57"Why don't you judge for yourselves what is right? 58As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny." (NIV)
A. Jesus has come to bring God’s judgment. Part of this judgment falls upon Himself, in the place of those who trust in Him.
49"I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!A. Jesus has come to bring God’s judgment. Part of this judgment falls upon Himself, in the place of those who trust in Him.
In the Scriptures, the image of fire is often used for divine judgment (Isa 66:15; Am 1:10-14; 2 Th 1:6-8). "Baptism”, as used by Jesus in verse 50, would not refer to His baptism by John – for He had already gone through that (Lk 3:21-22). Rather, it suggests an image of being immersed in suffering – similar to the experiences of the Psalmists in Ps 42:7 and 124:1-4. Therefore, it is most likely a reference to His suffering and death on the cross.
Some might have a hard time reconciling Jesus’ saying in verse 49 with what He says in Jn 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” Also, Jn 12:47 seemingly poses a problem: “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.”
One way to reconcile these two kinds of passages is to emphasize that Jesus’ primary mission in His first coming was to save what was lost, through the giving of his life (Mk 10:45; Lk 19:10), while His main purpose in His second coming is to bring God’s wrath and judgment upon the world (Ac 17:30-31; Rom 2:16; 2 Th 1:6-10; 2 Ti 4:1-2; 1 Pe 4:4-6; Rev 19:11). It may be that Jesus has His second coming in view when He speaks the words of verse 49.
“By this means justice has been done, for the sins of all that will ever be pardoned were judged and punished in the person of God the Son, and so it is on this basis that pardon is now offered to us offenders. Redeeming love and retributive justice joined hands, so to speak, at Calvary, for there God showed Himself to be ‘just, and the justifer of him who hath faith in Jesus’. Do you understand this? If you do, you are now seeing to the very heart of the Christian gospel” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God: Hodder, 1993, p. 213).
B. Christ brings conflict between people, and even between families. It cannot be otherwise if some embrace Him and others reject Him.
But what we often find in Scripture is the presence of paradox: two seemingly irreconcilable propositions standing side-by-side, both affirmed as true. To give a few examples: the Trinity and unity of God, divine sovereignty and human responsibility, the promise of God’s keeping and the call to persevere in the faith, the Christian life as rest and the Christian life as war. The paradox we find here is Christ as peacemaker, and Christ as divider.
Verses 50-53 raise the questions, What is it about Christ that the world hates? Why is the conversion and discipleship of Christ’s people rejected by (at least some of) their families, peers and neighbours?
1) People love the darkness that the light of Jesus exposes in their hearts:
”This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (Jn 3:19).
”(The world) hates me because I testify that what it does is evil” (Jn 7:7).
2) Jesus is the only way to God:
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6)
”Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Ac 4:12)
3) To follow Jesus means to go against the grain of the world’s mindset and values:
"You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.” (Lk 16:15)
You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (Jas 4:4)
C. The failure of people to recognize what God is doing in Jesus is all the more appalling in light of the things they do understand.
54He said to the crowd: "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'It's going to rain,' and it does. 55And when the south wind blows, you say, 'It's going to be hot,' and it is. 56Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time?
We should not infer from Jesus’ words that the acceptance of, and belief in, God’s revelation of Jesus is just a matter of applying the same common sense that one would use in determining the weather. After all, people must be born again to see the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3) because they are dead in their sin, and thus can only be made alive by the grace of God (1 Co 2:14; Eph 2:1-5).
However, what we can glean from verses 54 to 56 is that 1) people are still responsible for their unbelief; and 2) God can still use argument, reason, and persuasion as means to draw people to the truth of Christ.
D. Instead of paying attention to what the world considers important, every man, woman and child must seek that which is of ultimate importance – being reconciled with God.
57"Why don't you judge for yourselves what is right? 58As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny."
“Why don’t you judge for yourselves….” – many of the crowds might have placed an unhealthy trust in the Pharisees, Sadducees or other law-teachers.
A difference of opinion exists between the different commentators, as to whether verses 57 to 59 are meant to be a parable – illustrating the urgent need for a sinner to get right with God – or an ethical imperative – i.e. a call to be at peace with others. As is often the case, looking at the context of the passage can be helpful. In Matthew 5:25-26 – where Christ presents a similar scenario – the latter position makes more sense, because Jesus generally seems to be giving ethical, relationship-themed maxims in the fifth chapter of Matthew. However, in Luke 12, where much attention is given to the themes of our accountability before God, and His judgment – the first view is more likely.
Discussion Question #3: Whenever we seek to make Christ known to unbelievers, what lessons from this week’s entire passage would be good for us to take to heart, and to be prepared to share with them?