Count the Cost
Luke 9:51 – 62
Count the Cost
Luke writes like Luke!
I was talking recently to a friend who had studied at theological college a couple of years after I did, and we were reminiscing, or maybe consoling each other, that studying the Greek language that the New Testament was written in, and learning to read it and understand, was the most difficult and challenging thing we’d ever done!
This friend of mine had formerly been an air traffic controller, which they say is the most stressful job in the world, understandably so, may I add, but it turns out it comes second to studying the Bible!
And one of the things you learn as you read the New Testament, and it’s not just in the Greek, you can see it in the English translations as well, the different human authors bring their different writing style to bear on the text.
As Christians we believe that the Holy Spirit wrote through them, but it wasn’t like they were taken over completely and just became Bible-writing zombies, with nothing of their own personalities.
Paul writes like Paul,
And Mark writes like Mark,
And Luke, well Luke writes like you’d expect a doctor to write!
Not with messy handwriting necessarily, but we know that Luke was an educated professional, and that comes out, in his writing.
We’ve called this teaching series “A Careful History”, because we know that Luke has been very deliberate in researching and writing what he calls his orderly account.
We’ve seen the care that he’s taken in connecting events, when he wants us to understand one in the light of the other,
We’ve seen him preserving Old Testament echoes, so that we notice that what God is doing now, in the first Century, is in fulfilment of his promises in the centuries previous.
And Luke’s particular style,
And his commitment to very careful and deliberate language,
And the kind of language that makes studying the Greek New Testament hard at times, the all come together in the opening verse of this section.
The days leading to his taking up were being fulfilled (v 51)
Verse 51, As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, more literally reads something like, “While the days leading to his taking up were being fulfilled”, which is a little more round about and slightly more of a mouthful.
But it highlights a couple of important things for us.
Firstly, notice what’s approaching for Jesus, the reason he resolutely set out for Jerusalem, is not just the cross and crucifixion, but his ascension to heaven.
There’s no question that the cross is the centrepiece of God’s plan,
It’s the climax of Jesus’ earthly ministry,
But it’s not the end of Jesus’ ministry,
God the Father’s plans for Jesus didn’t stop at his crucifixion.
Jesus’ ascension into heaven is so closely tied to the cross that sometimes Luke speaks of Jesus dying, and then being exalted to heaven, skipping over his bodily resurrection entirely.
Now, Luke is pretty determined that we understand that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, that becomes obvious in plenty of other places,
But so closely linked, are the cross,
And Jesus’ resurrection from the dead,
And his ascension to heaven, that one of those things can represent all 3.
My dad tells a story from when he was a child, of his mother, telling the family that she was ready to get into bed one night, and she said “I think I’ll go to the toilet, and then hop in!” And that kind of became legend in our family!
It sounded like she was skipping over an important step in the process!
The intermediate steps are left out of the description here, not because they’re not important, but because they’re so closely related, and Luke zooms in on the event that brings the particular nuance he wants to bring.
We’ve seen so much in this chapter about the glorious Son of God;, The disciples saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain,
God spoke from heaven and testified about Jesus.
So Luke uses this part of the great suffering, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension event, because it reinforces that point.
We want to make sure we don’t ever break up the event of the cross, as if all those parts are unconnected.
Jesus who suffers, is Jesus who dies,
Jesus who dies, is Jesus who is raised,
Jesus raised, is Jesus ascended and glorified
We use our shorthand sometimes, and that’s OK, the Bible does, too! but let’s not miss the full picture.
The plans and purposes of God didn’t finish at the cross.
And that’s the other thing that Luke’s careful, even complicated language reminds us of.
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, or, as I said, “While the days leading to his taking up were being fulfilled”
This isn’t just history unfolding, this is promise being fulfilled.
That one event of suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, is the fulfilment of God’s plans and purposes.
Remember that this is the turning point in Luke’s gospel. Everything that comes after this point is set within the context of Jesus driving God’s plans and purposes towards their fulfilment.
Everything that happens, happens according to God’s plan.
When Jesus gets betrayed, and arrested,
When he suffers and dies, it might look like the wheels have fallen off the Jesus mission. But that’s not the case.
Everything is being worked towards its culmination, in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.
That’s what Luke wants us to remember, as the following chapters unfold.
How do you respond to hostility? (v 52 – 56)
And straight away, here’s the kind of thing that could make you wonder, if things maybe aren’t going to plan,
Because straight away, there’s opposition.
Jesus and his disciples have been up north around Galilee. They’re now heading south to Jerusalem, but between those 2 lies the region of Samaria.
Jews and Samaritans didn’t get on. Which is putting it mildly.
It’s more than just South Australia versus Victoria, where they think they’re better, but we actually know we are!
Think more like, Serbs and Croats,
The IRA, versus the Orange Order.
But what makes it even worse, is that the Jews and the Samaritans were related. They used to be one and same country. So perhaps it’s a bit more like North Korea and South Korea. Except there’s no way that the Samaritans and the Jews would ever have competed together at the Olympics!
Originally the nation of Israel had filled nearly all the land at eastern edge of the Mediterranean over to the Jordan river, and a little bit past the river.
The kingdom had divided into 2 unequal halves, 10 tribes at the top, and 2 tribes at the bottom. The bottom, south, being where Jerusalem is.
In 722 AD, the Assyrians who were the world superpower of the day, marched against those top 10 tribes and attacked them. You can understand why Jonah didn’t want to go and preach to the people of Ninevah, the capital city of Assyria. They were the arch enemy of his people.
The Assyrians brought in other people, from other countries they’d conquered, and over the centuries, these people mixed with, and married the Israelites from those 10 northern tribes, so that by Jesus’ day, the tribes are long gone, and the Jews down south, see their relatives up north, as, well, let’s be honest, mongrels.
Second class citizens, or worse.
And the Samaritans absolutely repaid the favour.
We hear talk don’t we, about building a wall to keep people out?
Well, the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t need a wall to keep them apart, because they did everything they could to avoid coming into contact with each other.
So a trip from Galilee to Jerusalem, usually involved crossing east over the Jordan,
Heading south on the other side of the river to avoid Samaria,
Before crossing back over the Jordan, and into Jerusalem,
It would add a couple of days to your journey, but it would be worth it, if it meant not having to mix with Samaritans.
Josephus, historian working for the Romans, records that Samaritans would attack Jewish travellers, sometimes even murdering them.
But again, hidden in Luke’s careful language is a hint that it may not just be the direction of travel that’s the problem.
In verse 53, Jesus isn’t welcomed because he was heading for Jerusalem, Luke uses the same phrase as he did in verse 51, to speak of Jesus resolutely setting out for Jerusalem. Jesus purpose.
There’s a hint of more personal opposition to what Jesus is going to accomplish, rather than just where he’s headed.
And the response from James and John is, well, it’s probably how we would respond, if we had superpowers, isn’t it?
Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them
Now, full marks for their devotion to Jesus,
Full marks for their faith.
I can honestly say I’ve never tried to call down fire from heaven on someone who opposes me or my ministry,
But that’s probably because I’ve never thought I could.
If I thought that was something I was able to do, then I’m pretty sure you would have read in the paper about fire engulfing cars in traffic on the Freeway,
Or certain church leaders in South Australia spontaneously combusting during meetings after trying to stop new churches being planted.
In the face of this kind of hostility, James and John have no doubt they can destroy this village.
It’s not taking matters into your own hands to advance the kingdom of God,
The pattern for the person who follows Jesus, is not retaliation.
There will be those who reject Jesus as God’s king,
Who want nothing to do with us because of our allegiance to Jesus,
There will be people who oppose us, because they want to halt the spread of the good news of Jesus.
Our Leadership Team met last Sunday afternoon. One of the things that came up in conversation was a church in Adelaide, not part of the Trinity Network, looking for a pastor. The leaders of that denomination, have repeatedly refused to appoint the people that those in the church want to lead them, because those leaders don’t want too much evangelistic, gospel-centred ministry happening in that part of Adelaide.
When Trinity Church Unley was looking for a venue in the second half of last year, some of the places they looked at told them outright, that they refuse to hire their facilities to churches.
Tai chi, yes,
If you were part of the core team for that plant, how would you respond?
Sic the lawyers onto them?
Call down fire from heaven?
There’s a spate of mysterious community centre fires around Unley!
What does Jesus do?
Well, actually, he goes further than just doing something different, doesn’t he? He rebukes James and John.
We see how far out of place this kind of attitude is, in the life of a disciple.
Jesus doesn’t force his way on anyone,
He doesn’t seek vengeance on those who oppose him,
He doesn’t try and get his own back when he’s insulted.
If you’re a Christian, and you’ve ever wondered how to face hostility,
When you’ve been in that situation, and somebody opposes you because of your allegiance to Jesus, if you’ve wondered how am I supposed to respond?,
Here’s your answer.
Here’s Jesus facing hostility,
A potential hurdle to the gospel going forward, and he accepts it without retaliation.
Is this how you respond, Christian person?,
When your ministry plans are thwarted,
When somebody gets in your way,
Or seems to be deliberately making life difficult for you?
Let me say, and those of you who know me know this to be true, this is not my first response, to ministry plans being undermined, or people being hostile.
I need to look carefully at Jesus’ response to hostility, and work out what it means for me to follow that pattern,
And to work out why I don’t.
What do I have in common with James and John, that makes us respond to hostility with anger and a desire for retaliation.
Is it because I’m afraid that God’s plans and purposes won’t be fulfilled?
Well, there’s not much chance of that is there? Not from what we’ve seen in Luke so far.
Is it because I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that the advancement of God’s kingdom depends on me and my plans, and my efforts.
And again, we’ve seen the danger of that kind of thinking in Luke’s account. It’s clear who stands at the centre of God’s plans and purposes,
And it’s not me!
Is it because I value what those people think of me, how they respond to me,
Instead of valuing being welcomed by Jesus,
Putting supreme value on the response he makes to me, rather than anything else.
And in not wiping out the Samaritans, Jesus gives them, well, he gives them more opportunities to hear the good news and put their trust in him, doesn’t he?
Often my response to hostility, you’d have to say, probably shuts the door, humanly speaking, to future chances to respond to the gospel,
But not Jesus.
Not according to the example we follow.
Of course, this is just a taste, isn’t it? Of Jesus’ response to opposition and hostility?
Where do we see this played out in even more detail,
Even more depth?
Well, in Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion, don’t we?
The ultimate hostility,
The ultimate opposition;, false accusations,
Rent a crowd,
A kangaroo court,
And a death sentence.
Met with compassion,
A willingness to suffer,
Giving of his own life.
If you’re here this morning, you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, but maybe you’re interested in finding out about Jesus, what he’s like,
Why he’s worth following,
How he’s different to other people we know, or what we might expect,
This is a good piece of the puzzle to have, I think.
Jesus, who responds to opposition and hostility with compassion and mercy,
He calls on us to do the same,
And enables us to be changed, so that we can be like him.
The cost of following Jesus is high; Everything (v 57 – 62)
Because the next part of the story shows us just how far, Jesus’ idea of discipleship is, from what we might expect.
We’re given these 3 snapshots of what being a disciple of Jesus will look like. And these 3 are each slightly different, but they also overlap a bit.
In the olden days, when we used to print out our photos, because photos came on paper, remember that? Before we had smart phones that took panoramic photos, maybe you tried to make a DIY panoramic photo.
You take 3 or 4 photos, overlapping each one a bit, and then when you got them back from the photo developers weeks later, you overlapped them and sticky taped them together to make a panorama! Yes, photoshop used to be called sticky tape!
There’s overlap in these 3 snapshots, but each one also contributes something slightly different to the larger picture.
Following Jesus means alienation and hardship (v 57 – 58)
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Obviously Jesus isn’t just trying to gather as many followers as he can, as if he somehow needs us.
Jesus wants those who follow him to be aware of the cost, and to be willing to pay it,
A follower of Jesus will have him and his kingdom, as the number one priority. And those who walk with Jesus, must be prepared for the alienation and hardship that he endured.
We’ve just seen a picture of the hostility Jesus encountered, now he says, he has no place even to lay his head.
This wasn’t the situation every day of Jesus’ ministry. He’s not saying he’s never put his head on a pillow. We know that people took him in, provided for his and the disciples needs.
His point is that the life of a disciple, is going to be characterised by alienation from the rest of society, and enduring hardship.
And we only need to go back to the circumstances of Jesus birth, to be reminded that alienation and hardship has been the mark of his life all along;
Laid in a manger, in somebody else’s barn, because no one had room for him to lay his head.
And I think it’s fascinating that once again Jesus uses his favourite name for himself, the Son of Man. This is a title that comes out of the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, where Daniel is given a vision of heaven, and he sees a human, described in this language, a son of man, being given power and authority over all creation.
When he uses this term, Jesus is making a fairly significant claim about his identity;, That one from the Old Testament, with all power and authority, that’s me.
So it’s a loaded term,
But the juxtaposition here is what fascinates me.
The Son of Man has all authority and power, but no place to lay his head.
We might think it should be the other way around. In our thinking, power and authority get you whatever you want!
In Jesus’ case, it means giving up what you could have, for the same of others.
If you come to Jesus, you’re saying no to life of seeking comfort,
You’re saying no to having your preferences met,
You’re saying no to the things valued, and prized, and chased after by people all around us.
Because you’re saying yes to Jesus.
There’s an urgency and priority to sharing the good news (v 59 – 60)
The second snapshot shows the priority of gospel proclamation. Nothing comes before it, not even what might seem to be the most pressing needs.
He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Some scholars have suggested that the man’s father is not actually dead yet, because if he had just died and was waiting to be buried, the son would be there, and wouldn’t be about wandering the streets with Jesus. So the son’s saying, “let me go and wait for dad to die, then I’ll come and find you, and follow you after that.”
That may be the case, we don’t really know.
Whatever’s happening, Jesus is saying “there’s a need that’s more pressing. There’s an urgency to gospel proclamation.”
Organising a funeral for your dad, that’s a pretty big need.
And yet Jesus says, speaking the good news of the kingdom,
Throwing yourself into the work of announcing the kingdom,
Seeing to it that other people hear the good news of reconciliation with the God we’ve rejected,
And forgiveness for our rebellion against him, what the Bible calls sin,
That work of gospel proclamation is more urgent, and a higher priority, than even this need, that culturally was almost at the very top of the pile.
Although in fact, there is Old Testament precedent for this.
This man isn’t the first bloke to be told to leave the usual process of mourning and burial for others.
Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, for example, are told not to mourn, not to join in the process of burying and farewelling those who die. In Ezekiel’s case, it’s his wife who he’s told not bury or mourn for.
Being told not to mourn, is a signal of God’s work,
It’s a sign that the great day of the Lord is coming,
It’s an acknowledgement that a new era has dawned.
Now is a time for new priorities.
Do you get a sense of what Jesus is saying?
And Jesus’ slightly strange response is perhaps best understood as a play on words, Let the, spiritually dead, bury the physically dead, but you, who are spiritually alive, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
There are other pressing needs in our day, aren’t they?
Feeding the hungry,
Advocating for those who go without.
Perhaps more than in any previous age, we are aware of the needs in the world around us.
And Jesus doesn’t deny the reality of those needs.
His point is, for a Christian disciple, the priority must be, proclaiming the kingdom of God.
We can’t say “I have these other needs to address”, if you’re a follower of Jesus, the need he wants you to address, is the need for lost people to hear the gospel.
I was reminded of that constant announcement that they play at the Royal Show, the places that sell the donuts and hot dogs, “no waiting, no delay.”
Well, that’s what Jesus says!
We can’t put off speaking the good news to others, and say I’ll get to that later.
No waiting, no delay.
What do people say when they want to start a diet?
“I’ll start, tomorrow!”
This realignment starts today.
This is part of the reason why we’re celebrating an 8th birthday today. The 8th anniversary of the beginning of a new church,
And why 3 years ago today, we commissioned the team for our new church on the South Coast.
There is an urgency to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus, and we’re convinced that starting new churches and new congregations is the best way for people to hear and respond to the call of Jesus.
I’m currently reading the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, with a couple of different groups of people. And in that letter Paul asks the Thessalonian Christians to pray for him, that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored.
There’s an urgency to sharing the good news of the kingdom,
Do you feel it?
Don’t ever let anything get in its way.
It’s not like a diet that we start, tomorrow,
you go, and proclaim the kingdom of God
Christian discipleship is constant and single-minded (v 61 – 62)
The third snapshot shows us that as disciples, our commitment to Jesus must be constant, and single minded.
Verse 61, another man said “I will follow you, Lord;, but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Here’s a man who puts some conditions on his discipleship.
“I’ll follow you, as long as I can do this first,
As long as I can maintain these other priorities.”
And Jesus says, being his disciple, it’s constant, and single-minded.
Once upon a time, sitting down to watch a movie on TV, meant watching the whole thing through until the end. Do you remember those days?
If you wanted to do something else, you dad to wait until the end!
There was none of this pausing the TV, and starting it again when it was more convenient, as we like to do now!
Well, being a disciple of Jesus is more like watching TV in the olden days, than it is now.
Once you start it, you have to see it through,
No turning aside,
No looking back,
No putting your commitment to Jesus on hold, while you pursue something else.
But some of you might be thinking, hang on though, there’s a biblical precedent for what this man wants to do. When the prophet Elijah, called a man named Elisha to be his disciple and successor, this was pretty much how Elisha responded;, let me go and say goodbye to my parents. And that was OK!
Actually some of the language in the second man’s response to Jesus’ call has echoes of Elisha as well. The story’s in 1 Kings 19.
There’s deliberate referencing back to that episode.
So that we see, that kind of response that was OK back then.
But that was then.
A whole new era of God’s purposes has dawned.
Elijah called down fire from heaven on people who opposed him.
Jesus chooses to act differently.
Elisha puts his discipleship on pause,
Jesus says, “a different kind of discipleship is now required.”
The Old Testament, the 10 Commandments laid down the requirement to honour your father and mother. Such is the authority of Jesus, that glorious Son of Man, that his words become the grid through which we interpret the Old Testament.
Jesus isn’t chucking out the 10 Commandments. He is saying, you need to understand them in the light of what I say, and what I do.
God’s king has come,
A new era has dawned.
You don’t get a little bit of Jesus,
You don’t get Jesus, for a while, following him when it’s convenient, but then putting obedience to him on hold, when something else comes up,
When my family wants me,
When I’ve got lots of assignments due,
When work gets busy.
“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Being a follower of Jesus means being willing to give up, everything, every time.
Jesus thinks there are some who say they would like to follow him, but aren’t actually willing to make the commitment.
Not everyone who says, “I have decided to follow Jesus”, really is a follower.
But what’s missing here?
What aren’t we told?
We’re not told how these people then respond to Jesus’ words, are we?
We don’t know, did the first man follow Jesus into hardship and alienation from the world?
Did the second guy go back to bury his dad, and so on?
We’re not told their response, which throws the focus back to us, and our response?
Luke puts us in the position of having to think, “well, what would I do?
How would I respond?
What do I need to leave behind?,
What cost would I be willing to incur, in order to be the kind of disciple that Jesus wants?”
And we have to be mindful of the cost, don’t we? We can’t miss the fact that there’s going to be a cost?
How did this section open?
Jesus is on his way to suffer and die in Jerusalem.
He said to another, “Follow me.”
What is it for you?
What’s the cost you’ll have to incur?
What’s the call on your life,
That will cause you to have to make a decision;,
Am I following Jesus?
Is his pathway, my pathway?,
His priorities, my priorities?
And what is it that might get in the way, of me being the kind of disciples that Jesus calls for?
How will you respond?
At GiG, our high school aged youth group, last Friday night, we were thinking about things that could get in the way of us following Jesus as whole-hearted disciples. Our topic for the term is “Weird Things Jesus Said”, and we were looking at Jesus saying, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God, Mark 10.
And let me say, our highschoolers were brilliant.
Better than lots of us, I suspect, in looking at their lives, an identifying the particular areas,
Goals, desires, that threaten to get in the way of following Jesus.
If you’ve got a GiG member or 2 in your household, please ask them, what did they put their finger on, that for them, might get in the way of following Jesus.
And if you do that, be warned, because I’ve told them to ask you as well.
Now, I asked Heidi, the highschooler in our family, if I could share this with you, and we agreed that a fair price for her inclusion in this talk was $5 and me unloading the dishwasher the next time it’s her turn, but Heidi concluded that music, playing keyboard, was something, something good, that although good, it could actually get in the way of following Jesus.
Which one gets more time?,
Which ones gets the energy?,
Which one wins, when there’s a conflict.
But Heidi happens to like wearing a tshirt with her favourite brand of musical instrument on it, the keyboard maker Korg, K O R G, and you might have seen Heidi wearing that.
And we discovered, that Korg could be an acronym, for Keyboard, or God.
So now, we have this reminder, of the choice that she faces,
The decision she has to make,
The thing she always has to be thinking about.
What is the thing that might get in the way of following Jesus wherever he goes, and whatever he asks of you?
What might you need to give up, in order to follow Jesus whole-heartedly.
I don’t expect you to wear a t-shirt, spelling out what it is,
Although, that wouldn’t be a bad idea, would it?
To keep it in the forefront of our minds.
And to let the rest of us know, what it is for you, that might get in the way, of you following Jesus,
So that we could help you in that,
And we could help each other hear Jesus’ call.
Happy 8th birthday!
What an exciting path we’re on!