CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Jesus and Division

Jun 22, 2018

It can be said with full biblical warrant that Jesus is the great divider. Perhaps no other figure in human history has been so divisive. And that may strike many people – even many Christians today – as being quite bizarre. “Really? Jesus divisive? I thought he was all about love and unity and just getting along with everybody.”

Um no, wrong Jesus. No one actually reading through the four gospels could ever come away with that completely false understanding of Jesus. They say repeatedly that he came to bring division – and that he did. Just as Jesus still divides today, he certainly did 2000 years ago.

Indeed, all of human history is even divided because of his birth: BC and AD. Christ divides. How could it be otherwise? His message was so countercultural that it ran against all the beliefs, values and convictions of most people. He and his disciples were always bringing about division, turmoil, controversy and upheaval.

If I recorded all the examples of this found in the New Testament I would need to pen several articles at least. So let me narrow things down here a bit. Let me look just at Luke’s gospel. There is plenty of material to be found here on this. Consider these passages:

Luke 2:34-35 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” [Simeon predicts the division Jesus would bring to Israel]
Luke 3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire [John prophesies the division Jesus would bring to Israel]
Luke 4:28-29 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.
Luke 6:11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Luke 7:23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.
Luke 8:37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
Luke 9:4-5 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.
Luke 9:53a but the people there did not welcome him
Luke 10:10-16 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say,…
Luke 11:14-16 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven.
Luke 11:53-54 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.
Luke 12:51-53 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.”
Luke 13:17 When [Jesus] said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
Luke 16:13-15 He said we “cannot serve two masters”. The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”
Luke 19:47 Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him.
Luke 20:17-19 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.
Luke 23:20-21 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Wow! That is one very divisive figure. Wherever he went, whatever he said, and whatever he did, he caused division. So much for world peace and harmony. And just as it was with Christ so long ago, it is the nature of the Christian gospel to polarise and cause division.

A gospel which says that you are not God, that you are heading to a lost eternity without God, and that you must repent, deny yourself, and turn to Christ, is not exactly how you win friends and influence people. It is how you enrage people and send them into hysterics – the very sorts of things we find in the gospels and the book of Acts.

And the very thing we find in 2000 years of church history. There have been countless Christian martyrs through the centuries, because people hate the gospel and they hate the truth. And that was something Jesus warned us about. He told us that we would not be accepted and our message would be rejected.

And he explained quite clearly as to why this would be. Consider his words as found in John 3:18-21:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

Let me return to Luke’s gospel and offer a lengthy but very important quote that comes from James Edwards’ excellent 2015 commentary on Luke. It appears in his discussion of Luke 12:49-59:

There is great disparity between the kingdom and this world. The introduction of the kingdom in Jesus awakens the world to its alienated existence from its Creator and points it to its Restorer and Redeemer. In vv. 51-53 Jesus articulates the effect of introducing the kingdom in terms of division. Division, and in some instances disunity, are not unfortunate side-effects of the Incarnation….

The essential function of the Messiah, according to Luke, is not to heal divisions but to intensify them. Indecision does not divide, but decision, by its very nature, divides the chosen from the nonchosen. The decision to follow Jesus inevitably concentrates and focuses the lives of disciples: Peter and the Zebedees are divided from nets and homes (5:1-11), the women who follow Jesus from homes, spouses, and possession (8:1-3), and disciples in mission from their customary securities (9:3; 10:4). The theme of decision and division has of course been latent throughout Luke’s narrative, but in chaps. 11–12 it is specifically and repeatedly addressed, signifying that decision and division are essential to the gospel….

Even as an infant, the significance of his life was foreseen in terms of “division.” “The child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many . . . and a sword will pierce your own soul too,” declared Simeon (2:34-35). If the mother of Jesus is “constrained” to participate in the division that Jesus brings into the world, then all human families are constrained by the same division, “father against son . . . daughter against mother” (v. 53).” Division may seem discordant and even offensive to our inclusive age, but it is a fundamental property of God’s relation to the world.

Exactly right. Sure, when and where possible we seek to be peacemakers. And we do not go out of our way looking for trouble or seeking to be divisive. But the gospel by its very nature IS divisive. Jesus was divisive. And the followers of Jesus will be divisive as well. It just can’t be helped, if we seek to be faithful to biblical truth, and proclaim it far and wide.

In this sense, three cheers for division. I conclude with three brief quotes:

“Peace if possible, truth at all costs.” Martin Luther

“Never let us be guilty of sacrificing any portion of truth on the altar of peace.” J. C. Ryle

“To pursue union at the expense of truth is treason to the Lord Jesus Christ.” Charles Spurgeon

[1591 words]

6 Responses to Jesus and Division

  • Recently a relative sent me some books, including a secondhand copy of John MacArthur’s Hard to Believe (Nelson Books, 2003). MacArthur deals with the fact that the Lord Jesus divides the world and with the confronting truth that His Good News is also not only “counter-intuitive” but also just plain confronting to worldlings.

    Thomas à Kempis remarks as follows:

    “…Jesus has many who love His Kingdom in Heaven, but few who bear His Cross (Luke 14:27). He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share His feast, but few His fasting. All desire to rejoice with Him, but few are willing to suffer for His sake. Many follow Jesus to the Breaking of Bread, but few to the drinking of the Cup of His Passion. Many admire His miracles, but few follow Him in the humiliation of His Cross. Many love Jesus as long as no hardship touches them…” – The Imitation of Christ ch. 36

  • So powerful and true. Reading Francis Schaeffer’s cutting book, Death in the City, he says there are two ways to bring death [of a culture and church], and that is through compromise and a dead orthodoxy, so true! I send your articles and similar ones to my Christian friends, and they either don’t reply or they say that we need more love i.e. the Christianity-lite version you spoke of earlier. AI agree, but there is also love in the context of repentance, a broken and contrite spirit. He goes on further to say that if our Christianity rests only on emotion or an experience, when the emotion and experience cools, my Christianity collapses. Our faith must rest entirely on the truth of God—His enduring and piercing word. Thank you Bill again for your articles, they are inspiring and thoroughly edifying. Also, it is through reading your articles that I have found so many great books. God bless you!

  • Thanks Bill, for taking the time to do all that you do. The recent antics of David Walsh in Hobart have really highlighted the fact that Jesus Christ came to divide. Mr Walsh has certainly shown whose side he’s on, with his upside-down crosses, mock resurrection, and midwinter festival named in honour of the sexual abuse of one’s mother.

    But even worse than Mr Walsh’s blasphemy and hatred of all that is good, is the endless parade of weak-willed clergy, actually thanking Walsh for “starting conversations” and “exploring the theme of sacrifice” with last year’s perverted bull performance, for example.

  • What Repentance from Sin Should Look Like

    The watered-down Gospel of Christ only looks at the fruit of sin, and so, the plea is for people to acknowledge that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins and to ask Him to please forgive our sins. The popular approach is “sins forgiven, heaven gained, and hell avoided.”

    But then people never repent of their SIN, that is, the root of sin. The true essence of sin is rooted in pride which usurps God’s authority, grasps after equality with God, exercises dominion (control) over your own life apart from any consideration of God or His Kingdom authority or His perfect will, and establishes the kingdom of “Me, Myself, and I” within the human heart. Man’s spirit is dead, cutoff from the God-kind of life that only God Himself can provide through faith in Jesus Christ. Man lives life out from the soul corrupted by the power of sin, influenced by the world, the flesh, and the devil. The only remedy is to come to God on His terms of covenant (surrender & obedience). Repent of SIN and believe (pisteuo, #4100G) on the Lord Jesus Christ! To believe means to commit and entrust…

    “Lord, I confess that I am a sinner who sins because I have a sinful, human nature; and I need Christ as my LORD-Savior! I turn away from exercising control over my own life apart from You, Your Kingdom authority, and Your perfect will; and I surrender control of my life to You. I fully commit myself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and I entrust myself entirely to Christ for my spiritual well-being. Please “life” me by Your Holy Spirit and adopt me into Your royal family of true believers and followers of Christ. Amen!”

    Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” The gift of God is God Himself enabling you by His overwhelming grace to live the God-kind of life perpetually through a fixed position of abiding, relational rest “in Christ.” By God’s Word and His Spirit, our mind becomes renewed and our Good Shepherd restores our soul. We live out from the spirit in union-life with the Holy Spirit, and our soul becomes a ready servant to serve the Spirit in carrying out the Father’s will.

    Salvation is not the forgiveness of sins, rather, salvation is a new life found only in the Person of Jesus Christ the Lord. But with this new life “in Christ,” we also have the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s atoning blood shed on Calvary’s Cross. Romans 5:10 says, “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” “For You… have become my salvation” (Psalm 118:21). Newness of life “in Christ” is God’s remedy for SIN!

    I simply encourage you to call people to repent of their SIN, to surrender control of their life into the loving hands of God, to fully commit to the Lordship of Christ, and become genuinely born-again from above by the Holy Spirit. Then we learn to yield to Christ’s life and walk in submission to the Holy Spirit, making voluntary adjustments to the Spirit’s authority. The Lord sets us free from being a slave to the powers of sin and self. We learn to make moment-by-moment faith choices that please our Father, rather than emotional choices that please “Me, Myself, and I,” especially when an emotional choice runs contrary to a faith choice. This way, we learn to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him. Only Jesus can thoroughly conquer the kingdom of “Me, Myself, and I” by the power of His love!

    Jesus said, “If you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24)

  • A extraordinarily well designed article, so fitting to the experience i have suffered in my 40 years since receiving the gospel with a willing and open heart. Little did I know I would become rejected on so many fronts! This article is sobering to the point of much humility towards reverence, a treasure of immeasurable value in my pursuit to please Yahweh. As I read the words and point of this article I reflected on the devastation on the fields of battle i have been in. My own armor bent and scratched, my skin bloodied and bruised where an opening left me vulnerable causing me excruciating pains that do not quickly heal… Shipwrecks, betrayals, and exiles from my most cherished loves. I am reminded that a servant is not greater than his Master’, if He suffered, shall i also not suffer? And, as a mother of two sons once asked Yeshua, “I pray that my two sons be at your right and left side” Yeshua replied, But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”
    Neither was I aware of the gravity of the warfare of dividing the Word of Truth.

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