Who Are We Dealing With? – 11.01.2020

[read Luke 9]

Who we are dealing with, determines how we respond to them. Once upon a time there was an honest man, driving in his car. He was being tailgated by a very stressed-out angry woman on a busy road. Suddenly the light turns yellow, just in front of him. He does the honest thing, and stops at the crosswalk, even though he probably could have beat the red light by accelerating through the intersection. The tailgating woman was furious. She hit the roof, laid on the horn, screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection with him. She’s screaming and cursing, waving the New York peace sign minus one, right? As she is still in mid-rant, she hears a tap on her window and looks over at the face of very serious police officer. The officer orders her to exit the car with her hands up. He takes her to the police station where she is searched, fingerprinted, photographed and placed in a jail cell. After a couple hours, a policeman approaches the cell and opens the door. She is escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer is waiting with her personal effects. He says, “I’m very sorry for this mistake, Ma’am. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping the guy off and cussing a blue streak at him. And then I noticed the “choose Life” bumper sticker, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car.”  [pause]

Today is the start of a brand new sermon series. Well actually, we are returning to the book of Luke to continue our series Journey With Jesus. Every other month we are taking some time to walk with Jesus through the book of Luke. We return for chapters nine through twelve, in a series called “A Look In the Mirror.”  These stories are about Jesus, but something about the presence of God has a habit of making us reflect on who we are. As we learn more and more about Jesus, what we will discover is that discovering who we are dealing with determines how we will respond to him. What we are going to see today is a series of quick stories about Jesus, and then the way that different people responded to him – but the bigger story at play is how we are confronted with the person of Jesus, confronted the reality of who and what he is and the way each of us responds. Let’s take a look.

          Now chapter nine is a massive chapter, you might notice a trend – Luke tends to write big chapters. And what we find in this chapter is a certain rhythm. It goes like this – amazing thing happens, then people wonder who Jesus is. Another amazing thing happens, people wonder who Jesus is. It happens like five times in this chapter. It starts out, [read v.1-2]. Jesus sends his disciples out into the world to do two things – proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. Verse 6, [read it]. From the very beginning of this chapter, I want you to see what Jesus does here. Jesus sets out to do two things for the people in his community – he meets their physical needs, and he meets their spiritual needs. He heals people, physical needs, and tell them about the kingdom of God, spiritual need. And maybe it doesn’t strike you as that big of a deal, but it caught the attention of a local king – King Herod. He was more like a governor, and he starts trying to puzzle out – who is this Jesus guy. [read v.7-8]. People don’t really know what to make of Jesus, so they are just sort of speculating wildly. [read v.9]. Some folks said, “maybe it’s John the Baptist, and Herod’s sitting there thinking, “no… I cut that guy’s head off, pretty sure he’s gone… so who is this guy?” Amazing thing number one: Jesus sends his disciples out to heal and proclaim the kingdom of God, then Herod wonders about Jesus.

Amazing thing number two, verses ten through seventeen – Jesus feeds the 5,000. It’s a pretty familiar story, Jesus is preaching to a massive crowd of 5,000 people. Disciples are worried about how to feed everyone, so Jesus takes the tiny bit of food that they do have – five loaves of bread and 2 fish – and miraculously multiplies the food to feed EVERYONE until they are full. Then, on top of the normal miracle, we see that when they gather up the leftovers there’s 12 baskets of full. Feeding 5,000 people is impressive, but they end up with more than they started with. It’s amazing, but that’s what God can do. So after this amazing thing, people wonder about who Jesus is. This time it’s the disciples, [read v.18-20]. First he’s a provider of physical and spiritual needs, now he’s labeled as the messiah.

Then we take a break from doing amazing things for Jesus to tell us what it takes to follow him. First he predicts his death, and then he says, [read v.23-25].  Deny yourself. Take up your cross and Follow Jesus. Which, in this chapter, following Jesus seems to mean two things: proclaim the kingdom of God (tell people about Jesus) and meet their physical needs. But he pushes it farther than that. He says, if you try to live for yourself, focused on you, living to save your life – you’ll lose it. It’s like we talked about last week – living with a closed hand. God cannot use your life if you’re all focused on yourself. But if you lose your life for God, you save your life. Basically Jesus says, “if you want to follow me, you have to give up every single thing that this world has to offer.” Oh, is that all? And I think a lot of people hear that, and we think about Jesus and we come to the conclusion – eh, that’s a bit rich. It’s too much. I mean, right? I’ll give Jesus an hour on Sunday morning, maybe a couple bucks in the plate – makes me feel good, but he can’t have my entire life! My life needs to be about me. I should be living for what makes me happy. If we’re being totally honest, Jesus says, “this is what it takes to follow me” and most of us reply – yeah, no thanks. You ask for too much.

Then another amazing thing happens, and people wonder about who Jesus is. Except this time the amazing thing that happens isn’t a silly magicians trick like multiplying food, or healing sick people. Amazing thing number 3? We call it the transfiguration. Check this out, [read v.28-31]. His face changes, his clothes become dazzling, he appears in glory – and he’s talking to dead guys. Peter’s just blown away by all this, and he’s like, this is amazing, let’s build a house right here and stay here forever. [read v.34-35]. Amazing thing happens, and then God himself tells us about who Jesus is. God tells us two things. First, this is my son. Jesus is God’s son. And this is not like, “hey we’re all children of God.” No, Jesus is the same essence as God. He and God are the same level, co-eternal. Jesus is the literal presence of God. First God says this is my son, and the second thing he says is “LISTEN TO HIM.” It’s like God’s snapping his fingers, seriously pay attention to this guy, he’s my son. So… what was the last thing Jesus said? Basically the last thing Jesus said was, “give up your entire life to follow me.”

Then in the next ten verses ANOTHER amazing thing happens. For those keeping track we’re onto amazing thing number 4, where Jesus heals a boy who is possessed by a demon. Other people tried, but they couldn’t do it – so Jesus steps up and heals this kid. Verse 43, people respond to these amazing things that Jesus does, it says, [read it]. Notice the phrasing. They were astounded, not at the greatness of Jesus, but at the greatness of God – even though Jesus is the one who did it – because Jesus is the son of God, the same essence as the father.

Jesus returns to teaching people, “here’s what it takes to follow me.” He talks about what true greatness looks like, how we treat enemies, and how we have to give up everything to follow him. But do you see the trend? Do you feel the rhythm of the chapter? Amazing thing – people wonder about Jesus. Another amazing thing – people wonder some more about Jesus. Then Jesus teaches “here’s what it takes to follow me.” And repeat.

The final few verses of the chapter are just like the bit back in verse 23 where Jesus says, “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me”- it’s a teaching we don’t want to hear. Listen to this, [read v.57-62]. It’s funny, I’ve heard people say, “God would never call me to do anything my family doesn’t like.” Yet here Jesus is saying exactly that. No, you don’t have time to go home and bury your father. No, don’t go home and say goodbye to your family. Before Jesus said, “get ready to lose your life.” Here he is giving practical examples. To give up everything to follow Jesus means, we have to be ready to give up EVERYTHING to follow Jesus. See, here’s the problem – I think, in America, we try to have both. We read this passage, and because of our culture, the freedom of religion and the fact that so many families already worship Jesus – we can’t imagine those things being at conflict with serving Jesus. In the first world we are not well versed in struggle, we are inexperienced in sacrifice. We don’t know how to suffer. There are places in the world right now – where being Christian is illegal. Places where if a child becomes a Christian, their family will literally kick them out of the house. To follow Jesus means you will lose your job, and everyone in your life will hate you. And some of us, because we are so used to the comfort and support of the first world – some of us find ourselves thinking, “well, maybe you shouldn’t follow Jesus. Doesn’t sound like that’s what’s best for you.” And that thought is revealing. It exposes and betrays our heart. It shows our lack of understanding for how much every single person on the planet needs Jesus no matter what it means for the rest of their life. Jesus is saying, if you want to be my follower – you need to be ready to lose everything for me. And we need to start taking that sentence seriously.

          Who we are dealing with determines how we respond to him. First we realize who Jesus is and then we respond. The good news this morning is who Jesus is. This chapter of Luke, like all the chapters, shows us who this guy is. Jesus caught the attention of Herod, because he was a new king. Jesus caught the attention of the disciples, because they could see that he was the messiah. Jesus caught the attention of God himself, because he is God’s son, the chosen one. The crowds noticed him because he was a healer, a protector of children, humble and forgiving. Jesus is the real deal, worthy of following. Jesus is the divine son of God, worthy of giving your entire life up for.

          See, here’s what I’m trying to say today. Who we are dealing with determines how we respond to him. And so many of us – we act like Jesus was nothing more than a nice teacher who had a couple of good ideas. We live our faith in a way that is comfortable and convenient for us. Across this country Christians have slipped into a consumeristic apathy. We have fallen asleep as a church – and I think the heart of the problem is that we do not really believe in who Jesus was. We do not believe Jesus deserves our entire life. I look at this passage, Amazing things happen, and then Jesus puts it out there – this is what you have to do to follow me. Deny yourself, take up your cross, follow me – and I say it’s crazy, and everybody nods their head, because to us in our comfortable sanctuary it sounds crazy! Who does this guy think he is? He thinks he’s more important than my family? He thinks he’s more important burying my father, more important than my happiness? The things that I want to do with my life? Notice how Jesus phrased the question to his followers, in verse 20, [read it]. Jesus did not ask “who am I?” Jesus asked, “who do YOU SAY I am?” Because how we view Jesus will determine whether we take him seriously or not. Whether we will follow him no matter the cost, or whether we will stay luke-warm and live a faith that is comfortable for us – rather than transforming for the world. So ask yourself – who do you say Jesus is? A nice teacher? A prophet? A great guy? Or the divine son of the all powerful creator of the universe. Because this next part will depend completely on your answer to that question.

          There are three parts to the application for this sermon today – but you’re not going to like it. Because the application today is just the call of Jesus in verse 23, hear the words again, [read v.23]. And I guarantee you that you will ignore those words from Jesus unless you take the time to recognize exactly who and what Jesus really is. First we realize who Jesus is, and then we respond. Number 1 – deny yourself. If you want to be a follower of Jesus, the first thing we do is deny ourselves. Which is the exact opposite of what American culture teaches us. Deny yourself. Jesus is not trying to earn your vote here. He’s not sugar-coating it, or asking pretty please. Because of who he is, he can ask anything from us – and so he asks us to deny ourselves. What could that look like in your life? Maybe you deny yourself a vacation, so you can donate that money to a struggling family to pay rent. Maybe you deny yourself an extra day on the golf course, so you can volunteer in your community. Maybe you deny yourself an evening of watching TV, which is what you want to do, so that you can visit with someone in the hospital, or spend an evening writing cards and making phones calls. Jesus says the first thing we have to do is deny yourself.

          Deny yourself, and then number 2: take up your cross. Remember, in Jesus’ world the cross is a symbol of death. The only people “taking up their cross” were criminals on their way to die. So when Jesus says take up your cross DAILY – he’s saying be prepared to give up your entire life. Every day you wake up is a gift from God, Every day is a new chance to serve him and to spread some light against the dark. It’s the most important thing we do, all the way to death – and we need that daily reminder. I threw out a question on twitter – “what does “take up your cross” mean to you?” And a buddy of mine responded with a quote from a book. Guy named Greg Ogden wrote, “a criminal picked up his cross only after receiving a death sentence. When a criminal carried his cross through the streets, for all practical purposes he was a dead man. His life had ended. A man on his way to public crucifixion “Was compelled to abandon all earthly hopes and ambitions.” Jesus calls his follows to think of ourselves as already dead, to bury all our earthly hopes and dreams, to bury the plans and agendas we made for ourselves. He will either resurrect our dreams or replace them with dreams and plans of his own.” Whew.

          First, deny yourself. Then second, consider yourself dead to the world. Let go of all the world’s stuff in order to serve Jesus. Take up your cross daily. And it’s insane. That’s crazy talk, what Jesus is asking us to do – it’s too much – but Jesus says this is how you follow me. And please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not a very good example of this either. I’m not trying to say that I’m super good at this, and you all need to get better at denying yourself, or anything like that. I’m right there with you, I was raised in this country too. We have so many wonderful comforts, but the really hard truth that we are grappling with this morning is that none of those comforts are worth losing your soul. None of those comforts are worth not following Jesus. Because of who Jesus is, when he demands our entire life – it is worth it to give up your entire life.

          Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and the last piece – follow me. Let go of all that stuff in the world, so we can focus on following Jesus. Based on this chapter it seems to me that when Jesus says follow me – what he’s talking about is caring for people’s spiritual and physical well-being. That’s the primary thing Jesus seemed to concern himself with. Following Jesus means that we do what Jesus did. Care for people’s spiritual and physical well-being. Live your entire life built on the foundation of pouring into other people. We gotta care for people’s physical needs – which is a lot easier if you’re denying yourself. Instead of a designer coffee everyday – you could help someone pay for their groceries. Instead of viewing retirement as one big never ending vacation, you could see it as freedom to work on building the kingdom of God without the distraction of gainful employment. Care for people’s physical needs. And care for their spiritual needs! Jesus send the disciples out to heal people, but also to tell them about the kingdom of God. And right now? In 2020? It’s a great time to deny yourself and care for people’s spiritual needs. Maybe they have all their physical needs covered, but they need a friend. Someone to talk to, someone to listen to them. If their not Christian, maybe they need someone to share with them the hope that comes from Jesus. Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus.

          Who we are dealing with, determines how we respond to them. If Jesus is just some guy – a nice teacher, maybe a prophet, miracle healer – then the stuff he is asking from us is way out of line. It’s too much. But if Jesus is actually the divine son of the almighty God, Lord of us all and savior to the entire world – for him to ask us for everything is very reasonable. So my final challenge to all of you this morning, as we begin this series called “A look in the mirror” – I want you to ask yourself. Who is Jesus to you? Who do you say Jesus is? Because your answer will determine how you react to what he’s asking of you today. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you deny yourself. May you find ways to take up your cross and abandon the stuff of the world every single day. And finally, may you follow Jesus – by caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the people around you. Amen.

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