to detect that a storm is coming in that regard too. The storm of God’s judgment. And so we should be ready for that day by, again, believing and trusting in Jesus and being his disciples.
Third, the wisdom of settling the issue now. Jesus uses a story of a legal action. It makes most sense (all lawyers will tell you) to attempt to settle any lawsuit before you get to court. Once you are in a court of law, there are usually few if any winners. The legal fees increase, the public embarrassment likewise, the waste of time, the stress, and often irretrievably broken relationships. It makes most sense, therefore, to settle with our accuser before we get to court. Even at the last moment as you are walking up to the court itself. Similarly (remember it is a parable, not an allegory, which means that in a parable not every detail is necessarily equating to a particular meaning but the whole story as a whole functions as an illustration), we should be careful to settle with God before we get to the court of God’s judgment, that is before we die. Do not delay now, but make peace with God now—by, again, repenting of our sins, believing in Jesus. The phrase “you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny” has been interpreted by some Christians to mean purgatory. But that is a mistaken interpretation, in the same way that it would be a mistaken interpretation to make a theology of who the “magistrate” was, what it meant to be “dragged” to court, who the “officer” of the court would be, and where the “prison” was. The story has a meaning as a whole, not each and every figure as an allegory does. The meaning is simply that we should settle with God by putting our trust in Jesus before we die.
These pieces of Jesus’ teaching are each jointly and severally somewhat somber. But they are well to consider. And to cause us to take action now to come to Christ, to repent of our sins, and to find in Him the peace with God that we all need.
To receive God Centered Bible devotionals directly in your inbox, sign up here.