We’re going to think about what it means to get set to follow Jesus in the 21st Century.
Many Christians struggle with balancing ‘spiritual’ things with ‘normal’ things in life. We want to go to church, read our Bibles, do good, love others, and generally be ‘good’ Christians, but we all fall short. Life is busy; families are busy. Work is hard.
And all that often seems somehow separate from the ‘spiritual.’ In these verses, Jesus will make it clear exactly why you find it so hard to get them in the right balance.
But it’s a hard lesson. If you take it heart, you’ll feel bruised. But if you can glimpse Christ in his grace and in his glory, you’ll get a glimpse of how the hard road is worth it.
Humble yourself (43-48)
We’ve split chapter 9 up over the weeks but Luke always puts things together in an orderly way – we need to keep the broader picture in mind. In Luke 9:20, Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. But then Jesus told them not to tell anyone because the apostles needed to grasp exactly what being the Christ meant.
A week later, Jesus took Peter, James and John up to the Mount of Transfiguration.
- Jesus was again declared to be Son of God.
- His own personal, heavenly glory was displayed.
- He eclipsed Moses and Elijah, marking the coming of a New Covenant built around Christ.
And from those heights, he came down to earth, healed a single boy at the request of his father, and then immediately started to speak to his apostles about his death: Read Luke 9:43-44.
It’s a deliberate contrast: From the glories of heaven on earth to the brutal reality of his impending death in Jerusalem.
- It just doesn’t sit right in the minds of the apostles.
- Read Luke 9:45-46.
- It’s not that it was intellectually hard for them to grasp; more like, it’s just nothing like what they were expecting or wanting.
We’re going to see more of that, and feel the same reaction.
Jesus’ chosen humiliation
The journey from that mountain to the cross is a picture of his whole act of humiliation from heaven to earth.
- Read Philippians 2:5-8.
- It was a deliberate, chosen, planned humbling of self.
- And he did that for you.
He did not deserve his death; he died as a substitutionary atonement, dying to take the punishment others deserve. As you repent of your sin, and call out to God to forgive you, he will – counting Jesus as punished instead of you.
Which is great news for you: Repent of your sin, and pray to God today, and he will forgive you. You become a changed-forever child of God, rich in blessings now and for all eternity!
But the disciples at that time couldn’t imagine Jesus being killed.
Disciples getting it wrong…
Jesus was exalted! Which meant… (calculating…) they must be exalted too, to be his closest friends!
- Read Luke 9:46.
- So unworthy, and predictable, and rubbish.
- Though we all like to rub shoulders with ‘important’ people – big bosses, celebrities, even well-known pastors, etc.
- We all like a bit of a ‘claim to fame’ through some vague association or relative.
Jesus didn’t cling to or exploit his position as Son of God, but rather he humbled himself. He calls you to do the same: Read Luke 9:47.
- We idolise our children and jump through hoops for them.
- In that culture, children were the least important, least cared for members of society. They had no status at all.
- So Jesus stands there with this child as a visual aid.
Read Luke 9:48.
- It’s an amazing move.
- He’s forcing them to look at this person with no status or standing in society, and say that the child and Jesus are somehow “interchangeable”.
- What you do for the least, you do for Jesus.
- And what you do for Jesus, you do for the Father.
And he uses that word, “welcomes”. Not “tolerates.” Welcome the old and frail, and the young and immature. Use your wisdom to welcome the uneducated, not to make them feel foolish. Welcome the foreigner, the immigrant, the asylum seeker – your allegiance to Jesus completely outweighs any political feelings you may have.
And do that willingly, humbly, and deliberately to and for Jesus.
Imagine yourself, going to help someone else, not because they’re grand or important, but because you think they might be overlooked, or unloved, or vulnerable – and you do it for Jesus.
The point is this: In this life, Jesus humbled himself from the highest heights to go to the cross to serve you – and you are very, very much lower than he is. To follow him, you aren’t to look ‘up’ to progress, but rather to look ‘down’ in humility, and service, and love for Christ.
And, as Philippians 2 says, that’s to be your “attitude.” Not a one-off action. So:
Take to the road (49-56)
His disciples aren’t really getting to grips with Jesus’ teaching on humility. Read Luke 9:49.
John wants to keep the ‘special’ things within the group. God is always open-handed in generosity. Jesus won’t keep such blessing within the group without reason: Read Luke 9:50.
It’s a remarkable thing to say, more open than we’d expect. You might think he’d say, “Anyone not for you is against you.” But he doesn’t, he’s much more positive. Read again!
A country that still has religious freedoms is “for you.” 100%. A workplace that respects religious expression is “for you.” Even our country’s gift aid tax setup is “for you.”
But more closely to John’s question, you can think of churches not so far from here that preach things differently – maybe about baptism, or women in ministry, or sexual ethics.
- We can hunker down and set up barriers, but Jesus says “whoever is not against you is for you.”
- Not everyone we think is necessarily an enemy of the gospel, and we need to put our energies in the right places.
Not least because we’re on a long road with a set destination.
Read Luke 9:51.
- Literally, “he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
- Years ago we were walking up Moel Famau in north Wales. On the direct path up, there is no point at which you can see the top until you’re about 100 yards away.
- We’d not been before, so all we had was a series of false summits! Near the top, my wife was ready to go home…
- But she says that I’d “set my face” on getting to the top so there was no going back (she was right).
Jesus had set his face to Jerusalem, and nothing would distract him. He had come to the world to die there, and that was the path he was now on. But there are always obstacles: Read Luke 9:52-54.
- James and John had been up the mountain with Jesus, Moses and Elijah.
- Maybe they were fancying a bit of fire from heaven as they’d read about from the days of Moses and Elijah?
- Perhaps they were giddy with Jesus being called the Son of God and thought it was judgment time for Samaria?
The reaction from Jesus is more focussed: Read Luke 9:55-56.
Of course there are obstacles. But Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem. That’s the focus, the goal, the purpose. The whole enterprise would have been completely jeopardised if fire had started coming down wiping out Samaritan villages along the way!
No, Jesus has come to serve salvation, not judgment. The day of judgement will come to the whole world one day. But there, at that time, his crucifixion was the goal.
That was his goal so that he could save you. So, he humbled himself to humanity, and to the cross.
He set his face to the cross and took to the road. As you arm yourself with an attitude of humility, you’re on a road too. You will face obstacles, distractions, temptations. Stay on the road:
Stay focussed (57-62)
Having seen how Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, now you’re given three examples of people challenged by Jesus to set their face to following him. And these really do challenge you.
Count the cost
Read Luke 9:57-58.
- You might think, “I’ll follow Jesus all the way to glory!”
- But he immediately answers that by saying the journey there may well cost you.
- It might cost you money, friends, security.
- Following Jesus can lead you into places and situations you wouldn’t naturally ever go to.
- You choose to serve the lowly, rather than mix with the great and good (or at least, with the nice and clean).
Re-prioritise around Jesus
Tougher still: Read Luke 9:59-60.
- There are some imaginative ways of interpreting Jesus’ words to try to soften them, but they’re not convincing.
- His words are shocking.
- The person he spoke to probably actually needed to arrange a funeral. It was as important and as honourable in that society as ours.
It’s unlikely Jesus meant it entirely literally. But he sometimes spoke with shocking force for you to realise the seriousness of a situation.
- (Rather like telling you to gouge your eye out or cut off your hand if they cause you to sin – they’re shocks to drive home the seriousness.)
- So what is he actually calling you to do here?
- Simply (but painfully): Rearrange your priorities. Jesus comes first in everything.
- He’s more important than your family. More than your job, your house, your security. He is your hope, your future.
- This is what it means to say, “To live is Christ.” It’s putting him at the centre of everything and shaping your life that way.
Imagine you’ve got a £10 note and a 50p coin in your pocket.
A beggar asks you for change, and you automatically reach for the 50p. Everyone would – I’m not saying that’s wrong. The problem is that we tend to give to Jesus that way too.
- “I’ll go to church if I’ve nothing else on.”
- “I can’t go to the prayer meeting because I’ve got to…”
- Many people look at their finances to see if there’s anything to spare to give to the Lord’s work.
Jesus demands the £10 and the 50p. If it’s yours then it’s his anyway.
Read Luke 9:61-62.
- If you’re trying to plough a field looking back over your shoulder all the time, you’ll make a mess.
- You need to look forward, and keep focussed.
- Set your face. Get set to follow Jesus.
This is what repentance really looks like, and it’s hard.
Denying your self – the self that wants to look after itself, rather than others.
- Repentance is turning away from the sinful self – and that’s something you need to do every day.
- Repentance is turning to the Lord, serving him, and experiencing his strength every day.
You need to remember who you’re turning to if you’re ever going to have the strength to turn from your sin.
- That’s why all this is preceded by the Mount of Transfiguration.
- You’re given a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, as he is now, ascended in heaven.
- It’s also why all this is preceded by Jesus healing that one boy at the request of his father.
- You can see that Jesus will always help any one person who comes to him for help on the way.
The route to glory is through the humiliation of the cross.
Since God has declared Jesus to be Lord and Messiah, then Jesus is worthy to be followed!
- Listen to him, take up your cross daily, deny your sin-self.
- Set your face to follow him; rearrange your priorities; have his attitude of humble service, looking ‘down’ not ‘up’
- There will be distractions; the way will be hard at times.
- But he walks with you; he is help for every step.
Motto Text Isaiah 41:10
Do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you;
I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand.