"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 how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division." Luke 12:49-51
Messiah was announced, by the prophets, as King of Peace and King of Righteousness. He was to be Solomon and Melchizedek in one; the great antitype of both. He was to conquer and cast out him who had brought in all the discord; to restore unity and order to a broken and doomed world. He was to reconcile the various parts of creation, so that not only were God and man, heaven and earth, to be at one--but even the lower races of creation were to have their variances removed--and the lion and the ox, the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the young goat--were to dwell together in peace. Everything connected with his person, his work, his word, his reign--was peace. His was to be the "covenant of peace;" his name was to be the "Prince of Peace;" and in his days there was to be "the abundance of peace."
At verse 51 there is an apparent denial of this--"Do you think that I came here to give peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!" This, however, clearly means that the initial results of his coming were not the expected ones of peace. He was indeed coming on an errand of peace; but there was something before that--something introductory to it, yet altogether unlike it. Before the light there must come the darkness; before the still small voice there must come the earthquake, the whirlwind, and the lightning. So, before the peace of Messiah's reign there must come fire, and war, and division, and persecution, and the sword. Before Israel is planted in their land, to enjoy the abundance of Messiah's peace, there must come the "tribulation such as never was nor shall be."
The fire spoken of in the 49th verse is not the fire of Pentecost, nor the symbol of the Holy Spirit, nor the figure of purification. It is manifestly the fire of vengeance, so frequently referred to by the prophets as the precursor of Messiah's coming and reign. Psalm 50:3, "Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence; a fire shall devour before him." Psalm 97:3, "A fire goes before him, and burns up his enemies roundabout." Isaiah 9:5, "This (the last battle) shall be with burning and fuel of fire." Isaiah 10:17, "And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his holy one for a flame." Isaiah 66:15, "Behold, the Lord will come with fire, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire; for by fire, and by his sword (his "flaming sword," Gen. 3:24), will the Lord plead with all flesh." So John the Baptist announced Christ as the Avenger who was to "burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matt. 3:12). So Paul proclaims him as to come "with flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who know not God." So do Peter and Jude, and John in the Revelation. It is fire that is so specially and so awfully associated with Messiah and his day.
Of this fire the Lord here speaks, adding, "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!"--meaning, "Would that that day were come--that day which is to bring glory to me and my people--to purge the earth from sin, and make all things new." It is not for its own sake, or for the destruction which it brings, that he longs for the fire--but for the glorious results that are to follow.
He then announces himself as the bringer of fire, the kindler of that terrible flame in which creation is to be wrapped, when the wicked are consumed, and when the alloy of the ancient curse is to be burned out of it forever. "I have come to bring fire on the earth." He tells also with equal distinctness his desire for the arrival of that dreadful day. Not that he loves the night; but it is the herald of the morn. Not that he desires the day of wrath; but it is the introduction of the day of everlasting peace.
Having thus adverted to his second coming and the woes then awaiting the world, he turns to his first coming, and the woes about to come upon himself. The world's baptism of fire was certainly to come--but his own baptism of fire must come first. "I have a baptism to undergo." The fire that is to burn up his enemies and purge creation must first descend on him, for he is the great demonstration to the universe that "our God is a consuming fire." The sword that is to go through the world must first awake against the Man who is Jehovah's fellow. The cup of trembling that is to go round the nations must first be given into His hands. In the sorrow, and the wrath, and the death, that are to visit this evil world--He must first have his bitter share. O dreadful baptism of the Son of God! a baptism which the sons of Zebedee vainly thought they could partake of along with him; a baptism which neither man nor angel could endure; a baptism whose shower of infinite wrath was too fiery, too resistless, too overwhelming, to be borne by any, except one who was superhuman, superangelic--truly divine. For who but God can bear the wrath of God, and not be totally consumed?
The baptism of the Son of God, here spoken of by himself, was the baptism of wrath; for he who was made sin for us must be baptized with this baptism. Because of this he cried out in his anguish, "Your wrath lies hard upon me; you have afflicted me with all your waves." "Your fierce wrath (or 'burnings,' Psalm 88:16, Heb. 12:29) goes over me." It was thus that the shower of God's wrath, which would have expended itself on us, exhausted itself on him. It was thus that righteousness made way for grace, and, satisfying itself upon the Surety instead of the sinner, proclaimed righteous pardon to the condemned, and righteous liberty to the captive. For the Son of God there was the baptism of fire--in order that for us there might be the baptism of grace and peace.
It is the knowledge of this fiery baptism of our divine Surety that gives to us the reconciliation and the peace which, as sinners, we need. The more thoroughly that we know that baptism, and enter into its gracious meaning, the more do we realize the reconciliation of the covenant, and feel assured that there is no condemnation for us. The knowledge of his condemnation becomes thus the assurance of our own forgiveness; and the discernment of the wrath that has come down on him, conveys to us abiding and unchanging peace; because it is wrath which has wholly and forever passed away from us.
It was of this fiery baptism that He himself spoke when he said, "Now is my soul troubled." Of this he spoke more fully in Gethsemane, when his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Of this he spoke upon the cross, when he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Of this he spoke in the Supper, when he said, "This is my body broken for you...This cup is the New Testament in my blood, shed for many, for the remission of sins." It is of this fiery baptism of wrath, under which he died, that our own baptism is the memorial; for it is called "baptism into death," and we are said to be "baptized into his death," as if we in baptism were so identifying ourselves with him, as to be baptized with the baptism with which he was baptized, and to be brought under the same descending flood of divine wrath as came down on him.
This baptism the Son of God must undergo; and he knew this. It was appointed him of the Father, and arranged in the eternal covenant. "I have a baptism to be baptized with." He knew it; he knew the reason for it; he knew the result of it; and he knew that it could not pass away from him. He had come to fulfill all righteousness; he had come to be made a curse for us. As the fulfiller of the Father's will he must undergo the appointed fiery baptism. As the Redeemer of the captive, the Substitute for the sinner, the Man who "pleased not himself," he must undergo it. It was his lot, his divinely ordained lot. He knew it, and he went on to meet it. "I have a baptism to undergo." He saw Gethsemane in his path--but he turned not aside. He saw Golgotha before him--but on he went, straight to the agony of its cross and death. To do the will of Him who sent him, and to finish his work, at whatever cost--this was his desire.
But still he felt, in regard to that dreadful baptism, the human sensitiveness and shrinking which made him in Gethsemane cry, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me." "How distressed I am," he says, "until it is completed!" In this dreadful utterance of our Substitute, as he looked forward to the cross, we have--
1. A longing for the baptism. He desired its accomplishment. He knew the results depending on it, and these were so divinely glorious, so eternally blessed, that he could not but long for it--he could not but be distressed until it was accomplished. The cup was inexpressibly bitter--but the recompense for drinking it was so vast, that he could not but long for the hour when it should be put into his hands. Just as he said at another time, "With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;" so here he says, "I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!"
2. The consciousness of fear and bitter anguish in contemplating it. He was truly man, both in body and soul. As man he shrunk from pain, he was weighed down with burdens, he was subject to sorrow; he looked on death as his enemy, and he made supplication with strong crying and tears unto him who was able to save him from death. His utterances in the Psalms are the fullest intimation of his feelings in these respects. Thus he cries, "Rescue my soul from their destructions, my darling from the lions." "O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. For your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down upon me. I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart." "My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me." "Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God." Such are the utterances of his human soul under the pressure of its infinite sorrows. He did not shake off the burden, yet the weight was intolerable. He did not refuse the cup, yet its gall and wormwood were such as to wring from him many an dreadful cry. He did not turn back from the anguish, or the darkness, or the death--yet he speaks as one overwhelmed with the very thought of them.
If, then, his humanity was thus proved to be true and real, altogether like our own, in everything except sin--how true and real must have been those sorrows which thus agonized that holy yet true humanity! His burdens were all real; his pangs were all real; his terrors were all real, as were his hunger and his thirst--real as was his death upon the Roman cross, or his burial in Joseph's tomb. His divine nature did not relieve him of one grief, or make his sufferings mere shadows. It fitted him for being filled with more sorrow than any man could be. It conferred on him a dreadful, we may say a divine, capacity of endurance, and so made him the subject of sharper pain and profounder grief than otherwise he could have been. So far from his suffering less truly, or to a less degree; because he was the Son of God, he was, in that very way, made capable of an amount of bodily and mental agony of which, as a mere man, he could not have been susceptible.
And as the sorrow was thus all real--increased, not lessened by his Godhead--so was his substitution for us as real. "Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities." His endurance of our penalty was as real as was his partaking of our sorrow. It was "the chastisement of our peace, which was on him." The more that we contemplate his suffering, his baptism--the more will the whole reality of his sin-bearing work appear. He, "his own self, bore our sins, in his own body, on the tree."
3. The straitening in regard to its accomplishment. Like Paul, he was in a strait between things which pressed in opposite ways, and which must continue to press until the work was done.
(1.) He was straitened between the anticipated pain--and the thought of the result of that pain. How fully was this feeling brought out in that remarkable passage recorded by the Evangelist John (12:27), "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour--but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify your name." Here was the straitening expressed in our text; the same straitening that we find again in the scene of the garden agony.
(2.) He was straitened between grace and righteousness. Until the great sacrifice was offered, there might be said to be conflict between these two things. The reconciliation was not actually accomplished between them. Mercy and truth had not yet met together; righteousness and peace had not yet kissed each other. Between his love to the sinner and his love to the Father there was conflict; between his desire to save the former and his zeal to glorify the latter there was something needed to produce harmony. He knew that this something was at hand, that his baptism of suffering was to be the reconciliation; and he pressed forward to the cross, as one that could not rest until the discordance were removed--as one straitened in spirit until the great reconciliation should be effected. "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished!"
Such was the baptism of the Son of God, and such the straitening of spirit, until it was accomplished. It was infinite suffering to which He looked forward; suffering from which his soul would naturally shrink; yet he could not rest, until the life-time's endurance had been completed, and the great work done. He pressed forward in the path of suffering, nor did he stay, until he had reached its end. The spirit was willing, though the flesh was weak.
And now, as the result of this accomplished baptism, we have forgiveness and salvation proclaimed to us. He has finished transgression, made an end of sin, brought in everlasting righteousness, made reconciliation for iniquity. No second baptism like his is needed now. The one baptism has done the work. No second cross requires to be erected on some new Golgotha. His one cross has completed the great propitiation, and brought redemption to the captive. No second death can be demanded now, by law or righteousness. The one death of the Prince of Life has secured for us the everlasting life, which no other death could have done. The knowledge of this one baptism, this one cross, this one death, is all we need to put us in possession of forgiveness and life, of righteousness and glory.
What, then, remains for us, but that we enter into his rest, reaping what he has sown, and gathering fruit from the vine which he has planted? So complete is the Father's testimony to the accomplished baptism of his Son, the finished work of the Substitute, that, in receiving that testimony, we receive the full measure of blessing purchased for us by that baptism and death.
Nor are the results of this bloody baptism of the Son of God limited or temporary. The whole earth is yet to share them. The eternal ages are yet to know them. There come, no doubt, first the sword, the discord, the persecution, and the fire. All these have been doing their work on earth, and shall do so, yet for a little season. But before long the sword shall go through earth for the last time; division shall disturb its peace for the last time; persecution shall seize its victims for the last time; the fire shall be kindled for the last time. And then shall come the peace, and the love, and the holiness. Then shall come the deliverance of creation, the reign of peace, the kingdom of glory, the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwells righteousness. Then shall He see of the travail of his soul--and shall be satisfied. Then shall He reap the fruit of his dreadful baptism. That baptism will not then seem too bitter or too terrible, when its outcome shall be seen to be so glorious and eternal. Nor will the time then seem to have been too long, even though the kingdom should be deferred for many a day; seeing there is to be so infinite a compensation for the sickness of hope deferred, and so blessed a termination of the long, long ages of delay.