Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
July 1, 2007
Text: Luke 9:51-62

Do you have what it takes to journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem and the cross? Have you set your face to go toward the cross and suffering? That’s what following Jesus means, you know. The cross and suffering. Jesus bids us deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Him. He doesn’t promise us a bed of roses as Christians. In fact, life is anything but rosy, save for the rose red blood of the cross. Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem. That means so much more than just a determination to go to the city. It means that He was totally focused on His divine mission to save all humanity from sin by dying for us… for you, for me, for our forgiveness. The cross was His goal, and no temptation could hinder Him. Furthermore, all who would follow Him must go His way, the way of the cross. So do you have what it takes?

Three men in the Gospel lesson thought they did. But they wanted to follow Jesus on their own terms. The first said, “‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’” (Luke 9:57-58; ESV). The point here is that Jesus has no abiding city in this world. His Kingdom is not of this world, but of heaven. His citizenship is in heaven. So also those who follow Him. Jesus’ disciples have no abiding city in this world, either. Their citizenship is in heaven, as well. They are in the world, but they are not of the world. So if they wish to keep their allegiance to worldly things, to have a home here in this world, they cannot follow Jesus. Jesus has no place to lay His head. He is homeless in this world. But that’s okay. He has a home in heaven. And all who follow Him likewise have an eternal home there with Him, even though they have no home here in the world.

Jesus said to the second man, “Follow me” (v. 59). But this second man had another allegiance, even a good one… He wanted to wait until his father died before he left all to follow Jesus. He was just trying to obey the 4th Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.” Surely Jesus would understand. His father needed support. But not even family loyalty should get in the way of following Jesus. Jesus said to the man, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (v. 60). There is a play on words here. Jesus is saying to the man, let the spiritually dead burry the physically dead. The spiritually dead can worry about earthly things like that. But those who are alive in Christ are called to follow Him, to be His disciples and confessors of His Kingdom, whatever the cost. When Jesus calls, all must be dropped. Confessing Christ is a higher calling even than fulfilling the 4th Commandment. When there is a conflict between the two, we must obey God rather than men.

The third man said to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home” (v. 61). This doesn’t seem like such a terrible request. It’s the polite thing to do to say goodbye when leaving on a journey. But Jesus responds, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62). The message is clear. If one is plowing and looks back, he will veer off course. The furrows will not be straight. The disciple of Jesus must, like Jesus, set his face toward the goal. He must go the way of the cross in a straight line. Nothing can distract him from his journey. Not even loved ones back home.

So do you have what it takes to follow Jesus? We don’t know whether the three men in our text answered Jesus’ call. But it ultimately doesn’t matter. Luke writes this account in such a way that the question is directed at the hearer… at you. Are you so attached to the things of this world that you are unwilling to give up all to follow Jesus? Do you seek a home in this world rather than in heaven? What about family loyalty? Are you willing to follow Jesus even at the cost of your family? For example, it’s easy to condemn abortion until it’s your daughter who has one. It’s easy to condemn homosexuality until your brother comes out of the closet. It’s easy to condemn the sins of others until those others are those closest to you, and especially when you, yourself, are plagued by those sins. But you can only follow Jesus on His terms, not your own. Will you leave all and follow Him? Will you confess Jesus, even when the truth divides father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law? Do you have what it takes?

The answer is no. Not on your own. You cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, your Lord, or come to Him. You cannot by your own reason or strength follow Jesus. Your flesh is too weak. It is fallen. It is sinful. It is dead. So the Holy Spirit must do it for you. He must bring you to life. He must bring you to faith. He must set you on the road. You can only follow Jesus because He grants it to you. Jesus’ answers to the three men in our text are difficult to swallow. They’re meant to be. They’re meant to show us the high cost of following Jesus. They’re meant to show us the necessity of setting our faces toward the cross and suffering. And they’re meant to show us that we can’t do it by ourselves. We can’t even begin to do it. God must do it for us. He must do it to us. He must convert us. We don’t choose Him. He chooses us. He brings us to faith. He sets us on the road, following Jesus. He gives us the resolution to set our face toward the cross and suffering. And here’s the kicker. He gives us the cross, as well. We don’t have to seek the cross. We don’t have to invent ways to suffer. The cross will find us. God will provide it. It will seem evil to us, but God will use it for our good. This is God’s discipline. The cross is a refining fire. But along with the cross, He will provide a way out. He Himself is the relief.

The cross is meant to purify our faith (cf. 1 Peter 1:7). It is also meant to drive us to Jesus, Who alone is our rest and salvation. We have no place to lay our head in this world. So we lay our heads on Jesus’ breast. Our faith is so easily choked by worldly cares and concerns. But the Holy Spirit sustains us in the true faith by Word and Sacrament, so that our attention is directed to that which really matters: Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and the eternal Kingdom of God. It is so tempting to look back to the fleshpots of Egypt when we find ourselves wandering in the wilderness. But the Holy Spirit keeps us focused on the Promised Land, again, by means of His Word and Sacrament. Our wandering in the wilderness, our bearing of the cross, is a time of preparation, a purging of our misdirected faith in ourselves and the things of this world. And it is a time of redirection, as we are driven to our merciful Lord Jesus for help and salvation.

You don’t have what it takes to follow Jesus on your own. If you think you do, the Law of God will quickly humble you, just like it did the three men in our text. You don’t have what it takes. So God gives it to you. He begins by killing you. He drowns you. And when you’re dead, He raises you back to life. That’s Baptism. And then He sustains that Baptismal life. He reminds you that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. You live by the Word. You live by the Word revealed in the Holy Scriptures and preached to you today. And you live by the Word made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom the Holy Scriptures testify. By His stripes you are healed. Because of His death, you are brought to new life. He nourishes you, body and soul, in that new life with His very body and blood. He forgives you all your sins. He gives you His righteousness. And this is very important. Because He gives you His righteousness, you now stand before God as one who does have what it takes to follow Jesus. It is not by your works, but by Jesus’ works. He set His face to go to Jerusalem and the cross. And He gives you His substitutionary determination, so that when God looks at you, He sees the obedience of His beloved Son.

This is great comfort for us when we have to bear the holy cross. We know we don’t have what it takes. But our Lord does. And He generously gives His righteousness, the whole lot of it, to those who believe in Him. He gives it to you. You are not alone. Your Lord Jesus died for you. He suffered the cross for you. Our crosses do not even begin to compare with His. And we know that He bears our crosses with us. The cross leads us to rely on Jesus, rather than on the things of this world. He is our rest. He is our peace. He is our home.

So do you have what it takes to follow Jesus? On your own, outside of Him, the answer is no. But in Him the answer is a resounding yes. You have what it takes because He gives it to you. He set His face toward Jerusalem and the cross for you. And after three days, the Father raised Him from the dead. Now no matter what crosses you have to bear in this life, you can bear them confidently, knowing your rest is in Jesus, and that the resurrection awaits. All thanks and praise be to our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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