Jesus didn’t promise us that following Him would be easy—instead, Jesus promised that “we would be absurdly happy, completely fearless, and in constant trouble.”
August 3-4, 2019
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Summer Bible Series
Make the Right Decision!
Luke 12:49-59 (p. 895-6)
It’s camp weekend! We just finished 3 camps—kids, middle school and high school involving about 1500 students and hundreds of volunteers—and they were amazing! Today our camp worship team is going to lead us in some rocking worship, and we’re going to celebrate with XX people who are being baptized this weekend!
After worship and prayer, we’re going to look at some difficult sayings of Jesus in Luke 12, and think about making the right decision even when it’s hard and others oppose us. Jesus didn’t promise us that following Him would be easy—instead, Jesus promised that “we would be absurdly happy, completely fearless, and in constant trouble.”
That’s where we’re headed—let’s celebrate!
Introduction and offering:
Life is a series of choices, and those choices often have long-range unintended consequences, good and bad. Our life is shaped by those choices.
ILL: Don Smith (3 pics with comment) was the first pastor to hire me and give me a job as a pastor. Don’s wife, Judy, passed away about 18 months ago. Just a few weeks ago, I told Laina that I wanted to visit Don, now 85 years old, and tell him how much he meant to me. Then while I was on my recent motorcycle adventure, I received a text informing me that Don had just been diagnosed with widespread terminal cancer and had days or weeks to live. I received that text on the day we were riding up the Oregon coast, and I knew that at one point, I’d be only 45 miles away from McMinnville where Don lived. So I left my riding buddies at that point, and took the detour to visit Don. I was there for a couple hours and had a delightful time talking and praying with this godly man who had such a huge impact on me.
Don hired me when I was 19 to be the youth pastor at his church—a very risky decision. He pastored a conservative Church of Christ, and I was a flaming charismatic with crazy, out-of-the-box ideas about youth ministry. From the start, I was in constant trouble, and Don had my back.
Three weeks in, I got tired of being a glorified baby sitter, and I told the students, “If you just want to fart around, do me a favor and stay home. If you want to learn how to pray and follow Jesus, come back next week and I’ll teach you.” An elder and his wife were there to see what the new youth pastor was up to; they rushed up and said, “You just killed our youth group.” The other adult there put his arm around me and said, “Good job—let’s do this!” His name was Noel.
Noel became my father-in-law and my lifetime mentor. Had Don not hired me, I may not have known Noel and married Laina. Don’s risky decision changed my life. Did I mention that decisions have consequences—often unintended?
When I dropped that bomb at our youth group, there were about 25 students. That elder wanted to fire me; Don had my back. A week later, we didn’t have 25 students—we had 40—and six weeks later we had 100. It turned out those students were as bored as I was and just wanted someone to raise the bar and challenge them.
Over the next 3 years, Don repeatedly had my back when the elders wanted to fire me. And I made a ton of rookie mistakes—but Don was always patient and encouraging.
At the nine-month mark, we planned a June retreat at a Church of Christ campground on the coast. I made a flier and we mimeographed it and kids started passing them out everywhere. We didn’t do registration—just show up and pay $5 at the gate. Incredibly stupid! We had no way of knowing how many students were coming—but there was a buzz about this event. The day before we were to leave, Don asked me who was cooking. I hadn’t thought of that. “Do you have a menu? Food?” I hadn’t thought of that either. Don put me in his station wagon, we drove to Pay ’N Pak and he spent $200 and loaded his car with groceries. The next day, he drove the car and groceries to the coast, where 350 students showed up to a camp that held 150! A busload of Jesus People from Spokane rolled in, and when a couple young ladies in long dresses asked who was in charge, someone pointed to me. The ladies told me that they cooked for their commune in Spokane and asked if we needed help. Did we ever! I told them I didn’t have a cook and would they like to do it. “Do you have food?” I pointed them to Don’s car and gave them cash we collected at the gate—and they fed 350 of us for 3 days. God provided. I was so dumb— God was so good—and Don was so kind.
Another pastor might have fired me. Don just loved me and helped me and cheered me on, and covered my weaknesses. During our visit, we were laughing about that experience, and he told me that six weeks after the event, he received an angry letter from the board of the camp. I never knew that—as always, he had my back. (The board wrote a letter telling Don that they don’t allow “the activity of the Holy Spirit at their camp.” Don laughed. “I don’t mind getting in trouble for that!”)
At the three year mark, the elders finally prevailed. They fired Don and me together. We were in California at a conference and one of the elders called and told Don that Sunday morning would be his goodbye message. We drove all night Saturday. Don gave a gracious message to a deeply divided and hurting church. Afterwards, one of the elders found me and said, “I don’t need to tell you that you’re fired too, do I?” Nope—I assumed if Don was gone, so was I! That evening, we were at Faith Center—Don and his family, Noel and his family, me and about half the church. Three months later, I went on staff at Faith Center, and not long after, so did Don, and we continued to minister together until I came here.
I told Don that when God brought us together, it radically changed both our lives! And I told him how grateful I am that he took a chance on me, that he encouraged me when others would have fired me—that I’m a pastor today in part because of his gracious influence. Don, like Noel, was an amazing lover of people and a mentor. When you tried to thank him, or ask him how he did it, he always had the same answer. He smiled and said, “It’s all Jesus’ fault.”
Don passed away last Sunday, just 11 days after our visit. I’m so grateful that I got that visit, and a chance to thank him.
Our decisions have consequences, good and bad, often unintended. Make the right decision.
Today we continue our Summer Bible Series in the gospel of Luke. In our text, Jesus says some really difficult things, like, “I didn’t come to bring peace, but division,” and even “families will be divided.” Not every decision you make will be popular, but you want to make the right decision.
Let’s begin by reading the text.
Luke 12:49–59 (p 895)
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
- Decision brings division. 49-53
Jesus starts by saying, “I have come to bring fire on the earth.” This is one of several purpose statements—“I have come” statements—Jesus made.
Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Why did Jesus come? To seek and save the lost—like me. Like you.
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Why did Jesus come? To bring us life to the full—Life with a capital L!
And then this: “I have come to bring fire on the earth.” What does that mean? In the Scripture, fire often represents two things: the Holy Spirit or God’s judgment.
If Jesus meant the Holy Spirit, then He is saying that He came to bring the Holy Spirit, to fill us with the Spirit, with God’s presence and power. There are many other places where this is clearly said. For example, in our Bible reading on Tuesday, we read John 1. John the Baptist introduces Jesus with two phrases:
- This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John 1:29
- This is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. John 1:33
Jesus came to take away something and give something. He came to take away our sin that separates us from God and each other. He came to give us the Holy Spirit who makes life to the full possible. He doesn’t just take away our sin and leave us on our own; He fills us up with Himself and His power to live a new life! Out with the old, in with the new!
In verse 50, Jesus talked about the baptism He had to undergo first—this referred to His death. He had to give His life before He could give us His Spirit.
John 16:7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
So it’s possible the fire Jesus brings is the fire of His Spirit that fills and empowers us. I like to say that the Christian life is not difficult; it’s impossible. The only way to live it is by the power of the Spirit. This is why one of my regular prayers is, “Fill me Lord.” I want to be filled with His Spirit!
While the fire could refer to the Holy Spirit, most scholars lean toward the fire referring to judgment. This would mean that Jesus came to bring judgment. Most of us tend to have a negative view of judgment, which is unfortunate, because the purpose of judgment is justice. It is putting wrongs right. Why do you go to court? You want justice—you want a judgment that will make things right.
When people are being oppressed or harmed or suffering evil, they long for justice and they welcome judgment! The people who are oppressing or harming or doing evil do not long for justice and they fear judgment.
How do you feel about God’s judgment? Do you welcome it or dread it?
John 3:19–21 (p. 913)
19 This is the verdict (lit: judgment): Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Jesus is the light of world—and that light is a judgment. If you’re doing evil, you dread that judgment and hate the light. If you’re living by the truth, you welcome the light. Friends, if you are in Christ, if you are living for Him, you should welcome judgment, not fear it. Our confident prayer is: Come Lord, and put the world right again—starting with me.
Look at v. 51. Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.
And then Jesus talks of families being divided: father against son, mother against daughter.
ILL: When I was a youth pastor in Eugene, an angry parent called me. He was unhappy that his teenager had decided to follow Jesus and was coming to our Bible studies. At one point in his tirade he said, “I would rather my son be hooked on drugs than believing this crap.” Jesus divided that family: one for, one against.
I experienced this division with my own dad. When I became a Christian, and my sisters and my mom did too, all of us went to church—all of us except my dad. He complained bitterly to my mom that the church had stolen his family. He was angry with me when I stopped playing college basketball so I could do youth ministry. Jesus divided us: one for, one against. (I’m happy to say that he came to Jesus a couple years before he died. But we were divided for many years.)
In some families, believing in Jesus will get you ostracized. Rejected. Some people love the light; some don’t.
So right up front, Jesus is telling His disciples—and us—that your decision to follow Him will not be popular with everyone. Brace yourself and make the right decision, even if it’s not popular, even if it costs you.
Students, you had a great week at camp and many of you decided to follow Jesus or renewed your commitment to Him. This is a great reminder that as you go back to school, not all your friends will be excited about your decision to follow Jesus. You may take some flak. You may get ostracized. It’s ok—you made the right decision to follow Jesus. Stick with it.
Decision brings division. This is true in so many ways. When you choose one thing, you are saying no to many others.
- When Laina chose me, she said no to all the other boys who liked her. I won!
- When we chose to come Spokane, we said no to other opportunities elsewhere.
- When you decide on a college, you are saying no to all the others.
- When you decide on a career, you are saying no to other options.
Every decision brings division. Every yes means saying a lot of no’s. Saying yes to Jesus means that some people you love may say no to you. But make the right decision—especially when it comes to Jesus.
Friends, you can’t be neutral about Jesus. You’re either for Him or against Him. Jesus said:
Luke 11:23 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
For or against—no middle ground. He calls you to follow and it’s Yes or No—you can’t stay neutral. Following Jesus brings life, but it may also bring division between you and family members who do not follow Him. Realize that saying yes to Jesus may not be popular with your friends or family—and make the right decision anyway.
Which leads to the next thing Jesus said. (We’ll cover these last two quickly.)
- Be smart in what matters. 54-56
54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?
Jesus is telling them to be smart in what matters—in this case, Him. They could predict the weather by reading the signs in the sky, but they couldn’t read the signs of the times. They were meteorological geniuses and spiritual morons.
They didn’t know how to interpret this present time. The word “time” is the Greek word kairos which means more than just chronological time; it meant “a season, a special moment or opportunity.” What was it about the present time that they were failing to interpret? What were they missing? In a word: Jesus.
Jesus came announcing the coming of Kingdom of God.
Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
The time has come—the kairos—the moment you’ve been waiting for, God’s Kingdom is near! But they didn’t know how to interpret this time and they missed Jesus.
Luke 19:41–44 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
They did not recognize the time—the kairos—the moment of God’s coming. God came in Jesus and they missed Him. They could predict the weather by reading signs in the sky, but couldn’t recognize Jesus despite all the signs He gave them. This is a spiritual blindness. “How can you not recognize what is right in front of you?” Jesus is asking.
My dad always told me that there are different kinds of smarts. There are book smarts and street smarts. There is theoretical genius and practical genius. We used to just measure IQ; now we talk about EQ—your emotional or relational intelligence.
ILL: I recently finished Walter Isaacson’s fascinating biography of Albert Einstein. Einstein had a wonderful way with words when wooing women. Check out these love lines from Mr. E=MC2 to the gal he would eventually marry, Mileva Maric: “If only you were with me! We understand so well each other’s souls, and also drinking coffee and eating sausages, etc.” What a smoothie! Eating sausages—that will sweep a woman off her feet. One of the things that I learned about Einstein from the book was that his IQ was off the charts—the greatest theoretical physicist ever—but his EQ was terrible. His family and friendships were a mess.
There are different kinds of smarts. There is IQ, there is EQ, and there is SQ—your spiritual quotient. Theirs was frightfully low. Jesus was right in front of them, teaching, healing, doing miracles—and they couldn’t believe. They couldn’t see it.
Be smart about what matters.
I want you to be smart intellectually, relationally and emotionally—but I also want you to be smart spiritually. How is your SQ? Don’t miss Jesus!
- Be reconciled to God. 57-59
57 “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
Jesus says, “Judge what’s right.” Make the right decision. He uses an example of two people going to court, and says it’s better to settle before you get to court than go to trial and lose it all and land in prison! I’ve always read this horizontally—that Jesus was speaking about our relationships with people, and he was telling us to reconcile with each other. This same saying shows up in Matthew 5:25-26, and the context there is clearly horizontal. Be reconciled with people.
But here the context is vertical; it’s about your relationship with Jesus. Make the right decision. Be reconciled to God. You don’t want this to go to trial where you might lose everything. Settle it now. How do you do that? Can I settle with God so this thing doesn’t go to trial, to the final judgment where I’ll lose? Jesus said:
John 5:24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”
If you believe—believe in Jesus and in the Father who sent Him—you have eternal life. You have it right now. It’s settled. You will not be judged—you won’t be going to trial. You’ve already crossed over from death to life! It’s done. It’s settled! How cool is this?
ILL: I made the right decision when I peeled off on that motorcycle ride and made the detour to see Don Smith. I’m so glad I did that! Don and I not only reminisced and laughed; we talked about his future; we talked about dying. Don loved Jesus and followed Him hard. So he had no regrets looking back, and he had no fear looking forward. He was excited to see Jesus. It was so inspiring to look into the eyes of a man who knew he had only days to live and see no fear, only joy. No fear, no regrets—he settled out of court a long time ago.
How about you? Jesus is calling you to believe and follow. Settle it now. Make the right decision.