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"'I've come to start a fire on this earth - how I wish it were blazing right now! I've come to change everything, turn everything right side up - how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I've come to disrupt and confront!'” Luke12:49-51 (The Message).
This is fighting talk! Jesus is speaking about revolution here, but what did He actually mean?
We will misunderstand Jesus' words if we take what He said literally. As always, where the literal meaning is inappropriate, the Hebrew people interpret the words according to their function, not their form; for example, wherever God is spoken of in human terms or in ways that conjure up grotesque pictures, the words are not intended to be understood literally. God is spirit - He has no hands, face, wings etc. These images explain how He relates to us.
We also need to put Jesus' words into the context of His character. Was He a revolutionary? Yes. What kind of revolutionary? Never in the sense of using force or cruelty to change anything. He intention was always to address the issues of the heart. He came to bring radical change to society, not through political power or coercion but through the inward transformation of people, one by one.
Jesus' work in people is never cosmetic. His death on the cross shows us that. Sin requires drastic measures to eradicate it so that the inward lives of sinful human beings can be changed. His conflict with the religious leaders raged around this point. They were satisfied to maintain the status quo as long as they could put on a show of 'holiness' on the outside to impress people.
Any religion that addresses behaviour without getting at the root of the sin nature is false, deceptive and fatal. No one can be changed inside by wearing the right clothes, eating the right food or carrying out the right rituals. None of that can touch the problem of sin at its core. "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure..." Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV) is the Bible's diagnosis of our plight.
Jesus came to confront and defeat the real culprit, the devil, to strip him of his power to deceive and to release us from captivity to his lies. Jesus' death on the cross accomplished a great victory over the devil. "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us. He took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." Colossians 2:13-15 (NIV).
To understand Jesus' words correctly is to know He came to declare war on the real enemy, the devil, not on people. He came to rescue and redeem us from the slave market of sin and transform our hearts. Only then can society be turned the right side up when righteousness, justice and peace are restored through the men and women who put these things into practice in their lives.
Forcing people to subscribe to a religion that is heartless and cruel may be revolutionary but it can never bring peace. Jesus is the only Prince of Peace and His peace is the deep inward tranquility that comes from being at peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation to our heavenly Father. In that security we can settle our issues with our fellow man and live out of our transformed hearts.
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