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January 14 - Luke 9:57-62 - "No Place for the Half-hearted?"
MPC 14th January 2018.
ASIO, Australia's spy agency. Back in December; did you see it? They ran an ad campaign. To recruit more spies. Not many people, they said, have got what it takes to serve their country in the intelligence service. And so they said, go to our website. And take the test.
It's very cool. You step into a lift. And the first puzzle is, you've got to work out which button to press. Did you try it? Because if you can't figure out the puzzle, you're not even going to get to square one.
The ASIO recruiting campaign seems like it's as much designed to keep people out. As to invite people in. Which is pretty much how it seems with JESUS here in Luke chapter 9.
Surely somebody should have told JESUS this in no way to start a movement. I mean, you read that passage; and what's he think he's doing? At a point where you'd think he's meant to be recruiting. Building up numbers. He's doing the exact reverse.
Knocking back. Three applicants in a row.
And instead of trying to make joining him on the campaign trail attractive, instead of putting the positives, instead of holding out the generous package of fringe benefits... Jesus seems like he's making things as hard as possible.
At least, that's how it looks... with the three applicants who come to him here in Luke chapter 9.
Let's take a look. One at a time.
Jesus, here in the mid section of Luke's gospel, is heading to Jerusalem. Where he knows exactly what's going to happen.
There's a crowd walking with him. Between two Samaritan villages; and the first guy says to Jesus these bold and optimistic words that you'll see in verse 57.
Now this guy's got a high view of his own stickability. And more than that, maybe, a bit of an over optimistic sense of what's in it for him. If he joins the party.
Maybe you're a bit of an enthusiast type yourself. I mean, I know we're a Presbyterian church. But people like this, they're around. And I gotta say I love them. Unbridled optimism.
Here he is. Verse 57. As they're walking along the road, a man says to Jesus, "I will follow you wherever you go."
Now the technical theological term for that, is that this guy talks a good game.
Now there's no doubt about it, confidence is good, isn't it? I heard a young cricketer interviewed on the radio the other day, and he was full of it. He's on the verge of selection for the test team. And he said to the interviewer, "I'm playing really well at the moment. I'm only averaging 32, but I've got a strong all round game."
And I'm sure there's a sports psychologist behind that somewhere saying you've gotta believe in yourself.
On a spiritual level there are lots of worship songs that do the same.
Like Steve Fee's song Burn for You.
There's a raging fire inside This soul of mine
And it's causing me to burn
It's causing me to burn for you.
I'd go anywhere
I'd do anything.
At any cost for you
Bold words. Much like the guy on the road with Jesus.
Or the old Bruno Mars love song Grenade. Do you remember it?
This isn't to Jesus, it's to his ex-girlfriend. He says, "Didn't you know?"
"I'd catch a grenade for ya Throw my hand on a blade for ya Jump in front of a train for ya You Know I'd do anything for ya Yes I would die for you baby... but you won't do the same
That's not a worship song. It's a pop song. But same kind of sentiment. Talking a good game.
But look, even in the world of hymns.
Classics. John Bunyan. He Who Would Valiant Be. Have you ever sung it? I have.
The first verse goes like this:
He Who would valiant be against all disaster, let him in constancy follow the Master. There's no discouragement shall make him once relent his first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.
In other words, if you wanna be a tough guy for Jesus then stick with him.
And nothing, no discouragement, will ever make you give up your promise to follow him.
Which always reminds me of the legendary story at Moore Theological College, where they were singing those words robustly in chapel one winter morning in the early 1970s. And Dr Knox the principal leans over to one of the earnest young students who's singing at the top of his voice. There's no discouragement shall make him once relent his first avowed intent to be a pilgrim. And Dr Knox whispers to him, "Do you really mean that?"
That's this guy on the road.
Jesus, I like what you're doing. I'm coming with you. I'm in. No discouragement will make me relent. I'll follow you where-ever you're going. And Jesus whispers to him... do you really mean that?
Because this is no easy road.
Now clearly, this guy wasn't in on the fact that earlier in this same chapter Jesus has just told his twelve closest disciples what's up ahead. In fact, he's told them twice.
Back in Luke 9 Verse 22.
The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
And then he says to them, the next verse, 'so whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves. And take up their cross daily. And follow me.'
Which means the road ahead is not going to be a picnic.
A few verses later they see Jesus transfigured on the mountain. Surrounded by clouds and shining in a glorious splendour. Like the scene from the Prophet Daniel; where Daniel says this son of man is going to come to the throne of God on the clouds, and rule over all the nations. Jesus is saying, I'm the one Daniel was talking about.
But then back down the mountain he says it again. Listen carefully. We're on the road to Jerusalem. And they're going to kill me. Verse 44.
Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you. The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.
But they don't understand what he means. All they can see is the glory. And none of the cost that's coming.
So Mr Optimistic. Verse 57. "I'll follow you where ever you go."
And Jesus says to him in verse 58, are you sure you understand the cost? I'm not heading for a palace. I haven't got a fancy beach house or a summer villa in the south of France. I've got no retirement plan; I don't get to schedule in executive time watching TV and sending tweets until 11 every morning. Or play golf on my 90 exclusive Jesus branded golf courses. I know wild animals that are better off than I am.
Look at his words: "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
I'm on a mission. On the road to Jerusalem. And when I get there, they're going to put me to death.
Although you might remember he did mention... that won't be the end of the story. There's more to come.
Because this is the one who will die for sin. And three days later rise again.
At this side of his coronation they're going to have to take it on trust.
And travel light. And be prepared to give up their own lives with him.
This is like no kingdom they've ever seen before.
So is this guy on the road in. Or is he out.
"I'll come with you where ever you go."
"Well, if you do... don't expect it to be comfortable."
What's the guy going to do? Funny. Luke doesn't say. But what would you do?
Verse 59, it's on to the next guy. Candidate number 2.
This time Jesus takes the initiative. And says to him... follow me.
And the guy replies in the next sentence.
Lord, first, let me go and bury my father.
Now there's a lot of debate about this guy's dad. Whether he's already dead and the guy's out here on the road talking to Jesus kind of in the middle of arranging the funeral. Which would be kind of odd.
It's more likely, this is what most commentators think: it's his way of saying, look, I'll follow you; but I've got to sort things out with my dad first.
Like, he's relying on me. Like, we're in a family business. Like, I can't follow you; and fulfil my cultural family duty and work the farm and look after my dad and see him through his life; and lay him to rest. bury him well. My duty as his son. So I'll come along later.
Trouble is, there's never a good time, is there? Like the old lady back in 1966 when they first brought in decimal currency and replaced the old system of pounds and shillings and pence with dollars and cents. And this older lady was so annoyed at the change. And she said, why do they have to do this to us now. Why can't they just wait until all the old people have died and do it then.
Trouble is, there's never a good time, is there? There's never a time you'll be free of responsibility. If it's not this it will be that. There's always another reason. Always another commitment. Always another priority.
And always good things.
Jesus says to him, I'm calling you to be part of the life business, not the dead business.
Verse 60. And look, if the guy's dad has just died it sounds a bit tough. But he says, no time for grieving. No time for putting your dad's affairs in order. No time to sort out the estate. No time to be executor. Come. Now. He says,
Let the dead bury their own dead. But you. Go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.
Now there's an implication there, isn't there? Spiritual life. Spiritual death.
Loaded, with the idea that the way to life is by coming with Jesus. That life comes through proclaiming the kingdom. The gospel. The news of this new king.
Hold that thought. Because again, we've got no idea which way this guy jumps. Does he come with Jesus? Or does he stay with his dad? Not even a hint. You decide. What do you reckon? I reckon he stays.
So step down the page to candidate 3. Here's another guy who starts well. I will follow you, Lord. I get it. You're the messiah. You're king. But first, let me go back and say goodbye to my family.
I'm here with you on the road, I've walked with you a while now; but just hold on a minute, I'll go back and pack my bags and I'll say goodbye to mum and dad and the cousins and the aunts and uncles, they'll give me a nice send off, and then I'll join you on the road to Jerusalem.
To which Jesus replies, the road I'm going, there's no looking back. Look at his words. And look if you're a farm person these days with a huge tractor and a GPS tracking system this isn't so much a problem. But back then with an ox and a single furrow plow it was different. Get your eye on a mark up ahead. And keep walking straight towards it. No looking back.
Jesus replied, verse 62, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of god."
Slam! I mean, here's a guy who says he's willing. Here's a guy who says he's coming. Here's a guy who just wants to say goodbye to his mum.
And Jesus says, no looking back. We're on the road to Jerusalem. I'm going to die there. And on the third day rise again. This is the kingdom coming. And you're either in. Or you're not.
So what does the guy do? Who knows? Luke doesn't say. What would you do?
I mean, it sounds tough doesn't it? One guy just wants to wait until his dad dies. Another guy just wants to go home and pack his bags and say goodbye.
And Jesus says no. You might as well stay.
It sounds tough. But here's the problem.
Remember we're saying the gospel message is the one who died for sin is king?
Like I said we're at a point before you can say that, because he hasn't died yet. He's still on the road to Jerusalem. Where he's going to die for sin. I guess the gospel you'd be announcing at this point is that the one who's going to die for sin is king.
But I want to ask you to consider. What do you actually mean by those last two words? What's he actually going to rule over, if he's ruling over anything? For you? Because that's what kingship means.
Did you see the Queen being interviewed about her crown. She said it's awfully unwieldy. Heavy. Uncomfortable. But as she gave it an affectionate little pat. "But otherwise it's really rather important." It's the symbol of her rule.
These guys were signing up with Jesus to proclaim a kingdom. A new reign. A new rule. So here's the problem.
What's he going to rule over? Because I want you to notice the words in common in their answers to Jesus.
The guy who wants to bury his dad in verse 59. Have a look at the opening words of his answer. And then take another look at the next guy in verse 61.
Because they're exactly the same. And the problem is the words, Lord, but first... " just logically don't work.
But first... But first let me get my dad sorted. But first let me get the mortgage paid. But first I've got some career goals that are really quite important. But first I've got my soccer game. But first I've got my year 12 exams. But first I've gotta get a new high score on call of duty my Xbox.
Which is maybe the only kind of call of duty you're up for?
If you're going to be a person who can say the one who died for my sin... is my king... then what's it going to count for? Are you just in it for the fringe benefits? The kind of maybe good luck you think following Jesus is going to bring? The promises you might have heard of prosperity. And good health. And everything going well for you. If you have enough faith?
That's not what Jesus is promising. He's promising the road to Jerusalem. The road to the cross. No place to lay his head.
He's saying you might have to leave you father. Leave your security. Leave your home. In his service. If you think about Jesus; isn't that what he did?
We're hoping that you picked up in the last few months the idea that you can sum up our gospel message as: the one who died for sin is king. At this point in the story in Luke's gospel, it's the one who's on his way to die for sin is King. So are you coming with him? Are you going to be part of that kind of Kingdom? Are you going to be part of proclaiming; that Kingdom. The kingdom of God? Are you going to live it? By refusing to say but first to anything else. Because you know that his kingship means he's first.
And so somehow we've got to be the people who say, look, I'd like to be comfortable and secure with a nice bed with a nice pillow on it. but first, how am I meant to be serving the lord Jesus? No matter what it costs me?
Tim Keller on this passage says that the definition of worship is what you're going to put first in your life. And it's either Jesus. Or it's something else. And whatever you say but first to... it's a good diagnostic question, isn't it?
The Christian blogger Addie Zierman was writing about the Bruno Mars love song I mentioned earlier. "I'd catch a grenade for ya/Throw my hand on a blade for ya." That stuff.
And she says when that song comes on the radio, she gets irritable and start asking questions to her radio. Because she says, it's one thing to make grand claims. But life's lived out in the ordinary. She says,
Would ya do the dishes for her? Would ya change the dirty nappies for her? Get up in the night with a crying baby for her? Would ya Bruno? Would you listen? Would you stay if she failed you in the most unimaginable, heartbreaking way? Would you go to marriage counselling and sit there on the couch holding her hand, answering the hard questions? Would you do the work of forgiving, the work of being forgiven, in that moment where it would be easier to give up?
Because, in the end says Addie Zierman, that's love: not the proud vow that you would die for her if it came to that, but a hundred thousand little deaths that somehow add up to life. But, you know, who wants to sing about that?
I guess it's the same with our worship songs, isn't it? The same every day with the way we play out our commitment to king Jesus. One thing to say he's king. One thing to say "I'll follow you where ever you go." One thing to talk a good game.
But another thing altogether to make the costly daily decisions to live that out. To forgive instead of growing bitter. Because Jesus says to. To be generous instead of holding on. Because Jesus says to. To share and to serve; and to speak of your king. Even when it's not popular any more. To be part of your king's gospel community as part of church. Here to serve. Here to help. Here to look out for someone else. Rather than just consume the service of everyone else.
Tough challenge, isn't it? Jesus is a bit like that recruiting campaign for ASIO a few weeks back. This is a radical gospel. Being part of the kingdom life costs you nothing. It's free. And yet to step out and follow Jesus in another way costs you everything. Because you'll be putting him first. Above anything else. If the one who died for sin really is your King.