Sermon: Eighth Day Disciples
Scripture: Luke 9: 57-62
Date: March 13, 2016
I want to begin this morning with a bonus feature that really has nothing to do with the scripture, but is simply offered for your edification. Most of us have probably heard the phrase: “Don’t shoot the messenger.” But have you ever wondered where that phrase came from? Well I did a little research on it and discovered that it really began centuries ago in military circles as “Don’t kill the messenger”. Because often times in the midst of battle, messengers would bring bad news to the commander in charge about how the battle was going or the strength of the enemy and the commander would become so angry or distraught that they would have the messenger killed. One general, in fact, became so notorious for this, that they couldn’t find anyone willing to be messengers and in one particular battle because of the lack of communication from the front lines, the opposing army was able to completely outflank the General’s army and then attack them from behind. Apparently the first time the phrase was used in literature was by Shakespeare in his plays Henry IV and Anthony and Cleopatra. Now I offer this fascinating bit of information simply for your edification and to say that you might want to keep it in mind for the next 15 or 20 or 25 or 30 minutes as we think about this passage of scripture from Luke’s Gospel.
Read Luke 9:57-62
(Show Map) Now the next stop on this journey of Discipleship, the journey from membership to discipleship with Jesus, is really not a stop at all. Last week we talked about the fact that when Jesus came down from the Mountain of Transfiguration – probably Mt. Tabor – He had “set His face towards Jerusalem.” And so rather than identifying specific places now, Luke begins sharing some road stories. “As they were walking along the road”. Part of the reason for this is because more and more, the closer they get to Jerusalem, the less welcome they are in the town’s and villages. In fact, Jesus is apparently so aware of this, that rather than retrace his steps along the Jordan river and go to Jerusalem the way that Jews from Galilee would go, Jesus decides to travel the road through the forbidden land of the Samaritans. If you are following along in your Bible, look what Luke tells us just before he relates the story that I just read. Beginning with vs. 51
As the time approached for Him to be taken up to Heaven, Jesus set out for Jerusalem. And He sent messengers on ahead who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for Him, but the people there did not welcome Him, because He was heading for Jerusalem.
And so what Luke shares with us is a series of “along the road” encounters concerning disciple wanna bes and the excuses they use for not following Jesus. Now as we jump into these encounters, there are a couple of things we need to remember up front. The first is that Jesus is moving toward Jerusalem and the Cross. His days are numbered. And so there is a rising sense of urgency about His mission and ministry . And secondly, I’m just the messenger. I say that because this may be Jesus’ hardest statements yet about ultimately what it will take to be a Disciple, to follow Him. The closer that Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the more candid He is about the cost and commitment of Discipleship. And since next week is Palm Sunday and we arrive at the gates of the city, it is time that we deal with these hard lessons. So here we go.
Now the first “along the road encounter” really seems to come from within the entourage that is still with Jesus on the road. Perhaps this statement is made in response to the rejection of those in the Samaritan village because Luke follows that incident up with this encounter where a man says to Jesus “I will follow you wherever you go.” Perhaps implied in that statement is the caveat “even to Jerusalem” or “even to death.” Now when we first read that it seems like a marvelous statement of faith. I suspect that all of us who have experienced that moment of accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior have made similar kinds of statements. “From this point on Jesus, I am going to follow you.” But the problem is that life intrudes on our best intentions. I accepted Jesus as Lord the summer after I graduated from High School and I resolved that I was going to follow Him wherever that may lead. But then I went to college and started thinking about a career. And I fell in love and got married and had to start worrying about supporting a wife and eventually a family. And then there was Law School. And eventually Anna came along. My priorities were constantly shifting. I didn’t stop following Jesus – but I did stop following Him wherever He went. There were many times when I took an alternate path or turned around all
together. One writer observes:
I remember a chorus we used to sing in my high school days.
I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back
No turning back
I liked the words. But sometimes I think the airy tune is inappropriate. It might be all right for Dorothy and the Tin Man as they skip along the Yellow Brick Road to Oz! But for followers of Jesus something (more forceful) might better fit the words.
Apparently Jesus detected that the man’s resolve was not as forceful as his words. And so His reply Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man (and those who follow Him) have no place to lay His head. At first reading it seems like an odd rebuke to the man. But what I really think it is is a warning. Jesus is saying be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it. And living as a completely devoted follower in this world is much tougher than facing Jerusalem and death. Those who truly follow Jesus are going to endure persecution and hardship and pain. In fact, death might come as a relief in comparison. And those who truly follow Him must do so with an awareness that this world is not your home. Disciples will be homeless people for their time on this earth, just as Jesus was homeless. To be a disciple means embracing a life of discomfort. And so Jesus is saying to this man, are you really ready to embrace the life of being my Disciple. Kent Hughes puts it this way:
If your Christianity has not brought discomfort to your life, something is wrong. A committed heart knows the discomfort of loving difficult people, the discomfort of giving until it hurts, the discomfort of putting oneself out for the ministry of Christ and His church, the discomfort of being disliked, the occasional sense of having no place to lay your head.
In this Presidential election we have had a great deal of discussion about “illegal aliens” and their place in this country now and going forth. Well, 2000 years ago Peter, in his first letter to the churches, refers to Christian Disciples as “aliens and strangers in this world”.
You see there are too many Christians who follow Jesus when the path is easy and comfortable. But when the climb becomes steep, and the world places blisters on our feet and obstacles in the path, we search for other paths or perhaps even turn back. You see, with this response, Jesus is not saying that this man cannot or should not follow Him. He is saying that if you are going to follow me, you need to know how hard the path will sometimes be. So if you are ready to make Discipleship your number one priority and ready to endure the hardships of the journey, then come on because Jerusalem and the Cross looms ahead but before then there is much work that needs to be done for the Kingdom of God. Disciples are those who are willing to follow Jesus before the Cross, to the Cross and beyond the Cross. And the reality is that if there had not been any Disciples to follow beyond the Cross, then everything that Jesus did on the Cross would have been in vain, swept into the dust bin of history, just as the Priests and Pontius Pilate intended. Discipleship often comes at a great cost and Jesus wants to be sure we know that.
And then Luke tells us of the second “along the road” encounter. As they are walking along, Jesus sees a man and evidently sees great potential in him, just as He saw in Peter when He had encountered him on the shores of Galilee and He offers him, as He does us, the invitation to Discipleship. “Follow me”. And the man is ready to respond but he says, I must first go and bury my father. Now that sure seems like a reasonable request doesn’t it. It is in keeping with the Fifth Commandment which is to Honor your Father and Mother. And in fact, the Rabbis taught two things in relationship to that commandment. The first was that ANY neglect of parents is a grievous breaking of the fifth commandment. And secondly that burial of the dead was a religious duty that took precedence over every other duty required by law. And yet Jesus response Leave the dead to bury their own dead seems to be a direct contradiction to what this man had been taught all of his life. And so is Jesus saying that the law and commandments are wrong on this – that to be a Disciple you must leave the law and teachings of the faith completely behind you? Of course not. You see, here’s the thing that Jesus would have understood as well as everyone else who witnessed this “along the road” encounter, but we might not. This man is not saying that his father has already died. If that were the case then the man would not have even been there along the road with Jesus. The burial custom of the day was that the body needed to be prepared and buried within 24 hours of death. And so this man would have been occupied in making the arrangements for his father’s burial and not had time to encounter Jesus along the road in the first place. So, in actuality, the man was saying, I want to follow you and will someday, but right now I must focus on taking care of my father who is still living. The man was what I call an eighth day disciple. You see, we are told in the Book of Genesis that God created the world in six days and that on the seventh He rested. And so since the beginning of time the church has used that seventh day, that Sabbath day, as the day to focus completely on God. To worship Him and study Him and pray with and to Him. But eighth day Disciples are those who have lots of reasons (dare I say excuses) for not worshiping Him on that seventh day. For this man it was tending to family. But it could just as easily be business. Or leisure pursuits. Or community activities that become the excuse for not following Jesus now. We can’t worship you right now Lord. We have something more important to do. Or serve you right now Lord. No time for Sabbath in our busy lives. But on the eighth day of the week, after we tend to everything else we’ve got going on, we’ll follow you. We’ll serve you. We’ll worship you. But, of course, the eighth day never comes. You see for Jesus the call to follow is much more urgent than that. Jerusalem was only a few days journey. The harvest is ready to be picked right now. If you delay, then the crop will spoil on the vine. One writer says that the response of the eighth day disciple does not excuse him but rather accuses him. And here’s the thing. The choices that Disciples make to begin or continue this journey with Jesus are usually not choices between good and evil. Often they are choices between good and good. And for the Disciple, following Christ must always be the greater good and usually the most urgent good. We, like this man, have lost the sense of urgency in the church. Following Christ leaves no room for excuses. I was deeply convicted of my eighth day discipleship tendencies by the words of one writer in commenting on this encounter:
The Bible is filled with piles of alibis – people who came up with all sorts of creative excuses for not serving God. But in the eyes of God, those who excuse themselves actually accuse themselves, for they are arguing only with their own weaknesses and worries.
Consider Elijah who said, “Excuse me, Lord, but my nerves can’t take it!”
Or Isaiah who said, “Excuse me Lord, but I’m not holy or pure enough.”
Jeremiah balked and said, “Excuse me, Lord, but I’m too young.”
And perhaps the most prolific excuse-maker of all, Moses, said, “Excuse me, Lord, but I’m too old – and besides I’ve earned my retirement.” When the Lord shot down that excuse, Moses came back with “Excuse me Lord, but I’m no good at public speaking.” When that failed to convince the Lord, Moses trotted out the old, “Excuse me, Lord, but there are others much more qualified.”
But then the writer put me on the hot seat when he wrote:
Is there some venue of service staring you in the face, meriting your attention, but receiving only your excuses? When you hear the voice of Jesus calling, will your response be “Excuse me, Lord” or will you spring up like the boy Samuel and eagerly proclaim, “Here I am, Lord”?
What Jesus wants us to know is that His call is so urgent that it demands our immediate response. No excuses. No eighth day disciples on this journey. Kent Hughes writes:
If you are really on the road with Jesus, life is filled with intense urgency. We have the words of life. Life is short. There is so little time, and we have such good news to proclaim far and wide.
Well, are you still with me? Do I need to remind you once more of the old adage – “
Don’t shoot the messenger? Because these are hard lessons that Jesus is delivering in these “along the road” encounters. But they are lessons that we need to learn. George Gallup, the Christian pollster, said recently that his surveys reveal that fewer than 10 percent of Americans are deeply committed disciples though 44 percent attend worship on an average Sunday. It’s no wonder that the church has been in decline. It is not those on the outside but it’s the eighth day disciples on the inside that are robbing the church of its world changing – life changing vitality.
And then there was one more “along the road” encounter that Luke tells us about. Another one said: “I will follow you Lord, but first let me go back and say good bye to my family.” Now at first glance this seems to be very similar to the one who was wanting to wait until his father died. But this eighth day disciple does not want to care for his family as much as he wants to go back to his family. And Jesus understands that and so his response recalls the story of the changing of the mantle of prophecy from Elijah to Elisha. Elijah finds Elisha plowing a field and the Lord reveals to Elijah that this is the one He is calling to be the new prophet in Israel. And so Elijah goes into the field and he throws his cloak, which is his symbol of authority, on to Elijah, indicating his call to discipleship. And so Jesus borrows the plowing metaphor of that story and responds, If you are plowing the field but are looking behind you, you are not fit to plow in God’s field. Now I have never plowed a field but I have cut a lot of boards in my time. And I have learned, often the hard way, that when I keep my focus ahead of the saw I make straight cuts. But if I look behind the saw I will get off line everytime. Whereas the man in the previous encounter was not wanting to go back but rather go in a different direction, this eighth day disciple wanted to go back to where things were comfortable rather than set out on the straight road and harder road to Jerusalem. One writer puts Jesus teaching this way:
Those who pine after what they left behind, who are always remembering the comforts of home and hearth, who dream about how life might have been if they had not stepped onto the road with Jesus, who keep looking in the rearview mirror, will not do well on Jesus’ road.
Because when the field gets hard and rocky they will always be tempted to look behind them and lose track of their focus, their priority. Remember the people of Israel who fled Egypt under Moses’ leadership. Every time things got tough in the wilderness, what was their refrain. “Let’s go back to Egypt”. The quickest way for a Disciple to get off the path in this journey of discipleship is to stop focusing on the path ahead with Christ in the lead, and start looking over their shoulders to what was behind. And I have seen too many churches lose their vitality because they have stopped focusing on the road ahead, but rather gotten lost somewhere in the past. As Disciples, our journey with Jesus is always ahead of us.
In 1904, William Borden had it all. He was heir to the Borden Dairy business and graduated from High School that year already a millionaire. For his graduation, his parents gave him a trip around the world. And traveling through Asia and the Middle East, Borden was given by God a great burden for the for all the people he encountered who were suffering from disease and hunger. And he was so moved that he decided that He was going to give His life to Christ and follow Him wherever that might lead. He wrote to his parents and said: I have decided to give my life to prepare for the mission field. And that day he wrote on the back of his Bible the words: No reserves. He went back home, went to Yale University and when he graduated he turned down many lucrative jobs and enrolled in seminary instead. When he started seminary he wrote two more words on the back of his Bible: They were the words: No retreats. When he graduated from seminary he felt called to the mission field in China and so he set his face for China. But on his way he stopped in Egypt for additional training and while there he contracted cerebral meningitis and within a month he died. Now you may be thinking what a wasted young life. But Borden didn’t think his life had been wasted. And shortly before he died, he took out his Bible and turned to the back cover and added two more words:
No regrets.No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.
Those are the lessons we learn on the road with Jesus. And now it’s decision time. Next week Jesus arrives at the gates of Jerusalem. His journey just about done. The Cross of Calvary looms just a few days away. Will we follow without reserve. Without retreat. And without regret. No matter where He leads. Or are we content being eighth day disciples. Someday Jesus I will follow. Someday. But right now I have some other things to do. Other priorities in my life. Jesus is calling. This altar is the place where we leave our excuses behind and decide to follow wherever He leads. To Jerusalem and Calvary and beyond. I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back. What about you?