Of course it’s worth it – Luke 14:26-33

There is a paradox involved in serving Jesus.  We know we are saved by grace and that the eternal life we receive from God is nothing but a gift from him.  At the same time, Jesus makes it very clear that discipleship is truly costly.  This is a cost we all need to count.

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

First some clarification of that love/hate thing.  Those words, love and hate, were used in that culture at that time as comparative terms, not necessarily opposites. Matthew makes this clearer than Luke, in Matthew 10:37-38.

37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

But the point Jesus makes is still stark.  Our love of God and determination to follow Jesus must be our highest affections.  No person or thing, not even our own lives, can stand in the way of our commitment to Christ.  Nothing can be held as superior to him.  

These are serious words and must be taken as seriously as they are meant.  Jesus encourages us to count the cost.  Are we ready to pay this price?  Can we finish building the tower?  Are we ready to go to war?  Remember, we need to renounce all that we have.

Of course the most faithful, fully devoted discipleship worth any price we might pay.  Does  t bring tension into some relationships?  It’s worth it.  Do we even lose one or more of those relationships as result of following Christ?  Will it affect us materially, in the realm of our career goals, wealth or possessions?  Probably so, according to Jesus, to all of the above questions.  Still, it’s worth it.

Paul served Jesus a long time and endured far more than most in exchange.  Let’s remember the conclusions of his thorough assessment in 2 Corinthians 4:17.  No matter what we face as we follow Jesus, it is nearly nothing.  The glory that awaits us is better to an absurd extreme.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

We need to count the cost of discipleship, but of course this will only determine for us that it’s worth it in the end.

A chance to repent – Luke 13:1-5

When extreme tragedy strikes, there is an almost universal tendency to see that the person somehow had it coming to them.  Call it karma, call it something else, the tendency has always been there.  The Bible has a version of this, memorably expressed by Paul in Galatians 6:7-8.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

At the same time, the Bible sees this principle as limited, at least in this life.  The story of Job is an excellent example.  A perfectly righteous man endures terrible hardship, while his friends try to make sense of it as best they can.  Perhaps inevitably, they resort to blaming Job for his own troubles.  They were wrong, but they add much insult to Job’s injury before they are forced to see it.  God sets all things right at the very end, but it took Job a long time and a lot of undeserved suffering to get there.

Jesus encountered this kind of thinking one day and answered it perfectly as always.  Let’s read it from Luke 13.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

The Galileans killed by Pilate and the victims of the fallen tower were no worse people than anyone else.  The twist in Christ’s version is not that they were especially innocent in God’s eyes, but that everyone else is comparably guilty.  This is the biblical view of sin.  It is the bad news that makes the good news of the gospel good.

We are all in need of repentance.  That is one of the earliest lessons that the Bible aims to teach us.  At some level, we are guilty before a perfectly holy God.  Sure, there may be mitigating factors to the particular level of our guilt.  A certain temptation was especially difficult.  Under the circumstances there were no good choices.  We have a natural tendency to do this or that.  Someone or something drove us to a point where we reacted, which was wrong.  But, in the end, we are wrong too.  We have sinned because we are fundamentally flawed members of a flawed race who eventually lived up – or maybe down – to our potential.  We sinned and fell short of perfect holiness, which is the standard of the one and only thoroughly holy God.

The solution is repentance.  We are not to hold onto our sin and cherish it.  We are to turn from it and turn our hearts toward our divinely provided Savior.  This is the point made by Jesus when he says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

John 3:16 steers us directly to this principle.  We have a chance to repent right now.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

And who is my neighbor? – Luke 10:25-37

The story begins with a lawyer asking about eternal life.  When Jesus asks him what is written in the law, he responds with the answer Jesus himself has given in Matthew 22 and Mark 12.  My personal opinion is that this was a little bit of a setup.  The lawyer wanted to give Jesus an answer he knew he would like, so that he could ask his next question.  So in 10:29 he, “desiring to justify himself,” now asks, “And who is my neighbor?”  A narrow definition of neighbor can make “Love your neighbor” an easy command to obey, but Jesus was not about to limit his definition.  

He now tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  A man is attacked by robbers.  A priest and a Levite both pass by “on the other side.”  A Samaritan comes along and helps.  To digest the parable’s full meaning we have to remind ourselves that Samaritans and Jews typically hated each other.  They were both ethnic and religious rivals, and the mixed-race Samaritans only appeared in the land after the norther tribes of Israel were dragged off into exile.

If Jesus told the story today in Israel today, he might say “Along came a Palestinian Arab …” When Christ asks his final question (10:36), “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” the lawyer gets it right. “The one who showed him mercy.”  Then Jesus delivers his punchline (10:37), “You go, and do likewise.”

To find a proper application for “Go and do likewise,” it might help to think of someone we dislike or someone we believe dislikes us.  Who really irritates you?  Who do you feel most uncomfortable around?  Who do you suspect feels uncomfortable around you?  Who is to you an ethnic and/or religious rival?  What about the atheist next door?  Now go and do likewise.  According to Jesus, the “neighbor” we need to love most may come to us dressed as our enemy in need.

Beyond our ability – Luke 9:10-17

10 On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. 11 When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. 12 Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” 13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 And they did so, and had them all sit down. 16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

The Gospels are wonderfully informative when it comes to understanding what it is really like to follow Jesus.  Here they were before a vast crowd of thousands and it was getting late.  The disciples were concerned.  “Hey boss, maybe it’s time we send them away.  We don’t want it to get dark before they can make it to a nearby village. What do you think?”  After a day full of Jesus teaching and healing, they understandably thought their day was done.  The big event was only just beginning.

“You give them something to eat,” is Christ’s response.  “Uh, we don’t really have that much food here, unless we go off and buy it.  But then again, we don’t have that much money either.”

Following Jesus means that he is going to give us work to do that is beyond our ability.  He does this mainly so that we can learn to trust in him, and then see him remarkably provide.  

Jesus had the disciples gather the people into groups of around fifty.  He then began to multiply the food.  I find it interesting that he worked with what they had.  There is a lesson in there someplace.  He fed the people with bread and fish, not with, say, vegetables and sacrificial lambs.  Somehow he used what the disciples could find and remarkably, miraculously provided for the multitude.  No doubt he does that kind of thing still, through people like us in our present circumstances.

We are perishing! – Luke 8:22-25

22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”

That must have been some storm, to strike that kind of fear into a group of disciples, several of whom previously made their living by fishing on that same lake.  After years of experience you might think they had seen it all.  Maybe they hadn’t.

We can find ourselves in situations where experience is little help.  In fact, maybe experience only tells us that all is surely lost.  The disciples found themselves exactly there on this day.  We may feel like that is where we are today. 

And it may seem like Jesus is asleep.  Where is God when you need him?  Where is that Savior when our resources and abilities come to an end?

Jesus responded to their cries.  He calmed the storm.  His words, however, were not exactly reassuring.  He didn’t say, “There, there, it’ll all be all right.”  It was more along the lines of a rebuke, asking, “Where is your faith?”

Their voyage started with Jesus saying, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” He said it – and Jesus knows what he is talking about. 

It is okay and even required that we pray.  Sometimes God just doesn’t act without our prayers.  But we need not panic.  We can pray with faith.  We can pray confidently that God will meet our need.  We can wake Jesus up, but perhaps not with the same level or kind of fear the disciples showed on that night in the boat during the storm.

 

Sometimes it’s not in *how you say it* – Luke 7:31-35

After Jesus reassured the crowd that John the Baptist was pretty much the greatest man that ever lived, the tax collectors and various others present were satisfied.  Not so much the Pharisees and lawyers, who rejected Jesus after rejecting John.  Jesus went on to describe their response, or the lack of one.

31 To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.

Pastors and churches like to be relevant, and that is great – to a point.  There is a temptation to let our thinking run wild in that direction.  We may daydream, “Well, if we can only do this, and add this, talk like this, dress like this, and change the decor to this, then …”  

The responses to John the Baptist and Jesus provide some much-needed counterweight to that tendency.  

It would be hard to find two personalities or presentation styles that contrasted more starkly than Jesus and John.  John was famous for wearing rough clothing, preaching in the wilderness and eating mainly bugs.  Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard.  He never seemed to turn down a free dinner or an invitation to a party.  Rather than hanging out strictly in the wilderness, he wandered all over the countryside and traveled by water.  He was found in the towns and cities of Galilee, in the synagogues or on the seashore, and then in Jerusalem for the holidays.  

The message of both these men, however, was more or less the same.  It may have sounded different, or looked different, if one looked at the messenger.  But they mainly agreed that repentance from sin was needed, and that good works were a corollary to faith.  Jesus drew people to himself, which John did not, but then John also pointed people to Jesus.  

In the end what they said differed little.  The difference was in how they said it.  So what was the difference in response?  Well, there was none.  The same people who followed John also went after Jesus.  Those who rejected John rejected Christ.

Jesus compares his detractors to children in the marketplace that won’t join the game no matter what game is being played. 

“Let’s dance!” one shouts, and begins playing a flute.  No response.  

“How about a nice dirge!”  (OK, it’s a weird idea, but Jesus is just making a point.)  No response in that case either.

For those of us who are attracted to making the message relevant, let this be a caution.  Sometimes, if we are faithful to the message itself, how we say it won’t make any difference.

That golden rule – Luke 6:31

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

Jesus mentioned this principle in the same breath with “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,” and so on.  The evidence indicates he meant what he said.  This is extreme stuff.  

It isn’t easy to love enemies.  No matter how hard we try, or what action we take, they can possess the uncanny ability to treat us badly somehow once again.  That is just how it is with enemies, right?  

Yet, love in the truest sense needs to stay focused on others and their needs.  That’s why Jesus made this command a positive one – a “Thou shalt” rather than a “Thou shalt not.”  He didn’t want to give us an easy way out.

There is a story in the Talmud, in Shabbat 31a, that tells of a Gentile who came to a rabbi and said, “Convert me on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot.” That rabbi had no good answer.

The same Gentile came to the sage Hillel the Elder, who was grandfather of Gamaliel, the teacher of Paul the Apostle.  Hillel said, “That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.” The man was converted.

It’s a great story and it is probably true, but with all due respect to the incomparable Hillel, we might say it is incomplete, based on this teaching of Jesus.  If we don’t do that which is hateful to people and stop there, we might possibly not do much at all – even nothing!  That’s the nature of the “Thou shalt not” in a command.  It is a prohibition rather than a positive task.  

Surely Hillel, if he had more time than the Gentile balancing on one foot was willing to give him at that moment, would choose to elaborate.  Jesus was still young when the aged Hillel finally died and, perhaps while not under time constraints, may have even thought of his improved version of the golden rule based upon the rabbi’s words.  

Again, he has us imagine what we might wish for ourselves in Luke 6:31.  And again our text, 

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

Let’s leave that just as it is, without further elaboration.