Sunday, May 06, 2012

Luke 9:51-62 - The Cost of Following Jesus

We come to the end of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee in Luke 9, and Jesus opens a new phase of ministry, sending out the Twelve (Luke 9:1-9) feeding five thousand with just a few loaves of bread and fishes (Luke 9:10-17), revealing his identity and his mission to his men (Luke 9:18-22), and calling them to a life of surrender (Luke 9:23-27). The Transfiguration confirms Jesus’ identity and coming glory as Messiah (Luke 9:28-36), calling us to the true greatness of faith and servanthood (Luke 9:37-50).

A major shift in Luke’s Gospel occurs at Luke 9:51 (and goes to Luke 18:14), as Jesus turns his attention from ministry in Galilee to a resolute focus towards Jerusalem and his coming suffering. Despite opposition (Luke 9:51-56), Jesus calls for personal sacrifice, even of family responsibilities, in order to concentrate completely on serving the Lord (Luke 9:57-62).

Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 9:51-62 to teach believers that Jesus' disciples are called to follow Him in grace and commitment despite opposition and obstacles.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about the cost of following Jesus.
Pray and Read:  Luke 9:51-62

Sermon Points:
1.   Jesus’ disciples are called to follow Him in grace despite opposition (Luke 9:51-56).
2.   Jesus’ disciples are called to follow Him in commitment despite obstacles (Luke 9:57-62).

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   Jesus’ Galilean ministry comes to a close at Luke 9:50 and at Luke 9:51 opens a new focus. From this point to his Passion is six months. The long section from Luke 9:51-18:14 is, along with Luke 1-2 and 24, Luke’s most distinctive contribution to the Gospels, the Lord’s Travelogue from Galilee to Jerusalem and His Passion. No matter that his disciples do not understand, the Lord resolves that the time has come for him to accomplish his mission, and in perhaps an echo of the third Servant Song, “I have set my face like flint” (Isaiah 50:7; Ezek 21:2), Jesus set out resolutely (Luke 13:31-35). Coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration, he sets Mount Zion – the city of Jerusalem – before himself as a goal for his “taking up,” or ascension, which we see in Acts 1.
b.   Luke 9:53 – It was no secret that intense religious hostility existed between Samaritans and Jews. In order to travel from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south, one must either pass through Samaria or go around them on the east side of the Jordan. It was a three day journey. Samaritans were a real irritation to Jews to begin with. Descended from various tribes by Sargon II of Assyria when he repeopled Samaria after the fall of northern Israel in 722 BC, they were not really Jews by race. But they adopted Jewish forms of worship and read Torah. After the Exile, when the returning Jews refused their help in the rebuilding, the hard feelings increased. The ill-feeling persisted for centuries. Here, the rudeness of the Samaritans refusing shelter to Jesus’ party because they were headed toward Jerusalem (and not their Temple on Mount Gerizim) roused the Sons of Thunder. James and John, similar to an earlier retaliation (Luke 9:49-50) want to call down fire on them, similar to Elijah (2 Kings 1:9ff; 1 Kings 18:38).[1] One of the odd features of the disciples’ training is that they are so insensitive in time of crisis (e.g., Mark 10:32-36). What an opening to Jesus’ long march to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the whole world. Right out of the gate, the disciples’ arrogance toward the outcast and God’s love for those outside the covenant promises are center stage, a major issue that must be worked out in the book of Acts. One day, even despised Samaritans would be offered the free gift of salvation found in Jesus (Acts 8:4-25).
c.   APPLICATION: The pride and self-importance of the disciples continues. How do we react to hostility? With graciousness. Jesus corrected the disciples’ militant suggestions. But there is more here in a Lukan theme of God’s love for all people, regardless of ethnic or cultural background.
a.   The key Christological theme of the Travelogue is that Jesus is headed to Jerusalem to suffer and die – with the corollary that his disciples must be willing to suffer for their master. This account presents this theme. Three men approach Jesus wanting to be his disciples. In each case, Jesus’ response points to the radical nature of the commitment and the cost a disciple must be willing to pay. Jesus calls for personal sacrifice (Luke 9:57-58) and perhaps even giving up normal family responsibilities (Luke 9:59-60) in order to concentrate completely on serving the Lord (Luke 9:61-62).
b.   Luke 9:58 – Foxes and birds: Jesus singular devotion to his task means that he has no permanent home to provide security.
c.   APPLICATION: One who follows Jesus must be willing to surrender material comforts and all that “home” supplies you.
d.   Luke 9:59-60 – Let me go bury: Respect for parents was of utmost importance for Jews, up there with “honor thy father and thy mother.” That included providing a proper burial, and even priests, normally defiled by touching a dead body, could bury family members immediately (Lev 21:1-3). Jesus says to let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead. Some try to soften his words, saying the man is waiting for his father to die, but it seems that the man’s father has already died or is near death. Jesus means for his reply to be radical, shocking, and countercultural. Jesus’ demand that the son place Jesus above his responsibility to his father would have sounded like heresy.
e.   APPLICATION: Jesus demands precedence even over the most important things in your life. A follower of Jesus must be willing to surrender even the dearest of relationships to give complete allegiance to the Lord. Those who are insensitive to God can do the routine. Those with a passion for God will give the Kingdom first place. What about you? Do you get upset when everything doesn’t go the same old way every time, that something in the bulletin changes? Or a goof up? Or are you more interested in Christ being glorified?
f.    Luke 9:61-62 – Let me say goodbye: This statement echoes Elisha’s request when he was called by Elijah (1 Kings 19:19-20). Jesus plays off that storyline. Since Elisha was plowing when Elijah found him, Jesus said that “no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom.” Every farmer knows you must keep looking forward to get a straight row. Similarly, the disciple who is constantly distracted by past associations cannot give effective service to the Kingdom. Jesus demands a more rigorous commitment than Elijah did.
g.   ILLUSTRATION: Remember Lot’s wife? She looked back (Gen 19:26).
h.   APPLICATION: In each of these cases the obstacle to discipleship are concern for self, especially one’s own comfort, a group loyalty that is too narrow. Jesus calls successively in these three cases for self-denying devotion to the Kingdom of God, absolute priority, and exclusive attention. Taken together these three incidents sum up what our decision to follow Jesus as His disciples involves. We choose his will over our own comfort or even our material security. We choose His will over even the most intimate of personal and family relationships. And we give our total, absolute attention to Serving Him..

[1] The Byzantine reading (KJV, NKJV, etc.) make the connection with Elijah. The RSV, NIV, NASB, etc. leave it out as well as verse 56.