The Gospel for Thursday of the 29th Week of the Year speaks of a great cosmic battle taking place all around us. In it, Jesus speaks of His mission to engage our ancient foe and to gather God’s elect back from the enslaving clutches of Satan, who was a murderer and a liar from the beginning (cf John 8:44).
Jesus is approaching Jerusalem for the final time and describes the battle that is about to unfold. It is a battle He wins at the cross and with His resurrection, but it is one whose parameters extend across time to our own era.
Let’s consider Jesus’ description of the cosmic battle and of His mission as the great Shepherd of the sheep and the Lord of armies.
A Passion to Purify – Jesus begins by saying, I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!
Fire is both powerful and transformative. It gives warmth and makes food palatable, but it also consumes and destroys. Nothing goes away from fire unchanged!
The Lord has come to purify us by the fiery power of His love, His grace, and His Word. He has a passion to set things right.
Purification is seldom easy or painless, though, hence the image of fire. In this great cosmic battle, fire must be cast upon the earth not only to purify but to distinguish. There are things that will be made pure but only if other things are burned away and reduced to ashes.
This image of fire is important because many people today have reduced faith to seeking enrichment and blessings. Faith surely supplies these, but it also demands that we take up our cross and follow Christ without compromise. Many if not most enrichment and blessings come through the fiery purification of God’s grace, which burns away sin and purifies us of our adulterous relationship with this world. Fire incites, demands, and causes change—and change is never easy.
Therefore, Jesus announces the fire by which He will judge and purify this earth and all on it, rescuing us from the power of the evil one.
This is no campfire around which we sit singing songs. Jesus describes it as a blaze that must set the whole world on fire!
How do you get ready for fire? By letting the Lord set you on fire! John the Baptist promised of the Lord, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt 3:11). Indeed, the Lord sent forth His Spirit on the early Church as tongues of fire (cf Acts 2:3) to bring them up to the temperature of glory and to prepare them for the coming judgment of the world by fire.
The battle is engaged. Choose sides. If you think you can remain neutral or stand on some middle ground, I’ve got news for you about which side you’re really on. No third way is given. You’re either on the ark or you’re not. You’re either letting the fire purify you or you’re being reduced to ashes. You’re either on fire by God’s grace (and thereby ready for the coming judgment of the world by fire) or you’re not. The choice is yours. Jesus is passionate to set things right. He has come to cast fire upon the earth.
A Painful Path – The text says, There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
The Lord does not come among us merely come to get us out of trouble but to get into trouble with us. Though sinless, Jesus takes upon Himself the full weight of human sinfulness and manfully carries it to the cross. He accepts a “baptism” in His own blood on our behalf.
In waging war on our behalf against the evil one, Jesus does not sit in some comfortable headquarters behind the front lines; He goes out “on point,” taking the hill of Calvary and leading us over the top to the resurrection glory. He endures every blow, every hardship on our behalf.
Through His wounds we are healed by being baptized in the very blood and water He shed in the great cosmic war.
It is a painful path He trod, and He speaks of His anguish in doing it, but having won the victory He now turns to us and invites us to follow Him through the cross to glory.
The choice to follow is ours. In this sense the cosmic battle continues, as Jesus describes in the verses that follow.
A Piercing Purgation – In words that are nothing less than shocking, the Lord says, 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.
The words shock but they speak a truth that sets aside worldly notions of compromise and coexistence with evil. For there to be true peace, holiness, and victory over Satan, there must be distinction not equivocation, clarity not compromise. Fire and water do not mix; you can hear the conflict when they come together: hissing, popping, searing, and steaming. One must win; the other must lose. Compromise and coexistence are not possible.
The Lord said (in Matthew 10:34) that He came not for peace but for the sword. In this there is a kind of analogy to a surgeon’s scalpel. The surgeon must wield this “sword” to separate out healthy flesh from that which is diseased. Coexistence is not possible; the diseased flesh must go. The moment one talks of “coexisting” with cancer, the disease wins. Were a doctor to take this stance he would be guilty of malpractice. When there is cancer, the battle must be engaged.
Thus, in this great cosmic battle, the Lord cannot and will not tolerate a false peace based on compromise or an accepting coexistence. He has come to wield a sword, to divide. Many moderns do not like it, but Scripture is clear: there are wheat and tares, sheep and goats, those on the Lord’s right and those on His left, the just and wicked, the lowly and the proud, the narrow road to salvation and the wide road to damnation.
These distinctions, these divisions, extend into our very families, into our most intimate relationships. This is the battle. There are two armies, two camps. No third way is given. Jesus says elsewhere, Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Matt 12:30).
About all this we must be sober and must work for our own salvation and the salvation of all, for while there may not be a season of mercy and patience now, the time is short for us all. The distinction between good and evil, righteousness and sin, will be definitive and the sword must be wielded.
Thus, the Lord speaks to us of a cosmic battle in the valley of decision (cf Joel 3). Jesus has won, and it is time to choose sides. Even if our own family members reject us, we must choose the Lord. The cosmic battle is engaged. The fire is cast, and the sword of the Spirit and God’s Word is being wielded. The Lord has come to divide the good from the wicked, the sheep from the goats. Judgment begins now, with the house of God. Scripture says,
For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17)
If this be the case, how do we choose sides, practically speaking? And having chosen sides, how do we join the fight with the Lord in the cosmic battle?