Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

July 2, 2017 Sermon

Click HERE for an audio version posted on our Facebook page.

Luke 9:51-62

Dear Friends in Christ,

Many years ago a young woman came to my office very upset. She was sure that the previous pastor at the church had told her in Catechism class that if she would trust in Jesus her problems would be taken care of. She tried trusting in Jesus, and praying, but her problems did go away. She was still surrounded by people who were using drugs and alcohol and all the fights and arguments and financial troubles and confrontations with police that went along with it. If she was trying to follow Jesus, why didn’t her troubles go away?

A young man came to my office very upset. Their next door neighbor was sick. His grandmother had made them some food and asked him to take it next door. She had reminded him that Jesus wants us to love and serve our neighbor. So he took the food to the neighbor thinking that he was doing a good thing and following Jesus by serving his neighbor. When he got to the porch, the neighbor’s dog bit him. If he was following Jesus why did the dog bite him? Why did something bad happen when he was trying to do something good?

You get the picture. Even if we have never heard a prosperity preacher on radio or TV, and I don’t think these young people had, our sinful nature wants us to think that, if only we really believe in and follow Jesus, then all our earthly troubles will go away. We hear that Jesus saves, that he does miracles, that his kingdom is full of love and grace, and we think that means all our earthly troubles will disappear if we follow him. Just like the disciples, we don’t listen carefully to everything Jesus says. He makes it very clear that just the opposite is true. He makes it clear that following him means a cross.

This chapter of Luke’s gospel is filled with amazing things. Jesus had sent out the Apostles to practice what he had taught them. They had preached the Gospel, healed sicknesses and diseases, and even cast out demons. They returned from their mission trip filled with joy over what God had done through them. Jesus then fed the 5,000. He elicited Peter’s confession that he was the Christ, the son of God. He took Peter, James and John up a mountain and was transfigured before their eyes. When they came down from the mountain he cast out a demon from a child when the disciples who had stayed behind had not been able to do so. You can understand why James and John started to think like prosperity preachers. When they saw someone driving out demons in Jesus’ name, someone who was not part of their group, they told him to stop. And when a Samaritan village refused to welcome Jesus because they knew he was going to Jerusalem for worship, they wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy it. They imagined that following Jesus was going to entitle them to a glorious life on earth where every sickness and disease would be healed and every enemy would either be converted or destroyed by fire from heaven.

We can understand why they would think that way, considering all the things they had just seen. We can understand why the young people I mentioned thought the way they did when they heard pastors and family members talk about how wonderful it is to follow Jesus. And it is wonderful to know that your every sin is paid for in full by Jesus. It is wonderful to have the peace that passes understanding, the kind of peace that the world can never give, the peace of knowing that you have an eternal inheritance in heaven that can never perish, spoil or fade the way everything on earth does. It is wonderful to be spurred on to love and good deeds because you know how much God loves you and the whole world in Jesus. But that’s not the whole story.

Remember when Peter made that wonderful confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? Remember what Jesus said next? He reminded Peter and the others that because this was true they were headed to Jerusalem where he would be betrayed, abused, and crucified; and then he would rise from the dead on the third day.

After Jesus cast out the demon that the disciples had failed to cast out and everyone was amazed by his power, he said: Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. On another occasion, he reminded them that if people hated him, and they followed him as his disciples, people would hate them also. When he sent them out to do ministry he reminded them that some would reject them and that they would be like sheep among wolves.

Most often, when Jesus said such things, the disciples didn’t understand it. In fact, Peter tried to rebuke Jesus for saying such things. And like the disciples, our sinful nature doesn’t get it either. It wants us to think that if we believe in Jesus and do our best to follow him as his disciples, then our lives on earth should be free of all troubles. Satan wants us to think that way because it’s not true, and then, when troubles come into our lives, we immediately begin to doubt. We think, “what’s the use of following Jesus if it doesn’t make my life better, or even makes it worse!”

It’s important for us to listen to what Jesus says to those who want to follow him.

As they were headed for Jerusalem where Jesus knew he would suffer and die, a man eagerly volunteered I will follow you, Jesus, wherever you go. He was like the people at the old time tent revivals. The things he had heard and seen had touched his emotions and he was all excited to follow Jesus. But if he was following only on the basis of an emotional high, he would be in for a rude awakening. Jesus wants him, he wants us, to count the cost. Following him isn’t going to be all fun and games. Foxes and birds have more of the amenities of life than Jesus did. Are you ready and willing to live like that, to give up all the comforts of life in order to be his disciple?

As they headed for Jerusalem Jesus called two others to follow him. They were willing to do it, but…. I’ll follow you Jesus, but I have to take care of my aging father. When he’s gone, then I’ll follow you. I’ll follow you Jesus, but I have to say goodbye to my family first. Those sound like reasonable requests. In fact, Elijah allowed Elisha to say goodbye to his family before he became his understudy. But Jesus’ point is, if you are going to follow him and be his disciple, that means that he comes first. It means that you may miss out on some family events, maybe even a funeral.

Maybe you know this, but one of the reasons people often call asking for money is so that they can go to a relative’s funeral. When we lived in the South they said they needed money to go to a funeral up north, now that we live up north people say that they need money to go to a funeral in the south. One guy called two months in a row asking for money to get to his mother’s funeral. I guess she must have been like Lazarus. Anyway, I’m not always real sympathetic because I think of our missionaries overseas who have likely missed some family funerals as I have over the years.

Following Jesus means that he comes first. Elijah granted Elisha’s request because he went home and burned his farm equipment as an indication of his total devotion to his new calling as God’s prophet. He was not going back to farming.

Jesus said, No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. Remember Lot’s wife. You can’t serve two masters. Following Jesus takes total devotion because it won’t be easy. Following Jesus means a cross. It means that there will probably be family and friends who think you are foolish, and who try to talk you out of following Jesus. If you don’t listen to them they may no longer be your friend, or welcome you into their home. That’s a cross. It hurts to lose a friend or be rejected by family.

Following Jesus means a cross. Peter, James and John saw some wonderful, glorious things, but they also saw Jesus beaten and crucified on the basis of lies and false accusations. They themselves experienced persecution. James was the first of the apostles to be martyred for following Jesus. Peter was also executed and John was exiled. This is a good reminder in our day when persecution, and even execution of Christians around the world is on the rise. Jesus wants us to count the cost, to realize that following him isn’t going to bring us glory on earth. It’s not going to bring us comfort and riches. Following him may bring us the same kind of treatment he received.

Those young people who came to my office learned to listen to everything Jesus said. Yes, he loves us and is with us always and has the power to do miracles. We are to trust that truth. But he also said that if we follow him we will have to deny ourselves and take up our cross. Following him will bring us trouble in this life. Be ready for it. Know that it will come so that, when it does, it doesn’t cause you to look back, to give up your faith. As we follow Jesus and experience a cross we don’t look back, but ahead. We look ahead to the glorious eternal kingdom, the riches and glory of heaven that are ours as we remain faithful unto death.