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“Following Jesus” July 21, 2019

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,  Have you ever been on a journey? Have you ever used that phrase, “It was a journey.” It seems to me that when we use that phrase, we mean more than we went on a trip. “Let me tell you, it was a journey.” When we use that term we imply that not only was it long, it was eventful, and things didn’t happen quite as we anticipated. Well, we sometimes refer to life as a “journey,” right? We “journey” through life. There are detours that we didn’t expect, there are set backs, there are incredible sights along the way, there are hardships, etc.

As Christians, as followers of Jesus, our lives are like a journey, but what does it mean? What does it mean to journey with our Savior through life? What we’re looking at this morning is the disciples who are actually going on a journey with Jesus. Jesus is actually going on a journey. We’re told that he “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” He’s going somewhere and his disciples are with him. We are His disciples too as we journey with our Savior through life. Are you willing to follow Jesus no matter what? That means living a new mercy and setting a new priority.

First, living a new mercy. Luke tells us, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” I love how Luke puts that. He skips right over the death and resurrection and zips right forward to Jesus’ ascension. Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem to complete the work that he came to do. Now, Jesus is in Galilee and He goes through Samaria. Now it’s important that we understand that Samaritans hated the Jews and the Jews absolutely hated the Samaritans. They hated them so much that normally, if you were a Jew in Galilee and you were going to Jerusalem in the south, you would have gone around Samaria to avoid going through it. This was like a 50 mile detour. To us, that doesn’t sound so bad. But keep in mind that they walked every where back then. This was like a 2 day detour. It would be like driving over to Utah and Nevada in order to get to New Mexico because you hate Colorado that much.

So, there were perhaps people in Jesus’ group who questioned Jesus’ decision to go THROUGH Samaria, “really Jesus? Do you really think that’s a good idea?” Probably, after it happens, then said, “See, I told you so, I told you this would happen.” So what happened? Jesus was traveling with such a large entourage that there is no way a small town could handle them just dropping in, so he actually sent some messengers ahead so that they could plan for it and prepare for this many people coming. But what happened was that the Samaritans found out that he wasn’t coming to their places of worship, he was going to Jerusalem, and they gave him the cold shoulder. “You’re not eating here. You’re going somewhere else.”

There were probably some of the disciples who said, “I told you so, I told you this would happen.” But then there were some disciples who said way more than that. It was James and John, they were brothers, they were part of Jesus’ inner circle, the three Jesus let see things he didn’t let other disciples see. They had just seen the transfiguration. The got to see Jesus shining with all the glory of heaven, not just a traveling preacher, but they saw him talk with Moses and Elijah, they heard God the Father thunder that He is His Son. Now they go to this stinking little village and they won’t welcome him! They won’t welcome the Son of God! If they won’t welcome the Son of God, they don’t deserve anything, they don’t even deserve to live! “Jesus, let us fix this for you. You say the word and we will call down fire from heaven and burn them all to death.”

You see, they had great faith. They knew that God had the power to do this, they knew that in the OT there were times when Elijah called down fire from heaven, there were other times that fire came down to consume people. They had great faith, they knew Jesus had the power to do this, they assumed Jesus was going to say yes, “They insulted my honor, destroy them.” But their faith was out of focus, it needed to be corrected. So, Jesus turns to them and… rebukes them. He tells them sharply that they were wrong.

We as followers of Jesus can fall into the same thing that they did. We can get angry at the world. What is it in the world that really gets under your skin? Is it the people who are trying to take out of Christmas the Christ it was founded upon? Is it those people who seem to want to take the world further and further into evil and away from God? Is it people who ridicule you for being a Christian and standing up for God’s Word? It can be tempting even for us to just say, “Let them all go to hell.” But that would be faith like James and John that was failing to see the true nature of Jesus and the true attitude of Jesus’ disciples, you see the reason Jesus came wasn’t to destroy, but to seek and to save the lost. And the chief characteristic that he wants in his followers, in his disciples was the love the lost just like he did. Living a new mercy.

You have to wonder if James and John were a little stung by Jesus’ words here. They had been expecting a “atta boy,” but they literally got a “come to Jesus meeting.” Even worse, was it seemed to be in front of every body, this is the inner circle, two of them got a talking to, everyone must have perked up a little bit and it seems that Jesus used this as a teaching moment for discipleship, what it means to follow him. So Jesus uses 3 men to describe what discipleship means, it means setting a new priority.

The first says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Sounds pretty good, right? From Jesus’ answer, we see that Jesus was able to read his heart, we can’t read his heart like Jesus, but Jesus can. And from Jesus’ answer we can tell that this man was kind of like a boy who sees a soldier dressed in uniform marching in a parade and says, “I want to be a soldier when I grow up,” but doesn’t take into consideration the other aspects of being a soldier, like deployments, war, absence from loved ones, the call to duty, sacrifice, honor. All he sees is the parade. Jesus tells him, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” A second would-be-disciple seems to already be going along with Jesus, but Jesus calls him to a deeper level of service, and he seems to make a pretty reasonable request, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But, when you walk with Jesus you hear Jesus say some pretty striking things, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.

Those seem like difficult words, right? What does Jesus mean? Either the guy’s dad was dead or what’s perhaps more likely is that his father was old and he wanted to first take care of his dad until he died and then he could commit to following Jesus. When people who are not regular church attenders are asked why they don’t go to church, two of the most common answers are: A. The church is just full of a bunch of hypocrites or B. All the church wants is my money. But, you know, looking at this verse we see something, you know, that person is thinking way too small! He wants ALL of you, your whole life, He wants every bit of you, your whole life, following Jesus is more important than the most important things in your life.

The last would-be disciple says, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Again, Jesus can read this man’s heart. This man was treating discipleship like a duty, like something he had to do, let me go back first, then I’ll do it. Following Jesus isn’t a duty, it’s a delight. And Jesus says this, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” If this was written today, we might say, ‘if you’re mowing your lawn and you look back.” I’ve been working with my son teaching him how to mow lawn, and one of the things that I’ve worked with him on is looking here or looking there, you can’t do that if you’re going to mow a straight line.

Once we follow Jesus, don’t look back to the things we’ve left behind to follow him, the hours I’ve left behind, for caring others or the resources that I’ve left behind, or relationships I’ve had to set aside for being a Christian, the point isn’t to look back about what I left, but look forward to what Jesus is calling me too. If I look back, it can only be a duty, but if I look forward it is a delight.

Now, we know that the center of Jesus’ ministry is forgiveness. Jesus forgave James and John for what they said. But what’s interesting here is that we’re not told how each of these three responded, nor are we told what they did. But that’s not the point. The point of this Scripture isn’t how they responded, but how will you?

What is keeping you from walking more closely with Jesus. You probably know what it is. A selfish attitude, a wrong relationship, an over alliance on the things of this world, lack of diligence to do Jesus’ will. You can find stuff from the world that will tell you, it’s not a big deal, just do whatever feels good.

But that’s not what is important. What is important, is what would Jesus say? “Let the dead bury the dead, but you follow me.” I have so much more in store for you! These little things that we’re willing to sacrifice our relationship with Jesus for, they are so little so nothing compared to Jesus and his promises.

C.S Lewis has an interesting quote, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

When you walk with Jesus, when you journey through life with Him, sometimes you hear the most surprising things. Following Him means living a new mercy, but it also means setting a new priority. Look at what Jesus offers you: a life filled, a life in a kingdom that won’t perish, spoil or fade, let’s leave the mud pies behind and follow him all the way.