The Crown or the Cross

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Topical Scripture: Luke 9:51–62

Delivered: March 8, 2020

We’ll begin with some good news: we have a second moon.

It was first spotted on February 15. It’s about the size of a compact car, so it’s being called a “mini-moon.” Scientists say it is an asteroid that got trapped in our planet’s gravitational force in 2017 and began orbiting us, but nobody noticed.

Here’s the bad news: it’s leaving us as soon as next week or as late as April.

By my calculations, it would take 1.1 billion minimoons to match the diameter of our moon. And three moons to match the diameter of the Earth. And 109 Earths to match the diameter of the Sun. And that’s just our Solar System, which is one of as many as 100 billion solar systems in the universe.

And the God we worship this morning made all of that.

As we’re dealing with the spreading coronavirus epidemic, the stock market fluctuations, the tornado disaster in Tennessee, and everything else in the news, it’s good to remember who is charge of the world. And the fact that he has a plan and a purpose for every one of our lives today.

We’re watching Jesus change lives on the way to Easter. Today, we’ll watch our Lord deal with people who miss their purpose. As we do, let’s determine that we will not miss ours. It has been said that there is in every human heart a crown and a cross. If we are wearing the crown, Jesus must wear the cross. If we will wear the cross, he can wear the crown.

What does it mean to give Jesus your crown, to submit to his purpose for your life? How can you do that today?

Choose God’s purpose and no other

Our text begins, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (v. 51). “To be taken up” refers to his crucifixion. “Set his face” means to be firm in resolve, especially when facing difficulty or danger. “He chose and would not be deterred” would carry the sense of Luke’s phrase.

If you and I are to follow him fully, we must be as committed to God’s will for our lives as Jesus was to his own. How do you know God’s purpose for your life?

First, believe that your Father does in fact have a plan for your life today. Some evolutionists say that life began as a chance coincidence, with no particular plan or purpose at all. Existentialists say that this life is all there is, and life is chaos. Martin Heidegger, for instance, wrote that we are actors on a stage, with no script, director, or audience, and courage is to face life as it is. Postmodernists say that truth is relative, that there is no overriding purpose to life.

So, does God have a plan for us, or is life a random coincidence? In the words of Shakespeare, are we “sound and fury, signifying nothing”?

Here is God’s answer: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). His will for you is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Second, ask him to guide you into his perfect will. He will lead you rationally through Scripture, practically through circumstances, and intuitively as his Spirit speaks to your spirit. He wants you to know his will even more than you want to know it. Ask him to lead you and trust that he will. His will is not a floodlight that reveals the entire path but a flashlight that reveals the next step.

The ultimate question is not if we can know his will but whether we will follow it.

Love those God loves (vv. 52–56)

So, Jesus determined that he would embark on the journey which would end in his execution. It was customary in his day for a rabbi to send messengers ahead to make things ready for his arrival in a town (v. 52). He and his band of disciples would need food and lodging, as their trip to Jerusalem would take three days by foot. Travelers’ inns were few and far between, while bandits preyed on unprotected groups such as theirs. At the least, he did not wish to be a burden on those who might offer hospitality to his group.

As they were traveling from Galilee to Judea, their journey took them through Samaria. Most rabbis went to the east and around this despised area and people. They considered Samaritans to be half-breeds and infidels. But Jesus’ ministry to the woman at the Samaritan well two years earlier showed his compassion for these rejected people (John 4).

Tragically, this Samaritan village refused the same grace: “The people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem” (v. 53). The Samaritans usually presented no obstacles to those traveling from the south to the north. But those journeying south to Jerusalem clearly rejected the Samaritan claim that Mt. Gerazim was the proper place of worship and sacrifice.

And so, Samaritans along the way took great pains to make such journeys more difficult. Josephus even claims that they murdered Jewish pilgrims on occasion (Antiquities 20.118). If Jesus and his followers would not worship at Mt. Gerazim, they would not find easy passage to the Temple at Jerusalem.

We can understand something of their antipathy. It is human nature to slander those who slander us, to feel justified in our anger against those who hurt us first. While Jesus understood the Samaritans’ reaction, his disciples did not: “And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?'” (v. 54).

In response, Jesus “turned and rebuked them” (v. 55). There is a week’s worth of theology in this short verse.

Luke records Jesus’ “rebuke” of the storm (Luke 8:24), a fever (Luke 4:39), and demons (Luke 4:41). But only one other time in Scripture do we find Jesus rebuking a person: when Peter tried to prevent his decision to face crucifixion, Jesus “rebuked” him. In fact, he said to him, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:33).

For Jesus to treat James and John as he treated Satan working through Peter was a stern response, indeed. It showed his displeasure with their racism and superior pride. It demonstrated his compassion for all people, whatever their status in society. And it stands as God’s requirement for those who follow him today: we must love those God loves.

Are there any Samaritans in your circle of relationships? Someone dealing with the pain and suffering of divorce? Someone facing their first Easter without a loved one? Someone far from home?

It’s been said that the best test of character is how we treat people we don’t have to treat well. If you’ll ask God to show you a Samaritan this week, you can be sure that he will. If you will show that person his love in yours, you’ll prove that you follow Jesus (cf. John 13:35).

Pay any price to be faithful (vs. 57-62)

In contrast to the Samaritan refusal of his band, Jesus next met three who wanted to join his disciples. Luke reports their stories because they are ours as well.

Go where he leads

One said he would follow Jesus “wherever you go” (v. 57). So Jesus told the man just where he would go: while even foxes and birds have places to reside, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (v. 58). Since beginning his public ministry, he had lived in Peter’s home in Capernaum, and with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus while in Bethany (cf. John 11). Now the Samaritans had offered him no lodging. His reception in Jerusalem would be far worse. To follow Jesus is to accept a future filled with potential danger and distress.

It is true that the will of God never leads where the grace of God cannot sustain. But it is also true that there are times in the will of God when the grace of God is all that sustains us.

Have you placed restrictions on God’s will for your life? Are there places you will not go, people you will not serve, resources you will not give? Sins you will not confess? We are not truly his disciples unless we go where our Master goes—and his way led to the cross.

Go when he calls

Jesus called another man, “Follow me” (v. 59a). “Follow” means “be my disciple.” But the man desisted: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (v. 59b), incurring Jesus’ stern response: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (v. 60).

At first glance this seems a callous and cruel request by our Savior. A man has just lost his father, the funeral is pending, and Jesus wants the grieving son to desert his family to follow him. But this was not the situation at all. This text is an example of the importance of historical exegesis, knowing the culture and customs behind the biblical narrative.

If the man’s father had actually died, the son would be at his home arranging the funeral already. Jews buried on the same day the person died whenever possible, as was done with Jesus’ corpse. If his father had died, the son would be exempt from social requirements for up to a year as he mourned his death.

But in Jesus’ day it was common for the son of elderly parents to use their advancing age and declining health as a means of avoiding life’s responsibilities. They would sometimes cite this concern as an excuse for not working, paying their bills, or serving in the military. The father was not yet dead; his son was looking for ways to avoid Jesus’ call.

And our Lord knew it. That’s why his response seemed so stern. The man’s avoidance of God’s call would cost him the chance to know and follow the Messiah of God. Tragically, it did.

Is there a call to service which you are ignoring today? A hurting person you know you should help? A witness you know you should give? A financial contribution you know you should make?

Do not mortgage today for tomorrow. “Today” is the only day which exists. God measures obedience in present action, not future intentions. What does he think of yours?

Don’t look back

A third man offered to follow Jesus if he could first go back and say good-by to his family (v. 61). Again, this seems a reasonable request met with a stern reply: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62). But the setting explains the sense of the text.

Imagine a man plowing a field who looks backward more than he looks ahead. Envision the wreckage such neglect would cause the field. Now envision an athlete who constantly leaves the game to talk with his family in the stands, or a soldier who abandons the field of battle regularly to visit his home.

It’s impossible to see where we’re going if we’re constantly looking at where we’ve been. Jesus wants full-time disciples, those who will be unwavering in their loyalty to his cause. Is there a distraction in your discipleship today? A temptation you will not reject forever? A personal agenda you wish to serve while serving your Lord?

You cannot plow in two directions at the same time. Every hour spent in the wrong field is an hour subtracted from the field assigned to you. It is an hour subtracted from the dream and passion of God for your life. It is an hour you can never regain.

Conclusion

This week we have learned how to follow Jesus fully: we are to be focused on his call, gracious to all he loves, and unconditional in our obedience. Now we are responsible for the truth we have learned.

That minimoon we discussed today is miniscule compared to our planet and our sun, but it’s bigger than we are. Here’s the amazing truth: if we give ourselves to the purpose of God, we will accomplish things of significance millennia after this planet is gone.

Winston Churchill noted: “It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something.”

What is your “something” today?