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Message: Through The Word, Christ Creates Committed Followers
Pastor Jake Schram
This past week I attended the wedding of two people very close to me. And throughout the service and the reception that followed, words kept being said about working on the relationship. How doing the small things and making sacrifices for one another add up and grow into something beautiful and strong. And that is true of any relationship, isn’t it. Today, we see how important it is to nurture our relationship with God. We see how Jesus desires and turns us into committed followers.
Jesus had been preaching in Galilee, but his time of ministry there is coming to an end. Jesus knows what he came to do: live and die as a substitute to take away the sins of the world. Then he would be taken up to heaven in victory. Therefore, he has to head to Jerusalem where many of these things were going to take place. And so our text tells us, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” I love how the word “resolutely” is inserted into that sentence. It hints at just how many difficulties Jesus is going to have to go through. It is not going to be easy. And yet nothing is going to stop him from getting to Jerusalem and nothing is going to stop him from saving the world.
The difficulties are already about to start. Our text continues, “And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.”
Jews and Samaritans did not get along. That’s an understatement. Long, long ago, the Jews had been captured by the Babylonians and exiled into Babylon. While they were exiled, others lived in the Jewish territories. These people would become known as Samaritans. When the Jews returned to their land from exile, these two groups clashed and their hatred and disdain for each other grew.
Many Jews would travel around the Samaritan villages to get to Jerusalem, but the most direct route was through the Samaritan villages. The Samaritans are probably not thrilled on the fact that Jesus is a Jew and is headed to the Jewish capital which might as well have been called Jew-rusalem. The Samaritans don’t welcome them and seem to not let them pass. Think about that, they don’t let the Savior of the world pass through because he is a Jew. His disciples are understandably ticked. They ask Jesus if they should call down fire on these fools and burn them for their insolence. The reason they ask is fire has rained down on people before. The disciples are recalling one time in the Scriptures concerning the prophet Elijah.
One time when the evil King of Israel, Ahaziah, had sent companies to seize Elijah the men were burned up by fire. God was protecting his Word and his prophet. The disciples remember this and encourage Jesus to let them torch these Samaritans. Instead, Jesus rebukes his disciples. This was an entirely different situation than Elijah’s and the point of discipleship is not to be judge, jury, and execution. The point is not to punish everyone in sight. The point is to call people to repentance if possible and rescue them from sin and damnation. It’s to serve Jesus even if it brings difficulties on oneself. Jesus is about to show them and us that being a disciple, a follower of him will not be easy in any age. Through 3 examples, Jesus is going to show us how committed a follower must be.
As they all head along the road, a man comes up to Jesus and says. “I will follow you wherever you go.” This is an incredibly bold promise to make. Anywhere? Jesus informs this gung-ho volunteer there is more involved in this than he realizes. He says, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” To follow Jesus would mean to be without a permanent dwelling place here on earth. When Jesus started his ministry, he was always moving from place to place, with a place to stay for the night never guaranteed. Was the follower ready to endure that?
Let me put it like this for you. Jesus comes up to you and tells you to pick one: your faith or your house. What do you pick? We know what the right answer is but be honest with yourself. Which would you choose? Or maybe you honestly would choose Jesus, but would that choice be harder than it should be?
Thankfully, God often gives us both in our lives. He gives us a house to stay in and we can still have and share our faith. But if it comes down to it, are you ready to give up house and home for Jesus? A follower cannot be most concerned about having a beautiful home, a big salary, and earthly comforts. One day, you too will depart from all that belongs to this world. Hold on tightly to the home that matters, the one prepared not by the earth, but by God.
Jesus gives a second example for committed followers. To another man he says, “Follow me.” But he replies, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus says to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” This one is a bit confusing and it makes Jesus seem a bit heartless. Will he not let a man bury his own father before following him? There are a couple of things that could be going on here. Some commentators think Jesus is talking about the death of a non-Christian. The person shunned Jesus throughout life and so his burial has no other purpose than to put a body in the grave. Meanwhile, the kingdom of God can be proclaimed to save the living, which is more important than a non-Christian burial. Another interpretation is that Jesus is saying that the duty of burying the dead is already well taken care of by others and he should proclaim the kingdom of God instead. A third interpretation is that the opportunity offered to proclaim the kingdom of God would not come again. And so the man should seize this opportunity because of its great importance. My opinion, (which just so happens to be right, jk) is that the father has not died yet. If so, the man would already be busy with burial arrangements. It seems his father is older yet alive and the son is waiting for his father to die before he begins to follow Jesus. If this is his reasoning, he will always have an excuse not to follow Jesus quite yet. There is always something else that needs doing, another responsibility that calls for your time.
How about you? Are you tempted to let earthly needs stop you from serving the Lord with your whole heart? If you have to decide between a call to serve Christ at once or some earthly duty which needs attention, which comes first? Regardless of the interpretation you favor, the main thing here is that there will be things in life that lead to conflicting loyalties. Jesus wants his followers; he wants you to have clear direction. He wants you to follow the one who loves you most with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul.
The third example Jesus gives us is another person who said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” This person has a personal matter he wants to take care of first. So what’s the big deal? Wendland says, “Would this person be able to keep his desire to serve Christ after he saw his relatives? Would they try to persuade him to stay at home?” We don’t really know for sure. But look who we are dealing with. Jesus is able to see directly into this man’s heart. And he knows that for whatever reason, this man is giving an excuse not to follow Jesus. His desire to see his own family was more important to him than seeing his Lord.
Let’s put it like this. Your kids have a soccer game on Sunday morning. Or maybe you get called into work or have a vacation planned. Or you don’t want to be a bad mother or father so you set aside something else for some extra family time. What is often the first thing that gets removed from your life to make time for these things? We skip time in God’s Word. I know this is true because I often struggle with it. Now, let me be clear. I’m not saying people have to worship at a specific time or even on Sunday. I’m not saying you should avoid a soccer game or work or vacation or family time. All of those things are important. But when events come up, we don’t want to jettison the most important thing in our lives in order to balance the other things. Time with our Lord in the Word is the easiest thing to replace during the week and yet it’s the most vital that we do not.
Jesus says putting things in front of him is like trying to plow without looking. It’s an accident waiting to happen. Animals, crops, machinery, and even people could be harmed from not looking ahead. Imagine driving your car with your eyes closed. The longer we keep our eyes closed the more the results will be catastrophic. If you keep your eyes away from Jesus for a little while, you have a good chance of crashing. If you never return your eyes to him your spiritual life is guaranteed to go up in flames.
But maybe you think Jesus is asking too much. I mean to follow him even when the way is rough, even when it’s inconvenient, and always keep our eyes on him. Maybe that’s not what he meant…or perhaps we just need to change our perspective. One of my all-time favorite analogies is from the book It. No, not the novel by Stephen King. The one by Pastor Craig Groeschel. I’d like to share it with you.
If I asked you to raise $100,000 for something in a couple of weeks, you might look at me like I’m crazy. For many of us that number seems impossible. The number is too high, the time is too short, and the effort too astronomical.
But now let’s change the situation. Your loved one has caught a rare disease that will certainly end in death, unless you can raise $100,000. What might you do? You might start a GoFundMe page. You might ask for help in places you wouldn’t normally. Your brain is probably whirling with all sorts of fundraisers and projects you could do. Because you are not going to give up with what’s at stake. That $100,000 that seemed utterly ridiculous only a moment earlier, now seems entirely possible with the right mindset and determination. It will not be easy, but you could find a way.
Building up our spiritual life may seem too hard. Going all in, perhaps too expensive or too tiring. But with the right perspective, with what is at stake, we know it is all worth it. And here’s the thing. In each of those small moments with God’s Word. God sends his Holy Spirit to build you up. With the victory of heaven guaranteed through Christ and faith in Christ built up by the Word, nothing seems impossible anymore.
Yes. Jesus asks a lot, but it is because he wants you to have more. Just like any relationship takes work, God wants you to put in the effort. Not because you need to earn his love, but because he wants you and others to see his perfect love. Jesus asks you to be committed to following him through all of life’s obstacles. Through his Word, Christ creates committed followers. Amen.