Luke 12:49-56 (Pentecost 10C)

St. John, Galveston 8/14/2022

Rev. Alan Taylor

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In his book, “More than a Carpenter,” author Josh McDowell poses a rather provocative question. “Why is it that you can talk about God and, (for the most part) nobody gets upset, but as soon as you mention Jesus, people often want to stop the conversation? Why have men and women down through the ages been so divided over the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’”

As I read through today’s Gospel reading, McDowell’s question came to mind because what Jesus says here in Luke 12 seems so unlike Him, fodder, I suppose for the Jesus debate. I also couldn’t help but think of an old TV game show called “To Tell the Truth.” Some of you may remember the show. Actually, I think it’s back on TV again, although in a new format. Anyway, the four contestants on the show had to try to figure out which of three individuals on a panel was the true character described in the moderator’s introduction. The two imposters on the panel could lie when asked questions about themselves by the contestants, while the actual person spoken of by the moderator had to tell the truth. In the end, the moderator would say “will the real (whatever the person’s name was) please stand up.” It was a classic line from the show. When the person stood up and revealed his or her identity, the contestants would find out if they had guessed correctly or not.

I thought of that program because it seems to me that we are often filling the role of the shows contestants when it comes to identifying the real Jesus. I say that because, He is often presented to us, both in our culture and sometimes even in the Church, in such a way that we’re left wondering “who is the real Jesus?” It has been my observation that He is often viewed, or described erroneously in a number of different ways, two of which I’d like mention to you this morning. 

On the one hand, Jesus is sometimes described with a heavy emphasis on God’s Law. As such, He is seen as a 2nd Moses, which is to say, He embodies the perfect requirements of the Law, in that He seen as a perfect model for us to follow and live by. He is a standard bearer, if you will. All of our actions in life are to be compared to this Jesus. Would He approve or disapprove of what we do or don’t do? If He would disapprove, what we can we do in terms of reforming our lives to get back into God’s good graces? 

Now, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. As the perfect man, Jesus was and is a model for us to live by. The point is, He didn’t come into the world primarily to show us how to live. If we see Him only as a 2nd Moses, we miss the whole point of Him coming into the world in the first place, which was to give up His perfect life for the sins of the world. 

The second way that Jesus is often viewed or described places a heavy emphasis on love. But not love as it’s spoken of in the Scriptures. Rather, with this Jesus, His love for the world has morphed into a twisted sort of permissiveness. This Jesus neither believes in nor preaches absolute truth. Rather, He is committed to a doctrine of peace that ignores sin for the sake of human happiness and societal unity. 

This Jesus, some would say, would be appalled with the Church of today, because in some instances, the church still endeavors to distinguish between between right and wrong, between good and evil. I believe it was Whoopi Goldberg who once said, “It bums me out tremendously what the church has become (and here she was talking about the church calling sin, sin). It bums me out tremendously what the church has become and if it's got me bummed out (she says), imagine what Jesus must be feeling.”

“Will the real Jesus please stand up.” In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus contradicts what was just said of Him, that His only interest is that people come to a place of happiness and that societal unity flourish. To the contrary, He says, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, 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 her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Initially, we may think, that isn’t the sort of thing that Jesus should, or would say. It isn’t though that He intends to create division and disunity in the world and among our families. It is simply that the message He preaches necessarily does so, in part, because what He claims about Himself is exclusive and absolute. He says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to Father but by Me.” What that means is that there aren’t multiple paths to God. There is only Jesus, and His life given for the life of the world. By God’s grace, many people will believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation from sin and death. At the same time, others simply will not believe, choosing instead to attribute such words of Jesus to a pseudo, a false Christ. 

Jesus says, “if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. I and the Father are One.” What He says here is profound. Jesus is so much more than a second Moses. Rather, He is God in human flesh. It’s true, He came into the world to live the Law perfectly. He did so, however, not so much to give you and me an example to live by, but to be a perfect offering in our place. Rather than setting a standard that we could never live by or attain, He offers Himself as a substitute, His perfect life of obedience for our imperfect lives of sin and disobedience. 

In the end, when Jesus offered Himself up on the cross for the sins of the world, the world received and witnessed something that the mind can handle grasp or even fathom. In a moment in time, a moment forever etched in the pages of history, and into our hearts and minds, God died for the sins of the world, for the sins of His creation. He became sin in order that you and I might partake of His righteousness. 

What Jesus says and does becomes a dividing point, or as the Scriptures say elsewhere, a stumbling block, a rock of offense, a cause of disunity in the world, because some people, for whatever reason, simply will not believe that God came into the world to atone for the sins of His creation.

Years ago, two people knocked on the door at our house. They said, we’re here to tell you about Jesus. Really, I said. What would you like to tell me about Jesus? Well, He’s our savior, they said. He came into the world to teach us how to live, to teach us how to be perfect. Really, I said. Where does it say that in the Bible. One of the young men quoted from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount at the end of chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel. “Be ye therefore perfect, Jesus said, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” 

Well, yes, Jesus did say that, but He didn’t say it to offer us a way of salvation based on our own effort and striving. Rather, He said it that we might despair of ourselves, that we might witness and confess the incredible exchange that God accomplished in giving Himself to die on the cross for you and for me. He said it that we might know and confess the real Jesus, whose words are often contrary to our ordinary way of thinking, causing even division in the world and among families, but ultimately giving us the greatest peace the world will ever know, peace between God and His creation.

“Will the real Jesus please stand up.” Therefore, the Scriptures say, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +