Pat Quinn / Jul 24, 2016 / Luke 9
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
Let’s pray again. Heavenly Father, there is not a person in this room today who deserves to be alive or to be here in this place. As we come to your word, we don’t want to take this for granted. Would you fill us with a sense of wonder, awe, and amazement that we can call you Abba, and that Christ shed his pure and undefiled blood for us?
Father, we know that so much of the trouble that we experience is because we do not see ourselves as pilgrims and disciples, but get too attached to this world. You’ve called us to be apprentices and followers of Jesus. So, as we come to your Word, we lay down our weary burdens and selfish agenda. Oh Lord, would you speak now, for your servants are listening. In Jesus’ name, amen.
The German theologian Karl Barth, who wrote massive and very hard to read volumes of theology, was once asked if he would summarize all that he had learned through his years of studying theology. He said this: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That, brothers and sisters, is our confession: so profound that volumes of theology can be written about it, yet so simple that a child can sing it. Our Savior loves us.
In his great love for us, Jesus has given us many invaluable gifts. We’ll look at three today. First of all, he has given us the gift of a call, a ministry, a task, and a mission for the church. Secondly, he has alerted us to many dangers that we will face as we seek to fulfill that call. Thirdly, he has given us a precious promise to sustain and motivate us to do that.
I’d like you to turn to Luke 9. It’s a very long chapter (62 verses), so you’ll be happy that we’re not going to read through the whole thing. But we are going to look at several vignettes in this chapter that have to do with how we are to navigate through these dangers.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. ’Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far And Grace will lead me home. Amazing Grace – John Newton
The Call of the Church
First of all, let’s look at the call, or the mission, of the church. We see that in Luke 9:1-2.
And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. Luke 9:1-2
What is our call as a church? We are called to proclaim the gospel through words and works, to make people holy and whole, all to the glory of God.
Luke says that “he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God…” Obviously, it’s done through words. Many of us have heard a famous statement that’s often attributed to Francis of Assisi, although there is no historical evidence that he ever said or wrote it: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” That’s very catchy, and I think there is a truth there, but it’s not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The word for “proclaim” here—the Greek word “kerusso”—literally means “to publicly announce”, obviously through words. So “he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom…”
But he also sent them out to heal. That means that our works of mercy are meant to accompany our words. Let’s be clear: our works are not the gospel, and they cannot bring in the kingdom. But our works do adorn the gospel and show the presence of the kingdom. Words (proclamation of the gospel) are primary, and works (demonstration of the gospel) are supportive. Our call involves both. We are to proclaim the gospel through words and works, to make people holy and whole, all to the glory of God.
Seven Dangers in Seeking the Call
We’re going to spend most of our time looking through at seven dangers that we’re going to face as we seek to fulfill this call. For each one, we’ll briefly look at the danger. Then I’ll give you a key word, spoken by Jesus, to address that danger. Then I’ll ask you a question, so I’ll be doing application all the way through the sermon.
Danger 1: Lack of Vision (vv. 10-17)
On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. 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. 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.” 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.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. 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. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. Luke 9:10-17
What did lack of vision look like? First of all, the disciples. As they considered these people who had been there all day listening to Jesus, it was late, and they could tell that they were tired and hungry. They seemed to have concern for the crowd, but not real compassion. Concern is merely mental, while compassion involves both deep sympathy and action to relieve the suffering. So it says that “the day began to wear away”, and they began to send the crowd away. They had concern, but not compassion.
Also, their lack of vision set limits on the power of God to minister to these people. When Jesus said, “No, you give them something to eat,” they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish. We don’t have what it takes, Jesus.” To cut them a little slack, they had seen Jesus preach powerfully and heal the sick, but they had not yet seen him multiply food. They didn’t see the possibilities for ministry that were right before them with Jesus, even though he has limitless power and compassion. There is no situation so hard, complex, or deep that Jesus can’t change and fix it, and they should have known that.
Here’s the key word of Jesus to address the danger of suffering from a lack of vision. He says, “You give them something to eat.” In other words, “Don’t pass off the responsibility of ministry to others. You do something.” And then it says that “they all ate and were satisfied.” Here is my first question for you to consider: how big is your vision of what Christ can do and how he might use you?
Danger 2: Religious Distractions (vv. 28-36)
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. Luke 9:28-36
Religious distractions are dangers for us as disciples. We see here the distraction of a powerful religious experience. The appearance of Jesus’ face was altered, and his clothing became dazzlingly white. The disciples saw his glory. This was literally the ultimate mountain-top experience.
In the midst of this powerful, extra-ordinary experience, Peter jumps in and does what he does best: he starts babbling. He doesn’t really know what he is saying, but he says, “Lord, this is so cool! It’s good that we are here. Let’s make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” I don’t think Peter wanted to go camping. I think he wanted to make this experience permanent. He didn’t want to leave. It’s almost like he was saying, “Jesus, let’s stay here. Maybe this could become a special place where people can come and experience your glory, and I could be the tour guide. I was there. Lord, people are going to love this.” And Jesus thinks, “Yeah, Peter. Whatever.”
We thank God when he favors us with a powerful experience of his presence and grace. It is real and precious. But there is always a temptation is to want that extraordinary spiritual experience to be a destination, not just a signpost.
A few weeks ago, my brother Rick and his wife Annie came from Ohio. They and Judy and I went up north to all things Mackinaw: Mackinaw City, Mackinaw Bridge, and Mackinaw Island. Now, if you’ve been up north, you know that somewhere north of Gaylord, but well before you get to the Mackinaw Bridge, you start seeing big green signs for the bridge. Wouldn’t it have been strange if we saw the first sign for the Mackinaw Bridge, pulled off to the side of the road, got out our cell phones, and started taking pictures? “Mackinaw Bridge! There it is! Oh, it’s so cool from this side too. Okay, now let’s get a hotel room real quick, and tomorrow we can come back and maybe even get closer, and you can stand on my shoulders—Mackinaw Bridge!” No! It’s just the sign. It’s not the real thing.
Our religious experiences are real, but they are meant to be signposts leading us to the glory of heaven. The danger is that we sometimes become spiritual junkies, continually seeking more and more experiences of the Lord instead of deeper and deeper understanding of the Lord of our experiences. We are to seek Jesus Himself, not just experiences of him. There is such a subtle difference there. Remember: the only saving, sustainable experience is simple faith in Jesus—trusting him, treasuring him, and following him.
Along with the distraction of religious experiences is the distraction of religious leaders. Two men appeared—but not just any two men. They were Jewish heroes: Moses, the great leader and lawgiver; and Elijah, the fiery prophet who was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot. This would easily distract the disciples from Jesus.
Many of us have favorite authors (dead and alive), theologians, preachers, singers, and others who have been of great help to us in our spiritual lives. I can think of many myself. Again, these are good gifts. But remember that not one of our favorite leaders ever created the universe. Not one of them has the words of eternal life. Not one of them died for our sins.
As we consider religious distractions, here is the key word from God the Father (vv. 35-36): “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And then, at the end, it says, “When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” Here:s my question: what tends to distract you from Jesus and the gospel?
Danger 3: Fearful Thickheadedness
But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying. Luke 9:43-45
There’s a lot of excitement about Jesus at this time. He’s working miracles all over the place. He’s just been transfigured. Soon after that, he heals a boy who has an unclean spirit. And right in the middle of all this excitement, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “You know, the main reason that I came is not to work miracles, but to suffer and to die.” That message went thud. They couldn’t hear it.
One of the reasons is right in the text: “…it was concealed from them.” They couldn’t understand this message about suffering and death. But it also says that “they were afraid to ask him…” They didn’t want to hear anymore about this, because it sounded too dangerous and scary.
Brothers and sisters, what is the deepest reason why we don’t understand, and don’t even want to understand, the cost of discipleship? Isn’t it this? Just like the disciples, we are happy to be united with Jesus in his popularity, fruitful ministry, and blessings, but not so happy to be united with him in his sufferings and death. We naturally fear and recoil from hard things in life, and this fear prevents us from understanding and responding fully to the cost of discipleship.
Some 40 years ago, my aunt was diagnosed with cancer. She died not too long after finding out. At that time, we found out that my aunt had not been to a doctor in the 40 previous years. Why did she never go? Why do some of us not want to go? Isn’t it because we don’t want to hear anything bad? We might hear something that we don’t want to hear, so our fear keeps us from dealing with things which really need to be dealt with.
Here’s the key word from Jesus (v. 44) as we consider the danger of fearful thickheadedness: “Let these words sink into your ears.” Don’t let them fall on deaf ears or go in one ear and out the other. Let them sink into your ears. The words of God—the words of Jesus—from Genesis to Revelation are all inspired and useful, especially the hard words. They are going to deal with things that we don’t want to look at. So Jesus says, “When you read and hear, let those words sink in. Let them change and move you.” Here’s my question for fearful thickheadedness: where is fear tripping you up in following Jesus?
Danger 4: Selfish Ambition
An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” Luke 9:46-48
“An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest.” I have to admit that I’m very shocked by this. I’m not shocked by the fact that they wanted to be the greatest; I’m very familiar with that. But at least I’m more subtle at seeking supremacy over the whole world. I don’t normally argue about it.
What did this argument even sound like? “Did you see those demons fly out of that guy when I prayed?” “Yeah, well my basket of leftovers was way more full than yours.” “Well, as Jesus was saying to me personally just the other night…” “Peter, don’t you remember? I brought you to Jesus in the first place. You’re not so great!” Selfish ambition is so natural, persistent, and deadly. They’re even going to be arguing about this at the Last Supper.
Here’s what C.S. Lewis says about it:
It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life… It comes direct from Hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly… For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense. C.S. Lewis
What is the key word to deal with our selfish ambition? It’s in verses 47-48:
But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” Luke 9:47-48
There’s a parallel passage to this in Matthew 18, and it adds this sentence: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” There is the antidote for our selfish ambition: to be like a child.
I want to talk to the kids for just a minute. I wonder if you heard what Jesus just said. I think a lot of times kids may think, “Well, I can’t really follow Jesus or do anything for him until I’m older and bigger.” But Jesus says exactly the opposite. If we adults want to follow Jesus, we need to become like you kids.
Now, I don’t mean you having a temper tantrum or beating the snot out of your little brother. That’s not what Jesus is talking about. But when you are at least a little humble and affectionate, trying to be obedient, and trusting towards your parents, you are the new model citizen of the kingdom. You kids have a very important place in the church and the kingdom.
Here’s my question for selfish ambition: can you pray the words of this song and really mean it?
Take all my cravings for vain recognition
Fleshly indulgence and worldly ambition
I want so much Lord to make You the focus
To serve You in secret and never be noticed Surrender All – Sovereign Grace Music
I pray those words all the time. I think I half mean it! But it’s better than I used to be, because that’s a prayer for child-like humility.
Danger 5: Sectarian Prejudice (vv. 49-50)
John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” Luke 9:49-50
Did you notice the contrast between, “we saw someone casting out demons in your name” and “he does not follow with us”? See, John thought that anyone outside their particular group was suspect and should be stopped. But Jesus thought anyone who ministered in his name was serving him and should be encouraged. This sectarian prejudice is still alive today. What does it look like?
In 2012, Presbyterian theologian John Frame delivered an address called “Machen’s Warrior Children”. J. Gresham Machen, as some of you know, was a professor at Princeton Seminary in the early 20th century. He became very concerned about the liberal leanings of the seminary, so he left, and he and a small number of men started Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Machen was a warrior who contended for the faith against liberalism. But Frame’s point is that the children of Machen, in the sense of those who are of the Reformed camp—we might even say Presbyterians—have tended to be a contentious lot. Here’s what Frame says:
I have enumerated 21 areas of conflict occurring in American conservative Reformed circles from 1936 to the present. Under some of those headings I have mentioned subdivisions, subcontroversies. Most of these controversies have led to divisions in churches and denominations, harsh words exchanged between Christians. People have been told that they are not Reformed, even that they have denied the Gospel. John Frame – Machen’s Warrior Children
That sounds like we’re trying to stop them because they do not follow with us. So what is Jesus’ key word? “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”
I want to read another quote here that I think expresses beautifully the kind of attitude that we should have about those who aren’t in our particular theological tradition—maybe even those we might disagree with pretty seriously. This is a quote from Charles Spurgeon—a passionate Calvinist who preached in England in the 1800’s—about John Wesley, a passionate Arminian who preached in the 1700’s. Listen to what Spurgeon says about someone with whom he would have serious disagreements:
Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him, that while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself, I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitfield [a Calvinist] and John Wesley [an Arminian]. C.H. Spurgeon
Spurgeon was clear on what he believed. He was a Reformed Calvinist to the core, and he would have graciously disputed with John Wesley. But do you notice the wisdom, grace, and discernment in this quote?
Here’s a question for you about sectarianism: how do you respond to non-Reformed Christians, or to Christians who don’t share all of your convictions? How do you respond to them? Do you dismiss them? Do you speak against them? Do you try to listen to them? How do you respond?
Danger 6: Zeal Without Love
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village. Luke 9:51-56
That’s zeal without love. Of course, there is an equal problem of love without zeal. That’s the kind of person who accepts everything and anything, with no theological backbone and discernment. It’s sort of like “Jesus loves me, this I know” without “for the Bible tells me so”.
But James’ and John’s problem was exactly the opposite. They had very strong convictions. Their conviction was that anyone who rejected Jesus should be fried on the spot, which is admirable zeal, but abysmal mercy.
Make no mistake: there will come a time when those who ignore or reject Jesus will be judged, condemned, and consumed with fire. Maybe someone in this room today needs to hear that. But that day is not this day. Today is the day of salvation—of persistent preaching and patient waiting. We want to be careful that we are not guilty of zeal without love.
The Lord has convicted me about that recently—not so much towards other Christians, but of my lack of love for certain politicians who will remain nameless. I found that I would rejoice when they screwed up. I loved to talk about their flaws. I was not praying for them, even though Paul commands us to pray for our leaders. It was zeal without love.
The key word is in verse 55: “But he turned and rebuked them.” If you’ll notice, there’s a footnote on verse 55 that says, “Some ancient manuscripts include other words.” I’m going to read those as well. “You do not know what manner of spirit you are, for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives, but to save them.” God wants us to have zeal and love. Here’s the question about zeal without love: is your compassion any less when it is obvious sinners who are hurt or killed?
Danger 7: Worldly Priorities (vv. 57-62)
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62
I see two worldly priorities here: the love of comfort and (related to it) the love of family. It’s impossible not to be influenced by the love of comfort when you’re growing up in our culture.
Many of you know that years ago I taught at Lansing Christian. When I would teach the seniors, I always did a unit on the book of Amos, looking at God’s concern for social justice and how people treat one another. The book starts with this phrase: “The Lord roars from Zion…” It’s God himself speaking against outwardly religious people who really loved wealth, ease, and comfort, and didn’t care about the needs of others. As we’d go through this book, I’d say something like this: “You know, you cannot follow Jesus and pursue comfort at the same time.” You could almost see the short circuiting in their brain. Their reaction was shock—and almost outrage. It was as if I had said, “You can’t follow Jesus and have pepperoni on your pizza”, or “You can’t follow Jesus and play soccer.”
Again, cut them some slack! They’ve grown up in culture that worships comfort. But it’s not just them. It’s me and you. I have to continually pray and watch about not overindulging in creature comforts like food or TV.
What does Jesus say about comfort? His key word is in verse 58. Someone said, “I want to follow you wherever you go.” And he said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus is saying, “You can’t follow me and pursue comfort at the same time.”
The love of family is related to the love of comfort, but more subtle, and therefore more dangerous. That might sound strange to you, because we believe that families are beautiful and good things, and we want to protect them. It’s also true that some people actually neglect their families as they pursue their vocation or ministry. That’s bad. We know that. But the opposite danger is just as real. Some people actually make their family their functional god. They organize everything around it. They fret about it. They sacrifice for it. They protect and serve their family above all things, and they will not let anybody or anything interfere with that—even God.
Did you notice what Jesus said? “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” It is sometimes shocking how unsentimental Jesus is about the things that we consider most important. He calls us to follow him, and to make him and the gospel our highest priority.
The Motivating Promise
Let’s close with a promise that will motivate and strengthen us to keep faithful: he gives us grace every day. That’s why John Newton’s hymn says, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. ’Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead me home.”
But he gives us another promise that is implied in this chapter: the promise of the kingdom. The second verse says, “he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God”, and the very last verse says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” The promise of the kingdom is meant to motivate, captivate, strengthen, and sustain us as we walk this long road, seeking to fulfill this commission and to avoid, address, and overcome these dangers.
He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom. No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom. We know that this kingdom is a place of absolute, perfected, consummated salvation through Christ and of eternal glory with Christ.
Let me end with a quote that I hope will be like a North Star for you this week, keeping you oriented and moving you in the right direction. I’m going to ask you to close your eyes as I read this. Some of you, like me, have a very rebellious spirit, and you will absolutely not close your eyes. That’s okay, but most of you will go with this, so just close your eyes as I read this quote, and then we’ll pray.
Imagine the scope of the entire universe: trillions of shining stars, burning brighter than the sun; magnificent constellations; billions of spinning galaxies, all magnificent and vast, colorful and mysterious. Yet, they are finite. Brilliant, though they are, they fall utterly short in comparison to the breadth, length, height, and depth of the love of Christ. His love, grace, kindness, wisdom, power, and mercy each stand as never-ending, infinite universes for all your affections to delight in.
God doesn’t want your hope to be in this life but in the life to come. He wants you to long for your homecoming, when you meet him face to face. Heaven Will Never Be Boring – Dave Radford
Let’s pray. Lord, through many dangers, toils, and snares we have already come. Maybe some here feel that they are still enmeshed in those snares. It is your grace that has brought us safe thus far, to this place today, and we trust that your grace will bring us home. Father, would you give us well-timed, perfectly-measured out grace this week to navigate, address, and overcome these dangers? And then, when we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ll have no less days to sing your praise then when we’ve first begun. Lord, let this vision of heaven’s glory captivate our minds, liberate our hearts, motivate our wills, and obligate our obedience as your faithful disciples. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Transcription and editing provided by 10:17 Transcription