Encounters: Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There!

Luke 10:38-42

Have you ever wondered how Jesus and His disciples spent their evenings? Where did they eat and sleep? I think they did a lot camping. After all, Jesus said to a potential follower, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). It sounds to me like most nights were spent out under an open sky around a campfire. Sometimes, though, somebody would welcome Jesus and His disciples to stay in their home. Such was the case in today’s story as we see them in the home of Martha.

Luke begins our episode telling us Jesus and His disciples were “on their way.” This is Luke’s way of reminding us of the story’s context. Jesus had set His face to go to Jerusalem where He would suffer and die, and rise again to fulfill God’s salvation plan. This is where they were – on the way to Jerusalem – when a woman named Martha opened her home to them.

Now, think about this: thirteen tired and hungry men entering her home for the evening. I’d say Martha was not only hospitable, but generous as well. Unfortunately, an uncomfortable incident took place in her home, as we see in the story. As it turned out, Jesus used it as a teaching moment. It was an unforgettable lesson, which the disciples remembered and Luke passed on.

In my experience, people struggle a bit with this story. I’ve participated in Bible study groups where the argument has been whether Jesus was fair in His response to Martha. Groups have had the tendency to wrestle with the question, Am I a Martha type or a Mary type? What do I need to change? We tend to give Martha very low marks in this story.

I have to confess, though, I kind of like Martha. She speaks her mind! Where would we be without Marthas who serve? As a pastor, I appreciate the Martha types I have been blessed with in my congregation over the years. They really get things done!

Maybe we are being unfair to Martha. After all, hasn’t Jesus just held up service to our neighbors as a kingdom value in the story of the Good Samaritan just right before this little episode?

What do you think? Is this story really dissing Martha? Is it telling us not to be like her – serving Jesus – and instead be like Mary who sat there? I personally I think it’s a shame to play these women against each other. After all, they were both friends of Jesus. They both had excellent qualities in the eyes of Jesus, and I’m sure Mary had as much of a servant spirit as her sister.

So what is the point of this story? Let’s look at it again and see what really happened. After Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, she went all out to put together a lavish meal with all the fixings and get the place looking just right for Him. In Scripture it says, “Though she was distracted by all her preparations . . .” The word “distracted” means her attention was drawn elsewhere; it was not on her guest of honor. She was caught up in busyness to serve Jesus.

I’m reminded of a story Pastor Chuck Swindol wrote in a book entitled, Stress Fractures. “I vividly remember sometime back being caught in the undertow – too many commitments in too few days. It wasn’t long before I was snapping at my wife and our kids, choking down my food at meal times, and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions throughout the day. Before long, things around our home started reflecting the pattern of my hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable for everyone.

“I distinctly recall after supper one evening the words of our younger daughter, Colleen. She wanted to tell me about something important that had happened to her at school. She hurriedly began, ‘Daddy, I want to tell you something, and I’ll tell you really fast!’

“Suddenly realizing her frustration, I answered, ‘Honey, you can tell me. You don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.’ I’ll never forget her answer. ‘Well then, listen more slowly.’”

I think Martha was a bit like Chuck. She was distracted and irritated in her busyness and not listening while her sister Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to what He is saying. Think about it – Jesus let her sit in and listen and learn like a male, as one of His disciples, which was unheard of for women in those days. It was quite a gift to Mary.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Martha is feeling deserted and is growing more and more irritated with Mary in the midst of her dinner preparations. Can’t you just imagine Martha getting a little noisier out in the kitchen as she bangs things around a little harder, a little louder, sighing and moaning to herself, clearing her throat a little louder than usual to perhaps catch Mary’s attention. But Mary doesn’t budge. She continues to sit there at the feet of Jesus, taking in what He is saying, which angers Martha all the more! Who does she think she is? She doesn’t belong out there with the men, but in here with me working, serving.

Finally, Martha can’t stand it anymore. She storms into the room and has a meltdown in front of everyone. She takes her frustrations out – not on Mary – but on Jesus! “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself! Tell her to help me!” I’d say it had to have put a bit of a damper on things. One could feel the air being sucked right out of the room, I imagine. She kind of spoiled the dinner party, didn’t she. She spoiled it for Mary by embarrassing her, and she spoiled it for the disciples who are now feeling very uncomfortable, like they’d like to run out the door.

You could say she spoiled her relationship with Jesus a bit. She’s upset with Him and blames Him for her unhappiness and irritation. Everyone is just sitting there, staring at her open-mouthed, and then Jesus breaks the silence. He gently responds to her, “Martha, Martha . . .”

I have a daughter named Martha, and my poor Martha has had to hear this line quoted at least a thousand times, I’m sure.

Jesus goes on to describe for Martha what He is observing and the solution as well. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset by many things, but few things are needed, or indeed only one.” It doesn’t sound like Jesus is unappreciative of Martha’s service. However, He is concerned about the spirit which has developed in her because of the many tasks she has put on herself.

Martha, you are so worked up over all these things. Few things are needed – indeed only one. You are working too hard at your hospitality. It’s overwhelmed you and upset you. Even one dish would be enough. I’m not here to make your life more difficult and anxious. More importantly, I’m here to see you and talk with you. Keep it simple, Martha. Sometimes it is better to keep it simple.

Earlier in this 10th chapter of Luke, Jesus instructs His disciples, who He sends out two by two, to expect little and not be a burden on the households which welcome them. Have few expectations of them. Just eat what they put in front of you, Jesus said. Now He is living those words out in front of His disciples. Sometimes good service can get spoiled by a bad attitude which has developed.

You might be wondering how you can know when you are becoming dangerously overboard with hospitality and serving? Try this one on for size: when what you are doing drives you to distraction – makes you anxious, irritable, upset, judgmental, and difficult to get along with – it could be a good clue that you may be need to simplify things a bit. Serving a lavish meal is a fine thing, but we can tarnish the whole affair when we end up with a bad spirit because of it. It doesn’t do anybody any good.

This story isn’t instructing us to just sit around doing nothing and serve Jesus – the serving is appreciated. Sometimes, however, we need to keep it simple so we can do something even more important, which we see in the next statement of Jesus.

He goes on to say, “Mary has chosen that which is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” She has chosen the better part. What is this better part? It is to grab the opportunity to spend time with Jesus and allow Him to minister to you, to let Him do something in you before you do something for Him. Your soul needs His service, care, and time as He speaks into your life. It is time well spent. Don’t just do, do, do something. Sit there.

Shouldn’t I be serving Jesus? Absolutely! But remember, the One who said, “Pick up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24), also said, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-30).

It’s so easy to get caught up in our busyness of serving Jesus and others and not sit with Jesus and let Him serve us. We get worn down by it. It leads to explosions and meltdowns like we see in today’s story. It leads to burn out, broken relationships with others including Jesus, and moral breakdowns. We make bad decisions when we’re so tired. It has the potential to create a troubled and lost soul, out of touch with God and doing life without Him.

How is your soul, your inner person, these days? Are you giving it the attention it needs? While Martha was preparing her banquet, another banquet was already being served by Jesus in her home, which He wanted her to have. She was missing out on His rest for her soul. Are you missing out? Life can get so busy. A banquet awaits you when you spend time with Him, take in His words of grace, love, and wisdom. A feast is prepared for you to enjoy as you worship Him on Sunday with the community of faith, and every day of the week. As you make time to pause, open His word to let Him speak into your life, talk with Him in prayer, praise Him in song.

We learned today, there is nothing wrong with serving. Keep it up; it’s a good thing! We are called to serve in Christ’s name. But we also are reminded in this passage that Jesus came to serve us. He put words to this later on in Luke: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 10:45).

We need precious time with Him. Our souls require us to quiet ourselves in His presence. We need His words of life to comfort, encourage, and guide us. We need to not just always be doing, doing, doing, but to just sit there and enjoy His company with us. Allow Him to put a song in our mouths.

♬”. . . and He walks with me and He talks with me,
and He tells me I am His own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
none other has ever been known.”♪

I want to close this message with a very touching story I read recently. It was written by a fellow pastor named Dan Meyer.

“This past week I stood at a grave side with a small circle of people as we laid to rest one of the great saints of our church. We told stories of how much better our lives were for the chance to know this man. Every one of us knew something of him. None of us knew all. But it was his marriage partner who knew the most. As we walked from the grave, she gave me an envelope containing a personal gift enclosed by a simple note. ‘Please enjoy dinner with your lovely wife,’ the note read. ‘Every minute together is precious.’

My first thought, I confess, was pretty self focused. What splendid timing! Amy and I are coming up on our 22nd wedding anniversary, and I’m going to take her out for a meal with this gift.

Then, as I sat in my car reading the note over again, the deeper significance of those words on the card started to settle in. The woman who had penned them had been with her own spouse on their 22nd anniversary. She been with him on their 32nd anniversary too, and on their 42nd, their 52nd, their 62nd, and their 72nd year of married life. For most of her more than 90 years on this planet she had built her life around the love of this man. She’d raised and buried children with him. She had faced storms and sun shines alike with him. She had soaked in and loved more of his heart, mind, soul, and strength than anyone else on earth. But for her, it was still not quite enough. ‘Please enjoy the opportunity,’ she had urged me with trembling pen, ‘and remember, every minute together is precious.’”

This, my dear friend, is our lesson, which Jesus wants to write upon our hearts today. Remember, every minute together with me is precious.

So don’t just do something, sit there. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Encounters: A Lesson on Love

Luke 10:25-37

When a new parent was asked by a friend what it was like having their first baby living in the house now, he replied, “Well, there’s never a dull moment.” How true that is! If you were to ask one of the disciples what life with Jesus was like, they probably would’ve said something like that. There’s never a dull moment. Just think of all they regularly experienced after they began to follow Him: amazing miracles; battles with demons; Jesus’ confrontations with the opposition; dinner parties with shady people; challenging assignments in some foreign, unfriendly territories; and fascinating conversations with all kinds of interesting people along the way. Such was the case as we read of Christ’s final expedition to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel.

Jesus had many memorable encounters in conversations with various kinds of people who came to Him. His disciples had the privilege of listening and observing them. Obviously, they were impacted by these encounters because they later remembered them and shared them with other people. Eventually, Luke wrote them down for our benefit.

These encounters served them well as part of their training to be Christ’s disciples. Jesus had called them with the promise of making them fishers of people, and they had a lot to learn. They needed to learn about the ways of the kingdom of God and how to attract people to repent and receive the kingdom so they might experience the new, abundant life Jesus came to give them.

Last week we observed Jesus’ encounter with three admirers who said they wanted to follow Him. From that encounter, the disciples learned about the high commitment involved with following Jesus. Today we see Him having an encounter with a lawyer. This is not an attorney as we know them today. He was more of a biblical scholar, an expert on the Torah, the Law of Moses. This man came to Jesus with a question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Now we might wonder if he is sincere in asking that question. Does he really want to know? Luke would say, Not really. He was simply putting Jesus to the test. He’s thinking to himself, ‘Let’s see how bright this Galilean rabbi really is!’ I bet I could teach him a thing or two. Let the games begin!’

In all likelihood, this lawyer was affiliated with the Pharisees, who were working to discredit Jesus with whom they had some run-ins already. Maybe the man’s intentions were to make a public spectacle of Jesus by getting Him to say something heretical that would hurt His reputation.

Besides, it is a bit of a stupid question when you think about it. The nature of an inheritance is that you do nothing for it. You don’t earn an inheritance; someone gives it to you. Jesus patiently and kindly responds to this individual with His own question. “What’s written in the law? What do you read there?” (Notice, Jesus says He didn’t come to abolish the laws of God, but to actually fulfill them.)

The expert responds with the statement that every pious Jew recited daily. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” Then he added a statement from the Old Testament: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). The man’s response is sometimes referred to in Christian circles as the Great Commandment, and Jesus affirms him for it. “Good answer! Do this and you will live.” End of debate, now. Right? Nope. Not at all.

The law expert doesn’t want to end this debate, because he is kind of losing. He wants to justify himself, look good in front of the crowd. So he asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” And Jesus tells a story – a story, which has become very familiar over time, even to those who profess not to believe in Jesus. It has been entitled, The Good Samaritan story.

A traveler going down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was robbed and beaten and stripped of his clothes. The robbers left him half dead by the side of the road. Now by chance, a priest, and then a little later on, a Levite (an assistant priest) came walking down the road, saw the beaten man lying there half dead, but each of them crossed over to the other side of the road and passed him by.

These were very religious people of God. They knew the same answers that the expert quoted, but they did nothing. Quite disappointing. Jesus doesn’t tell us why they did nothing. Perhaps it was fear of being mugged themselves or a lack of time in their tight schedules. Maybe they were concerned about remaining ceremonially clean, not taking the chance of touching a dead man, which would make them unclean.

Jesus continued . . .

But, a Samaritan came near and saw him . . .

The listeners were at the edge of their seats. Augh! One of those half-breed, lowlife Samaritans. I bet he’ll crush in his skull. Finish him off. This isn’t good! Jews and Samaritans had a long history of hatred toward each other. No time for one another.

Jesus went on with the story.

. . . and when he saw the man, he was moved with pity. He went to the beaten man, did everything he could to help him. He bandaged his wounds after applying oil and wine on them for healing. He put the man on his donkey and walked into an inn. He took care of him there. He paid for the man’s stay from his own pocket, covering two months of lodging for him, and told the innkeeper to put any overrun costs on his tab.

Such extravagant love on a part of that Samaritan – over-the-top mercy and compassion.

Then Jesus turned to the law expert and asked him, “Which of these three was the neighbor to the beaten-up man?”

Biblical scholars, by the way, point out that there’s a bit of a surprise stinger in this parable. Jesus portrayed the hated Samaritan as the hero of the story. He carried out God’s great commandment better than the other two Jewish religious professionals. The thought was so horrifying, distasteful to the law expert that he couldn’t even bring himself to say the word Samaritan. Instead, with a scowl on his face, he spit out the words, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus gets in the last word: “Go and do likewise.” Instead of asking, Who is my neighbor? – Go and Be a neighbor. The right question is not, Who is my neighbor? but, How can I be a neighbor? Be a neighbor even to people like Samaritans, for they are your neighbors, too.

An important truth is being taught here. A neighbor is someone whose need you see and God has put you in a position to meet, no matter who they are. Jesus takes away the boundaries, the limits that the expert of the law (one of God’s own people) and people like us tend to put up for ourselves. We love people who like us and are like us. Jesus tells us to be a neighbor to those who are not like you and those who do not like you as well. According to this parable, your neighbor could be

• Someone who you don’t know, an absolute stranger. The Samaritan did not know the guy in the ditch. He only saw the need and responded with help.
• Someone who is unfriendly toward you – even an enemy. Like the relationship between Jews and Samaritans.
• Someone who rubs you the wrong way, who has done you wrong in the past.
• An unlovely person. The half-dead man lying in a pool of blood by the side of the road was very unattractive to look at.
Someone whose lifestyle you find unlovely, whose life situation makes you sick and uncomfortable.
• Someone who even worships another god than you do. You see them as unlovely.
• Someone who can’t reciprocate your love. Did you notice that there’s no paying back in this parable? No IOU being written out. In fact, not even a thank-you is found in the story. Just unconditional love and mercy on the part of Samaritan. Likewise, the person you help may not say thanks or make you feel good about your kindnesses. Jesus is saying, So what? Be a neighbor.

This is a difficult teaching, if you ask me. But Jesus is very clear. As God’s own people who have received His mercy and love through Christ, we are to love God and go out of our way to be a loving neighbor to others. We are to love them extravagantly and unconditionally.

Perhaps you’re wondering what this kind of love look like, and where a person gets started? First, you make yourself available. This is how you get started.

Bob Gough, a Christian author of the popular book, Love Does, tells of the importance of being available. He said, “We answer people’s questions about love every time we make ourselves more available. I’m trying to learn to be radically available. Every time my phone rings, it’s a reminder to me: Be like Jesus. Be available. There is something beautiful about stopping and really seeing people. Seeing their hurt, seeing their joy, seeing the whatever.”

After you make yourself available, be an intentional observer of people. Look at people around you, notice them, pay attention to them. Be interested. Be a student of them. Observe and listen. Ask questions and work at remembering what they say to you. Come to understand them so you can help.

Finally, get involved and lend a hand to those stuck in the ditch of life, like in the parable. Use the resources God has given you to help the hurting neighbor – resources like your time, your possessions, your skills, and your connections to help. Whether it’s a societal hurt or an injustice that needs healing. It has caught your attention on the news and is breaking your heart. You become passionate about it. Or perhaps it is an individual’s need in your sphere of influence, at a retirement home, in your neighborhood, at work, on the pickle ball course, or on the golf course. In the name of Jesus, do something. This is what He is telling us. Get involved. Love your neighbor.

Let me share a story I read recently that inspires me.

A man who had no interest in spiritual matters related casually to the Christian who lived next door to him. They talked over the back fence about power lawnmowers and stuff like that.

Then the non-Christian’s wife was stricken with cancer and died three months later. Afterward he wrote in a letter, “I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. After the service, I went to the path along the river and walked all night, but I didn’t walk alone. My neighbor, afraid for me I guess, stayed with me all night. He didn’t speak. He didn’t even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally came up over the river, he came over and said to me, ‘Let’s go get some breakfast.’

“I go to church now – my neighbor’s church. A religion that can produce the kind of caring and love my neighbor showed me is something I want to learn more about. I want to love and be loved like that for the rest of my life.”

Jesus’ words to love our enemies sound like a tall order. We know ourselves pretty well – our built-in prejudices, our selfishness, our inattentiveness. So we naturally say it is impossible. How can I possibly do this?

The answer is, you can’t. Not on your own. However, I have an encouraging word for you today: With Jesus Christ in your life, you can grow in loving your neighbor. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are filled supernaturally. You are powered by the Holy Spirit. God is at work in you, developing what the apostle Paul refers to in the book of Galatians as the fruit of the Spirit, which basically is the ability to love people like Jesus. It means to have a heart of kindness that breaks for others in their brokenness and moves toward them to help. You are not on your own.

One final thought for today. Disciples of Jesus never walk in the footsteps of Jesus as much as when they operate like the Samaritan in this parable – being a loving neighbor. Remember, we were in the ditch, helplessly dying in our sinfulness, in need of rescue. We needed someone to bring us home to our heavenly Father. Jesus saw us in our need. He rescued us and healed our wounds with His own wounds at the cross as He suffered and died for sinners like you and me. He loves us extravagantly, without limits. Scriptures say while we were still His enemies, Jesus died for our salvation. When I trust Jesus as my Savior and Lord and enter into His kingdom, I am showered with His mercy, grace, and forgiveness. His agenda then becomes my agenda – to extravagantly love the wounded and needy of this world whom He daily brings to my attention. I do this out of love for Him who gave His all for me.

Go, be a neighbor. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Encounters: Follow Him

Luke 9:51, 57-62

It’s a new chapter! I recently retired after serving 38 years in pastoral ministry! People have made this statement to me: “This is the beginning of a new chapter, a new phase of life for you.” They also ask questions such as, “What are you going to do now, Steve?” “Do you have plans?” “What do you think God has in store for you?” A fellow pastor recently reminded me there’s no such thing as retirement in the kingdom of God. He is absolutely right! I still consider myself on call for the Lord.

I don’t know the answers to these questions yet. But what I do know is this: I am excited about this new chapter and what God has in store for my wife, Julie, and me.

In today’s passage, we see Jesus entering a new chapter of His life. He knows what God has planned out for Him. The cross lay ahead where He will suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins. For the first 8½ chapters of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has been busy revealing himself as the Son of God, the Messiah of God, sent from above with power and authority to carry out God’s plans to rescue a sinful world for Himself. Jesus has done this revealing through His preaching and His miracles. God affirmed it to Peter, James, and John at Christ’s Transfiguration on the mountaintop.

In today’s reading, we see Jesus setting His face to go to Jerusalem. This is a biblical way of saying He resolved, He was focused. He was determined to go to Jerusalem and accomplish that for which He had come.

Luke’s Gospel narrative says it marked the beginning of a new chapter, a new phase in our Lord’s life. The days had drawn near for Him to be taken up by sinful and rejecting men, nailed to a cross in Jerusalem, and suffer and die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. He would pay the debt for my sin and your sin, which could not be repaid by us.

But He would also be taken up from death, raised, and then exalted by God as the Lord over all things. This is Good News to build our lives upon. This is Good News. Trusting in what He has done for us, we share in His victory over sin, death, and the devil. We thank God He set His face to go to Jerusalem and we’ve been rescued.

This is the context from which we will be working for the next few weeks of Lent in this series I’m entitling “Encounters.” Jesus is resolutely on His way to Jerusalem to be taken up. He is doing it to rescue us from our sin and the consequences of sin. On His Way, Jesus and His disciples will have encounters with various types of people to whom He will speak important truths about important things in life. These conversations hold valuable insights for you and me to discover and then apply to our own lives.

Today we see the first encounter – three people who say they desire to follow Him. For some reason they were moved by Jesus. They admired Him. Maybe they had observed His miracles. Perhaps they had seen Him change the lives of those around them for the better. They had listened to His Good News about the kingdom of God being at hand. They were inspired, moved to say, I want to follow you, Jesus.

This scene is repeated often, even in today’s world. A person is moved emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually in some way and says, I want and need to be with Jesus. Maybe she is at a worship service where Jesus is portrayed as the Savior she needs, so she says to herself, I need someone like that in my life. I need a Savior. I want Jesus.

Perhaps someone has observed how Christianity has enriched a friend’s life. In an hour of need, they tell their friend, I think I need what you have. Maybe you are attending a large event. The speaker moves you to come forward for the altar call. Perhaps a light has gone on for you after reading or studying about Jesus on your own.

Any number of circumstances can move people toward Jesus. It appears these three men in our text don’t quite understand Jesus; they just are moved by Him. What they don’t understand is what it means to be His disciple. So He lays it out for them.

The key word in these encounters is the word “follow.” It is used three times here. They like Jesus and promise to follow Him. They’ve observed the positive possibilities for their own lives as they get involved with Him.

“I will follow you wherever you may go,” the first man says. He sees Jesus is an up-and-comer, perhaps. He wants to get in on the bottom floor and rise with Jesus into power and glory. But he has some misguided expectations and doesn’t know what is really involved in following Jesus.

The second one said, “Let me first go bury my father.” The father probably wasn’t dead. The man was procrastinating. Someday I’ll do this, but I have other obligations to take care of first. Family first!

The third one said, “I will follow you, but first let me go and say goodbye to my family.” He wants to have both worlds – one hand on the plow yet looking back. He is saying his “. . . but first, Jesus,” which is the issue.

Jesus continues to run into this thought pattern even today. I’ll go to church when I can and throw a few dollars in the plate. But I hope you understand, I have important things to tend to in my life. We can tend to be superficial in our thinking about membership in God’s kingdom. Church is oftentimes sold to us as easy and non-demanding. Say yes to Jesus and this is what He will do for you. There’s little talk of service, commitment, and crosses as Jesus talked about. People join churches like consumers asking, What can you do for me? instead of asking, What can I do for this church as it reaches people for Jesus?

Jesus’ responds to these thoughts with clear, hard words – uncompromising words. To the first He says, “Follow me!” You might be headed for homelessness, uncertainty, comfortlessness, but look at me! I don’t have anywhere to lay my head. Jesus doesn’t promise a Cadillac, but a cross.

To this second Jesus said, “Bury your father? Let the dead bury their own dead! Come with me, now, and let’s go proclaim the kingdom of God.” “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). Do it now. Following me means I am the center priority in your life, more important than anything else – even family.

To the third man who wanted to go back and say goodbye, Jesus responds, A farmer knows better than to look backward when trying to plow a field. It will be crooked. Anyone who looks back is not fit for kingdom work for being my disciple.

We learn from these three encounters that Jesus prefers followers not fans (those who are just enthusiastic admirers). He is looking for fully-devoted followers, wholeheartedly committed to serving Him, obeying Him, doing life His way, and following His lead.

Here is what we learn about following Him and this whole idea of discipleship.

1. Following Jesus is not always safe, certain, comfortable, convenient, or even popular these days, I know.

Pastor and Christian writer Kevin Miller commented on this attitude in a Christianity Today magazine as he talks about Christaholics versus disciples. He says,

Many Christians are only Christaholics and not disciples at all.

Disciples are cross bearers. They seek Christ.
Christaholics seek happiness.

Disciples dare to discipline themselves. The demands they place on themselves leave them enjoying happiness of their growth.
Christaholics are escapists looking for a shortcut to Nirvana. Like drug addicts, they are trying to bomb out of their depressing world. There is no automatic joy.

Christ is not a happiness capsule. He is the way to the Father. But the way to the Father is not a carnival ride in which we sit and do nothing while we are whisked through various spiritual sensations.

2. Following Christ means leaving the former life behind. I’m reminded of something Christian martyr and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer described in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. He wrote of what he called the great divide. “The first step,” he writes. “which follows Christ’s call, cuts the disciple off from his previous existence. The call to follow at once produces a new situation. To stay in the old situation makes discipleship impossible. You can’t stay where you are.” It’s like the song we learned in Bible camp, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back. No turning back.”

We need ask ourselves, What is competing for our allegiance to Christ? We may have both hands on the plow, but what is it we keep looking back at?

3. Following Jesus is not a part-time, but a full-time commitment. He isn’t just one more priority among many along the way. He is THE priority, central. He calls the shots. He is your commander, not your colleague.

4. Following Jesus is a lifetime commitment. His call to these three people had no expiration date on it. It is not a short-term but a long-term devotion; not a sprint but a marathon. One person wrote, Christ has not issued His call for a season, but for a lifetime. Service to the kingdom begins the moment we receive Christ and continues until the Father calls us home.

What does this look like? It is different for each person. Some are called to serve where they grow up. Others are called to journey thousands of miles away. Some live in hardship and lose their life for the faith, like Peter who died for the faith. Others live a long life, like John who apparently died of old age. What is the same, though, is the call to discipleship has priority over everything else.

We can baulk at these hard words of Jesus. Wait a minute! Salvation is free, I thought. Am I not right? 

Yes, Scripture tells us repeatedly that salvation is free in Christ. A person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Yet today we learned that while it is free, discipleship carries a cost. It might cost you everything. Christ is calling us to follow Him and be obedient, devoted disciples.

It’s interesting to note what is missing in these encounters. Luke doesn’t tell us what these three individuals did in response to Jesus’ words. Did they stay with Jesus? Did they become His followers. Were they part of the seventy that He will send out in Luke chapter 10?

This is not important for us to know. What is important is your response to these words of Jesus. How have you responded to Christ’s call to follow Him as His disciple? Have you entrusted your life to His leadership? Are you walking in His footsteps, committed to doing life His way, living according to His word.

We make so many commitments in the different areas of our lives, and while these commitments seem important, they pale in comparison to an all-important commitment to follow Jesus as His disciple and do life ways His way. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness in your life.

Author and pastor Tim Keller writes,

“I’ve heard people say, ‘I’m checking out Christianity, but I also understand Christians can’t do this, and the Bible says you’re supposed to do that. You’re supposed to love the poor, or you’re supposed to give up sex outside of marriage. I just can’t accept that.’ People want to come to Christ with a list of conditions. But the real question is this: Is there a God who is the source of all beauty and glory in life? And if knowing Christ will fill your life with His goodness and power and joy so you would live with Him in endless ages with His life increasing in you every day, if that is true you wouldn’t say things like, You mean I have to give up like things like sex or something else?

Let’s say you have a friend who’s dying of some terrible disease, so you take him to the doctor, and the doctor says, ‘I have a remedy for you. If you just follow my advice, you will be healed and you will live a long and fruitful life.’ But there’s only one problem: while you’re taking my remedy, you can’t eat chocolate.’ Now, what if your friend turned you and said, ‘Forget it! No chocolate? What’s the use of living? I’ll follow the doctor’s remedy, but I will also keep eating chocolate.’”

If Christ is really God, then all the conditions are gone. To know Jesus Christ as Lord, anywhere your will touches my life, anywhere your word speaks, I will say, “Lord, I will obey.” There are no conditions anymore. If He is really God, He can’t just be a supplement. We have to come to Him and say, Okay, Lord. I’m willing to let you start a complete reordering of my life.

Someone might ask if it is worth it. My response is this: The cost is great, but it is never a burden. I’ve never heard a committed follower of Christ say, Christ has become a burden to me. Listen to the testimony of this modern-day disciple named William. He writes, “I find discipleship means first truly living. It doesn’t mean a joy ride to heaven. It doesn’t mean there are no trials, no burdens, but it does mean peace in your soul, joy in your heart, and a sense – a supreme sense – of the smile of the Lord upon you. It is living.”

Long ago, the apostle Paul said the same thing. “For me to live is Christ and to die means gain” (Phil. 1:21).

If you think the price seems high, I encourage you to consider the price Jesus paid to make you His own. O how He loves you and me! Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus Revealed: He’s the One You Need to Listen To!

Luke 9:28-36

I really thought I knew him. You might find yourself saying or thinking something like this after a disappointing experience with someone. They’ve let you down, disappointed you, betrayed your trust, maybe even broken your heart. I’ve heard a number of wives and husbands – brokenhearted by an unfaithful spouse – make that statement to me in my office.

Or you might think this after a surprising, wonderful discovery about someone you thought you knew everything about. WOW! I didn’t know that about him. That’s great! I once heard a longtime church member say this after he had an awakening to the wonder of Christ and His grace for the first time. He had an encounter.

These words could very well have been rolling around the mind of Peter in our text. Eight days earlier, Jesus had asked His followers who they thought He was, and Peter, speaking on behalf of the group, responded, “You are the Messiah of God.” These disciples had been witnessing Jesus’ power and authority again and again as He taught and healed, cast out demons and controlled nature. So Peter was definitely sure this was the right answer – Jesus is the Messiah. However, they didn’t expect the response they received from Jesus that day: Do not tell anyone. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).

These words shook Peter. None of it made sense. Messiahs don’t suffer and die; they win battles. They takeover kingdoms, overthrow Israel’s enemies, and live in power forever. It’s the way we’ve been taught. Everyone knows that! What’s this business, ‘I must go through this?’

Perhaps Peter wondered what he had gotten himself into. If Jesus is going to die, what about me? I mean, He is talking about picking up a cross. Will I die with Him? Is He worth dying for? I really thought I knew Him. Peter and the others had to have been more than a little shaken. They thought they knew Jesus, but now weren’t so certain.

If you listen closely to people’s words these days, you can still hear these kinds of thoughts. We have expectations of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and expectations of what Jesus should be doing for us. Life should turn out okay if I trust and obey Him. He will protect me from harm and suffering. Then something bad happens and we’re totally disappointed. We, think, Gee, I really thought I knew Him. I’m not so sure now. My faith is kind of shaky.

Back to our story. Luke begins by saying, “Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.”

Have you ever noticed that great, eye-opening things always seem to happen on mountaintops in the Bible? This mountaintop experience is no different. Peter, John, and James had a real eye-opener up there. You might even say they saw the light! These three sleepy men were watching Jesus, who was praying off in the distance, when suddenly Jesus was transfigured. He became dazzling white. He showed His heavenly glory. It was beyond amazing! His face had changed. It was so filled with brightness, brilliant light, one couldn’t even look into it. His clothes became as bright as lightning.

Then they saw two men – Moses and Elijah – talking to Jesus. These guys were great figures of the Old Testament – both prophets and great men in their own eras. They were hall-of-famers of the faith.

The disciples also heard some outstanding things. First, they heard Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus about His departure, which means literally, His exodus. It is a reminder of God’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt, which was led by Moses. This exodus would be accomplished by Jesus in Jerusalem. A deliverance is coming! This thrilling news must have made Peter’s heart pound with excitement!

Just as Moses and Elijah were about to leave, Peter, wanting to extend his experience, said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Luke tells us Peter made this statement “not knowing what he said.” In other words, Peter was talking stupid.

Why did he say this, do you suppose? Why was it wrong? Was it perhaps because he was putting Moses and Elijah on the same level as Jesus (three equal shelters)? No one – not even the lawgiver or the great prophet – measures up to Jesus. He is unique in His own right. Above all.

Perhaps, Jesus was telling Peter, We can’t stay on the mountaintop forever, Peter. I have a mission. The world is waiting to be saved. God’s work needs to be done.

The truth is, we can’t really know what Peter meant with these words. But we do know this: God, the Father, stepped into the scene and spoke His words to clear things up. A cloud suddenly overshadowed them. (In the Old Testament book of Exodus, God approached people with His presence in this way.) From the cloud they heard the voice of God speak: THIS IS MY SON. It was an endorsement from God Himself. Jesus is the Son of God. He has stepped down from His throne in heaven to be with sinful humanity. He is God in the flesh and God’s gift to you and me. To know Him is to know God. He is the One you can trust with your life and your eternity. “This is my Son,” God says. “My chosen.”

The title “Chosen”comes from the book of Isaiah. It is a prophecy from God of One who would come, a Messiah to save His people. He would actually suffer for them. In Isaiah 42:1, for instance, God says of the coming Messiah,

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.”

In Isaiah 53:5, God describes what will happen to His Chosen.

“But he was wounded for our transgressions,
and he was crushed for our iniquities.
Upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.”

God is endorsing, affirming Jesus for those who were doubting Him. This is My Son. He has come to suffer and die, to fulfill my rescue plan for saving a sin-sick world.

Then He makes clear what He wants from them – “Listen to Him!” It’s like God is saying, I know He said some things that don’t meet your expectations. They are difficult to consider, and you feel confused. His words don’t make sense by worldly standards and logic. But listen to Him anyway!

“Listen to Him!” This is God’s word to you and me today. This is My Son: Jesus! Listen to Him! We can do that as we open our Bibles to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and let Jesus speak His word into our lives.

Peter said one time, “Jesus, you have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). He does! There is such life in the words of Jesus as He comforts us with promises like, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden. I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). What a promise that is! We can come to Him and trust Him with our weariness, our failures, and our sinfulness. We can allow Him to minister to us and instruct us, which leads to a restful soul – all the way to our eternal rest in heaven. Comforting words.

However, sometimes His words seem upside down and very challenging for us, just as they were for those first disciples. For instance, look at His words given to the disciples eight days earlier: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23, 24). This is a difficult statement to understand. We live in a world that teaches just the opposite – we should be looking out for #1. Me, myself, and I is what is important. Grab on and hold on to all you can get. The one with the most toys wins!

These words of Jesus sound inconvenient and uncomfortable.

But wait a minute! Stop and look at what Jesus promises:

“Those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24)

A saved life; a new, renewed, eternal, life is promised here. Jesus is saying,

Having me, serving me, laying down your life for me, is worth more than anything you can gain in this world. If you are looking for a full life, for eternal life, it is found only in following Me. Serving Me, giving yourself away for Me and My kingdom cause is where you gain a real life.

God affirms Him. “This is My Son. Listen to Him.”

The apostle Paul listened and took Him seriously. In the book of Philippians, he said basically this: I had everything, or so I thought. But then I met Jesus Christ, and all that stuff is garbage in comparison to knowing and serving Jesus (Phil. 3:1-10).

I’m reminded of a book written a few years ago called, 100 THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU DIE, which inspired the movie, “The Bucket List.” Coauthored by Dave Freeman, his own list included things like attending the Academy Awards; running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain; and other good things. The story drips with irony. According to his family, Freeman had actually gotten to do only about 50 of the things on his list before he died at age 47.

We are reminded that we may never accomplish all the things we hope to do. Life can be short. Freeman took a knock on the head and died at a relatively young age, reminding us that none of us knows how long we have to live.

Tragically, among the hundred of things Freeman and his coauthor suggested others do before they die, his list did not include preparing for the day of judgment by entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ – the most important thing a person can do, because Jesus is life.

In Luke chapter six, Jesus said some things in His Sermon on the Plain that can cause one to roll their eyes and say, Really Jesus? Really? Is this realistic? It doesn’t sound like a promising or smart way to live. It certainly isn’t what life in this world has taught me! For instance,

We think we know how to handle those who make our lives miserable, who hurt us with words and actions. We avoid them, despise them, keep a distance, maybe even look for ways to get even, seek revenge, hope for their demise. We rejoice when life falls apart on them.

But Jesus says this,

“. . . Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Do good and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6:27, 28, 35).

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. It sounds crazy, risky doesn’t it? Love your enemies? Do good to those who hate you, who want to harm you? I don’t want to listen to that kind of talk! It is hard talk. Should I take it seriously?

God says, “Listen to my Son.”

A guy named Ghassan Thomas took Jesus seriously concerning his enemies. He leads one of the few public churches that emerged in Baghdad after Saddam Hussein was toppled. His church erected a sign on the building that said, JESUS IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. The church was raided by bandits who left behind a thread on a piece of cardboard. It read, “Jesus is not the light of the world. Allah is! You have been warned!” The note was signed, “The Islamic Shiite Party.”

In response, Pastor Ghassan loaded up a van with children’s gifts and medical supplies, which were in critically short supply following the invasion, and drove to the headquarters of the Islamic Shiite party. After presenting the gifts and supplies to the Sheik, Ghassan told the leader, “Christians have love for you because our God is a God of love.” He then asked permission to read from the Bible. Ghassan turned to Jesus’ words in John chapter 8, “I am the light of the world . . .” Then he showed the cardboard note to the Sheik.

The Muslim leaders were astounded by Pastor Thomas’ actions and actually apologized. “This will not happen again!” the Sheik said. “You are my brother. If anyone comes to kill you, it will be my neck first.” The Sheik later attended Pastor Thomas’ ordination service at his church.

Wow! “This is My Son! Listen to Him.”

My friends, for the past six weeks we have been examining Jesus. He has so many more teachings to speak into our lives. “He has the words of eternal life,” as Peter said. Listen to Him.

This is our last message in our “Jesus Revealed” sermon series. We’ve seen His revelations again and again as we studied Luke and John’s stories. This is what the season of Epiphany is all about – Jesus being revealed to us. Today’s story is the grand finale of Epiphany.

Yet, the story doesn’t end here. This Jesus, who shone brightly on the mountain before His disciples as He was endorsed by God, went to another mountain – Mount Calvary – on the outskirts of Jerusalem a short time later where He carried out God’s plan of deliverance. He suffered the wrath of God for your sins and mine. No reassuring words from God were spoken while He hung on the cross. In fact, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God! Why have You forsaken Me?” He commended His spirit to the Father’s hand and breathed His last. He was buried in a rich man’s tomb only to be raised back to life on the third day. Fifty days later, He was exalted on another mountaintop and ascended to the right hand of God, the Father, with all authority over heaven and earth. He will come again in power and glory to judge the living and the dead, to take His own to Himself. What a great day that will be! This transfiguration story is a foretaste of Jesus in His full glory.

The question remaining is this: Now that He has been revealed to you, what are you going to do with Jesus, who is coming to rescue you? God has revealed exactly what He wants you to do – LISTEN TO HIM. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer