Sermon: A Lighted World Costs More
SCRIPTURE: Luke 10:1-17
DATE: March 6, 2016
When I was a kid, my friends and I would play cowboys and Indians. Now I know that’s not politically correct today. But we just couldn’t get enough of it. And it was the glory days of the Western’s on T.V. Shows like Bonanza and Gunsmoke and Wagon Train and Rawhide were truly “must see T.V.” for us.
We thrilled to the battles between the Indians and the cowboys. And we despaired that our heroes would be able to survive. It seemed like whenever there was a battle, the Indians always outnumbered the cowboys. Our heroes were always finding themselves surrounded by a great many enemies. Their numbers were low and their food and ammunition was running out. It didn’t look good. But don’t despair because the cowboys knew a secret. And that was that if you could shoot the chief then no matter how many Indians there were, they would call off the attack and go home, presumably to elect a new chief. Cut off the head and the body would be helpless. And the great thing was that you could always tell which ones were the chief. They rode up front and wore these great big head dresses made of feathers. And it seemed to never fail. When the Wagon Train or the herd was threatened, someone would shoot the chief, and all would be saved. Cut off the head to defeat the body. It’s a tried and true principal. It was the same strategy that the Israelite army employed against the Philistines. Kill Goliath and the Philistines will retreat. So up stepped David.
Which brings us to the place where we are in this journey with Jesus. (Show Map) Luke says that after Nain Jesus makes His way to Bethsaida. And according to his gospel it was near Bethsaida where Jesus fed 5000 people with just a few loaves and a few fish that the disciples had scrounged from the crowd. Now Bethsaida is just about the last Jewish out post in Gallilee. If you step crooked you would leave Galillee and end up in the area of Caesarea Phillipi. Now other Gospels say that Jesus actually went in to Caesarea Phillipi to escape Herod Antipas. And so when the Gospels talk of Jesus next stop on the Journey as the Mountain of the Transfiguration, they probably have Mt. Hermon in mind, which was in Caesarea Phillipi. But Luke does not say that Jesus ever left Gallilee, and so it is most likely that Luke had Mt. Tabor in mind, which was located near Nazareth and Nain.
Now I have talked about the Transfiguration before and I am not going to spend time on it today because for our journey from membership to discipleship I want to focus on what happened to His followers after the transfiguration. Because I believe that what happened on that mountain transfigured the whole church and the meaning of discipleship. You see, Luke says that they came down from the mountain where the crowd had been waiting and basically two things happen. First, he says, that from this point on Jesus sets His face towards Jerusalem and second, Jesus has decided to send His followers out before Him as He makes His way to Jerusalem. Now as all of this was happening in Galillee the strategy that was emerging in Jerusalem in the chamber of the High Priest to deal with this Nazarene who was gaining in popularity, was the tried and true strategy of cutting off the head to destroy the body.
“We must eliminate Jesus,” one said.
“But what about the others, the ones that follow him.”
“If you cut off the head, the body will die.”
And so they do two things. They start to watch for a chance to arrest Him and they spread the word that Jesus is coming to Jerusalem to give Himself up. According to Luke, soon after Jesus came down from the mountain the word began to spread – Jesus is heading for Jerusalem where He will be arrested like John the Baptist had been and killed. And so many of His followers were beginning to wonder. Why should we follow Him? We went through this with John. Jesus’ time is just about done. He has turned His face towards Jerusalem. The Lamb of God is walking into the Lion’s den. Why should we follow Him any longer? What will become of us when Jesus is gone? Luke says: Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went…the people did not receive Him as before, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.” What an extraordinary statement that is. The word has gotten out: Don’t follow Him.
Because when He gets to Jerusalem, He and any who follow Him are going to be arrested and killed like John had been. Mark, in writing his Gospel, illustrates this even more clearly. The first half of Mark chronicles the public ministry of Jesus. The crowds, the healings, the public teachings. The growing popularity. But, after the Mountain of Transfiguration, once Jesus sets His face towards Jerusalem, the crowds begin to melt away and the road to Jerusalem becomes more and more solitary until in the end there is Jesus and Jesus alone. The head separated from the
Body. And the enemies think they have won. Because if you take care of the chief, the rest will lose their will and courage and fall away. But, you see, Jesus knew what they were planning. And God has given Him a plan where the body is built up, even as the head moves towards death. A plan in which those who thought they were called just to follow, were really called to be leaders.
And in this tenth chapter, the plan begins to unfold in the sending out of the seventy. Imagine what they must have thought. They had committed to be followers.
Dare I say they had joined the church? And surely they must have thought that meant simply being in the presence of the master. Learning from Him. Supporting Him. Serving Him. Worshipping Him. Basking in His love and protection. But Jesus had other plans for them, as He does for us. Because He knew what His fate was and He knew that the fate of the church would lie with these followers. So imagine what they must have thought when He gathered them together and said:
“I am going to send you out as lambs among wolves.”
It must have been a troubling image for them, even though Isaiah had talked of the Messiah in terms of the lamb and lion living in peace. There probably wasn’t a great deal of comfort in that. Some of these seventy were probably shepherds who knew that sheep and wolves did not mix. In commenting on such imagery, a comedian once commented:
“The lion may lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.” A zookeeper was boasting to a visitor how they kept a lamb and a wolf in the same cage. Amazed, the visitor asked how they did it, and the zookeeper said: “Simple, we just put a new lamb in every morning.”
This was not a word of great comfort that Jesus offered to the seventy. But it was a necessary word if they as the body were to survive after the head was cut off. And it’s a necessary word to us on our journey. Because with it, Jesus is redefining what Discipleship is. Whereas before He had called them to follow, now He is telling them to go.
Before He had said: “Be my disciples.” Now He is saying: “Go and make disciples for me.” This transfiguration is complete when Matthew records that at the time Jesus ascends into Heaven after the resurrection, He says to His Disciples “Go into all the world and make Disciples. Baptizing them in my name” Discipleship is completed by our service to others, not by who we are as followers, but by what we help others to become. It seems to me that in the church people fall into three broad categories. The first is those who do not know Jesus, who are seeking a relationship with God through Christ. The second is where most of us are, where most of the seventy were – those who have encountered Jesus, who have accepted Him as Lord and Savior
and are working to “be” His Disciple. And then the third are those who are working
to make Disciples of others. And after the Mountain of Transfiguration, that’s where Jesus wants us to be – needs us to be – for the church to not just survive, but to thrive. You see, in the Body of Christ it’s not enough to just follow, to try and “be” Christ’s Disciple. It’s not even enough to be willing and ready to go to the Cross with Him. Disciples must have a real burden for the lost and hungry and hurting in this world. The ones who are seeking, who are reaching. True Disciples are more than just followers. They are leaders. Disciples are Disciplemakers. And so He calls together these nameless seventy and tells them that they are to go ahead of Him and prepare the people for His arrival. Prepare the hearts of the people for the coming of the Lord. What a responsibility. What a task. And it is our task. We are the seventy. We have the responsibility to prepare a world that does not want to receive Him for the coming of the Lord. These are our marching orders. Discipleship means more than coming to church and learning about God and fellowshipping and worshipping and praising. Following. Being a Disciple of Christ means going, being sent. And He gives us some traveling orders. First, we go as lambs among wolves. We go into hostile environments. Being a disciple means being willing to take risks for Jesus. To go into uncertain territories. James McClendon says that the seventy go out with “sealed orders”.
Often times, he continues, in the navy, ships are sent on a mission with “sealed orders” that are not to be opened and read until the ship is well on its way. The reason for this is that sometimes if the sailors knew where they were going and what the mission was, they wouldn’t have the courage to set sail in the first place. As Disciple’s we are sent into the world with sealed orders, never really knowing what perils might lie ahead on the journey, but ready to do what needs to be done to prepare all people for the coming of the Lord. Even if that means laying down in the midst of a pack of wolves. Lambs among wolves. That’s how we are to go into this world. And people may not thank us. They may not receive us. But still Jesus sends us. I once saw an interview of Elie Weisal, the Jewish writer who survived the Nazi concentration camps while many of his family and friends were killed. And he said he believed that it was by accident that he survived while others didn’t. “But – now, I have to give meaning to that survival. I believe in that, that because I survived by accident, my survival should not remain an accident and I must give meaning. I now believe that every moment is a moment of grace and we must make it into an offering (to God).” What if we lived our lives believing every moment was a gift, a moment of grace, that we then turn into a offering to God. Disciples go by the grace of God, offering God’s grace. And then secondly He tells them to travel light.
Take nothing with them. “No money or knapsack or sandals.” In other words don’t go on this journey with a lot of baggage to carry because it will limit their ability to move and respond to the needs as they are presented. You and I carry around a lot of “baggage”, don’t we? I read once that the last words of the composer and musician Bela Bartok were, as he anticipated moving into the heavenly realm, “I am taking so much baggage with me.” We carry a lot of baggage with us. And all that we carry with us, limits our effectiveness and desire to go on. In the midst of a successful campaign in which much territory had been conquered, Alexander the Great’s army came up against the natural barrier of the Indus river. Alexander proposed that they cross the river and continue their campaign, but the troops balked. They had all ready plundered treasures by the wagon load. They were rich
Beyond their imagination. They had no desire to go on. Their riches weighed them down. And so one night, Alexander commanded that all of his personal treasures be taken to the center of the camp and piled there. And then Alexander came with a torch and set fire to his baggage. Soon, the camp was ablaze with fire, as his men followed his lead and burned that which was weighing them down. And the campaign continued.
In Jesus day, the pack that Roman soldiers carried that sometimes weighed them down was called in the Latin “impedimenta” which, of course translates to impediments. Jesus calls His disciples to leave behind all “impediments” and go out into the world. But we have a lot of impediments which weigh us down, don’t we? Some of them are material, “our riches”. Some are things that bring us comfort, a knapsack to lay our head. Some are more basic items, shoes for our feet. Clothes for our backs. Food for our stomachs. What Jesus meant was that God would provide for all whom are called and sent in His name. And then some of our baggage is more emotional. Our fears. And hurts.
And prejudices. Which hold us back. Weigh us down. Keep us from going where Jesus sends us. John Wesley sent his circuit riders out with the admonition to take few possessions because they would be a burden in their work. The harvest is great, Jesus told them, but there are few who are willing to go into the fields. Who are willing to work? There are too many impediments to overcome. Disciples travel light because they travel with the light. And even after all of that, he tells them, there will be many who do not receive them. How discouraging it is to place yourself in a position of service and yet so many do not receive. Even if we take the risks, leaving the impediments behind, we know that many will still not receive us. But there is good news here too. Because the seventy discovered what is the marvelous paradox of discipleship. That as we go to prepare the way for the Lord, we discover that the Lord has already been there before us preparing hearts and minds to receive Him. And though there will be many who do not respond, who will even greet us with hostility, there will also be many who respond and give their lives to Jesus Christ.
And there is no greater joy than seeing a life changed and redeemed in the name of Jesus. The seventy came back from their perilous journeys with great excitement because as they proclaimed the name of Jesus, the demons had fled, and the lame had walked, and the sick had been healed, and lives were redeemed for Jesus Christ. That’s what it means to be a Disciple. That by our words and our actions, lives are redeemed for Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us to be the light of the world. For light to be effective, it must always move ahead into the dark places. It does no good to shine the flashlight behind us. We need to illuminate the world ahead of us.
That’s how we are to light the world. Shining with the light of Christ into our darkened community. There comes that point where disciples no longer just follow the light, but become the light. And the question becomes the same as it was for the seventy if we are to continue on this journey even after He sets His face toward Jerusalem: Are you willing to go? Are you ready to leave your impediments behind and pay the price to light up your world? A preacher tells about a missionary who was serving in a foreign field but who became so exhausted that she was sent home for rest and healing.
While on furlough, she did recover her energy and began to contemplate returning to the mission field. Her doctor, however, discouraged her, saying that at her age she could no longer take the rigors of the mission work. But she was undeterred and began to gather supplies for her return. One day she went into a store to purchase a globe of the world. She looked at several but really liked one that was quite a bit more expensive then the others. When she asked about the difference in cost, she was told that the one she liked had a light inside of it. “After all,” said the clerk, “a lighted world does cost more.” Disciples are those who are willing to pay the cost to light the world. When we come to this altar we remember the high cost that Jesus was willing to pay to light our world. So I invite you to come this morning and reflect on this question as you do:
What price are we willing to pay to light our world for Jesus Christ?