“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”Luke 12:49-53
The Role of Division in Salvation History
Full of paradox, Jesus, the long-awaited “Prince of Peace”1 declares that his cross will create division. Yet, in continuity with salvation history, the way back to the Father has always been a path of division. The ark saved righteous Noah and his family in a cleansing “baptism” of the earth during the Flood.2 God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans, separating him from his homeland, parents, and relatives.3 Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt to establish a covenant with God, separating them from all the peoples of the earth.4 Repeatedly, prophets, priests, and judges admonished the chosen people to observe the decrees of the Lord and worship him alone. Disastrous consequences followed Israel’s “prostitution” with the false values and idols of the nations.5 As in a marriage covenant, exclusivity characterizes the love between God and his people.
On the other side of exclusivity lay an invitation to the world to seek the God of all nations in his chosen people. Transcending nationality, Israel’s mission as the bride of the Lord6 culminates in “the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”7 Isaiah foretold that “all nations shall stream” toward “the mountain of the Lord’s house.”8 Zechariah proclaimed, “In those days ten people from nations of every language will take hold, yes, will take hold of the cloak of every Judahite and say, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”9 Upon Israel’s fidelity to God hinged the salvation of the world, for Jesus, the son of Mary, descended from “David, the son of Abraham.”10
Division From Sin
The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I testify to it that its works are evil.John 7:7
Fulfilling the mission of Abraham, Christ draws all nations to himself by the blood of his cross.11 But the dividing door to unity is “baptism into death.”12 Only by separating from sin will we find eternal life and peace. “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”13 The cross, like a surgeon’s knife, divides in order to heal.
Division from Flesh and Blood
In words severer than Luke’s, Matthew writes, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.”14 Offering up our earthly bonds for the love of God releases abundant grace. Thus Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac and received him back with descendants “as numerous as the stars in the sky.”15 The patriarch’s oblation of his hereditary seed paved the way for the heavenly seed of Christ.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:37
“If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26
The “peace of God that surpasses all understanding”16 is “born from above,”17 “not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God.”18 Brothers and sisters “born of water and Spirit” transcend flesh and blood.19
1 Isaiah 9:5.
2 Genesis 6-9; 1 Peter 3:20-21.
3 Genesis 12:1.
4 Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:16-19.
5 Exodus 34:14-16; Leviticus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 31:16-17; Judges 2:16-17; 8:27, 33; 1 Chronicles 5:25-26; Isaiah 1:21. Additional passages can be found throughout the writings of the prophets.
6 Isaiah 62:5.
7 Revelation 21:9.
8 Isaiah 2:2-3.
9 Zechariah 8:23.
10 Matthew 1:1.
11 Ephesians 2:14-18; Colossians 1:20; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28.
12 Romans 6:3-10.
13 Romans 6:8.
14 Matthew 10:34.
15 Genesis 22; Hebrews 11:17.
16 Philippians 4:7.
17 John 3:3.
18 1 Peter 1:23.
19 John 3:5.