The Cost – 01.17.2021 [Luke 14]

When John Wesley was alive, back in the 1700’s, there was another preacher named George Whitefield. Sometimes people argue about who was the better, more famous preacher – apparently George Whitefield was amazing. Now John Wesley and George disagreed on some theological matters, but George was always careful not to create problems in public that could be used to hurt the preaching of the gospel. Even still, over time people found out about their disagreements. One time, somebody asked George, “do you think you will see Wesley in heaven?” And Whitfield replied, “I fear not, for he [John] will be so near the eternal throne and we [will be] at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him.”[1] This guy you disagree with? You think you’ll see him in heaven? Probably not, because he’ll be way closer to Jesus at the table of the heavenly feast. Today is part two of our sermon series called “Counting the Cost” – we are working our way through the book of Luke and we are up to chapter 14. Today’s scripture is all about how radical humility can transform our lives. Let’s dive in
            Now right off the bat, we get a story that is almost identical to what we heard last week. Listen to this, [read v.1-3]. So Jesus is going to dinner at this guys house – and it happens to be the Sabbath. And again – for the third time in this ministry – Jesus comes across a person who needs healing on the sabbath. And because these Pharisees are being a bit obtuse, and they’re taking forever to get the point – he rephrases the question. [read v.4-6]. Jesus asks them, would you pull a kid out of a well on the sabbath? And Verse six, “they could not reply to this.” Are you kidding me? Sorry Timmy, we’ll be back on Monday. Hope you’ve got strong legs to tread water. What? This opening paragraph reveals the problem in their hearts. You see Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law, but they’ve forgotten the purpose of the law.
            Anyways, so that happens on the way to dinner, and so then Jesus and his host arrive at the dinner and it says, [read v.7-11]. So apparently, in this culture, where you sit matters a great deal. The closer you are to the head of the table, the more honor bestowed on you. And so Jesus is giving them some advice on how to not embarrass yourself. Basically, what Jesus is saying – is that if you spend your life trying to glorify yourself. You spend your life trying to get richer, and more famous, and more likes and followers on social media – if you exalt yourself, you will be humbled. But if you spend your life humbling yourself, lifting up other people – in heaven, you will be exalted. Then he makes it super practical in the next verse, [read v.12-14]. In our lives, Christians are taught that we should do good things for people who cannot repay us. We will not reap a reward in this life for the things we do, but we will be repaid in heaven.

But do you see what Jesus is doing? This is very clever. Listen to the picture of the kingdom of God. A banquet where there are the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. The margins of society. Those who have been cast out, hated, pushed down by the world – they will be honored guests at the banquet. The picture Jesus is giving us of heaven looks a lot less like a church service, and a lot more like a soup kitchen. You see, what I want you to realize today is that the Christian teaching for encouraging humility in each of us is God’s method for taking care of the margins of the world. Have you ever seen something pathetic? Like, something on tv or the news or a movie – and it’s so sad, and depressing what is happening to those people? Sometimes when we look at the darkest corners of society, we are horrified. And sometimes, in our hearts we cry out – “God, why don’t you do something about that?” And what I want you to see here is that God DID do something. He made you. He made each and every one of us, and then teaches us humility. He teaches us to take care of the margins. The poor, the desperate, the broken. Don’t exalt yourself, don’t only do things that benefit you. Do good for people who cannot pay you back. If every Christian in the world took that teaching seriously, there wouldn’t BE margins anymore.

And then, while sitting at dinner in the Pharisees house, Jesus tells a parable about a dinner. He tells a story about a great dinner party, and he invites all these guests. And each guest comes back with an excuse why they can’t come to the banquet. And each excuse is ridiculous. One guy says, “I bought some land, and I got to go look at it” – but nobody buys land without looking at it. Another guy says, “I bought some oxen, and I have to try them out” – and again, nobody does that. And even if they do, they could wait until after the party. The people listening to Jesus would know – these excuses are pathetic. And so then [read v.21]. So the host fills the banquet with the poor, the blind, the crippled and the lame. It’s the exact same list of people from before. Jesus is really trying to drive home this idea of bringing in the margins, bringing in people who are normally excluded. Then the master fills up the table with anybody and everybody else – except his invited guests. He says, [read v.24]. The message of the parable is very clear: God is doing a great thing in this world, but if we make excuses – we will be left out. This parable is designed to remove our excuses. We have been invited by God to do his work, and all the excuses – when you really hold them up – they’re hollow and empty. God is bringing the kingdom of heaven into this world, but if we make excuses we will be left out.

Now, you might be thinking – why would anybody make excuses? If God’s work is bringing the margins of society to the table – helping the poorest and the lowest – why would anybody make excuses? Doesn’t everyone want to be a part of that? Doesn’t everyone want the world to be better? I’ve seen what God is doing in the world, and I definitely want to be a part of that – who would want to miss out on a banquet? Well, hang in there.. [read v.26-27]. Whew, harsh words – but they are not new to us. We heard them, back in chapter 9, and again in chapter 12, and now here in chapter 14. Over and over in his ministry Jesus calls us to be ready to give up EVERYTHING in our life to other people. And we understand that this is not about hating your family or hating your life – it’s about priorities. It’s about clinging to the world, instead of clinging to Jesus. We have a natural tendency to put ourselves first. Me first, then other people. That is the way of the world, and that is why the margins are still on the margins. Jesus is teaching us, no – others first, and then yourself. And to a people who are self-centered, and focused on themselves, putting others first looks like you hate your life. Why would you volunteer your time, instead of just doing whatever you want? Why would you give ten percent of your income to the church – when you could spend that money on yourself? Why would you take care of someone else’s family, when you COULD just take care of only your own family? Here’s a silly example. You have enough money to buy your kid a big Christmas present. But instead, you buy your kid a little Christmas present, and you buy someone else’s kid a big Christmas present. The world’s going to ask – Do you hate your family? Do you hate yourself? To a selfish mindset, humility – the idea of not putting yourself first – looks like hating yourself. And Jesus lays it out very clearly. To be a Christian, means we will bring in the margins, we will put other people first. We will inconvenience ourselves, discomfort ourselves, we will do whatever it takes – to reach and love and lift up other people.

Jesus keeps going, [read v.28-33]. It’s exciting to want to be a part of what Jesus is doing in the world. But Jesus is warning us, count the cost before you jump in. It’s not a hobby, it’s not frosting on the cake of life – following Christ will take everything you have. Let me show you something. Back in the 90’s, It might go further back than that, but I don’t know I wasn’t alive. But when I was a kid in the 90’s – churches had been shrinking for a while, and so many of them were desperate to grow. So we started changing the message of Jesus to make people happy. We tried to make it more comfortable. Come to church, you don’t really have to give up everything. Jesus was just kidding, just please, pretty please come to our church. In our efforts to keep butts in the pews, the message was “hey look how easy it is to be a Christian” – you barely have to try, it certainly won’t discomfort you or transform you – just please come. And I’m not talking about this church – I wasn’t here – but in all the churches I’ve experienced – we created the easiest, most comfortable, least convicting social club we possibly could. And what happened? People could no longer tell the difference between the church pew and their couch, and the TV puts on a better show. By trying to help everyone be more comfortable, to make the teachings of Jesus more tasty – we created something that nobody wants to be a part of. I believe that’s why churches are shrinking – most of them don’t offer anything of value anymore. I grew up in a very comfortable Christianity. But as I entered into leadership in the church, something happened. I started reading this book more seriously. I encountered the actual Jesus in the pages and his message was not “look how easy” – the message was, “repent, take up your cross and follow me.” And then I started to see what Jesus could do in someone’s life. The transformation that happens when people from the margins come to the banquet. I saw that the work of God may cost us everything, but it is also worth everything. Verse 33 [read it]. Jesus is doing the opposite of sugar-coating. He is telling people, “it’s not easy to follow me. It’s not easy to be humble. To put others first and put yourself second. It’s a lifelong battle and you need to be willing to give up everything.” Count the cost.

The last two verses, [read v.34-35]. Now replace the word salt with “church” or “Jesus” or “Holy Spirit”. Church is good, but if Church has lost its taste, how can its church-ness be restored? Verse 35 says it’s not fit for the soil or the manure pile. It’s not good for the soil of your life, to help you grow, and not even for the manure pile. It’s just garbage at that point. In our lives we don’t want to be salt that has lost its flavor. We don’t want to be Christians that have lost Christ. He ends it with “let anyone with ears to hear listen!” It’s a call to action. Keep the saltiness in your salt, keep Christ in your Christianity.

            The work of God costs everything. It costs everything we’ve got, our entire lives, all our devotion, everything we have and everything we are. It costs everything. But it is worth everything. The transformation that happens in our lives when our sins are forgiven and we begin to walk in God’s light. The margins of society, the lowest in our world brought to the table – it is worth everything. The good news this morning is that God invites the margins. God reaches out to the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and more. He takes people from the darkest valleys and brings them into his heavenly banquet.

            And what we’ve discovered this morning is that God does all that – God invites the margins – through OUR humility. God takes care of the lowest in society through our self-sacrifice. Teaching us to put others first is the METHOD God uses to heal the world. We are the answer to the question – God why don’t you fix this problem?

            There’s two pieces of application coming out of all of this. First, if you want to follow Jesus – count the cost, and count it as worship. Understand that the things we give up for the work of God will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. We spend our lives lifting up others, and God will lift us up in eternity. When you give up sleeping in, and you make it in for worship on a Sunday morning, or you take the time to join us on the livestream – that in itself is an act of worship. When you give up a Saturday afternoon to volunteer and spend time helping other people – that’s an act of worship. When you rearrange your budget, and inconvenience yourself so you can give your money away to the margins – that’s an act of worship. If you want to follow Jesus, count the cost and count it as worship.

There’s an 1993 Spielberg movie called Schindler’s List. For those who don’t know, it’s a power award winning film set during World War II and it’s about a Polish Businessman who starts out trying to profit from the struggles of Jewish people. At first he wanted Jewish workers in his factory because they were cheap labor, but as the war goes on his factory became a haven, where over a thousand Jewish people were saved from the concentration camps. And in the film, at first he thought of himself first, how he could benefit. But as he sees the struggles of others, he actually starts selling his possessions to purchase more and more Jewish workers, which saves them from the concentration camps. And there’s a scene at the end of the movie that haunts me. The war is over, the people are free, and they are thanking Mr. Schindler. And there’s a moment when he says, “I could have got more out…If I’d made more money, I threw away so much money, you have no idea” And then looks at his car. And he says something like, if I sold that car, I could have saved ten more people. This gold pin, it’s worth two people. And he looks at the luxuries in his life in terms of how much more he could have done to save other people. He saved over a thousand people and that’s amazing – it’s a powerful movie. But I am haunted by that scene, because it forces me to realize – every penny we spend on ourselves is one that we cannot spend on our neighbor. Every luxury we fill our life with is a lost opportunity to reach the margins.  It is good to provide for your family. To earn and save and spend, to eat and to live – but the call of Jesus is to use what we have been given to reach those who cannot pay us back. To use what we have to lift up others, and not ourselves. Count the cost of following Jesus, and count it as an act of worship.

The final piece of application, and the last thing I’m going to say is to stay salty through humility. We stay salty, we keep our saltiness as Christians by humbling ourselves. The natural tendency of the human heart, particularly in the first world, is to focus on ourselves. Me, me, me. But a me-centered focus loses your saltiness. We stay salty by humbling ourselves. And there’s a few things we can do to make that happen. First, stay humble by inviting the margins to God’s table. We should always be reaching out to those on the margins of society. Jesus lists the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind – and that can be expanded to include anybody on the edges of society. Humble yourself, by reaching out to those who have been pushed to the side.

Second, verse 33 says we humble ourselves by giving up our possessions. And I know that sounds crazy, but think about it this way. For most of us, we give away our leftovers. Gotta take care of myself, make sure my retirement account is set, I have enough for all my fun things, my date night, my vacation, and THEN whatever is left – I’ll help other people. But what would it look like to flip the script? To set a goal, an amount that you think you can give, give that away first, and then use the leftovers on your life? Here’s an example. When I started out in ministry, I wanted to tithe. I wanted to give 10% of my income to the church, because I think all church leaders should lead by example. And Sara and I would make the budget, and every month there wasn’t enough to give. By the time we filled up all our categories, there was nothing left at the end. Then I took the Dave Ramsey class Financial Peace University. And on his budget chart, giving was at the top. Giving to the church or any other group, you set that number first, and then fill in the rest of your budget with what was left. And it was hard for a while there – the date night budget shrank, the coffee budget shrank – but I was so proud that we were putting others first, and then worrying about ourselves. We humble by putting others first, and that may mean giving up some possessions, giving up some luxuries. Stay salty through humility – and we do that by inviting in the margins, giving up our excuses and putting others first, even if that means we have to give up some of our own luxuries.

            The bible describes heaven as a great big feast. A banquet, a dinner party where all are invited. As someone who loves food, it’s one of my favorite pictures of paradise. But the way we get from the current broken mess of our world to that beautiful picture is the humility of God’s people. Your humility can save the world. And so I’ll leave you with this, May you realize that the work of God will cost you everything, but it is also worth everything. May you count the cost and count it as worship. And finally, may you stay salty by pursuing humility with your life. Amen.

[1] W. Wiersbe, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers,  Moody Press, 1984, p. 255.

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