If you are a guest today, welcome—we’re glad you’re here! I’m going to give a short talk from the Bible, and then we’re going to enjoy some ice cream!
This summer we’ve been doing a Bible study from the gospel of Luke, which is the story of Jesus. Today, we are in Luke 9 (p. 891), and we’re going to read a series of short vignettes that all have one thing in common: Jesus does some straight talk! His disciples get things messed up, and Jesus straightens them out. So I’m calling this, “Jesus on the Straight Talk Express.” Some of you who are politically astute will recognize that as the name of the late Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign tour. He called it, “The Straight Talk Express” and I’m shamelessly ripping that off from him! But in this case, Jesus is the one doing the straight talking, and He’s not running for office, He is on His way to give His life on the cross for all of us.
We’ll read each of these short interactions one at a time and comment on them. (Repeat purpose for the outline.)
1. Straight talk about His mission. 43-45
Luke 9:43-45 While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, 44 “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” 45 But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.
Jesus had just healed an epileptic boy and everyone was “amazed at the greatness of God” and “marveling at all that Jesus did.” I’m guessing that His followers were feeling pretty good—this was a good time to be on Team Jesus. They were winning! Things were going their way.
Jesus interrupts their euphoria by saying, “Listen carefully to what I’m about to tell you.” And what does He tell them? That He is going to be delivered into the hands of men. In Matthew’s and Mark’s versions, He says clearly that He is going to be killed and raised on the third day. Jesus is giving them straight talk about His mission: He came to give His life to redeem the world. He is on His way to Jerusalem, not to ascend a throne, but die on a cross.
Jesus’ disciples believed that He was the long-awaited Messiah or Savior, but they misunderstood what that meant. They thought the Messiah would drive out the Roman oppressors, and make Israel a free nation. Here is an ancient photo of one of those disciples. “Make Israel great again.” If they had those hats, they would have worn them! That’s what they thought Jesus was up to. So when they saw Him doing miracles, displaying power, they were convinced that He was heading to Jerusalem to be crowned king and lead a revolution.
Jesus straightens them out. “I’m going to Jerusalem to die.”
But they didn’t understand. And they were afraid to ask. I wonder if they were afraid to ask because they didn’t want to understand what Jesus was saying. Have you ever done that? When I was a teenager, sometimes I didn’t want to ask my parents’ permission to do something—I was afraid to ask because they might say no. (I learned it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.) I wonder if the disciples were afraid to ask because they didn’t want to hear what Jesus would say about dying. It makes me wonder how much I’m missing of what God is up to because I have my own preconceived notions of what He should be doing.
Jesus’ mission was give His life to save us from death and bring us back to God. He came to seek and save the lost—it was a search and rescue mission. But to save us, He had to die. Why? Here is the short answer.
God made us for Himself—He wants a relationship with you. But all of us have rebelled against God, left Him and gone our own way. This is what the Bible calls “sin” and the penalty for sin is death. Jesus came to die in our place and bring us back to God. He paid our penalty so that we could live.
Imagine that when we’re done today, you get in your car and go speeding through downtown, and you run over a pedestrian. You’re eventually arrested, booked into jail, and come before a judge. You are charged with speeding, reckless driving, and vehicular manslaughter, and the penalty is 10 years in prison. You are found guilty—you’re about to go to jail. Then the judge says, “Justice must be served. But I love you and don’t want to send you to jail, so I’m going to take your place. I will do your time.” You see, the judge is your Father.
This was the mission of Jesus. He came to do your time, to pay your penalty, so you could live and come back to God. In Jesus, perfect love and perfect justice meet.
When the disciples were amazed at the greatness of Jesus, He brought them back down to earth with some straight talk on His mission. He came to die.
2. Straight talk about greatness. 46-48
Luke 9:46-48 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
This was a recurring argument among Jesus’ disciples. Perhaps this time it was spurred by the fact that Jesus took only three men—Peter, James and John— with Him up on the mountain. Maybe others were jealous. “Peter, you’re not the boss of me.” Or maybe they were still so locked in to their dream of Jesus being king that they were lobbying for the top spots in His cabinet. But it’s stunning that immediately after hearing Jesus predict His death, they argue about which of them is the greatest.
Jesus knows what they’re thinking, and stands a little child next to Him. “Whoever welcomes this little child welcomes me.” Notice that children were near Jesus—that He had a little child nearby. Children in ancient societies were not treated with the same value that we are used to. They had no social standing or value until they could work and make a contribution; they were literally, “the least among you.” So Jesus stands a little child—one of the least—next to Him and says that when we welcome or receive one of them, we are welcoming and receiving Jesus.
This isn’t the only time that Jesus hung out with kids.
Mark 10:13–16 (p. 868)
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Jesus had time for children. His disciples didn’t. They scolded the parents for bringing their children, and shooed them away, because Jesus was a VIP and these kids were nobodies. Kids didn’t matter. Jesus was indignant and corrected His disciples. “Let the little children come to me.” And they did. Jesus took the children in His arms and blessed them. Jesus used His valuable time for people that had no value, that were “the least among you.”
Jesus’ point is that real greatness is measured in how you treat the least of these. Jesus was constantly serving the marginalized, helping those that others ignored or rejected. He wasn’t too busy or too important for children, or for a blind beggar, or for an unclean leper, or for a hated tax collector. Greatness isn’t having a title, or power or fame. Greatness is serving the least: the small, the powerless, the insignificant.
When the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus gave some straight talk on greatness. Greatness is serving the least.
3. Straight talk about tribalism. 49-50
Luke 9:49-50 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
What’s the problem here? John saw someone who was driving out demons in Jesus’ name and tried to stop him. This guy was helping people in Jesus’ name; why stop him? “Because he is not one of us.” He was not part of their group. He’s not one of us; he’s one of them.
I’m calling this tribalism. We all organize in tribes or groups—it’s human nature. We organize into all kinds of tribes: families, nations, cities, schools, unions, teams, clubs, and even churches. So it’s no surprise that Jesus’ followers have tribes too.
We’re part of a tribe—a denomination called Foursquare. Each tribe—each denomination—has some distinctive that distinguishes it from others, and often those distinctives are over-emphasized. I’ve often said that denominations are groups of people who have all agreed to be wrong about the same things.
Individual churches are tribes. Most of you are part of the tribe of Life Center. I love our tribe! It’s a good tribe. There’s nothing wrong with being part of a tribe and loving your tribe. I love our church. But it becomes a problem if I start disliking other churches, and opposing them or bad mouthing them. It becomes a problem when it becomes a competition, when it’s us versus them, when we are divided and suspicious and fighting each other. That breaks Jesus’ heart.
Here’s the deal. All of us are part of the Jesus tribe—we are all Team Jesus. And so we say this a lot: if you’re for Jesus, we are for you. Whatever your tribe—Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal, Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Independent—if you are for Jesus, we are for you. It doesn’t mean that we have to agree about everything or do everything together. But if you are for Jesus, we’re for you—we want you to succeed. So we refuse to be jealous of another church’s success—if they win, we all win. We’re not going to oppose someone who is serving others in Jesus’ name, even though they may not do it the way we would do it, even though they are not part of our group. If you’re for Jesus, we are for you.
So Jesus said, “Don’t stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” If you are for Jesus, we are for you. While we love our church, we respect the other churches in our town and are for them. We aren’t trying to compete with them or stop them; we are rooting for them, cheering them on, helping them, and working with them to accomplish Jesus’ purposes. So love your tribe. And be for anyone who is for Jesus.
When the disciples were taking sides and opposing those not in their group, Jesus gave some straight talk on tribalism. Let’s be for everyone on Team Jesus.
4. Straight talk about opposition. 51-56
Luke 9:51-56 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.
The story turns here. Jesus resolutely sets out for Jerusalem—literally, He sets His face toward Jerusalem. He courageously moves toward His own arrest, suffering and death.
Jesus decided to take the short cut, the most direct route from Galilee to Jerusalem—through Samaria. (Map) This was unusual. Most Jews would avoid Samaria. The hatred between these two tribes went back hundreds of years, and traveling through Samaria was dangerous, especially for Jews on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. So it’s really no surprise that a Samaritan village refuses to offer them hospitality.
How do you react when someone you love is insulted? My dad was an alcoholic, but when someone called him a drunk, I angrily came to his defense. He’s my dad! I might say something bad about him, but you shouldn’t! So I get James and John here—they are jumping to Jesus’ defense. “Hey you can’t treat Jesus that way.”
But they over-react. They want to call down fire from heaven and incinerate the whole village! No wonder Jesus nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder”! What was Jesus’ response? They over-reacted; Jesus under-reacted. He rebuked them and then they just moved on to another village.
At verse 55, some Greek manuscripts add, And he said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; 56for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them.” This would be the rebuke! Wanting to destroy your opponents—that’s not the spirit of Jesus who came to save lives not destroy them.
Jesus taught us that we’re to love our enemies, not destroy them.
Luke 6:27–28 (p. 885)
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
The disciples had heard Jesus say this on more than one occasion. And yet when someone mistreated Jesus, they didn’t want to love them or bless them—they wanted to incinerate them! Jesus knew that the best way to defeat your enemy is with love.
When Abraham Lincoln was criticized for being too courteous to his enemies and reminded that it was his duty to destroy them, he gave the great answer, “Don’t I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
Love your enemies. That’s the spirit of Jesus.
In this case, rather than fighting back, He simply moved on. Often the best thing you can do when faced with unreasonable opposition is to simply under-react and move on.
I learned that with my son Jeff, who was able to push all my hot buttons. One time, I was telling my friend, Rick, about an experience that Jeff had rock climbing. He got half way up the face froze. Stan was up above, and Jeff looked up and said, “I can’t do it.” Stan didn’t do anything, didn’t say anything. And after a minute, Jeff scrambled on up. Rick said, “You could learn a good lesson from that. Under-react.”
Every time I over-reacted, I only poured gas on the fire. When I learned to under-react, it not only kept the situation from escalating, but it gave Jeff a chance to come around more quickly.
How do you respond to opposition? The disciples wanted to toast them, and got some straight talk from Jesus.
5. Straight talk about following. 57-62
Luke 9:57-62 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Here are three examples of would-be followers of Jesus who weren’t prepared to count the cost, and get some straight talk from Jesus about what it means to follow Him.
The first one offers to follow Jesus, but Jesus reminds him that he has no place to lay His head. Jesus was homeless. He had no property that we know of. When He died, the only property He left was the clothes on His back; these were divvied up among the soldiers at his execution. Jesus was telling this man that following Him may result in a loss of property—he needed to count the cost.
Jesus invites a second man to follow, and he answers that first he must bury his father. This doesn’t necessarily mean that his father was dead. It may mean that he didn’t feel free to leave his family obligations until after his father died. But if his father was dead (or near death), it was a sacred obligation to provide a good burial—this was a family, social and religious obligation. Jesus’ response, “Let the dead bury their own dead; you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God,” was not heartless, but was straight talk about the cost of following: it is even more important than family obligations!
A third man offers to follow, but wants to go say goodbye to family. Jesus says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” You can’t plow a straight furrow looking back. You’ve got to stay focused on what matters, and not be distracted, looking back or looking around.
A little over a week ago, Laina and I celebrated our 43rd anniversary! We exchanged cards, and being a pastor, I found a spiritual card.
She says, “I think we’re lost.” He says, “We’re not lost.”
She says, “We should stop and ask for directions.” He says, “I’m NOT stopping to ask for directions.”
She says, “Dear God, give me strength.” He says, “Dear God, give me patience.”
Inside it says, “It’s true—the couple who prays together, stays together.”
We were driving to do some things together, and I was looking off to the right at a big construction project. When I looked back, the car in front of me had stopped. I missed them—but that would have been a bad way to start the anniversary celebration! Keep your eyes where you’re going.
This guy wants to follow, but is looking back, and Jesus gives him some straight talk about following.
Property, family and distractions—three things that can still keep us from following Jesus. Let me give you some straight talk on following Jesus. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. It will cost you everything—and give you life with a capital L.