'At 12, I told my art teacher, I'm going to be Olympic champion, I'm going to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour'
They're the words of Tour de France winner, Olympic champion and honour of honours; 2012 BBC Sports Personality of the Year: Bradley Wiggins. Wiggins has spent years training and toiling in order to achieve what he has achieved. He's sacrificed time with his family, been told to man up and get over the death of his grandfather so as not to miss training, denied himself his favourite food, trained in all weathers etc etc. For years this resulted not in fame and fortune but in limited finances, partial success and public anonymity. But he kept going, kept training, kept true to that commitment he made to his art teacher age 12; 'I'm going to be Olympic champion, I'm going to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour' 2
Such is the story of many a champion: an early and serious commitment to a specific goal resulting in a laser-like focus undistracted and undeterred by anything or anyone else. In a sense every bit of the past twenty years of Bradley Wiggins life have been a journey towards the fulfillment of the goal he set for himself aged 12.
In our passage this morning there are two significant turning points. First we see Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem looking ahead to his death and subsequent resurrection and ascension. Everything from this point on in Luke is intensely focussed on the cross. Jesus' rejection and suffering is permanently in view. Secondly, we see Jesus calling his followers to follow in his footsteps. Our big idea this morning is:
Following Jesus will mean rejection and loss, so weigh the cost.
1. Jesus is rejected, v51-56
51As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.
This is one of the commentaries we've been using in preparing sermons for this series in Luke... and this is part two...Part two begins with this verse, verse 51. It's a major break in Luke's biography of Jesus, someone once said up here that this is the end of disc one of a three dvd box set of Jesus life on earth. Here Jesus states his goal and makes an early and serious commitment to it. Jesus is now headed south from Galilee to Jerusalem. This isn't just a geographical shift it's an eschatological shift as well, this is a new stage in Jesus mission he has his eyes set now not just on reaching Jerusalem to challenge the religious elite of the day (though he will do that) but to be rejected, to suffer and to die on a cross for the sins of the world.
Jesus resolutely sets out for Jerusalem. He takes the most direct route through Samaria. This is unusual because the Samaritans were despised by the Jews. Their forefathers were Jews who had intermarried with the surrounding nations and therefore compromised their faith (ref 2 Kings 17.30,31). Most Jews would have taken a massive diversion around Samaria but Jesus sends messengers ahead to prepare the way for him and his disciples, his message is not just for the Jews but for any who will repent and place their trust in him.
However, Jesus is rejected seemingly before he arrives; why? Because he was heading for Jerusalem. The Samaritans worshipped at Mt Gerizim in Samaria and rejected Jerusalem as the place where God's people should worship. Jesus final destination conflicted with their world view and so they refuse to welcome Jesus.
Jesus is rejected. We're going to be hearing that a lot as we move through Luke. Later we'll see Jesus and his mission rejected by the religious elite, but here these non-Jewish village people also reject him. Rejection it seems is part and parcel of Jesus' ministry.
But why is Jesus rejected? We've seen Jesus demonstrating remarkable power, authority and compassion over the previous chapter. Why is this Jesus rejected by anyone? Well the big, macro answer is that is Jesus' rejection that will lead to the cross - the cross where Jesus will do the work he was sent to do of paying for the world's sin. Jesus rejection leads directly to his resurrection as it were. Jesus' rejection is part of God's plan to rescue sinners, the Old Testament predicts it and Jesus is aware of it now 'as the time approaches for him to be taken up to heaven'. Rejection is necessary in that sense.
Here, however Jesus is rejected because his mission conflicts with the worldview of the Samaritans. Jesus: you're going to Jerusalem and we don't like Jerusalem so we don't like you basically. Jesus is rejected out of hand because he challenges the way the Samaritans see the world and the same thing happens today. Jesus' message brings conflict, especially internal conflict. Jesus lays claim to every part of us, he says I will redefine your worldview and we say - no thanks. No, Jesus you need to agree with my politics, your views have to fit in with mine - if they don't then I'm not listening.
Plenty of people reject Jesus out of hand just like these Samaritans. They say if being a follower of Jesus means changing my lifestyle - I'm not interested. If following Jesus means thinking differently about my sexuality- I'm not interested. If following Jesus means altering my views on social issues - I'm not interested. Their worldview is more precious to them than Jesus, they're not willing to give him a hearing. Is that you? Are there areas which are a no go for Jesus? What's Jerusalem for you?
Jesus is rejected as he sets his face towards Jerusalem. In v54 we see the disciples response:
54When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" 55But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56and they went to another village.
The disciples are ready to pounce in judgement they ask Jesus if they can recreate the scene from the top of Mount Carmel when Elijah called down fire to decisively display God's trueness and Baal's falsity. We're shocked by this I think, calling down fire - seems a bit harsh doesn't it? Verse 55 tells us that Jesus rebuked them. However, we need to be careful about the way we think about the disciples request. The Samaritans have rejected Jesus and the disciples realise that's serious. Jesus isn't just one among many Rabbis one might choose to follow - he is the Christ, the Son of Man, God's Son who we must listen to. Those who reject Jesus do deserve judgement - the disciples have got that right.
So why does Jesus rebuke them in v55? The issue is timing. Jesus has not come this time in judgement but in grace. The time is approaching for Jesus to be taken back up to heaven after making a way for men to be reconciled with God. There is still time left for these Samaritans to repent and even after their rejection of him, Jesus wants to show them grace. Jesus will come again in judgement but for now there is still time to repent, as 2 Peter 3:9 says:
9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
What love Jesus shows these Samaritans. These Samaritans who would reject the Christ for their own religion, their own thinking. These Samaritans who deserve judgement but are shown grace, given another opportunity to willingly choose to follow Jesus.
What love Jesus shows to us this morning, to hold back his coming, to be patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.
Jesus is rejected as he sets his face towards Jerusalem and so he and his followers move on. Now instead of rejection Jesus encounters three people who want to follow Jesus. However, Jesus warns them to count the cost before committing to follow him. That's our second point this morning:
2. Weigh the cost, then follow Jesus with all your heart, v57-62
In verses 57-62 Jesus encounters three people who want to follow him. We are given very little detail about them; we don't know their names, their backgrounds or how they respond to Jesus' challenges to them. They are like model examples with Luke inviting us to consider our own position in light of what Jesus says to each of them.
Take a look at v57,58
57As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
58Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
Jesus' first warning is that following him will mean sacrifice. This man claims that he will follow him wherever he goes. Jesus reminds him that his path is one of rejection not comfort. If Jesus is rejected by many so his followers should expect to face rejection. This can take many forms but often and painfully followers of Jesus will face rejection from those they are closest to.
In 2003 I met a young man called Takahashi, I was helping run an English class which he was part of and which had a bible study afterwards. He loved the Bible, he loved the good news of Jesus but was afraid to name himself as a Christian. Being a Christian his dad had told him would mean being written out of his father's will and some level of ex-communication. Publicly declaring his faith would have a real cost for him.
Such direct opposition isn't going to be the case for many of us but for some of us it will. Friends, family and work colleagues won't always like the decisions we make or the things that we say because of Jesus. The gospel of Jesus is divisive, offensive even to those who reject it. Jesus is no used-car salesman. He invites this man and us to read the fine print first.
Following Jesus will mean a level of rejection. Jesus says this is normal. In fact we could go as far as to say that if we never experience any form of rejection it may mean we are hiding or compromising our faith.
Jesus moves on in v59 himself calling a man to follow him:
59He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 60Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
Jesus takes the initiative here and calls this man to follow him. The man seems to agree but asks that he might first go and bury his father - which seems a reasonable request but Jesus denies it and says that proclaiming the kingdom of God, the gospel is more important.
Much has been written about this interchange in an attempt to explain why Jesus' answer is so brutal. Some have suggested that perhaps this man's father hadn't yet died and that what the man really means is let me return home and serve my father until he dies and I gain my inheritance - then I'll come and follow you. One may wonder why if the man's father has just died or was dying he was following Jesus around so this might be legitimate. We can't be sure about the exact circumstances.
What we can be sure about is Jesus answer to what on the surface seems to be a reasonable request. Jesus says 'let the dead bury the dead' ie let those who are not spiritually alive, who are not following the living God concern themselves with these things. You if you know who I am have other work to do - proclaiming the kingdom of God. Jesus is asking for a radical re-prioritisation of this man's life. He should put reasonable, important even good things behind spiritual things.
Jesus' followers will make decisions that seem, no are illogical to those who do not follow Jesus. They will give of their time, their money, their emotional resources to causes which others would ignore. They will forsake status and comfort, homes, wider family, their culture, their country even for the sake of proclaiming Jesus' name.
61Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family."
62Jesus replied, "No-one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
Again the man's request seems reasonable but Jesus sees beyond it and warns against a half-hearted commitment. The image Jesus uses would have been familiar to the crowds that of a man guiding oxen as they ploughed a furrow in a field. The one thing required was for the driver to fix his eyes on the horizon and walk straight, looking back would leave a crooked and useless furrow.
Jesus is warning this man that looking back, followingly only half-heartedly will not work. Jesus demands all of us, partial devotion isn't an option.
As we encounter these three would be followers of Jesus we are left at a turning point. Jesus invites us to follow him but warns us what that will mean. Following Jesus will mean following him into rejection like that he faced from the Samaritans. Following Jesus will mean radically re-prioritising everything about our lives in order that we might involve ourselves in the task of proclaiming the kingdom of God. Following Jesus means wholehearted commitment not dipping our toes in round the edges.
So where are you this morning?
Are you a Samaritan - prepared to dismiss Jesus out of hand because he challenges the way you see the world. If so then we beg you to re-think, to look at Jesus his life, his death willingly endured on your behalf and then gladly let him change the way you see the world.
Perhaps you are considering following Jesus this morning but haven't yet made that commitment fully. Jesus is very straightforward with you; following Jesus will cost you. It will cost you a lot but it will be worth it. Following Jesus isn't easy but it is wonderful because you get to be with Jesus, he will make his home in you, guide you, change you, uphold you so that you can follow him. Weigh the cost, it is serious but then let it be dwarfed by the treasure of knowing Jesus.
Those of you this morning who are following Jesus, how are you following him? Are you familiar with the path of suffering and rejection Jesus trod? Does your life have markedly different priorities to those around you who do not know Jesus? Is your hand on the plow looking straight ahead, eyes fixed on Jesus or is it looking back to some other goal, some other treasure?
This passage is a turning point as Jesus fixes his eyes on Jerusalem and resolutely pursues suffering and death on our behalf. Perhaps this morning is a turning point for you, perhaps today is the time to say again or to say for the first time; I want to follow Jesus. I want to follow Jesus and I have counted the cost, I know what that means and I want to do it with all my heart.