Part of being a healthy church is consistent communication. To support our local congregations, we have developed a local congregational branding kit. These resources are a starting point that can be edited and developed to reflect the unique context of each of our congregations. We pray that these resources will support you in joining with Jesus to share his love with your community!
Readings: Genesis 18:20-21 • Psalm 138:1-8 • Colossians 2:6-10 • Luke 11:1-13
This week’s theme is God knows what he is doing. When Abraham barters with God over Sodom and Gomorrah, God already knows the number of righteous in the city. The Psalmist reminds us that God knows all the troubles we face and already has a plan; for this we can praise him. Paul tells the believers in Colossae to continue to walk (trust) in Christ—he is the head over every power and authority. Luke reminds us that God knows the good gifts to give and we can trust him. This week’s sermon weaves a theme through these passages.
God Knows What He Is Doing
Have you ever wondered why God is delaying taking control? Why Jesus hasn’t returned yet? Do you ask why God seems deaf to your pleas? Perhaps you’ve felt the need to remind God how much he needs to intervene.
There is so much bad news today. Pick up the newspaper or go on the Internet and almost daily you will read news about earthquakes, fires, wars and famine, shootings, grief and misery. With the daily atrocities shouting out to us from the headlines, bad news seems to be the norm for our world. It sometimes makes us feel as if we are living in the most evil time period ever. But knowing the history of this planet, we realize that’s not true.
Evil was introduced into our world from the beginning, and though Satan has been conquered, his influence is still here. As someone once said, the dragon is slain but the tail is still wagging.
As Christians, we know we are not immune to the physical dangers to life and limb in this world. Neither are we immune to spiritual dangers. But here’s the key—God is never surprised by what we face, and he is never unprepared. We can trust that he knows what he is doing. The answer to all the evil we see and deal with is Jesus.
Normally, we strive to just focus on one scripture for the theme of the sermon. Today, however, I want to use passages from the Torah, the Writings, the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul to show a constant theme that God knows what he is doing.
Let’s begin in Genesis 18, with the story of Abraham bartering with God over Sodom and Gomorrah. God has seen the wickedness in the two cities and told Abraham it was time to destroy them.
Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.” So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” (Genesis 18:20-26 NRSV)
I love God’s patience here. He knew there weren’t 50 righteous and he let Abraham continue to barter all the way down to 10.
“Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” (Genesis 18:32 NRSV)
When we think God is not hearing our pleas, think of this story. God already knew the outcome, and he knew what was best for the future. He let Abraham barter with him so Abraham could learn to trust God and believe that God knew what he was doing. We need this reminder.
There are times when we feel it would be better if all the evil around us would be wiped clean, right off this earth. We know God could do that; he’s done it before. Why can’t it all just end? Why can’t Christ return and put a stop to it all?
Christ’s sacrifice defeated Satan, but we are still living in an evil world. Why is Jesus delaying his coming? Perhaps it is because he has a bigger plan; he always does. Our lack of understanding all the details, does not mean God’s plan isn’t the best plan. His plan always works for good. Our responsibility is to pray for God’s will and to accept his timing, not our own. We learned this from Jesus, who prayed, “Not my will, but yours.”
Let’s move to Psalm 138 and focus on the last two verses.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me. The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. (Psalm 138:7-8 NRSV)
We all walk in the midst of trouble. The Psalmist understood this, but he also understood that we are not forsaken when we face trouble. God is not only present, but he is also at work. He is the deliverer and he will fulfill his purpose for us—and that purpose is fulfilled in his steadfast love. This is something we want to believe, but sometimes we get misled by lies. The lies tell us God does not care, that he isn’t concerned about us, that he rules from a distance, that Jesus wasn’t really God, that he can’t really intervene.
It’s not unusual to struggle in faith when we are facing severe trials, many of us do. It’s not something we should be ashamed of. There are a lot of lies about God; there always have been. This is one of the issues facing the believers in Colossae that Paul addressed. Notice what he says in his letter to them:
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:6-8 NRSV)
Throughout this chapter, Paul warns against false philosophies, legalism, the worship of angels and asceticism—all heretical influences and all contrary to the teachings of Christ. We face the same influences today—God is not real, Jesus was not God, God is not interested in you, you aren’t good enough for God, you are not forgiven, you need to earn salvation. People are still being captivated by numerous lies and various belief systems that are not of Christ.
Paul reminds us to stay rooted in the pure gospel message: Jesus is the answer. It seems too simple and quaint when you see it on a sign or on a fence post, but that doesn’t negate the truth. He is the answer to all our problems. His life, death and resurrection, his sacrifice, changed everything for us. Paul continues:
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10 NRSV)
Jesus is in charge, over every ruler and authority, physical and spiritual, and we are raised with him, dead to sin and alive in him. We read these encouraging words and we know they are true, but when we view the atrocities going on in our world and suffer our own personal failures, we can be overwhelmed with the here and now, losing sight of the hope of Christ in us.
So how do we remain rooted? How do we continue to live our lives in him? How do we remain established in the faith? Again, we look to Jesus as our example. The one constant in Jesus’ life was prayer.
Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus praying. Sometimes he prayed all night. His disciples must have wondered at this. They had heard that John the Baptist taught his followers how to pray. They wanted to know how to pray powerfully as well. This brings us to our last scripture reference, in Luke. (I’m going to switch to the King James due to familiarity with the Lord’s prayer.)
And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. (Luke 1:1-4 KJV)
Later in church history another line was added: “For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
But Jesus didn’t stop with those few words, as profound as they are. He continued to address the unspoken questions about prayer. Does God hear? Does he answer? Does he care? Can we trust him?
And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” (Luke 11:5-8 NRSV)
Some translators feel the Greek word translated persistence would be better translated boldness. Their argument: It’s not that if you just keep asking long enough, God will finally answer your prayers. Many scriptures show God as eager to hear and answer prayers. Let’s read the next verses:
So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. (Luke 11:9-13 NRSV)
God knows what he is doing. He knows what good gifts to give you, and when. Jesus is telling us, yes, pray when you are in trouble or when you need to experience God’s forgiveness, or when you need to forgive others. Pray when you are tempted and feeling weak. But always pray for his will to be done; his will is good.
Let’s face it, sometimes it is difficult to pray for God’s will to be done and not your own. There is fear involved. What if I don’t like God’s will? What if it means more trouble, more pain, more confusion? Under some circumstances, praying for God’s will is a tough prayer to pray and really mean it. But that’s where our hope lies—in God and his will for us, and his will for this evil world. He does know what is best for us—both in the short term and in the long term—far better than we could ever know for ourselves. He knows how and when to give good gifts, and he already gave us the greatest gift—his Son.
Many times in life there is only one place we can go to have hope for the future. And that hope is a person. Jesus is the hope of this world. He’s the one we can go to when there seems no way out of the troubles we face.
Christ’s way of hope is the way of knowing who is in charge of this world, the way of anticipation toward what the future holds for us. Jesus gave us wonderful gifts of grace and faith so we could face life’s upheavals bravely, with courage and hope. When we are at our weakest, great power lies in our hope in Christ.
So, next morning when you turn on the TV or look at your phone or newspaper, stop, take a deep breath, and do not lose sight of that hope. God really does know what he is doing—Jesus really is the answer.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- Some people read Genesis 18 and believe Abraham was being disrespectful for bartering with God. What do you feel about this? Have you ever bartered with God? How did he respond to you?
- What are some of the things you see that make you wonder if Jesus is delaying his return? Explain how this sermon helped you see things in a different light.
- Share a time you thought your troubles were overbearing and how God delivered you.
- What lies do you hear about God? What lies do you hear others saying and/or believing about God?
- What does it mean to you that Jesus is the head of every ruler and authority?
- What is the difference between persistence and boldness when it comes to prayer? Are you persistent or bold in your prayers?
- Luke tells us God knows how to give gifts; what gifts has God given you that surprised you?
Readings: Genesis 18:1-10a • Psalm 15:1-5 • Colossians 1:15-28 • Luke 10:38-42
This week’s theme is The righteous (those who believe) will not be shaken. The Lord appears to Abraham, who asks if he has found favor. God replies and promises Abraham a son within a year. The Psalmist describes the behavior of the righteous who “will never be shaken.” In Luke, we read the story of Mary and Martha. Jesus says Mary “has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42). This week’s sermon focuses on Colossians 1, reminding us that we live in righteousness because of our reconciliation with God, through Jesus.
Introduction: Who is Jesus? Who do others say he is? Who do you say he is?
Suggestion: Encourage people to answer these questions with as many answers as possible. Start with “Who do others say he is?” Then move to “Who do you say he is?”
Do you believe that Jesus is God? Say it out loud with me: Jesus is God!
This is a fundamental truth. Yet throughout history—and we still hear the heresy today—false teachers have attacked this truth. They did so in the apostle Paul’s day, and they have never stopped.
This truth—that Jesus is God—is more than a tenet we believe or agree with; this is the truth we stand on—it is our foundation. It is also the truth that leads us to exultation, praise and worship as it did for Paul in his letter to the Colossians.
The New Testament authors wrote of the deity of Jesus to combat claims against him. But the truth they taught was also intended to prompt their hearers and readers to worship, praise and glorify our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. C.S. Lewis understood this when he wrote, “A man can’t be always defending the truth; there must be a time to feed on it” (Reflections on the Psalms, 7).
The attacks on the truth of the gospel have not let up. Sometimes we are so busy defending the gospel, we neglect letting the truth lead us to praise and worship. We can spend so much time arguing and debating with skeptics and atheists, that we don’t take the time to enjoy and delight in what we are defending—the truth that Jesus Christ is God.
It seems Paul wanted to remind believers in Colossae who it was they were defending. The Colossian church experienced numerous attacks from false teachers. The exact nature of the Colossian heresy (or heresies) is debated among scholars, but Paul wanted them to focus on proclaiming Jesus Christ and what he accomplished through his death and resurrection.
In Colossians 1:15–28, Paul wrote an amazing summary of who Christ is and what he accomplished. In doing so, he combatted the arguments of the false teachers, and gave the Colossian Christians, and us, even more reason to worship and follow Jesus Christ as God.
Let’s read the passage in Colossians:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation (Colossians 1:15).
Paul is not talking here of Christ’s physical appearance, but about his character and nature. Genesis 1 says God made humanity in his image (vv. 27–28), to reflect his character and nature to the world. But sin marred God’s intentions for humanity. While no one is able to perfectly reveal God, humanity started reflecting an image in contrast to who God is—an image focused on self, our wants and needs—rather than on God. Jesus restored this reflection when he entered the world. He perfectly revealed God’s character and glory. He fulfills the purposes God had intended both for himself and for humanity. This verse also emphasizes the relation of Jesus to humanity—he is the firstborn of all, and he reminds us what God is like.
If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. This prevents us from making God into our image. In our minds, we tend to fashion God after our own thoughts and desires. We try to squeeze him into a mold and project onto him something he is not. Jesus keeps our view of God in check.
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17)
When Paul wrote Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation,” he did not mean God created Jesus, as some claim today. Paul’s very next statement shows that Jesus is the source of all creation: “For by him all things were created.” So what did Paul mean? He likely had in mind Psalm 89, and the role of the Messianic King: “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27). Jesus is not a created being; he is the Creator who reigns over all creation. All that exists, he created. All he created exists “for him.” Why is this important? Notice what Paul includes in the list of the things Jesus created: “whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities.” Paul wanted to make clear that all authorities in heaven and on earth are under Jesus Christ’s lordship and dominion. Jesus upholds, governs, sustains, and rules over all things. This is good news, and this good news is praiseworthy.
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)
Not only is Christ over creation, he is also over the new creation—the church. He is the head of the universal church throughout the ages, which is made up of local groups, fellowships and congregations of believers who profess Jesus as Lord. Christ achieved this through his death and resurrection because he is “the firstborn from the dead.” He took the curse of creation upon himself (Gal. 3:13) to bring about a new creation, and to “reconcile all things to himself . . . making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:21-23)
The false teachers in Colossae seemed to teach that something in addition to Jesus was required for salvation. Paul assured them Christ was sufficient—he is always enough. He is a perfect Savior. All we need to do is look to him and embrace the work he accomplished on our behalf. In his life, death and resurrection he has reconciled us to God.
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:24-27)
It doesn’t matter what heresies people try to bring up, it doesn’t matter how many false teachers we deal with—we know who Christ is. He is the image of the Father, the one who created all things and took us in the midst of our guilt, sinfulness and filth and reconciled us to the Father. He is the one who gives love to those who believe they are unlovable; he forgives those who believe they are unforgiveable, and he gives hope to those who believe they have none. He is the one who gives that peace that surpasses understanding. He is the mystery who lives in us—Jesus in you, the hope of glory.
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)
Jesus Christ is God. Knowing who he is, what he accomplished, and the future he holds for us should put a song of worship in our hearts and on our lips. Jesus is incomparable. as John Piper said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Jesus Christ is infinitely satisfying.
The next time you hear false teachers proclaiming a false gospel, or you hear the latest heresy, know that you can stand firm knowing who Jesus is. May you find your satisfaction in him—enabling you to glorify his name in all things.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- Paul includes in the list of what Jesus created: “whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” (v.16). Paul wanted to make clear that all authorities in heaven and on earth are under Jesus Christ’s lordship and dominion. Jesus upholds, governs, sustains, and rules over all things, including the whole of our lives as we surrender it all to him. Are you trusting Christ with every area of your life? What are some things you are reluctant to completely surrender to him?
- Do you find yourself relying on your own works and moral performance to get you in God’s good graces? Do you see that even in our mistakes and mess-ups he is sufficient? Why is resting in Christ hard for us?
- Paul, in Colossians 1:28 says, “so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” What do you think he meant by that?
- How can our complete satisfaction in him bring him glory?
- In the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10, who do you find yourself identifying with and why?
- Read Psalm 15 and discuss the listed attributes of the righteous. What in this Psalm speaks to you? Why?
Readings: Deuteronomy 30:9-14 • Psalm 25:1-10 • Colossians 1:1-14 • Luke 10:25-37
This week’s theme is God’s goodness leads to praise. In Deuteronomy, the Israelites are told they can obey, and when they do, they will see God’s goodness. In his letter to believers in Colossae, Paul tells them he is continually praising God for them—for their faith and love. He reminds them that God’s goodness brings redemption and forgiveness. In Luke, we read the parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus tells us to extend mercy, just as he does. The sermon focuses on Psalm 25 and David’s response to God’s goodness.
Salvation from A to Z
Psalm 25:1-10 (ESV)
Introduction: You may want to ask the following question and let the members give their answers: If I were to ask you to define God’s goodness, what comes to mind? What words come to mind when you think of God’s goodness?
Most of us believe in God’s goodness. There are many scriptures that give us reasons to praise God for his goodness:
- Forgiveness—before we even sinned
- Grace—unmerited (undeserved) pardon
- Adoption—heirs with Christ
- Faithfulness—God is always faithful to us
- Slow to anger/Quick to mercy
- Relational intentionality—God desires and seeks personal relationship with us.
- Unconditional love—nothing we do makes God love us more or love us less
Today we are going to look at Psalm 25 and see how David dealt with the contrast between God’s goodness and humanity’s sinfulness. This is a reality we all face—we know our sinfulness and we find it amazing that God decides to be good to us anyway
The psalms often speak of God’s goodness and our sinfulness within the topic of confession and repentance. Confession and repentance may conjure up feelings of fear, guilt and anxiety. But when we see God’s goodness as a who—Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer—confession and repentance becomes filled with faith, hope and love. Confession becomes a time where we agree with God’s pronouncement that we are made holy and righteous in Jesus and therefore acknowledge those areas in our life that are not congruent with that reality. We confess in hope knowing the Lord will not leave us in our sins. Repentance becomes a natural response from seeing the goodness of God. We change our mind about who God is and who we are and bring our life in line with that revelation.
Both confession and repentance flow out of and lead into praise. Let’s notice how David begins Psalm 25:
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust. (Psalm 25:1-2a ESV)
The phrase “I lift up my soul” means to “nurse an appetite for something.” David wants to feed his faith by being reminded—through praise—of the character of God. Praise is not something we do to satisfy some deity’s ego. God is not insecure and doesn’t need our praise to prop him up. Praise is for us. As we see his goodness, praise becomes a natural response drawn out of us. Out of this response we are again reminded of God’s goodness, his faithfulness, his mercy, grace and love. Praise becomes a cycle of enjoyment that feeds our faith in the one we are enjoying.
In The Joyful Christian, C.S. Lewis speaks eloquently on this subject of praise:
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation… The worthier the object, the more intense this delight would be. If it were possible for a created soul fully (I mean, up to the full measure conceivable in a finite being) to ‘appreciate’, that is to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beatitude.
David follows “I lift up my soul” with “O my God, in you I trust.” As our faith in God is fed, it grows into a trust that opens us to confession and repentance. Out of this trust we see that our repentance is not an exercise of shame. This God in whom David places his trust is the “God of my salvation.” The Psalm itself is structured as an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet. The first letter of each new verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew language. As David seeks deliverance, guidance and forgiveness throughout the Psalm we are reminded that the Lord has our salvation from Aleph to Tav—or in English, from A to Z.
David asks for deliverance
Let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.” (Psalm 25:2b-3 ESV)
Salvation involves deliverance, but it doesn’t stop there. For David, deliverance is not being whisked away to heaven one day, leaving God’s good creation and purposes behind; deliverance is being delivered from all that prevents us from being who God created us to be. We cannot separate ourselves from God’s creation and purposes as revealed in Jesus. Heaven and Earth are meant to come together, not further apart.
Psalm 25 falls within a section of Psalms with Psalm 29 serving as a central theme. That central Psalm is all about the King of Creation. This is how David understood deliverance and is how we should understand it today. There is more to salvation than just going to heaven after we die. Heaven is not some plan of escapism, but rather it is the place where God’s presence fills the earth.
David asks for guidance.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. (Psalm 25:4-6 ESV)
Salvation also includes knowledge of who God is. God does not just reveal to us a better way of living; he gives himself to us to be known as life itself. This knowledge of God goes back “from of old.” He is and always has been a God of “mercy” and “steadfast love”—there is no other God to choose from. This was the calling of Israel for the other nations. There is only one God. All other gods are but empty and foolish idols. Jesus fulfills this role by revealing to us that this one God is a loving Father who is for us. The fear of the pagan deities can be discarded as we are guided into the knowledge of the only God that is.
David asks for forgiveness
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord! Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. (Psalm 25:7-10 ESV)
In the light of who God is, there is also an exposure of the darkness of sin and all that falls short of the Father’s good purposes for us. David does not want these sins to be “remembered.” Instead God remembers us. Sin dismembers us, tearing us apart and fragmenting us to our core. The forgiveness of God is not just in word only, leaving us in our dismembered and fractured state. His forgiveness is in Jesus Christ, and it is an active forgiveness, which restores, heals and re-members us to the wholeness of who we were created to be. Repentance is participating in his act of “re-membering.”
Even this repentance springs from the character of God being “good and upright.” The Father does not intend to leave us broken, but places us on the “paths of the Lord” that are “steadfast love and faithfulness.” So even our confessions can remind us that God’s grace is still working his good purposes in us.
Ultimately, we must remember that all the Psalms point to Jesus. In this Psalm, we can rightly say that Jesus is our salvation from A-Z.
Jesus is the one who delivers. There is no other source of deliverance from all that prevents us from having good relationship with God and with one another. Religion can’t deliver us. Principles don’t deliver us. Well-crafted plans and programs will never deliver us. It is to Jesus, and no other, to whom we lift up our souls for deliverance. As we wait on him, trusting him to do his work of deliverance in our life—even if it is one shackle at a time—we come to trust him more fully as our deliverer. He is faithful to deliver us even when we feel bound. We can participate in his deliverance in hope, knowing that he will complete his work in his good time. In this hope, we can live today out of the freedom he is bringing us into tomorrow.
Jesus is the one who guides. Jesus is the full revelation of the Father. To be guided into knowing God, we turn our eyes to Jesus, who leads us into his own relationship with the Father in the Spirit. Jesus is the great teacher who knows his disciples perfectly and loves them deeply. We do not have to fear his guidance. We know he is good and that he loves us in the same love that the Father loves him. It’s much easier to follow one that we trust. Have you ever had to follow someone that you knew didn’t know where he was going? Not a pleasant experience. Jesus knows the way because Jesus is the way. He is trustworthy and following him is a joyous journey.
Jesus is our forgiveness. Have you ever had someone say they forgive you only to later treat you with some retaliation? Jesus doesn’t only say a word of forgiveness; he is the Word of forgiveness. It is in him that our sins are forgiven, and we are made whole. We never have to fear that someday down the road we will be met with a God who vents his real feelings. When God forgives, he gives his Word. Jesus is his trustworthy Word in which we can confess all our sins knowing he will forgive and make us whole.
For our salvation from A to Z the bumper sticker got it right. “Jesus is the answer.” Sometimes we may be tempted to move on from Jesus into what we think are deeper waters. Perhaps we think Jesus is a good starting point but now we need to sink our teeth into something meatier. “Jesus is the answer” sounds cliché when one moves on to some new-fangled idea. Let Psalm 25 remind us that it is only in Jesus that we find any true deliverance, guidance and forgiveness. From A to Z, Jesus is still the answer.
 C.S. Lewis, The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis (New York, NY: Inspirational Press, 1994), 179-180.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- Can you think of a time when praising or celebrating something added to the enjoyment of what was being celebrated? Discuss how this dynamic applies to praising and worshiping God.
- Share some ways we can lift up our souls to the Lord to have our faith fed.
- Discuss how seeing the goodness of God invites us into confession and repentance. How might a proper understanding of God’s goodness and uprightness “instruct sinners in the way”? If we think God isn’t good and upright, can you see how we would want to hide and excuse our sins?
- In what ways are we tempted to move on from Jesus to some other way for deliverance, guidance and forgiveness?
- Read the story of the Good Samaritan and share the “Jesus characteristics” you see in the story.
- Read Col. 1:1-14, and share some people you praise God for.
Loving community begins with seeing the neighborhood through the eyes of Jesus.
By pastor Sam Butler.
After his resurrection, Jesus reached out to his followers with genuine love and concern. He met them in the midst of their brokenness, fear and longing. By looking at Jesus as our model we can learn a few things about how he wants us to engage in our community and church neighborhood.
Jesus’ first interaction was with Mary Magdalene (John 21:11-18). Mary was in a state of panic. Not only is she dealing with the loss of her friend Jesus in death, but when she gets to the tomb she discovers his body is missing. She is in a state of great despair and is weeping. Jesus greets her and reassures her by his presence.
Later that day two disciples are walking to Emmaus when Jesus started walking with them and asked what they were talking about (Luke 24:12-31). “They stood still, their faces downcast” as they shared their grief, saying they had been hoping Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel. Jesus went through the Torah and the prophets teaching them what the Scriptures really said. Then he revealed himself to them.
That evening Jesus’ disciples were gathered together in a building with the doors locked. Not only were they experiencing the death of Jesus and the loss that entailed, but they were also afraid of what the Jewish leaders might do to them. They felt alone and fearful. Jesus enters and stands among them saying, “Peace be with you,” reassuring them with his words and showing them his wounds. Scripture tells us that they were overjoyed when they saw him.
Thomas was not present and would not believe the report of his fellow disciples. He was suffering from doubt. In his mind Jesus was dead; it was not possible what they were telling him. A week later Jesus reveals himself to Thomas and removes all doubt.
Peter had his own set of problems. After seeing Jesus alive he surely was wondering to himself, what use can Jesus have with me? After all, I denied him openly three times. After a hot meal Jesus talks with Peter privately and reassures him that he has work for him to do. How reassuring and encouraging that must have been for Peter.
Notice the pattern: Jesus, who loved them all deeply, understood exactly how they were feeling and met them where they needed him most. In their lowest and most vulnerable moments, he entered into their brokenness with all the care, concern, and love that only he can provide.
Jesus does the same for us. Through the Spirit he has revealed himself to us and has drawn us in to experience his healing and love. In the midst of our brokenness we are told that we are loved and included—just as we are.
But it does not end here. Jesus has called us into a participation with him to finish what he has started. He has given everyone the opportunity to know him and experience in him the eternal love of God. He has invited us to participate with helping others know that in the midst of their brokenness, they are loved and included—just as they are. This is why community is important.
Where do we start? In the May edition of Equipper, we concluded that effective community engagement flows from the love of God expressed to us and for us by Jesus. For us to be effective, we need to love our communities as God loves them. (I refer back to the lead article in this issue: “Seeing Through God’s Eyes.”)
When we start to practice loving as God loves—meeting people where they are—that love is expressed in action. This is the example Jesus gave for us to follow. He comes along side, he stands in the middle of, and walks with us in the midst of our brokenness. He shares in our suffering, offering us encouragement and hope. This is what our participation looks like. Jesus has called us and leads us by the Spirit to enter into the brokenness of our communities, to come along side, to stand with, and to walk with his dearly loved children.
Peter of all people understood this; he experienced Jesus’ love and encouragement. He was lifted up by Jesus and given the privilege to participate with his Lord. That’s why he writes in his first epistle that we should above all else “love each other dearly,” that we should “offer hospitality to one another,” and to “use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (I Peter 4:8-10).
Let’s be praying as individuals and as congregations that our Lord will help us to love our communities as he loves them, and that we will take action and step into the middle of people’s lives as he did, with concern, care and encouragement. Look what he has done for you: experience it, live it, share it. Community.
Readings: 2 Kings 5:1-14 • Psalm 30:1-12 • Galatians 6:1-6, 7-16 • Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
This week’s theme is Our invitation to participate in restoration. The story in 2 Kings is about Namaan, who had leprosy. Namaan was told to wash in the Jordan river 7seven times (participation) and then God restored his health. The Psalm was a song of dedication to the temple they built for God—restoring relationship. Paul reminds believers in Galatia to restore one another—to do good to all. The sermon is based on Jesus sending the 72—inviting them to participate in restoring people to God.
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Introduction: Share a time you took a trip or vacation, or went on an excursion or a camping outing and then realized you did not plan or pack adequately for that event? Or a time you went to work and realized you left valuable material at home. Or you got to church and realized your sermon was sitting on your printer.
Today we will explore a story in Luke where we find Jesus sending out his disciples, but specifically telling them to not take supplies. But first, a bit behind the story.
It must have been exciting to travel with Jesus and hear his stories, watch the people listen and change, to see miracles take place almost daily, and to watch Jesus challenge the spiritual leaders of the day and call them out for their hypocrisy. You couldn’t help but believe you were part of something big—perhaps the beginning of the restoration of Israel and the downfall of the Romans.
Sure, there were dissenters wherever you went, but most of the people following Jesus wanted to follow him, they wanted to learn, they were excited to be part of this movement. Then one day Jesus calls 72 of you and tells you he is sending you on a mission trip—to visit the villages he plans to visit on his way to Jerusalem. Your adrenaline is pumping; you have been invited to participate in what he is doing. You can only imagine the excitement ahead of you, people listening and learning, people changing because you are bringing news about Jesus and the kingdom.
Jesus had just talked about the cost of following him and now he is giving you some specific instructions. We find the story in Luke 10:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:1-2)
This wasn’t a nice tour—Jesus told them right from the start that the job was bigger than them. He told them the work was going to be hard. Though they are going in groups of two, the first thing they needed to do is ask God to provide others who can help them.
Notice he was also specific about where they were to go—he sent them to every town and village he would soon visit. Their job was similar to John the Baptist’s job – prepare the people for the visit of the Messiah.
At this point your heart is filled with excitement and a bit of anxiety—”wow, this is a big job. I hope I am up to the task.”
Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. (Luke 10:3-4)
You are listening carefully, taking notes: no money, no knapsack, no sandals, greet no one—wait! What? This doesn’t make sense. Why would you send out an expedition party without the right supplies? How are you going to eat? Can’t you at least take a change of clothes? And what’s this about lambs in the midst of wolves? That sounds dangerous. Wolves eat lambs. What is he sending us to? I’ll just have to trust him—so far it’s worked out.
Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. (Luke 10:5-8)
Good, he’s not asking us to become beggars, but to go where we are invited, and to not force ourselves on anyone. I can handle this. I’ve been hungry a few times with Jesus, but never starving. He has always provided—even if it means making a feast out of a couple fish and a few loaves of bread.
Heal the sick in it and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Luke 10:9)
Yes! This is why you want to go; you want to help people. You have seen the amazing work Jesus does and you are excited to participate. Imagine if you pray and someone is healed. You are excited about being able to share the good news of the kingdom of God and watch people respond with enthusiasm. This is the exciting part of a mission trip—when you don’t think about supplies, you only think about sharing the gospel.
But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.” (Luke 10-10-11)
Not everyone will accept what you have to say. Jesus is telling you to let them know they have missed something bigger than themselves and that it is going to occur whether they believe it or not. Then just move on.
The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me. (Luke 10:16)
Without using the term, Jesus is telling you that you are his ambassadors—his direct representatives. As a disciple, you know this is high honor. Jesus is trusting you to represent him. You know that with this honor comes tremendous responsibility. You are ready to go.
Now, before we move to the last few verses of this passage, let’s talk about this a bit. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like Jesus really prepared his disciples for the trip. If it were me, I’d want food and clothes at a bare minimum. I’d rather have proper foot apparel, a proper cloak for the cold, traveler’s checks for any unknown expenses and a pre-paid uber camel ride to the next town. But I’m not Jesus, and he has reasons for why he does the things he does.
Let’s ask some questions: Why do you think Jesus gave these instructions? Why would he ask them to go without the necessary supplies?
Idea: This is a good time for some group discussion. If your congregation is larger, split them up to discuss this passage and these questions. Then share the results. If your congregation is smaller, lead the discussion and allow people to respond.
OK, let’s summarize:
These 72 disciples are going to be working hard because there aren’t enough laborers, and it’s a big job. Further, we get the sense there was a sense of urgency. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the final time and there was much to do. He said, “Go—get going—on your way.”
How similar is this to today? There is much to do and not enough laborers. Still, Jesus tells us to Go—as we are going—and to participate in sharing the gospel.
They were going to meet people who would be hostile to their efforts and were going to find themselves in situations where they would experience rejection.
Again, very similar to today. We often encounter people who are hostile to any Christian message or overture. Some of us have been rejected by family and friends. Jesus told us this would happen—we shouldn’t be too surprised when it does. We can’t let this discourage us or keep us from what we’ve been asked to do.
The 72 were drastically under-packed—you could say unprepared—and relied on others for sustenance.
Is there any among us who feels fully qualified? Are any of us fully prepared to meet the challenges we face? Do we even have the sustenance we need? On our own, obviously not! However, we do know the One who is qualified, who is preparing us, and who continually provides for us and sustains us—physically, emotionally, spiritually.
These instructions on what to pack and what to leave at home clue us into the purpose of this mission trip. Like you and me, the 72 were to represent Jesus and announce the advent of the kingdom of God. Given that purpose, they left all the unnecessary stuff at home; but I am sure they took along their faith and courage.
Let’s read the rest of the passage:
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)
The disciples returned excited and a bit surprised. “Even demons are subject to us in your name.”
Jesus’ reply likely surprised them and gave them an indication who Jesus was. “I saw Satan fall like lightning.” A flash of lightning is quick. It may be powerful, but it is over in a moment. Satan’s reign is nearly over, the kingdom of God is near. The eschatological defeat of Satan is taking place in the ministry of Jesus and his disciples.
Some have taken Jesus’ next statement out of context. When Jesus says, “See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will hurt you,” he is not telling us to handle snakes and that we are not susceptible to their venom. Some charismatic snake-handlers have found this out the hard way. Jesus’ point is that even in the face of the violence and injustice of life, evil cannot destroy the one who goes forth in Jesus’ name. The physical body can be destroyed, but our names are already written in heaven.
God has invited us to participate in what he is doing—bringing light to the world, sharing the good news of the kingdom, teaching others about Jesus, making disciples. He is giving us the opportunity to rejoice because our names are already written—now we want others to have reason to rejoice.
When we participate, God gives us many reasons to rejoice. When we share the gospel, we are telling others the blessings of knowing God—that he is real, that he is here, within the grasp of any who receive the good news.
And when he calls us to participate, we often wait because we are so focused on the preparation, making sure we have the right supplies, the right information, everything we believe we need for the journey. But Jesus tells us to go and to trust him to provide.
Here are a few things we can apply from this passage:
- Living and sharing the gospel is a communal enterprise. Go in pairs—two by two—for encouragement, accountability and safety.
- Don’t be discouraged by how big the job is—just start. As you go, ask God to provide other laborers who can also participate. Not just so your work load is lighter, but so more people can be reached and more disciples can be made.
- Know God will take care of you. Not only might he provide physical sustenance, but he will give you the words to say, the courage to say what you need to say, and the love for others that enables you to reach out and build relationships.
- Don’t get discouraged when some reject the gospel. They aren’t your problem; they are God’s problem and he will work with them in his time and in his way.
- Expect God to show up in miraculous ways. Prayers will be answered. People will respond in positive ways. Healings will occur.
- Don’t fear the evil one—he is already defeated. He has no power over those who do anything in the name of Jesus.
- Praise and worship the God who has invited you to participate in preparing the way for the kingdom and for the return of Jesus. Experience the joy of being one of God’s beloved as you share the gift of the gospel.
God has invited us to be his ambassadors. The kingdom of God is near, and you get to share the good news.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- If there was one thing you could take on this mission trip (if you were one of the 72), what would it have been?
- Share a time you forgot something you thought was essential, but it all worked out.
- Jesus told the 72, “Whenever you enter a town and its people, welcome you, eat what is set before you.” What ramifications might this statement have had considering the Jewish dietary rules? What ramifications might this have for you today?
- Should the phrase, “See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpion, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will hurt you” (v.19) be taken literally?
- Describe a mission trip experience or a time of sharing the gospel that was memorable, harrowing or enjoyable.
- In Galatians 6:9 Paul tells us to not become weary in doing good, and that we will reap a harvest. How would you relate this to the passage in Luke?
- Read Psalm 30 and share how this song relates to our being sent as representatives of God.
God has uniquely gifted you and your congregation for community involvement.
By pastor Sam Butler.
We have established in previous articles that the motivation behind community engagement is love. Love flows from God to us through Jesus Christ and now through the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, love that flows from us out into our communities.
It sounds easy, but most of us feel a disconnect between the idea and how to do this in practical ways. For many of us, we can feel uncomfortable and secondguess our ability to be successful. Part of this is because we can fall into the trap of believing it all depends on us. The key is to live in the confidence of who we are in Christ and understand how he is leading us. We know that Jesus has all power and authority to lead and that he promises us he will be with us always (Matthew 28:18-20).
What this means is through the Spirit we are permanently connected to the love and leading of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the head of the church, Jesus takes the lead and invites us to participate with him. This gives us the confidence that we are never alone. Jesus is always with us, leading us out of a full expression of his love for the community. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).
In sending us, Jesus equips us to participate with him. What does this equipping look like? It starts with our personal identity—who we are in Christ. Christ equips you through nurture, nature and spiritual gifts.
Think this through: What makes us who we are? Several things come to mind. Family genetics certainly plays a role. Then each of us has a unique personality. Add to this the entirety of our life’s experiences, and we see that each one of us is molded and shaped into a unique individual—and that is good. Each of us has something of value to offer.
This is a large part of Jesus’ equipping process and we need to trust it. He created you the way you are, he knows what he is doing, and he doesn’t make junk. Even the negative experiences in our lives can be used for the good of the gospel when we are led by the Spirit. But we aren’t done. The final piece includes the gifts God gives us through the Holy Spirit. All of this is given to us to share with others. All of this is useful in reaching out to our communities.
Another way of saying this is that in Christ we are indispensable. (Read Randy Bloom’s article in the May Equipper for a fuller explanation on understanding your and your congregation’s gifting). We need to see ourselves as Jesus sees us. We are created in the image of God, created for an eternal purpose. We are junior partners with Jesus, uniquely equipped to participate with him in the greatest work on earth. Be who God created you to be—don’t try to be someone you are not. When you work outside of your unique identity, you are not working to your fullest capacity and you are not enjoying the journey. Work out of your unique relationship with Christ, one that is energized by his love for you.
Motivated by the love of God in you and your personal equipping by Jesus, let’s look at a few ways that you can engage with your community with the gospel in mind.
- Continue to build relationships with people you already know. God has already placed people in your life—start there.
- Be intentional about building new relationships. Look for opportunities to share life with others. Be attentive to what others may be going through.
- Look for areas of need that you are equipped to help. You aren’t equipped to fill all needs, so pay attention to the areas that fit your giftedness.
- Invite other members to participate with you as you get involved. It’s always easier to serve in community.
- Make your church identity a part of who you are. You aren’t serving for you—you are serving and sharing and reaching out in relationship with Jesus, for the body of Christ.
- Look for ways to engage your church in what you are doing. Let the congregation’s light shine.
As we interact within our community it is important for us to remember that our priority is the gospel. Always keep this in the forefront; otherwise we can simply become a service organization doing good works.
Paul reminds us that love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). God’s love is in us and his love ensures the victory. We need to be confident of who we are in Christ, confident in our participation, and confident that God’s love in us will motivate us and encourage us as we actively reach out to engage God’s dearly loved children in our communities.
Several years ago, I had two individuals in one of my congregations who monopolized my time. Every week they came up to me sharing their woes, asking for advice and just wanting to talk—about anything. There were several occasions when I missed other important conversations because one of these individuals was bending my ear.
I’m ashamed to admit I got to the point where I tried to avoid these encounters. I even had others run interference for me. I’ll never forget the one Sunday I was driving home, and I told my wife it was a great day at church, I didn’t have to talk to either one of these individuals. She just looked at me and smiled—you know, one of those smiles that lets you know she’s about to say something you don’t really want to hear. I can’t recall exactly what she said, but it was one of those moments when the Holy Spirit talks to you and sounds just like your wife.
I spent time in prayer that week asking God to help me see those two individuals through his eyes. The first thing he reminded me was both of these people were as precious to him as I was. I needed to focus on who they were—beloved children of God—rather than on their behavior or how much of my time they took.
A few weeks later as I walked into church and saw one of these individuals, I saw something I’d never noticed before. I saw hurt, and fear, and an incredible desire to be acknowledged and heard. Rather than look for an escape, I looked this person in the eye and said, “Tell me about your week.” Then I listened. I didn’t try to fix anything, I simply listened. Later that same Sunday I had a chance to interact with the other person in the same way.
For a few weeks I sought them out to see how they were doing. I showed them I was interested and that I cared. When I saw them from God’s perspective, I wasn’t thinking about my time, or my desires—I was focused on them—the hurt and rejection they had experienced for a long time. They simply wanted to belong and be accepted.
Within weeks, they were no longer monopolizing my time. They still came up to me, but it was often for just a few minutes to share something that had happened. I was amazed at the transformation, which began when I started treating them like they mattered—which they do.
I’ve carried that lesson and I’ve shared it a number of times. It’s helped me in relationships in church, and in relationships in the community. This is part of the Love Venue found in healthy churches.
A big part of the Love Venue is reaching out to our communities and sharing God’s love with others. This can be intimidating, but I believe one of the best things to pray as we prepare to reach out or walk through our church community is to ask God to help us see people the way he does. Ask him to help you recognize they are his beloved children—some of whom don’t yet know they have a Father who loves them. Ask God to help you notice things, hear things, and open up when opportunities arise. Ask him to help you treat others as his children—because that’s who they are. Ask him to help you not look at others as being lost in the sense of not belonging, but more as those who don’t realize they do belong.
Ask God to help you love your community and the people in it. It’s easy to say we love the community, but communities are made of people. We should be asking God to help us love the people. And there again, it’s easy to love people from a distance; we should be asking God to help us find ways to love them in relationship. When you are in relationship you can see people the way God sees them. This takes time.
So how do we start? Walk the neighborhood around your church and keep praying as you do.
As you are walking and praying, be observant. Don’t just notice someone is present, look at them. Smile. Say hello. If they ask what you are up to, tell them you are walking the neighborhood because you want to become more familiar with it. If they ask, tell them you are with a church who wants to serve the neighborhood and the best way to serve is to get to know the people.
Over time, some will come out and start chatting. As they do, focus the chats on getting to know them. Be interested in them. Ask about their job, their family, the things they like about the neighborhood. Don’t throw your stories in unless they ask. Show interest in their story.
People desire affirmation and acceptance. They desire to be seen and heard. They desire to belong. These are the needs we help fill when we share God’s love and life with them. This is the Love Venue.
Still learning to see through his eyes,
Rick Shallenberger, Editor
Readings: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 • 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 • Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 • Psalm 16:1-11 • Galatians 5:1, 13-25 • Luke 9:51-62
This week’s theme is Letting the Spirit Lead. The passages in 1 King and 2 King remind us of Elisha’s calling. He asked for a double portion of the Spirit to guide him. The Psalmist reminds us how the Spirit led Israel out of Egypt and that everything we have is because of God. Paul reminded the church in Galatia they were free—Christ had set them free. The sermon, from the Gospel of Luke, talks about Jesus, who followed the lead of the Spirit throughout his life.
Luke 9:51-62 (NIV)
We recommend you have the two passages from 1 Kings and 2 Kings read as part of the worship music and readings, and then begin this sermon by reading—or having someone read—Luke 9:51-62.
Introduction: The story in Luke 9:51-62 is often used as a warning for believers: Have you counted the cost of discipleship? Have you taken up your plow and then desired to look back? If so, you are unfit (disqualified) for service in the kingdom. If you are concerned about where you are going to sleep at night, you aren’t dedicated enough and in danger of being disqualified. If you are overly concerned about taking care of your family, you aren’t focused enough on Jesus. Your job is to keep plowing ahead—keep moving forward if you ever want to be fit for the kingdom of God.
It’s almost as if the passage is more of a warning on how to lose out on the kingdom than how to enter.
In other words, if we believe this passage’s sole purpose is to talk about the cost of our discipleship and what it takes to follow Jesus, we can get easily discouraged. The passage will leave us with such a radical calling that no reasonable person could expect to qualify. So, let’s start by asking a couple questions:
- What is the author’s purpose in writing his Gospel?
- Who is this passage about?
The answer to the first question leads to the answer to the second question. Luke’s goal was to write a summary of Jesus’ life. His purpose was so that Theophilus would know the certainty of what he had been taught—that he would have an accurate account of the Jesus’ earthly ministry. Theophilus may have been a converted Gentile, but many biblical scholars believe the name Theophilus—which means one who loves God—was used because it refers to the Christian community in general.
So, we know Luke’s purpose was to give an accurate account of Jesus’ ministry, and this passage is also about him.
Note the beginning of today’s passage:
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
So rather than the passage being about our radical commitment to the kingdom, we see a radical commitment of Jesus to establish the kingdom of God and our salvation. This is what we will focus on today.
This passage in Luke’s Gospel is the beginning of what is often referred to as the “Travel Narrative,” which runs from Luke 9:51 to Luke 19:47. This narrative is the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. Luke lets us know that Jesus has set out “resolutely” to accomplish his mission of salvation through his death, resurrection and ascension.
Jesus redefines roles
And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them (Luke 9:51-55).
Luke also uses this picture of setting out for Jerusalem to connect Jesus with Ezekiel 21:7-8, establishing him in the role of a prophet. This theme of Jesus as the prophet gets carried out in several references going back to Elijah and Moses. One such reference is found when the Samaritans reject Jesus, and the disciples, James and John, ask if they can call down fire to destroy them like Elijah did with his enemies. We find that Jesus’ resolution is firmly grounded in grace and not in retaliation. He rebukes them for their suggestion. Jesus is establishing that he will redefine the role of prophet.
Notice Jesus chose to deploy messengers to go ahead “to get things ready for him.” This is an example of God’s grace—including others in what he is doing. The overzealous disciples on the other hand wanted to “call fire down from heaven to destroy” those that were not welcoming to Jesus.
Notice this amazing contrast between Jesus and his followers. Jesus wants to deploy where his followers want to destroy. James and John were not set on the same goal as Jesus.
Then he and his disciples went to another village (Luke 9:56).
Jesus, in his grace, uses their continuing journey “to another village” to give them some observable teaching on what it means to be a disciple.
Let’s stop a moment and think of the lesson here. Jesus was and is a prophet of grace. However, many followers don’t practice a lot of grace.
Too often we are tempted to call down fire on anyone who is unwelcoming to what we think is progress. We want to call down fire on those who don’t believe like we do, who aren’t as good a follower as we believe we are. We start to believe all followers need to be traveling in the same direction as we do, in the way we follow Jesus.
But Jesus is not looking to “burn” anyone on the way to his goal. His aim is to save everyone at the end of his journey. As we follow him, we must be careful not to step on others in our journey with the Lord. If we do, it’s a clear sign we are not following in his footsteps. Secular notions of success will tell us to win at all cost. The end justifies the means. If you need to burn a person to reach a crowd… go for it!
Not so, says Jesus. He gives a strong rebuke for succumbing to this mindset, regardless of any precedent that may have been set. Jesus is the redefined prophet who redefines his followers.
The church can stand as a witness to this gracious prophet who has set out “resolutely” to the cross of grace. As believers, we do not have to play by the rules of this world. We belong to another kingdom, a kingdom of grace whose prophet is returning to establish his rule in all the world. This is the good news we can proclaim every time we choose to deploy rather than destroy.
The story continues:
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 19:57-62).
After his rebuke of James and John, we see the story take a form similar to the calling of Elisha when he was called to follow Elijah. There is a three-fold vow in both stories of following their master. Jesus’ response to each vow illustrates the radical calling required to follow Jesus. The two requests to “go and bury my father” and “say goodbye to my family” would have been reasonable and expected requests to make before signing on to a life of following a prophet. But both requests come up short for radically following Jesus.
Jesus redefines discipleship
The last request has the added punch of reminding Luke’s reader of the calling of Elisha. When Elijah called Elisha to follow him, Elisha was plowing a field. Elisha asked if he could first go and say goodbye to his family. Elijah permits him to do so. But Jesus in this role does not permit it and responds by using the image of plowing as a picture of discipleship when he says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Sounds ominous if we believe this is directed just toward us, but this passage is not about us. This passage is about Jesus—who resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Nothing was going to stop him from going where the Father was leading him. He would not allow anything to turn him aside from his goal—regardless of what it was. When we see that Jesus is the central focus of this passage, we can see this is good news for us. He is fully committed—he is the one who puts his hand to the plow as he goes “resolutely” to Jerusalem. Jesus is the radical prophet who does not turn back. He is the one who is “fit for service in the kingdom of God.” And he proved it.
Jesus goes all the way to the cross, walking in grace to a place where he saves us by that same grace. The radically redefined role of prophet and follower has been accomplished in the resolute will of God to save us.
We will never be fit for service in the kingdom on our own works or merits. But we’ve been invited to participate with the one who is fit—Jesus Christ. He encourages us to keep our eyes on him—put your hand on his as he plows the fields that are ripe for harvest. Jesus is the plow; he is the kingdom; he is the way forward. Your salvation is his will.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- Compare and contrast the approach to Jerusalem between Jesus and his disciples. What stands out to you?
- Can you see ways where we “burn” people in our efforts of following Jesus? What is the root problem with this disconnect?
- What secular notions of success get in the way of following Jesus in his grace?
- Discuss how seeing Jesus as the one who “puts a hand to the plow” is good news for us.
- Look at the passages in 1 Kings and 2 Kings and discuss the differences between Elisha and those who told Jesus they wanted to follow him.