Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 8)
June 26, 2016
Text: Luke 9:51-62
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (The Cost of Discipleship, [SCM, 1959]). What does he mean by that? Well, it may mean your death quite literally, your physical death as a result of persecution against the one true faith of Jesus Christ. As we know, many of our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world risk and even forfeit their lives to be baptized into Christ. They shed their blood for the Savior who shed His Blood for them. For now there is not much risk of that here in America. But that does not release you from our Lord’s claim on your life. To follow Jesus means to die to yourself. It means the death of your old sinful flesh, crucified with Christ and drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism. It means the rejection of your fleshly passions. It means hatred from the world, and maybe even from your own family members. Salvation is absolutely free to you in Christ, but it is not cheap. It cost your Savior His Blood and death. And to follow Jesus, to be His disciple, to walk in His discipline, well, that is quite costly. It is free to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. For what does it mean to follow Jesus? It means to go the way He goes, and the way He goes is suffering and the cross for the sake of His neighbor… for you! So for you to follow Him means you also have to march through Holy Week and Good Friday and Golgotha. There is no other path to the resurrection and eternal life. Now, don’t misunderstand. Your suffering and death do not somehow make atonement for your sins. That is all done already in the cross and death of Jesus. What, then, is your cross all about? There are many reasons concealed in God’s hidden wisdom, ways that He is making all things work together for your good, since you are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). But among other things, you are called to suffer for your neighbor, as Christ suffered for you. That is to say, you are given as a sacrifice to your neighbor to speak the truth in love and the life-giving message of the Gospel to your neighbor, even if that speaking brings you rejection and suffering. And you can do that because you know what awaits you when all is said and done: eternal life, heaven, the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come.
Look how Jesus sets His face to go to Jerusalem in our text (Luke 9:51). He knows what awaits Him. The cross and death. But He is absolutely determined. He will not be swayed. He will not be turned aside. Not by the rejection and ingratitude of those for whom He suffers. Not by the misunderstanding and dissuasion of His apostles. Not by the devil Himself. Our Lord Jesus sets His face to go to Jerusalem, sets His face toward the cross, for you, because He is determined to save you. Now, that is the preaching of the Gospel, our Lord’s determination to suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins. Our God wins the victory over our enemies, not by some glorious show of power and might, but by surrendering Himself to the death and hell of the cross. And that is scandalous. It is amazing, the hatred that preaching brings on. It is demonic in nature, this hatred. That is why it is so irrational and vitriolic. That is why the media blames Christians for Islamic terrorism. That is why nuns and Christian universities and various Christian institutions and employers must be forced to pay for abortions. That is why Christian florists and bakers and photographers must be forced to participate in same-sex weddings, even though there are many other florists and bakers and photographers who would happily provide the same service without violating their conscience. It doesn’t matter, because the Christians must be made to conform. Which is to say, they must be made to reject Christ and His Word. At all costs. Even the cost of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedoms once held dear by the majority of Americans regardless of political persuasion. Now they are encroached by politicians and government officials regardless of political persuasion. And why should that surprise us? Our Lord tells us right here that this is what we should expect. He also shows us how to respond. Speak the truth in love, and then suffer for it. And rejoice that you are counted worthy to suffer for the Name of Jesus.
There are only two possible reactions to the preaching of Jesus and His cross. There is either rejection, or there is faith. Jesus sends messengers, preachers, ahead of Him on the journey, to make preparations for His reception. And those in a certain village of the Samaritans reject Him outright. They do not receive Him. Why? Because “his face was set toward Jerusalem” (v. 53; ESV). It is not simply the customary hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews, though it certainly is that. They are categorically opposed to our Lord’s determination to go to Jerusalem and accomplish the work of our salvation. They don’t even understand it. This hatred grows deep inside of them, out of their fallen hearts, where Satan reigns. And so the demonic determination to reject Jesus and His disciples. This is the crassest form of rejection. But then there are the disciples themselves, James and John, brothers, Sons of Thunder, from Jesus’ inner-circle, and they ask, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them,” those wicked Samaritans who have it coming (v. 54)? We understand the sentiment. But you see, in responding to rejection with wrath, the disciples also have rejected the Gospel of Jesus. Why did Jesus come? Why is He so set on going to Jerusalem to suffer and die? For the sake of these very Samaritans. He does not want them to suffer God’s wrath. That’s just the point. He comes to save them from it, to save the disciples in their misguided zeal, to save you from your faithlessness, your apathy, your casual faith, and your unwillingness to take up your cross and follow Jesus. Our Lord sets His face to go to Jerusalem for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
And here we encounter the other reaction to Jesus and His cross. Faith. The thing about faith, though, is that it does not come naturally. By nature, you will reject Jesus and the cross every time. That is simply the reality that results from being a child of Adam. It’s his fault. He fell. We fell in him. Our wills are, by nature, bound to unbelief and rejection of God, until the Holy Spirit frees us from bondage. Faith is a gift. It comes to us from outside of us, from God Himself, bestowed in His Word and Baptism, and nourished by the Supper, by the Holy Spirit who comes by these means to give us faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we are reconciled to the Father. The very preaching of the cross that provokes so much hatred and rage is the means by which the Holy Spirit brings you to faith. It’s a mystery, isn’t it, why you react one way to the preaching of the cross, and another reacts a different way? You believe as a result of the preaching and your Baptism into the death of Christ. Someone else, perhaps even someone very similar to you, shuns the cross with horror. So it goes. We don’t know why. We only know that you believe because of the grace of God and His work upon you. So we give thanks, and confess, and suffer in hope and joy.
Three particular fellows are singled out in our text for their encounter with Jesus. We don’t learn whether any of the three rejects Jesus or follows Him, but we do learn what it will cost them if they follow Jesus to the cross. The first man says he will follow, but Jesus reminds him that foxes and birds have better accommodations in this world than the Savior and His Christians. Being a disciple of Jesus just may cost you the comforts and pleasures the best of earthly life has to offer. Jesus calls the second man: “Follow me” (v. 59), but the man asks first to go bury his father. Now, Jesus isn’t heartless. It’s not that the man’s father is dead and he just wants to get through the funeral before he leaves. It is that the man wants to wait until everything is just right in his earthly life before he makes the commitment to Jesus and His Gospel. To this, Jesus responds, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead” (v. 60). Let the unbelieving world take care of its own business. The Gospel is the first priority. There is nothing more important, and the time to believe and follow is now. The third man simply wants to go and say farewell to his loved ones before he follows. Jesus responds that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62). What happens when we follow Jesus is that we start to feel a certain nostalgia for the old life outside of Christ. Remember the flesh pots of Egypt? Maybe slavery to sin and death wasn’t so bad after all. This kind of looking back can kill faith. Repent. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. All the way to death.
For what awaits beyond the cross is resurrection. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. And He’ll raise you. So the Lord has called you to be His own, and in calling you, He’s bid you come and die. It is a blessed death. For that death is folded up in the death of Jesus. And Jesus’ death is a death unto life. His life is a life unto eternity and light and joy in the presence of God. Be not afraid. Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem for you. Set your face upon Him. Keep your eyes on Jesus. He will never forsake you. Not even in death. He will never let you go. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.