The Heart of an
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 and they went to another village. 57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." 58 Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." 59 He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 60 Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 61 Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." 62 Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
Grace, peace and mercy from God the Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen!
When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set his face to go to Jerusalem. Quite literally Jesus set His eyes, His stare, His glaze, His focus on Jerusalem. That’s how our text begins. This is no ordinary trip; this is an epic journey that will lead Him to the cross. Jesus is on the way to His death but He doesn’t stop caring and He doesn’t stop reaching out. He sends His disciples ahead to prepare the people for His arrival so that they might hear, and by hearing believe and by believing be saved. But one village would have nothing to do with Him. They sent the disciples away rejecting God’s gift of grace and salvation. This doesn’t mean the villagers locked the gates and brandished arms. It could have been that they were just so busy with personal chores that they just didn’t have the time to worry about their eternal welfare, or maybe the home town team had reached the playoffs. May be the village was full of coffee shop intellectuals who had philosophized themselves out of believing in God. We simply don’t know why they didn’t want the Lord of Life to save them, but they didn’t.
James and John had their own plan for this tough-to-evangelize group: “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” If they weren’t going to believe in the Lord of life, then James and John figured was best to hasten their death and judgment. Why allow some unbelievers to slow their evangelism efforts. But, Jesus rebuked them: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” Jesus wasn’t a bloodthirsty tyrant, forcing people to convert or die. He was there to give them life. He was there to give them faith and salvation. He was there to set free and not to enslave them. He was there to forgive them. The disciples were never to force someone to follow Jesus. Rather, they were to speak His Word—His life-giving Gospel. The Holy Spirit would take things from there. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ”.
As the journey continued, others approached Jesus, but they had different problems. They wanted to follow Jesus, as long as Jesus fit into their lives. We hear of three in our text. The first wanted to follow Jesus convinced Jesus was going to grow in prestige and popularity. He wanted to be a part of the power group. So Jesus made it clear that to follow Him was not to go to a palace but to the throne of His cross. The second spoke of burying his father, a way of saying that he would follow Jesus as long as the Lord was willing to wait. In effect He was saying as long as Jesus accepted second place to his dad. Jesus told him this was improper, because it made his family into a god. The man’s father wasn’t on the journey to Jerusalem to die for his sins, but Jesus was - For that man and for his father and for you and me. Like the second, the third wanted to put his household above Jesus; so Jesus issued much the same warning as the previous one: if the man put his family before Jesus, all would be lost. On the other hand, if he trusted in Jesus, he could follow the Savior—and even stay with his family while doing so. And so the journey to Jerusalem continued. We don’t know how each of these men responded to Jesus—we don’t know if they walked away or heeded His words. But we have enough information to make some important applications for today.
Welcome to the world of evangelism—of telling people the Good News of the cross; that Jesus died for them. As Christians, you and I have the great privilege and honor of speaking the Gospel to everyone. We’re set free from sin to do so; and as people hear about Jesus, the Holy Spirit is at work giving them forgiveness, life and salvation. It’s the Lord who does the saving, by the means of His Word. You and I are just the mouths. We’re just tools in the hands of our Lord. He’s the One who does the work of saving, and of calling people to follow Him by His gift of faith and grace.
Our text highlights two great temptations when it comes to evangelism. The first is illustrated by the Samaritan village. The lesson is this: you cannot make anyone believe. It’s only given you to tell about Jesus—you have the privilege and joy of planting seeds, but the Lord does the harvesting. This means that you can’t argue someone into believing. You can’t persuade someone into believing. You can’t convert anyone by being culturally-hip enough. The Holy Spirit does the saving, when and where He pleases. You and I simply have the pleasure of saying what Jesus has done and not what we’ve done. We testify to His cross, because there’s no greater gift than eternal life, why wouldn’t we want to share it?
This is a dangerous temptation today. Many pound their pulpits and say that the church must adopt new methods of evangelism if the people around them don’t believe. But what if that congregation has been placed for the moment in the Samaritan village of our text? When those people rejected Jesus’ messengers, He didn’t tell the disciples that they had failed or that they must become more Samaritan-like. He told them to be faithful to the Son of Man who came to save. So, dear friends, be faithful. Trust that it is the Lord who does the saving by His Word, and rejoice that He does so. Repent of believing that you can convert people by your own efforts and your own testimony and continue to proclaim His Word, testify of Jesus and His cross. Repent of being tired of being faithful, and rejoice in the Lord’s faithfulness to you.
In addition, repent of your failures to learn to know and speak His Word. Too often, we fail to speak when the opportunity arises. That silence is the work of our sinful flesh that desires death. Show the hospitality that befits Christians: if you see someone here that you don’t know, introduce yourself. You may gain the friendship of a member you didn’t know. You may be the first to meet a future member, if the Lord wills. But always remember—the Word does the work.
The second temptation accompanies the first, and is illustrated by the three would be followers. Following Jesus means following His Word—both His Law and Gospel. The three wanted to follow Jesus, as long as He allowed their revisions. This is a dangerous temptation when it comes to evangelism, for many maintain that we must allow this or that sin, give up this or that doctrine, or modify our worship in order to bring people into the Church. Our epistle had a long list of sins that remain popular especially today, including sins of immorality, selfish ambitions, grudges, false teachings, rivalries and many more. St. Paul doesn’t say, “You can still have these, as long as you believe in Jesus.” No, he says, “those who practice such things will not enter the kingdom of God.”
Dear brothers and sisters, this is a great danger today. Let me give you an example: it’s all too common for a couple to engage in sex outside of marriage and to believe that it doesn’t affect their faith. It does—it destroys it. But it’s easy to find a congregation that has abandoned God’s Word and approves of such, so they don’t know that they’ve died. Furthermore, they endangered the faith of their parents; who, rather than say, “My child has left the Lord,” will be severely tempted to say, “This immorality is okay with Jesus, and I won’t put up with a pastor or church that says otherwise.” Thus generations are lost. Furthermore, the trouble will only grow. In Europe or Canada already, pastors are persecuted—by their churches and government—for preaching against immorality. It’s okay to talk about Jesus, as long as you don’t condemn sin. This is another way of saying, “It’s okay to talk about freedom, as long as you’re not free.”
But we come back to Jesus’ words: “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them.” These sins destroy lives forever—that’s why we speak against them. That’s why we repent when we fail to lovingly warn of such sins. And that’s why, finally, you return to this news of the Son of Man. Jesus completed the journey to Jerusalem and went to the cross, for that’s why He came. Even now the Son of Man comes to save you. He visits you by His Word, renewing your Baptism and cleansing you of all your sin. He gives you His body and blood this day, to strengthen your faith, to give you salvation. To hold you close once again and declare that no matter what your eyes see, you are His because He has brought you to Himself.
Whatever your eyes see, you are His (T). In matters of evangelism and all else, treasure that news. The devil will do his best to discourage you, but you have God’s Word that He will save all who will believe in Him. He will not forget even one. He will not forget you, for the Son of Man came to save you and declares it to you today: for you are His child, and are forgiven for all of your sins, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. In Jesus name, amen and amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, AMEN! Please rise for the offertory!