Sermon preached at Poole Christian Fellowship 4 September 2011
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Jesus is now on the road to Jerusalem for the last time in his earthly ministry. Jesus has been unmasked as the Messiah, and together with His entourage, is taking the journey to Jerusalem, where he will reach the culmination of His ministry.
In the passage that we consider today we have a series of events and conversations that happened to Jesus over a period of time whilst he was on the road. Luke has helpfully grouped them together so that we can see how Jesus dealt with the various issues that arise.
Travelling with someone is a great opportunity to get to know them better and to learn from them. The ultimate experience of that must have been being on the road with Jesus. Here we see five lessons that emerged whilst Jesus was travelling, five lessons that came out of real life situations whilst He was on the road with his disciples. A disciple is a learner, and so we may expect that the issues that emerge to be ones that, as disciples of Jesus, cause us to learn from Him. The trouble is that learning from Jesus doesn’t only involve adding to our knowledge and becoming more theologically astute (though we certainly need to learn to do that), it also means learning about patterns of behaviour that Jesus wants us to follow, that may well be different from our own. In other words being with Jesus challenges our behaviour. When we spend time with Jesus, we expect our behaviour to be challenged. Approach with caution!
So here we have five lessons that emerge from being on the road with Jesus.
1. A lesson about the Cross (v 44-45)
Jesus has just appeared in radiant glory in the presence of three of the disciples and he has followed this up with an outstanding miracle in the life of a demon-possessed boy. Now all the talk, once again is about the future of this Messiah, how he will kick out the Romans and set up the kingdom of God on earth. But Jesus will have none of it. For the second time, he tells the disciples about the future of his ministry, that he will suffer, die and be killed.
The message of Jesus is the message of the cross. It is a message of Jesus suffering and dying to bring us back into a relationship with our Father. It is not a message of triumphalism and glory – that is for the future. The disciples didn’t get the point. Do we?
2. A Lesson about Humility (v46-48)
Incredibly, the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest in the kingdom of God. Jesus deals with this by having a little girl stand in their midst. The lessons from this are:
a. If you want to be received as a messenger of Jesus, you need to be like “the least among you”. That is the way to be great in the kingdom of God – take the lowly position, do the jobs that no one else notices or wants to do and be like Jesus, who washed the feet of his disciples and took the position of a slave,
b. There is also a strong inference that Jesus will assess our service by the way we treat the most vulnerable, the most lowly and the least significant in our midst. What a challenge that is for us!
3. A Lesson about Unity (v49-50)
Here the disciples show how parochial and partisan-minded we can all be. Unless someone is the same as us, unless they wear the same badge and belong to our group – we often don’t want anything to do with them. The ones who are most prone to this are leaders, maybe because they see their positions threatened if others start to others in leadership.
The lesson from this is not that all efforts at unity should be blindly followed. Jesus referred to those who are “against us” – and there are plenty who are! Those who do not adhere to the basic truths of Christian faith are not our allies. But those who do, even if they do some things that we could not endorse, are our allies and our colleagues in the kingdom of God, and we should continually be looking, as God leads, to build alliances and to work together wherever possible. May God help us to do so wisely?
4. A Lesson about Opposition (v49-50)
Jesus is headed to Jerusalem. The quickest and most direct route was through Samaria, an area where the sworn enemies of orthodox Jews lived. The normal practice would be for a Jew to circumvent Samaria by going many miles more than would be necessary. Yet Jesus deliberately puts himself in the ways of opposition and puts himself in the place of those who would be likely to reject Him. .
We have to understand that there will be those who will reject us, refuse to welcome us, and do what they can to oppose us. Every time we share the gospel we are telling people that they are sinners, that God’s anger is burning against their sin and that he is offering them undeserved mercy to escape from that judgement. It is not always going to be a popular message. Yet, we have to be like Jesus and still be willing to put ourselves at risk of rejection.
What happens when we are rejected? The two hotheads – the “sons of thunder”, James and John – live up to their nickname, saying in effect, “Lord – let them have it”. In a sense they are quite right. The time will come when Jesus will judge with fire those who have rejected him. But the response of Jesus is telling. For now, we are in a time of grace, a time when the judgement of God is suspended. So how do we react to rejection? We move on, and leave them with God. In this case, a few years later there would be revival in Samaria, which these people would miss had the judgement of Jesus been poured out then and there.
When people reject us, in fact when they hurt us or those we love in any way, there is an uprising of indignation and hurt often becoming bitterness and resentment, that longs for God to let them have what they deserve. We simply must ask God to help us deal with this, until we can say with Jesus “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”. Until we can say that, we have not truly forgiven, and until we have truly forgiven, we will never be free from the pain of the hurt. Notice Jesus’ displeasure here is not aimed at the Samaritans who did not welcome him here. It is aimed at the disciples who reacted wrongly.
5. A Lesson about the Cost (v 57-62)
The cost of following Jesus is not like the cost of an airline ticket bought with a low cost airline, where the price keeps going up until you are paying far more than you actually thought. Jesus always spells out well in advance the cost of following Him.
This passage concludes with three conversations that Jesus has about the cost of following Him.
What do they teach us?
a. The first man promises to follow Jesus with all his heart. How easy it is to make rash promises! Jesus warns him that it will not always be easy saying, in effect “ bear in mind that I have nowhere to stay tonight” if we follow Jesus it will mean saying goodbye to the securities and the trappings of life and accepting whatever God chooses to give us. We are not told the man’s response. What is our response to that warning?
b. The second man respond to an invitation to follow Jesus, with the excuse that “Yes – I’d love to, but I need to bury my father” This meant that the father was no yet dead, and that the man would need to look after him in his old age, and when that was done, he would consider being a disciple of Jesus. The response of Jesus? Blunt, direct and devastating. Service in the kingdom of God trumps family responsibilities every time! How easy it is to use family ties and responsibilities as an excuse for putting God’s kingdom second. That does not mean that we should abandon our God-given family responsibilities, but it does mean that they should never be used as an excuse for back-peddling on our responsibility to follow Jesus.
c. There are some things that you cannot do unless it has your full attention. Ploughing a field is one of them. Gazing anywhere other than ahead is a dangerous business when you are ploughing, as it is with driving a car. The challenge of this is “Where is your gaze” – on the kingdom of God, or on something else? It is interesting that the issue of family is the one that comes to the fore as the distraction.
So Jesus has five lessons for his disciples on the road. What one speaks to you – and what do you intend to do about it?
The hard reality is that time with Jesus will always be challenging. We will always have our beliefs, our attitudes and our behaviours challenged when we dare to spend time in His company.