Jesus longingly states in Sunday’s Gospel, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49). Note how Christ longs for this fire-kindling event to be finished.
This fire-kindling statement is describing the same event that Christ illustrates in His next statement: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (v. 50). Even as Christ desires that the fire already be kindled, so He states how He is distressed until He is baptized.
Of such baptism the Old Testament repeatedly speaks of God’s wrath being poured upon His enemies. Some examples: “Ps. 79:6: “Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you.” Jer. 10:25: “Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not, and on the peoples that call not on your name.” Ez. 20:8: “Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them [rebellious Israel].” Hosea 5:10: “…upon them [rebellious Judah] I will pour out my wrath like water.” Zeph. 3:8: “For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed.” [Other examples: Psalm 69:24; 2 Chronicles 12:7; 34:21]. Likely this pouring out of God’s anger is the Baptism of which Christ speaks in Luke 12. It is the Baptism deserved by the unbelieving nations, it is the Baptism deserved by rebellious Israel and her sister Judah…It is the Baptism of God’s wrath that we each deserve to have poured upon us. What event marks this Baptism of Jesus and His kindling of fire on the earth? The cross!
At the cross Jesus would have God’s burning wrath poured upon Him. Christ is made to be sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and thus He will receive the hell fire deserved by every human—past, present and future. No wonder Jesus describes the great distress He feels as He anticipates receiving this Baptism of God’s angry river of lava to be poured upon Him in our place.
What then is the result of Christ’s cruciform “Baptism”? It will spark a fire on the earth, a fire consisting of the wrath of those whose sin is exposed. God’s people are baptized with soothing water, and thus they are brought into and established in Christ’s kingdom. But unbelievers around the world will spend their fiery anger on believers. This anger will even strike home as there will be unbelieving parents fired up against believing children, unbelieving children angry as hell against believing parents, unbelievers in families extended through marriage—unbelieving in-laws as parents or children—wanting to cremate alive their corresponding Christian in-laws.. The wrath of the unbelievers will lash out with the flames of words and deeds against the people of God.
But fear not, dear baptized people of God, in Christ you are fireproof. The fire-absorbing Savior arose from the dead and His gracious victory is for time and for eternity. Presently you remain soaked with the water of Baptism, and the flaming words and deeds cannot consume you wet-ones. The worst that can happen is death—but you realize you are baptized into Christ’s victory, and in Him and His love you are overwhelmingly conquerers. Neither the fire of God’s wrath nor the fiery words and deeds of unbelievers can harm you—for you are in Christ.