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  • The Distressing and Divisive Meaning of Baptism

    Jesus came to bring peace on earth, right? Wrong. He came to bring division.

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    Jesus wasn’t worried about popularity or whether in 2015 his words might be misunderstood. He was concerned about the dying souls in front of him, and spoke in way that would wake them up to see who he really was. I read this passage in Luke yesterday, it definitely woke me up: (if you’re not in a straight-talking mood, you might want to read my other blog post on baptism, it’s a bit more friendly)

    “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.” (Luke 12:49-52 ESVUK)


    Jesus came to bring division? What about the choir of angels singing ‘peace on earth’ when he was born? What about Isaiah’s prophecy about him as the ‘Prince of Peace’?

    What Jesus is saying here is not that he wants division, he’s saying that when people really see what he’s about, it will change everything in their lives; so much so that their friends and relatives might not like the new leaf they’ve turned over to.

    Let me introduce you to Tytus and Tamlin. Tytus is a 40 year-old Polish-Brit who works at Heathrow Airport, Tamlin is roughly the same age and owns a small e-commerce business. They’ve been married for nine years. One day, in his work at the airport, Tytus stumbles upon the plight of Syrian children, orphaned and left homeless by war. He’s suddenly and inexplicably gripped by the belief that nothing in his life matters as much as helping these kids. He starts giving money to charities working in the worst-hit regions, when that’s not enough he opens a Gumtree account and begins to sell a lot of the stuff he’s accumulated over the years. He even travels to refugee camps in Lebanon and Turkey to volunteer his muscle - good for lifting crates of water and the occasional big bear-hug. There’s one problem. Tamlin isn’t on board. She’s sympathetic to the cause, but can’t understand her husband’s ‘obsession’. When he sold her external hard-drive without asking and without erasing the contents, she flipped out; then cooled off; then calmly changed the locks. How they reacted to the conflict in Syria became the dividing line in their relationship.

    The Dividing Line

    “I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” The ‘baptism’ that Jesus was referring to was the tsunami of physical and psychological pain that awaited him on the Cross. There are many beautiful ways to describe the impact Jesus’ crucifixion has had on human history, but here Jesus describes it as being like a line of fire that burns on earth - the ultimate dividing line. Unlike with Tytus and Tamlin, the side of the line you end up on won’t just impact your human relationships, it will decide whether or not you suffer separation from God for eternity, or enjoy the glory of unity with him.

    Blood and Water

    God tells us to get baptised as a way of demonstrating our complete dependency on him and signifying our unity with Christ in his death and resurrection. When I look back on the day I was submerged into a pool in Bournemouth when I was 12, I can still feel the water rushing over my face.

    It was chlorinated water for me; It was viscous blood for Jesus.

    For me, a momentary break from breathable air; For him, a six-hour separation from the life-giving love of the Father he had eternally enjoyed.

    I deserved what he got. Now I enjoy what he has earned. Jesus is the dividing line. Which side are you on?

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