(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
Doing the Right Thing
19th July 2006
The following passage is a well-known story, much beloved of preachers who want to encourage Christians to follow Jesus immediately and with total commitment. But I'd like to look at it not for what it says about Christians, false disciples or uncommitted ones, but for what it says about Jesus.
In verse 51, the story begins with the words "As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven" but actually the NIV has mistranslated this. The words in the Greek mean "As the times before he was to be taken up to heaven were coming to an end". In case you miss the distinction here, I'm trying to say that Luke wasn't saying that Jesus was looking forward but that he was looking back. The times before he was to ascend to heaven were coming to an end. The three and a half years that he'd been on the road with his friends were ending. He would miss Peter, James, John, and the others. They were his mates. They'd worked together, preached together, performed miracles together. They'd laughed together, eaten together, travelled together, slept together, cried together, suffered together. And they must have had a very special bond. And now it was coming to an end.
And Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. The Greek says Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. Jesus knew he faced crucifixion and death, and he knew that his friends would desert him at the end. And he knew that he'd be separated from them. And yet he was determined to Do The Right Thing. He knew that on the other side of the grave lay a great reward for him - ascension to the right hand of God - and his inheritance, the church. But he also knew the cost. He was so resolute that you could see it on his face.
Sometimes, Doing The Right Thing is really tough.
And, in his obedience to the Heavenly Father, he "set his face" determindly to go through with it, to lose all the Earthly relationships he cared about, to be mistreated, tortured and killed.
And what was the first thing that happened to him? And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. The Samaritans wouldn't let him go through their territory to get to Jerusalem - the place of crucifixion!
It's bad enough when we find opposition when we're trying to do what we want. But it's particularly tough when we're getting opposition when we're trying to yield our own desires up to God and do what He wants and we get opposition! But so often, that's what happens; the first thing we encounter after setting our faces to obey God is a problem.
And – in passing – this was an old grudge. The Samaritans resented people going to Jerusalem:
How tragic it is when the memories of old hurts still cause us – or even our descendants – to hurt others.
And when the Prince of Peace encountered this opposition, his friends' reaction was When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?". Jesus's friends - the disciples - really didn't understand him.
A quick study of the gospels shows that the disciples were far from perfect. James and John were nicknamed by Jesus “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). And it was John who wanted the disciples to be the only people to work in Jesus’s name (Luke 9:49). And it was James and John who wanted to be numbers 2 and 3 in the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:35-45). But – here’s the great news – Jesus chose them. With all their bad attitudes, Jesus blessed them and used them in His work. James was honoured by being a martyr (Acts 12:2) and John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20) and who was entrusted by Jesus with the care of Mary, His mother (John 19:26) and who went on the be the great leader of the church, the writer of his gospel, three letters and the book of Revelation. God truly can transform us by His Holy Spirit.
Jesus had his own problems to deal with, but he also had to sort out his friends. But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. Jesus teaches to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). We must choose never to exact revenge on those who wrong us, but to forgive, as He forgives us (Matthew 6:12).
As Jesus resolutely approached his death, He would have wanted resolute people with Him. But what did He find? The next thing that happenned was this: As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Jesus knew this man was promising what he wouldn't deliver. It's so easy to promise to be someone's friend, but to turn our back on them when the going gets tough. Jesus effectively told this person "you say you're with me all the way, but the first time we miss a meal or sleep without a roof over our heads, you'll be off".
Next, we read: He [Jesus] said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." . Some people who might be expected to stay the distance with us just can't quite be bothered. They've got their own lives to worry about. We're just not that important to them.
Next, Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family." Jesus replied, "No-one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God". Some say they'll stick with you through your trials, but not right now, not today. They're just too busy. Maybe they'll turn up tomorrow. Maybe the next day.
Sometimes, we need real friends, trustworthy people who mean what they say and who are steadfast in their support. These tend to be the times when such friends are really hard to find.
Are you going through a difficult trial? Have your friends started to melt away? Do you feel isolated and alone?
Jesus knows exactly what it's like.
He's experienced it himself. He faced the ultimate trial - convicted on false charges, mocked, tortured and crucified. And at the end, his friends all left him. And he even lost consciousness of the love of God the Father.
If that's how you feel right now, then there is a God who understands. And the God who understands will be your friend. He will stick with you through it all. He will still be there when the others have all left. And he will see you through your trials. And you will gain your reward in the end.