Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Was Committed to Save” based on Luke 9:51-62 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, July 21, 2019
Just a few days before, James and John, the so-called sons of Thunder, had witnessed something so spectacular. They were up on a mountain top with Jesus and were enveloped in a cloud when two of God’s Old Testament prophets appeared before them, namely Moses and Elijah.
Now, Jesus had told them not to tell anyone about what they had seen, but they likely couldn’t help talking about it among themselves; rehashing some of the amazing feats of faith performed by Elijah.
Even for those in the inner circle, there must have been some sort of envy for that kind of a show of greatness; to be able to perform miracles, to raise the dead, or to even be able to call down fire from heaven when enemies need to be devoured. Just like today, there are those who wish that they could take part in that fire and brimstone, old-timey religion.
And then, of course, what seemed like the perfect opportunity presented itself. Listen again: As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely 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.
The Samaritans did not welcome Jesus because they knew why he was going to Jerusalem. They knew that people went to Jerusalem to make sacrifices. People went to Jerusalem to go to the temple and pay for their sins. The Samaritans had their own places of sacrifice that they thought were better than Jerusalem’s. They thought Jesus could fulfill his duty in Samaria instead. To them, to make your sacrifice in Jerusalem, by way of walking through Samaria, was a not-so-subtle way of calling the Samaritans sinners. You were, in essence, telling them that their altar didn’t reach to the true God.
The sons of Thunder saw this as an opportunity to burn those Samaritans, those half-breed dogs, straight to the ground. After all, that’s what they deserved for their failings to follow the guidelines of faith given by God.
And, truthfully, that’s not just what James and John felt. Those Samaritans did deserve to burn, but not only here on earth in the towns in which they lived. They deserved to burn for all of eternity in the fires of hell. But what those brothers failed to recognize was that, if they were to call down fire on that village, they, themselves, deserved to be set ablaze alongside of its inhabitants—just like you and me, as well.
Yes, those Samaritans were sinful for thinking that they could come to God on their own terms, ignoring the path he had set before them in the Law of Moses. But that was no different than the sin that James and John were committing by putting their own thoughts and desired actions ahead of where Jesus was leading them. They wanted the fame and renown of Elijah. They had their own plans for how God’s kingdom work should be carried out. But Jesus taught them, along with others who were following him, and you and me, that service to God involves a commitment to his will and his will alone.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go. Jesus replied, Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. He said to another man, Follow me. But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father. Jesus said to him, Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Still another said, I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family. Jesus replied, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.
Upon first glance, Jesus appears to be a little harsh in his response to James and John and the others who were following him. They were just trying to declare their desires to do his work and he responded with rebuke and some pretty intense analogies.
But what was hidden behind their seemingly confident commitments to serve, Jesus made known. Like the sons of Thunder, the others had their own hidden agendas that deviated from a complete commitment to the work Jesus was calling them to carry out.
Jesus knew that, while the first man declared he would follow Jesus wherever he went, he was not fully understanding what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. It wasn’t all mountain top experiences and calling down fire to devour his enemies. Commitment to Christ means that, at times, it will come at great personal cost; giving up the comforts of the world, not having a place to settle down and put down roots in favor of going wherever God calls you to go.
That commitment also may mean that you have to change your perspective on what is important. This is not a prescriptive passage, indicating that you shouldn’t ever help in planning the funeral of a loved one who passed, but, rather, Jesus taught his people that those who die don’t need you to spread the gospel message to them. The fields, instead, are ripe with plenty of people who are still living who need to hear the Good News of God’s salvation in Jesus. He was instilling a mission mindset inside his people.
And, as you continue to plant that seed of salvation, there will be plenty of worldly and personal concerns that will try to divide your attention away from that work. But, as Jesus correctly taught, when you turn your attention to many things, you lose focus on the work you are carrying out and it is impossible to plow a straight line.
With this high demand on your time and attention; with the cost of your commitment to Christ being so high, how can anyone see themselves as being fit for service in the kingdom of God? Who could possibly live up to this impossible standard?
The answer is to look to Jesus, who resolutely set out for Jerusalem. His plow line was perfectly straight as he went to the cross. While still following the fourth commandment, he left behind his own familial ties to do the work of his heavenly Father. Jesus, and only Jesus, is truly fit for service in the kingdom of God.
Because he resolutely lived a perfect life, resolutely suffered, and resolutely gave up his own life, your sins of selfishness and misplaced priorities are all forgiven. His innocent life and atoning sacrifice paid the price due for all the evil that you are and that you have done. Through his salvation work, the fires that you deserve are quenched and you are, instead, declared fit for life eternal.
When you come down from your mountain top experience with Christ today, be resolute in the calling that your God has given to you, not to keep it to yourself or discuss it only among those who saw and heard it with you, but to put your hand to the plow and plant the seed of faith in those who still need to hear it.
And as you count the cost of this work, remember that Jesus’ commitment to save you has secured a place for you to lay your heads for all of eternity. Let his resolve for your salvation put your life of service in is proper perspective, seeing the situations you are placed in as opportunities to assure others of Jesus’ work done for them as well. And when your family and your job, your friends and your financials try to dissuade you, when they tempt you to trust in them and to love them more than you love Jesus, be resolute! Count the cost, leave it behind, and don’t look back. Go forward and proclaim the kingdom of God. Amen.