Years ago an artist was asked to paint a picture of a decaying church. He did so, but he did not do it in the way most people figured he would. Most thought that his canvas would display an old dilapidated building that was tottering on ruin. But instead, he painted a stately edifice. It was beautiful building, filled with modern grandeur.
But—and this is where the artist idea of a decaying church came through—right above the offering plate there hung a square box bearing the inscription, “Foreign missions.” And right over the slot where the contributions were to be placed the artist had painted a large cobweb.
The illustrator’s point was clearly made. The elegant building was nothing more than a ornate tomb. They had lost the drive for evangelism and seeing the gospel propagated throughout the earth, and that was a clear indication that they had lost the gospel themselves.
It is true: A church that doesn’t press the gospel is a church that isn’t impressed with the gospel. If a church doesn’t have it in their hearts, they are not going to be taking it to the streets. The people will develop a sort of tunnel vision; they will lack any real fervor for church planting and missionary activity throughout the world.
But a lively church will be one that is deeply concerned for such things. And we see something of that drive—that determination in our passage today.
This passage shows us that our Lord Jesus was himself a man who was devoted to missions. Of course, as we learned a few weeks ago, He himself was on a mission. He had set his face towards Jerusalem so that he could bring salvation to his people. And in this passage we see his fervor for expanding the reach of the gospel. Jesus organizes a short term mission trip with these 70 guys. He has no other goal but to expand the scope of his ministry.
And this morning we are going to we are going to be looking at this missionary activity, and we are going to consider it’s three parts. We are going to look at how it was commenced, how it was conducted, and how it was concluded.
And as we do so, I want us to be thinking about how zealous we are for missions and for the propagation of the gospel. But before we step out the door, before we make any attempt to expand into the wider region around us, the first thing we should do is get on our knees.
That’s what you see here in this passage with Jesus’ mini mission. It was commenced with prayer.
I. Commenced with prayer [1-2]
The passage begins by telling us that Jesus appointed 70 guys and sent them out two by two into every town. But then in verse 2, we find that before they went out jesus told them to pray. He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefor pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
If there is one thing we learn from this passage it is that Jesus has a great concern for missions. His goal here was increase the scope of his ministry so that it could have the biggest possible impact. But what is interesting is that Jesus knew that 70 guys were not enough for the task at hand! He says, “Pray for more! The harvest is too much for us!”
Now I love this imagery. He draws from the world of agriculture and basically says, “God has ordained that there be many souls who are saved. As a matter of fact, there are so many we don’t have enough hands to do it! We need more people to go out and preach the gospel. So make sure you’re praying for more ministers of the gospel to be raised up!”
Now that is where we need to focus in too. I understand that you might not be called to be a missionary yourself. You might be called to be a mother and a wife. You might be called to be an entrepreneur or a teacher. But you should see through this that you still have an obligation to be praying for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. No matter what your occupation may be, it is still your duty to ask the Lord to raise up godly men who can help storm the citadels of Satan.
I thank you so much that you have called me to do ministry here. I love having the opportunity to start Bible studies, write newsletters, and preach each Lord’s Day. But we are still shorthanded for the job. There is so much more to be done! Sometimes I get overwhelmed at how much work there is to do.
We need more men who are equipped to lead bible studies and preach the gospel. We need more work to be done in Mansfield, and Wooster, in Ashland and the south county area. We have college campuses that need bible studies (NC State, Ashland University, Wooster College). And that’s not counting all the churches around here that have apostatized and lost the light of the gospel. There are over 100 churches in Ashland county alone. But how many of them would you recommend to a friend? Hey, I’m preaching to the choir here! Most of you have come here because you have sought high and low for a church that cleaves to Christian principles.
Certainly, I do not think that we are the only Christian church in this area, but I think you will agree with me when I say that we are still very far from any sort of revival. Satan sits quite comfortably in the nest he has made right here in North Central Ohio.
That is why the Lord wants you to pray. Pray that the kingdom of Satan would be destroyed. Pray that the kingdom of Christ would be advanced. Pray that there would be others who sense the call of God. Pray that men would be equipped with a deep knowledge of Scripture and a tongue that is able to articulate the gospel.
He wants us to pray because as long as there are no laborers, there is no harvest. If we neglect making this petition, the field remains unharvested.
Jesus was concerned that as many people as possible hear the word of God. And for that reason he commands us to earnestly beseech God for the means of bringing the harvest in. So before we move forward, we need to kneel down. It is incumbent upon us to pray, “Thy kingdom come.”
But you’ll also notice that Jesus was not only concerned with the way it was started. He was also concerned with the way it was carried out. In other words, he not only wanted it to be commenced with prayer, he wanted it to be conducted with prudence.
I. Conducted with prudence [3-16]
In verses 3-16 read the instructions that Jesus gave his missionary team. And he says that prudence should dictate how you live among these people and how you leave them.
He begins by saying in verse 3 that he is sending them out as lambs among wolves. In other words, there are going to be people out there who are not going to welcome your message. They are going to want to tear you apart.
And then he goes on to tell them how to live among these wolves. He tells them not to take an extra pair of shoes or move house to house. In other words, He wants them to be happy with the standard of living that they get. He doesn’t want them to detract from the message. If they are distracted by all kinds of invitations and dinner parties and finding a nicer place to live, then their opponents can start making a case that they are just a bunch of charlatans.
I read just this week a little about Ray Comfort, a famous missionary out in Southern California. People are always harassing him about the kind of car he drives and the money he makes off of his books. The truth is, Ray rides a bike wherever he goes. His lifestyle is pretty simple. He’s not overly concerned about making it big and living high off the hog. But his detractors would like to think that he is and they would like to use that against him.
That’s what Jesus is talking about. Jesus essentially says, “Don’t get distracted from the ministry. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!”
And what is the main thing? Well, He says in verse 9, “Heal the sick and tell them that the kingdom of God has come near.” Let them know that there is life and salvation through Jesus Christ.
But you’ll notice that Jesus’s instructions pertain not just to how they live. He is also concerned about how they leave.
In the following verses, starting with verse 10, he describes what to do when they are rejected. Jesus says, in some places you will make some headway, even though you might face some opposition. But other places are not going to tolerate you at all! And Jesus tells these guys that the most prudent thing to do in that situation is to just walk away.
Isn’t that a good message to you and me? Don’t give your pearls to pigs. Sometimes, you just need to walk away. If someone is so hard hearted and stubbornly opposes your message, Jesus says, “Don’t waste your time!” Once you’ve clearly proclaimed the gospel, you’ve done your duty. That’s all that is incumbent upon you. You don’t have to belabor things.
After all, things are going to be pretty bad for them after that. In verse 10 he says that they are to shake the dust off their sandals as a testimony against them. And in verse 12 he says, “I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.”
In other words, once they hear the gospel, they are put in a place where their punishment becomes more extreme than that of Sodom. That’s why he launches into this denunciation of these three cities in verses 13-16. He says, “Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre & Sidon, they would have repented long ago.”
What is Jesus doing here? He’s showing how greater revelation will mean and greater guilt for those who reject it. Jesus had conducted much of his ministry in these three cities Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida. He had done most of his miracles in that region of Galilee. But they didn’t listen. They had not believed his works. Now he’s saying, “You just wait and see. When the Day of Judgment comes, you will find that what happened to the people of Sodom will be a treat compared to what happens to you!”
And that my friends is something you all need to take into consideration. If you don’t believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and become his follower, then you need to recognize that you are in a perilous position. Your judgment will be more strict for having sat here in this room today. It is better to never have heard it in the first place. I would have been better for you if you had lived in Africa and never heard the message of Christ’s saving power. For on the day when he returns, you will wish you could be numbered with the Sodomites.
Please take heed to that. Don’t be a fool. Jesus wants you to enjoy grace and salvation. He wants you to come and partake of that life.
And if you are sharing the gospel, he wants you to be aware of the way you should be conducting yourself in this world. Jesus says that you should use prudence in deciding how you should live and when you should leave.
In the last portion of our text, verses 17-20, we are told about how things wrap up. We’ve seen that this mission was commenced with prayer and conducted with prudence. And in these verses we see that it was concluded with praise.
II. Concluded with praise [17-20]
In verse 17 it says that these men came back filled with joy. They were because they had witnessed so many miracles. They say, “Lord, Even the demons are subject to us in your name!”
Now, you would think that Jesus would be excited about that too. You’d think that he would be high fivin’ them and whooping it up because the forces of evil are cowering at the mention of his name. But that’s not how he reacts, is it?
If you look at verse 20 you see that he says, “Do not rejoice in the fact that the spirits are subject to you—Don’t praise God because of that. Rather rejoice in the fact that your names are written in heaven.”
Jesus wants them to keep their focus on the real miracle. The most glorious thing is not the fact that you can exercise demons or make someone walk again. The real thing that we should glory in is the fact that God has had mercy upon us.
That’s the whole theme of this passage. It is all about the gospel. It is about the grace that God demonstrates towards sinners like us. The real wonder is that God would have mercy on you and me.
If you have believed in the Lord Jesus, you recognize that you should be one of the Sodomites. And the only reason that you are not going to meet with the same fiery fate is because God has, for some unknown reason, set his affection upon you and chosen to take away your sin.
I think it is summed up in the old hymn,
While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast,
Each of us cries with thankful tongue, “Lord, why was I a guest?”
Why was I made to hear your voice and enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come.
We praise God because the gospel has come to us.
Conclusion:A young missionary man stationed in China frequently wrote home so that he could maintain contact with his family. On one occasion he included a picture of himself in his mailing. When the family received the message they were somewhat taken aback at the sight of their beloved. They were glad to see that he was in good condition and that the rigors of the ministry and the China land had not taken its toll on him physically. However they were shocked at his dress. While in China he had decided to set his western clothes aside and take up the garb of the natives. His sister expressed her dismay and concern that he was so intermixed with the heathen.
The man who had delivered the message said to her, “Did not Christ do the same for him? Did not Christ take on his form in order to bring him life and salvation? Is it not then appropriate that he should do the same for these heathen people?”
It is true. Missions begins with the work of the great Missionary Himself. We must keep our eyes on the fact that the good news has come to us, and God by his sovereign will has given us life. That and that alone will be what moves us to seek the advancement of the gospel.
I have not read it, but there is a book that has been written by Francis Chan entitled, “Crazy Love.” I saw a promo video for the book this week where Francis Chan talked about why he wrote it. He said that he had grown up going to church all his life and his thought was that Christianity was rather simple: Don’t cuss, don’t drink too much, don’t have sex outside marriage, go to church as much as you can.
He said that he began to see a much higher view of God. He said that the love of God was radically different than what he had heard about all his life. Then he began to think, “If God would do a crazy thing like sending his Son on earth to die for our sins, how should he respond?” He began to understand that the intensity of God’s love demands a radical response.
He said he wrote the book to challenge people. In essence, he wanted to challenge people to respond to crazy love with crazy love.
Again, I know nothing about Chan’s book. Yet the principle he expressed in that promotion is true: Crazy love is the only true response to the Crazy love of God.
To be sure, as we follow the story of Christ in this gospel over the next couple of months, we will see just how crazy God’s love is. Even in this passage we see something of how intense the love of Jesus is for his people. As we look at the passage we are going to see the depth of his love in the resolve he has and in the restraint he demonstrates.
No doubt, we will be able to notice the a flame of fire that burns hot in his soul for his people. He has a crazy love! And I hope that what you see here sparks in you a similar love for him. I hope that it kindles within your heart a love that would be willing to go beyond the bounds of normal obedience—a willingness to do something crazy in the eyes of the world… but pleasing in the sight of God.
Now, if you ask my wife, she will tell you that I’m just crazy. But if you look into this passage you see someone who is almost just as out of his mind.
I. We see the depth of his love in his resolve 
Verse 51 says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
I want you to take notice of that phrase, “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Some of you might have it translated, “He steadfastly set his face towards Jerusalem.” To set your face to something is to turn with intention towards it and determination to move that way.
Typically, I set my face towards the refrigerator. I am determined to go there and nothing is going to stop me.
What you see here is that Jesus is now making an intentional movement toward Jerusalem. And you know what Jerusalem is: It is that place where he was going to be crucified and killed. The verse is pointing out that Jesus knew what his mission was. He knew that he couldn’t prowl around in the comforts of Galilee his whole life. He knew that his purpose was to go to the hostile territory of Jerusalem so that he might give himself up as the sacrifice for sin.
You know, it is interesting to read the book of Luke because Luke always shows Jesus stepping into the line of fire. Whenever he has a chance to run, he doesn’t. Instead he does just the opposite. He moves into a position where he can be captured and crucified.
That’s exactly what you have here! Jesus knows what is waiting for him in Jerusalem. He knows that every footstep that brings him closer means certain death. It is like walking into the den of lions. Yet, that does not deter him. He set his face to go there. He resolved to go and he would not turn back because he knows that it is the only way for you to live.
This resolve reminds us that Jesus is not just the sacrifice, but he is also the one who offers the sacrifice. He is priest as well as lamb. Some people think that Jesus was just a guy who was trying to be a good teacher, but things went askew. They believe that Jesus towards the end of his life saw the crowds turning against him. So in a last ditch effort, they say, he throws himself into their hands and to die a martyr.
That’s not the picture you get here though. Here is a man who has a plan. He knows his mission long before he even gets to Jerusalem. He knows that Jerusalem means certain death, and despite the pains and hostilities he will face there, he sets his face towards it.
Now, I will ask you, “Is this not crazy?” I say, is this not a true expression of the depth of his love?
In 1907 a Mexican man was standing at the throttle of a train at Nocozari, a small mining town in the state of Sonora. Among the cars were several loaded with dynamite to assist in the excavation process in the mines. While the train was standing in the station a fire somehow broke out in one of the box cars. It quickly spread and was not able to be contained. There was no way of checking it, and it rapidly advanced towards the explosives which were contained several cars up. The dynamite was sure to detonate, and would most certainly wipe the village from the face of the planet, along with every person in it. Those who were closest to the fire began to run from the scene, calling on everyone else to flee with them. However, the man who stood as the engineer of the train did not. He resolved to remain in the cab so that he could save the town. He coolly opened the throttle in order to set the train in motion. Slowly he drew it away from the station and down the track, creating distance from the village. Then, suddenly, there was a frightful detonation. The train was reduced to atoms and the engine became nothing but a melted piece of scrap iron. As you can imagine, there was no trace to be found of the engineer.
The town was so grateful to that man that they began to take up a collection in order to erect a monument to him.
It might seem a little trite in comparison to what that man did for them, but it was the only way they could express their gratitude for his loving sacrifice.
There is a sense that Jesus did the exact same thing for you and me. If he would have cowered—if he would not have had the resolve to stay on course and go to Jerusalem to die, we would be left in our sins. We would be wiped from the face of the planet by the wrath of God.
It is crazy what he did. The determination he had was an evidence of how hot his love was for you. I wonder then if you would be willing to show the same kind of love for him. He resolved to bear your curse. Would you be willing to do the same for him?
It is no secret that our culture does not want fanatics. They don’t want someone to be really crazy about Jesus. They like people whose Christianity is tempered. They like Christians who are much more tame and don’t take it all that seriously.
As a matter of fact, they go out of their way to try and keep people from being excessive in their faith. They will confront you and call you names. They will try to make you feel like an outcast and freak.
But we have to be ready to say I love Jesus more. You have to resolve in your heart to follow him no matter what. You might have to set you face towards heaven just as Christ set his face to Jerusalem. And you can say, “I will be willing to give up my closest friendships if it means following Jesus. I will be willing to walk away from my job if it means having to support medical care that provides abortions. I will be willing to stand up and denounce evil, even if it means losing my life.”
Do not doubt me. You will face incredible pressures if you chose to follow Jesus. Satan will attempt in every way possible to get you to just go with the flow and keep the status quo. But you have to resolve to follow him no matter the cost.
That is what Jesus did for you. No amount of hardship could keep him away from the cross. His eye was upon you and your salvation every moment of his life—every step he took led him that much closer to the fires of hell. But no matter how intense the opposition became he would not turn back.
You’ll notice though that his resolve was not the only indicator of his love. The passage here talks about his restraint.
II. He demonstrates his love in his restraint [52-56]
Luke tells us that Jesus sent some messengers ahead of him to make preparations. And they entered a certain town of Samaria. And verse 53 says that they people of that town did not receive him because his face was set towards Jerusalem.
Now, you have to remember that there was a lot of animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. They hated each other. And when they heard that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem they would have known that he was likely a Jew. So they would immediately be put off.
You know, our nation used to have Jim Crow laws because of people’s racism. People would say, “This drinking fountain is for whites only.” That’s sort of thing going on here. They are looking at Jesus and saying, “This is a Samaritan only hotel.”
The text doesn’t mention this, but I don’t doubt that these Samaritans would have who Jesus was. Jesus’ fame had likely spread far and wide by this point. He had been ministering for a couple of years already and he was drawing large crowds of people wherever he went.
So it is likely that these Samaritans not only knew that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, but they likely knew something about him and what he proclaimed to be as the Messiah. And despite this, they essentially said, “Get out of here. We don’t want you here.”
What I’m trying to say is that this was an outrageous act. This is scandalous how offensive this is. This is the Son of God! You don’t treat the son of God this way. And if you understand this rightly, you will understand why James and John ask to torch the place. “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven? These scum do not deserve to live! Let us give them a little taste of the hell they deserve!”
Don’t forget that there is some biblical precedent for this too. Some of your versions will even include the words, “Do you want us to call down fire as Elijah did?” Back in 2 Kings we read about a time when the wicked king of Samaria told a captian to take 50 of his men down to Elijah and demand that he come to meet the king. In other words, “If he doesn’t come willingly, make him come!” So the Captain comes and says, “Man of God, come down!” And Elijah says, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you.” In other words, far be it for you to treat a prophet of God this way—with such an inhospitable spirit!
So James and John are here saying, “Jesus, they are treating you with even more contempt than they treated Elijah! This shouldn’t be! Let’s teach them a little lesson with some pyrotechnics!”
And how does Jesus respond? He rebukes them! And some of you will have, “You don’t know what manner of spirit you are. The Son of man did not come to destroy people’s lives, but to save them.”
Do you see the restraint that Jesus has? Don’t get me wrong. I think that James and John are filled with righteous indignation. They ought to be torqued, and I don’t doubt that Jesus is offended at what these Samaritans have done. But Jesus hadn’t come to consign people to hell. His mission was to save them.
He was on his way to Jerusalem. He was on his way to the cross so that he might be the one who had the fiery indignation of God fall upon himself.
Don’t get me wrong. Our God is a consuming fire. And the Bible says that for the enemies of God there is only “a fearful judgment and raging fire.” But we should also recognize that there is only one way to escape the wrath and curse of God. It is only through him who gave himself up to appease that wrath.
I hope you see how this reveals his love. It is one thing to run through a fire. There are some people who have that kind of determination. They can endure all kinds of opposition; their demeanor is such that they can have such determination that they can walk through a battlefield. They are just have that kind of fiery disposition. But most who do that are not the kind of people that can show this kind of restraint.
I would assume that most of us here, if we were in Jesus’ shoes, wouldn’t you side with James and John. If you were treated this way and were outraged at how these people showed you such contempt, would you be as calm as Jesus? I would assume you would at least bad mouth them a little.
But Jesus doesn’t do that. The only people he gets angry with is his disciples. And once he puts them right he simply moves on to the next town. He restrains his anger; he holds back his outrage. And the only thing that can explain that is that he loves them and wants to allow them a chance to come to a state of repentance.
You know, he is demonstrating that same restraint right at this minute. As long as you have breath, he offers you mercy. This despite the fact that you provoke him daily with your sin. He should wipe you from the face of the earth. But he doesn’t. In his great love, he is offering you time to see the error of your ways and get right with him.
All through the Scripture you hear a refrain repeated: “He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” We are currently doing a study in the Prophets in our Sunday evening home group. While looking at each of the prophets we’ve been amazed at the sins that the nation of Israel amassed. The things they did to provoke the Lord; the sins that they committed, sometimes it is just mind boggling. At times you can’t help but think, why did he put up with that? The only answer can be found in the words of the prophets when they say: He is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
I believe that is their way of saying, “He loves you with a crazy love.”
One of the books that we have studied so far is that of Hosea. Hosea was the prophet who was told to go marry a prostitute. And the story is about how Hosea’s wife goes off and commits adultery. You know, I was thinking about this after our study: that woman, according to OT law, should have been put to death. The penalty in the OT for adultery was death. Why is it that Hosea didn’t do that? I would suspect that it was simply because he loved her too much.
Of course, that fits the analogy. God put off his judgment of his people because he loved them too much.
I hope you see how radical his love really is. I hope that it would even inspire you to love him in return.
Maybe it would move you to do something crazy, like become one of his disciples. That is perhaps the wackiest thing a person could ever do. Saying to yourself that I am going to leave my current way of living and devote myself to Jesus and to his word—that is not a thing that “normal” people do. Normal people go on about their lives seeking their own desires and pursuing their own course of life. There are even some people who say that being a Christian is a sign of mental illness.
I don’t think that is true. But to the world, it certainly seems like a crazy thing to do.
In this passage, Jesus demonstrates clearly the fact that he had come to fulfill his mission—he was intent on purchasing your salvation and offering unto sinners like us life and salvation. And this passage is here to remind you that he loved you enough to give his life for you.
Some of you might know the old hymn “I Surrender All.” “All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give. I will ever love and trust Him, In his presence daily live. I surrender all. I surrender all. All to thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.”
What you might not know is the story behind the hymn. J. W. Van DeVenter was once a schoolmaster and promising artist. Indeed, he was an artist by trade and training. Painting was something of his passion. Teaching school was simply a means of supporting that passion. The position he had in the academy allowed him to make a living while he continued to study drawing and painting.
After attending a series of evangelistic meetings that were held in his church some of his friends witnessed his gifts in counseling and working with people. They then urged him to become an evangelist himself.
For five years Van DeVenter wavered between his love for art and what seemed to be God’s calling to the ministry. At last though, he decided to leave behind what had been his life long love up to that point. He gave up his brushes and his paints and he entered the ministry full time.
Years later, after reflecting on that time of his life, he wrote this hymn. And in the second stanza he would say, “All to Jesus I surrender, Humbly at his feet I bow. Worldly pleasures all forsaken, Take me Jesus, take me now.”
The song and Van DeVenter’s life characterize the theme of our passage this morning. Our text for today expresses that there can be nothing in our lives that comes before Christ. If we really want to be a follower of Christ—if we want to be one who is a disciple of Jesus, then the anthem of our life must be “All to Jesus I surrender.”
One of the things I love about this passage is that it is completely in your face. As we read it you no doubt saw that there are three different men who are looking to follow Jesus. And Jesus’ doesn’t beat around the bush. No. He sticks it to each one of them. In essence, he says, “Thank you for applying, but you got to understand: Following me isn’t without its consequences.”
And that’s what every one of us must understand. If you are going to be a Christ follower, you have to understand that He must be supreme. He must take precedence over everything else in this world. Indeed, in this passage, Jesus says that He must rank far above any earthly comfort, commitment, or care.
I. Above life’s comforts
Look at what it says in verses 57-58. Someone steps out of the crowd and boldly says, “Hey Jesus. I will follow you wherever you go!” Now, you have to admire the aspiration of this guy. He’s got some hutzpah. He’s got some fire in the bones and really wants to serve Christ.
But look what Jesus says in the next verse. Jesus responds by saying, “Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In other words, are you willing to give up what I’ve given up?
You remember that life used to be a little more glamorous for Jesus. Jesus used to dwell in heaven. He used to have a pretty sweet set up. There he was in glory with all the accompanying perks. But now, ever since his humiliation and incarnation, his life is been one of poverty and suffering—he didn’t even have a pillow upon which to rest his head! He had forsaken his home and all the other comforts of life, just so he could devote himself to his mission.
Jesus is saying, “Following me is not a bed of roses by any means. If you want a life of luxury and ease, then you better think again.”
You need to realize this too: If you chose to follow Jesus, then it very well mean that you lose a great many of the comforts in life.
To be sure, Jesus isn’t calling us to take a vow of asceticism. He’s not saying that if you love Jesus you have to liquidate your assets, get rid of your bed, and begin sleeping on a mat. No. He’s describing the extremities that you might face if you chose to follow him.
Jesus is saying that he was never at home in this world. And, if you are going to follow him, then you need to be ready to renounce your house and home too! You need to be able to be deprived of many of the nice things in life.
There are a number of ways this could pan out. Following Jesus may mean taking a job that pays less than what you have right now. Maybe you are making a comfortable living at your present job. But maybe you’ve been neglecting your family. You haven’t been following Christ’s call to be a husband and father like you should. Maybe you’ll need to step down from that position so that you can spend more time with your family. “But if I take a pay cut, then we won’t be able to make the mortgage payment.” Yeah! Maybe you’ll have to downsize and lose the comforts of a big house so that you can have a real home wherein Christ lives!
You got to understand that Christ doesn’t call you to be comfortable. He calls you to follow him. It may mean following a third world country so that you can do ministry there. Or it may mean that you start a booming company right here in your hometown, but then having to walk away from it because you have to go into hiding because of persecution breaking out.
And if that is not a commitment you can make, then Jesus says, “Don’t bother coming after me.” Jesus has to be the highest priority in your life and money or nice fluffy pillows have to take a far second place.
Again, I’m not saying that you have to take a vow of poverty. You very well may be called to have a very lucrative career. The question you must ask yourself is how dedicated are you to the comforts associated with this world? Can you live without them? Would you be able to give up sleeping in your Posturepidic bed if it meant following Jesus? If it came down to it, would you be willing to pull way back on your monthly expenses and live on a shoestring budget?
Jesus says, “if you are going to follow me, then you must be willing to mimic me.” He left the sweets of his heavenly abode so that he might fulfill his calling here on earth. And that may mean that you too will have to endure poverty and suffering yourself.
But you’ll notice that, if you are going to be a Christ follower, then you not only have to love Christ above life’s comforts, you have to love him above life’s commitments too.
II. Above life’s commitments [59-61]
In the next couple of verses we see how Jesus calls two other guys, and both of them basically say, “Ok, I’ll do it. Just give me a little while.” The first guy says that his father just died and he has to go and bury him. The other guy says, “Hey, just let me go home and say good-bye to my family.”
Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I don’t think that Jesus is saying that you can’t fulfill any obligations you have to your parents or that you should just walk away from them without giving them any kind of notice. Jesus knows that one of the 10 commandments is honor your father and mother. He knows that it is your duty to show proper respect to your household.
What I think is going on here is that Jesus is using hyperbole. A hyperbole is an exaggeration. He’s playing up the whole scenario so that people will recognize how extreme his calling really is. Jesus wants us to understand that every commitment in our life must play second fiddle to him and his calling in our life.
This is something that comes out a bit more clearly with the guy who has the burial preparations to make. Back in those days the burial process wasn’t as simple as it is for us in our day. It was a process that could take up to a year’s time. You know, we just put the person in a box and then put them in the ground. It is a rather quick fix. Back then, that’s not how it worked. First you would bury the person. Then a year later you would take the bones of the deceased and put them in an ossuary box for proper preservation.
So most Bible commentators see this guy as saying, “Sure I’ll follow you, but I’m going to do it later.”
Really, the connector between the two guys that Jesus calls is that both use the word “but.” I’ll follow you, but first let me bury my father. “Yeah, I’ll follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”
And that is what a lot of people say when they hear Christ calling them even today. Sure I’ll follow you, just as soon as I make this one last deal. There’s plenty of time to follow Jesus. But right now I want to ____.
Let me tell you the story of Big Eddy. Big Eddy is one of the guys who is involved in the FCA program over in the prison. Before Big Eddy went to the Big House he had a really good job. He own auto shop and he was making well over $100,000 a year. But that wasn’t enough for him. He got greedy and he started dealing drugs. That brought in hundreds of thousands more. But the Lord started speaking to him and he knew that he needed to stop dealing. He knew that he needed to get right with God and become a Christian. But he kept putting it off. Finally he said, “Just one more.” Once this deal goes down, I’m out.
So there he was, ready to make his last deal. He had the stash and he was ready to get a big load of money. It was a big drop. But it turned out to be a bust. From what I hear it was just like you see on TV. A SWAT team came out of nowhere with all their guns pointed right at him. A helicopter swooped in and beamed a light down on him. The whole thing was a set up. It was a big sting operation.
Big Eddy didn’t even try to run. He knew that it was God’s doing. He had failed to listen to the call of Christ. He kept putting it off and making excuses because he was more committed to the money and to the drugs.
Thankfully God gave Big Eddy another chance. Eddy is faithfully serving God in the prison right now. And someday he’s going to be able to get out and continue serving Christ in a church somewhere.
But his life serves as an example of someone who doesn’t see the urgency of making Christ the highest priority in your life. If you are going to follow Christ, you have to do it now and he has to take precedence over the things to which you are committed.
He has to take precedence over your family. He has to take precedence over you career. You young people, he has to take precedence over your relationships. You might really like a certain girl. You might be really committed to her. You might be so committed to her that you are ready to marry her. But if she’s not a Christian, or if she is going to hinder your walk with Christ, then you need to be able to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do it.”
Of course, there is the opposite extreme too. I’m not sure if it is a problem in this congregation, but one of the biggest things that people need to deal with today is these kinds of relationships. Some couples think, “We are so committed to each other that we are living together.” That’s not what Christ wants though. Jesus says, “if you love her, marry her. Don’t be living in sin like that.” And these couples have to decide if they are going to follow Jesus.
Whatever the case may be, Jesus has to take precedence over whatever you are committed to in this world. And you can’t say, “Yeah, I’ll follow you, I’ll just get on it a little later.” No. It has to be now. Christ demands that you heed his call right at this very moment. A commitment later, is no commitment at all.
But not only does he have to take priority over the comforts and commitments in your life, but he has to take priority over all of life’s cares.
III. Above life’s cares
Jesus sums it all up in verse 62 when he says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Now this might be a reference to the calling of Elisha back in the book of Kings. Some of you may know the story of how Elijah came by Elisha one day as he was plowing the field with his oxen and threw his mantle around him. It was Elijah’s way of saying, “God wants you to take up my ministry someday.” You may remember that Elisha went back to his parents and said farewell before going out with Elijah.
Some say that Jesus isn’t letting this guy have that kind of opportunity because there is something unique about this moment in time. And there may be some truth to that. This is, after all, Jesus’ calling. He’s saying, “Hey, the kingdom of God cannot wait!” Christ is here! It is time to take action and make decisions that have eternal significance. You can’t be dilly dallying around.
There very well may be some legitimacy to that. But there might be another way of looking at this verse. Maybe he is talking about how the life of a Christ follower demands a steadfast spirit. You need to be determined to forsake everything. Nothing should in this world deter you from following Jesus.
That, I think, fits the illustration Jesus uses. If you are plowing a field you can’t take your eye off what is in front of you for very long. If you do, the oxen will start to drift and your rows won’t be plowed straight.
The same thing is true when you are driving a car. If you get caught up looking at a billboard, it’s likely that you’re going to run your car into the next lane or off the road. You naturally drive in the direction you are looking.
Think about it. Here’s a guy plowing a field, and something catches his attention. Its something frivolous, but something he enjoys. Maybe he’s looking at some friends. They are out playing ball in the next field. Or maybe he’s just daydreaming about what he’s going to do that night. All these cares are filling his head.
A little later the man who owns the field comes out to inspect the work. When he gets there sees all kinds of squiggly lines. What’s he going to do? He’s going to be mad! He’s going to say, “Get out of here! You’re not fit for this kind of work!”
Jesus is saying, “You can’t be caught up in all kinds of cares in this world and follow me. You can’t be distracted by the pleasures the world may offer. You can’t be distracted by any old fancy.
There are plenty of distractions. There are little ones, like the internet. The internet is a great thing, but let’s face it: it can be a distraction. Rather than spending time in prayer or doing some personal devotion, you can just start clicking. One youtube video, leads to the next. And there is nothing like pictures of little kittens to distract you from your focus on Christ.
One of my prisoner students just confided in me this week something similar. He said he got rid of his tv. He said that he is amazed now how much time he has to get things done and focus on his walk with Christ. He said, “It is amazing, you know. You finish one show, and they give the teaser for the next one and it just sucks you in. The next thing you know you’ve burned 3-4 hours.”
There is nothing wrong with a tv, but he recognized that his television had become a distraction to his walk with Christ. So he just decided to cut the connection altogether.
Maybe you need to do the same. Maybe there is something in your life that has become a distraction. There is an idol that seems to be sucking too much of your attention and taking you away from serious time in the word or in prayer. Maybe it is something much more devious than a TV. Maybe it is something outright sinful, like pornography. Whatever the case may be, Jesus says that you must not let these things pull you away from the course you have set.
In 1812 Napoleon’s French army invaded Russia. During that campaign they overtook a small Russian village. All the inhabitants had fled except one peasant. He was supposed to be a woodsman from the axe that hung from his belt. The officer in command of the French troops ordered the man to be shot. The soldiers raised their muskets and prepared to fire. But the peasant stood coolly, looking down the barrels of the guns. He never once flinched.
The officer in charge was so struck with the man’s courage that he commanded the firing party to lower their muskets and spare the prisoner’s life. “But,” said the officer, “we will put a mark upon him.” They made a branding iron red hot and placed it upon the man’s hand. When they removed he could see that the mark took the form of the letter “N.”
The peasant man asked, “What is this?” The officer responded, “That is the letter ‘N’ for Napoleon. You belong to him now. The woodsman then turned, placed the branded hand upon a nearby table, took his axe from his belt, and with one stroke severed the hand from his arm. “There now!” he cried. “There is not one bit of me that does not belong to the Czar.”
That man was truly loyal. He would rather lose the comfort of his own hand than be branded a traitor. Not even his commitment to his own life (and perhaps even his family) would break his commitment to his king.
The same level of commitment is demanded of anyone who would chose to follow Christ. May you too be willing to set Christ as supreme
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.