During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a bomb went off at Centennial Olympic Park. Security guard Richard Jewell was initially hailed as a hero for discovering the bomb and helping to evacuate the area, but he soon became a suspect in the investigation.
In this case of mistaken identity and rush to judgment, the media and law enforcement portrayed Jewell as a potential bomber, despite the lack of evidence, damaging his reputation and disrupting his peace considerably.
Jewell was eventually cleared of any involvement in the bombing, received settlements from several media companies that had reported on the false allegations against him, and an apology from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which had originally reported on the false allegations against him.
Richard Jewell’s case of mistaken identity is a reminder of the fallen nature of humanity and the extent to which we will go to sell media or protect our reputations from scrutiny.
In Jesus’ day, it’s no wonder that people had a hard time believing that Jesus was who He said He was. Even his closest disciples misunderstood his identity, despite a volume of contrary eyewitness evidence.
Jesus addresses the misperceptions with a puzzling statement, reminding us that true and eternal peace with God may involve difficult earthly consequences.
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, 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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (NIV, Lk 12:49–53)
How do we reconcile the apparent contradiction that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, says that He came not to bring peace but fire and division? This is not easy to understand, but to experience real peace in a world of falsehoods, we must take a deeper look and avoid mistaking Jesus for someone He's not.
Jesus' first disciples spent three years with Him, believing that He came to bring peace to the Jewish people by overthrowing Roman authority. They believed Jesus was a political leader. What they thought they needed was a political solution to bring peace and prosperity to their people. Jesus responds - "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!." This sounds like Jesus came to bring anything but peace.
But Jesus' use of "fire" is better translated as judgment, meaning that His life will serve, among other things, as a reckoning line between believers and unbelievers. The judgment He brings is initiated through "baptism," meaning His crucifixion. Unlike the baptism Jesus underwent in the Jordan river, this baptism would be performed by His betrayers.
In other words, Jesus publically affirmed His obedience to the Father by laying down His rights and receiving the just judgment our sins deserve on the cross. Instead of serving as a political peacemaker, His service as both the instrument and receiver of judgment qualify Jesus to make exclusive truth claims. Only Jesus can reconcile us with God and bring true peace.
Exclusive truth claims create division, starting with the family. How can this be a good thing? Because our need for a Savior is greater than our need for peace on earth. This is true because humanity is under the curse of Adam's sin and without hope beyond this life.
Jesus' death on the cross paid the just penalty our sins deserve, bringing real peace to those who turn from sin and self and trust Jesus as their Savior. In this way, Jesus divides by making exclusive truth claims while bringing reconciliation with God and eternal peace to those who choose by faith to turn and follow Him.
Why would we trust a leader with our lives who says that His purpose is to bring judgment to the earth and division down to the family unit? Unlike Richard Jewell, Jesus didn’t receive compensation or an apology, but a shameful beating and a brutal death by crucifixion.
In doing so, Jesus paid the ultimate price to redeem mankind from the curse of Adam’s sin. And, with God the Father raising Jesus from the dead, those who follow Jesus also achieve victory over death and inherit eternal life.
Instead of keeping oneself under the constant curse and judgment of sin, trust the gift of salvation that Jesus offers, allowing Him to make you into a new creation with the assurance of eternal life in heaven with Him.
Unlike His early disciples, we must constrain ourselves to Jesus' definition of who He is, or we risk mistaking His identity and His just claim on our lives. In all fairness, Jesus doesn't make room for us to define Him to fit our preferred way of life. We either accept Jesus for who He says He is, or we reject Him. There is no middle ground. This is how we experience real peace in a world of falsehoods.
Questions for Application:
1. Who is Jesus to you?
2. What challenges do you have in trusting Jesus as your Savior and King?
3. Have you ever defined Jesus in a way to make Him fit your personal reason, tradition, or experience?
Prayer: Jesus, I love you. Thank you for making a way for me to be reconciled to the Father. Through repentance and faith, I am made new and receive an incorruptible inheritance that lasts forever. Teach me how to be an effective instrument of peace in a world that is increasingly confused and filled with falsehood. Make me aware of the ways I define you to fit my own reason, tradition, and experience and adjust my thinking in accordance with your revealed truth and will.
1. Know that Jesus Brings and Receives Judgement
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! v.49-50
2. Accept Jesus as Divider and Reconciler
“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” v. 51
3. Trust Jesus as King and Savior
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (NIV, Tt 3:4–7)