November 15, 2009
INTRODUCTION – One of the biggest debates in the church world over the last 15 years or so revolves around the emergence of the “seeker friendly” philosophy of doing church. This philosophy proposes that we should create an atmosphere in the way we run our worship services so that seekers can come and be comfortable and gradually warm up to the demands of Jesus. There is some truth and strengths to this movement. It is not my purpose this morning to diss them. But I do want to bring your attention to a consistent pattern in the way Jesus Himself dealt with – – and I dare say – – continues to deal with would be followers.
My sense after years of studying Jesus’s way with men is – If you were Jesus’s pr man, and you held to the seeker friendly philosophy, you would have died a thousands deaths as you observed Him respond to people’s responses.
Looking at Matthew chapter 8 – Jesus has just healed a leper, a centurion’s slave from afar, Peter’s mother in law, and a host of others – many who were demon possessed vs. 16 tells us. Momentum is happening again. Even the Scribes – the religious leaders of that day – are taking notice. And one of them comes up to Jesus (in vs. 19) , takes Him aside, puts his arm around Jesus’s shoulders, and says, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”
The P.R. guy would have had Him say, “Mr Scribe – God bless you! I am honored to have you on the team. You are in for the time of your life!” But before he could suggest such a response to Jesus, Jesus said, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” No thanks, no attaboy, no pat on the back. Just a straightforward reality check about what is really required to truly follow Jesus.
Here’s the principle: Following Jesus will require that we live like Jesus did, which means when the mission requires suffering and enduring hardship, that is what will be expected of us. If you are in this for the life of ease and material fringe benefits – – you are following the wrong leader. If it was necessary for the very Son of God, who owns and controls it all, to deny Himself basic comforts and rights – to fulfill His calling,…… you as His disciple will also at times and in seasons have to deny yourself rights and privileges others around you are enjoying. Jesus’s passion and focus is not your comfort and ease. It is His purposes and kingdom being established and advanced. Whatever it takes to accomplish that is what He expects.
Is Jesus saying – that to be His disciple you have to take a vow of poverty; and not own a home – or even a pillow? Not at all. If you study all of Jesus’s teaching on money and finances and all that the apostles taught – – it is very clear that neither Jesus nor they have a problem with money or material possessions per se.
You see the issue here is this scribe said to Jesus, “I will follow You wherever you go.” Well he clearly had not thought that impulsive, warm fuzzy comment through. Jesus Christ daily goes into Satan’s territory. He goes wherever people are bound and enslaved to sin and demons. He goes to the poor and downtrodden. He goes into the very dens of iniquity. And you cannot take your favorite pillow and sleep in a King size bed every night with the thermostat at 69 and a bowl of ice cream before you go to bed and accompany Him – much less be used by Him to see people set free from their slavery to sin, and all the addictions resulting from that sin.
As far as Jesus is concerned, once He has invaded your life and delivered you from the kingdom of darkness and cleansed you from all your sin and placed you in His family- – the rest of your life on this earth is a parenthesis. You no longer belong here. You are a pilgrim, an alien, an exile. His love for you is so consuming – that if there wasn’t a job left to do here – He would have already beamed you up to be with Him. But there is a job left here to do. And that job – – if you truly are going to follow Him wherever He goes – – will require that you hold with an open hand anything in your life that might possibly get in the way of being able to accompany and partner with Him in His last days mission.
Now I sleep in a King size bed, and have a favorite pillow (actually I did have a favorite pillow until I left it at the Emmanuel Retreat Center in Creston), and the ladies in my house keep the thermostat at 68 or 69. Most days – Jesus Christ does not have a problem with that. But when He calls me to head off to a conference across the country, or a two day seminar in Santa Rosa – that Roger Evey and I are leaving for in the morning – that will require me to be at his house in Atascadero at 7:00 a.m. – – or a missions trip to China – – or a meeting with the MC Alumni that doesn’t even start until 8:30 on some nights – – I have to leave those things behind and sleep wherever the mission requires me to sleep or put off sleep until the mission is accomplished.
If Jesus Christ calls some of you older folk to travel across the country and visit your kids and grandkids and help serve and minister to them for a time, you are probably going to miss your favorite t.v. shows, and may have to share a bathroom with a child or teenager or two, who probably haven’t yet kicked the tendency young people have to think life revolves around themselves. You may have to endure the discomforts of a flight or two or three or a long train ride. You will probably not have the quiet peaceful serenity that you are used to in your home. Welcome to the high call of parenting and grandparenting.
If Jesus Christ leads you into a discipling/shepherding relationship with someone who is a brand new Christian, and they have lived for a while in the kingdom of darkness, you are probably going to have a very complicated mess to clean up. Sometimes when adults come to Christ there is a long train wreck of broken relationships behind them that will require a lot of prayer and listening and patience as they begin to deal with the consequences of their sin.
When Jesus Christ stood up in the temple towards the beginning of His ministry as recorded in Luke 4 and read His job description or mission statement – here is how it read:”…He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” If you have studied the life and ministry of Christ you know He absolutely fulfilled this mission statement or job description while He was on earth. And the reason He was able to do that is because He was willing to forgo whatever comforts and rights were necessary to accomplish His objective or mission. Please note in vs. 16 that it was “when evening came, that they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill.” That time of ministry probably went way into the wee hours of the night. And the result was a huge crowd had formed around Him (vs. 18). And it was at this point that the Scribe came – probably having witnessed the amazing miracles Jesus had just performed; and in the euphoria of the moment – – having no idea of the hidden, secret life of Jesus that was necessary to enable Him to minister with such power – – said to Jesus, “..I will follow you wherever you go.” The scribes of that day – like some religious leaders of today – lived in la la land when it came to making any real dent in the kingdom of darkness. Jesus – lovingly tried to help this scribe get his feet back on the ground – – and see realistically what it would take to follow Him and be a part of His demon destroying, stronghold breaking team.
Listen folks – Jesus Christ is looking today for sons and daughters to continue this ministry to the downtrodden and those captive to sin in our society. If your comforts and having absolute control over your circumstances is something you just can’t let go of, then He won’t be able to continue His ministry through you. But if you can come to the place where you realize that in the kingdom of God – – just like in the gym – – no pain, no gain – – and that holding on to your rights and comforts will keep you on the sideline instead of out in the middle of the huddle – – then you can count on Him doing His greater works through you.
Well no sooner did Jesus’s P.R. guy grasp his head with his hands in disbelief – then another would be disciple of Jesus’s comes up to him with seeming sincerity and he says, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” Let the dead bury their own dead?? What kind of response is that? Is Jesus just having a really bad day? Is this a mid life crisis? Is He getting cynical in his old age? What’s wrong with a son wanting to bury his own father?
The issue here is not burying one’s father. No where in scripture is there any prohibition or negative statement made about such things. The issue is this man was setting the terms for following Jesus. He had contingency plans in place in case things got too difficult. He wanted to follow Jesus, but on his timeline and according to his schedule. In his mind, delayed obedience is still obedience. But in Jesus’s mind only immediate and full obedience can be called obedience.
I’ll never forget one time in my Junior or senior year we were in a basketball practice and I was on offense and we were running a play; and I chose to do something different than what the play called for because of the way I was being defended. Coach Sparks stopped the practice and called me on it. I tried defending myself by explaining my rationale; and he interrupted me and said basically – and I’m leaving a few choice words out – I don’t want you to think or analyze the situation and circumstances. Your job is to run the play exactly like the play is designed. Let me do the thinking. Last time I checked – I am the coach. If I want your opinion I will ask for it.
One of the reasons military leaders are so demanding and unyielding with expecting full and complete and immediate obedience is because they know in combat a second or two of indecision or second guessing your commander’s orders could cost you your life.
One commentator on this passage suggested that this guy’s father had not even died yet. But that this would be disciple was just trying to cover all his bases and control his circumstances as much as possible.
So how could a dead person bury a dead person? I think what Jesus was saying here was this, “you have the opportunity to be a part of a movement that is going to turn the world upside down. There are people back home that are oblivious to the kingdom of God. They could care less who I am and what I am about. Your dad is not going to know who buried him. Let those who are of stuck in their small thinking bury your father. Today is a point of decision for you. I’m giving you the opportunity today – right now – to follow Me. There is no guarantee that if you put this off until a later date – that that date will ever come.
Haddon Robinson said of the kind of obedience that Jesus Christ requires, “Selected obedience is not obedience at all, it is merely convenience.”
You see many of us grew up in homes where we developed a very skewed perception of obedience. When our mothers told us to go do our homework, we said we would, but we didn’t – at least not immediately. In our minds – as long as sometime before the end of the evening we sauntered up to our bedrooms and opened our text books – whether we ever finished the assignment or not – that was obedience. When our coaches told our team to run suicides for 10 minutes and then do pushups and situps while he ran down to the principal’s office for a moment, we nodded that we would, but as soon as he was gone – we slacked off and kind of just went through the motions. When our boss said to work straight until 5:00 p.m. on one specific project – ignoring all the other ones because of a deadline – and then he went off to a meeting – – we decided we knew better, and besides that project was boring….
Someone said of obedience, “When God puts a period, do not change it to a question mark.” True disciples must be re-educated on what obedience really is.
Jesus Christ is leading an army to victory. He came to destroy the works of the devil. His scepter or instrument today is His church. When you enlist in His army, you become a threat to the kingdom of darkness. Your mission in some ways is very dangerous. Your enemy is very real. What will determine whether you share in Jesus’s assured victory is your level of immediate, full and unquestioned obedience. Jesus Christ was not in a bad mood; nor was He disrespectfull or cynical with those two would be disciples. He just knew their hearts; He saw the roots of compromise in their words and in their eyes. And He knew the best thing for them was to not pretend like it wasn’t there. But to deal with it head on; and give them the best chance to be freed from the hold the world’s way had on their concept of obedience.
So what do we at LOCF do with this passage? Well let me suggest a few things. 1. First of all – for you parents of children still in the home – – do not grow weary of the hard work of disciplining your children. In a very real way – – you are setting the tone for their ability to follow Jesus and be His disciple. Dr. Harry Ironside put it this way, “Respect for and obedience to parents is the foundation of all society. Children who are rebellious and unsubject in the home will be impatient of control and enemies of orderly government when they grow older. More than that, if they do not obey their parents in early days, they will not obey God in later years. In childhood our parents stand in the place of God. We learn His mind through them, if they are themselves subject to His word.” Am I saying that we can’t follow Jesus if we are not raised in godly home with appropriate and consistent discipline? No. But I am saying that we parents can greatly enhance our children’s ability to follow Jesus by teaching them the way of unquestioned obedience now.
2. For those of you that pray and hold a burden for the state of the church in this Coastal Region – this aspect of our life together must be a constant aspect of our praying. Dallas Willard in his book “The Divine Conspiracy” , which I know some of you have read, put it this way, “How to combine faith with obedience is surely the essential task of the church as it enters the 21st century.” The lack of immediate and full obedience has given the church in our nation many a black eye; and has greatly diminished our effectiveness and authority in society. Even the lost and unbelieving know we Christians should walk our talk. Fenelon said “the essence of Christianity resides in the will.” Yesterday morning in my reading in Hebrews chapter 10, at one point the Lord Jesus’s words to the Father were quoted regarding this essence. Here is what He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” Jesus Christ never knew a moment of self will. He lived and existed to do the Father’s will – – immediately and completely.
Many today want to follow Jesus. Many more respect Him from afar. But only those who see and pursue after the heart of obedience that He had and the lack of self will that He walked in — will succeed in actually being co-laborers with Him. Only those will have the joy of knowing they were used by Him in a significant way to kick butt with Satan and his cruel demons – – and thus seeing the captives set free.