Sermons

Are You Ready for the Journey?

“Jesus Goes Up to Jerusalem” by James Tissot

Click here to listen to this sermon.

As they were going along the road, someone said to [Jesus], “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.” To another He said, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow You, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

A few years ago I read about a place called “Eden by the Sea.” A Lutheran pastor and his wife started a ministry in which they invite pastors and their families to come to Hawaii for a time of rest and relaxation. They have some very fine accommodations near Waikiki beach with canoes, surfboards, and snorkeling gear. They even serve a romantic candlelight dinner.

When I suggested to Aimee that this might be a nice place to go for our 25th anniversary, she said she’d have to think about it and get back to me.

No, that’s not true. She was very receptive. She thought it sounded like a wonderful way to celebrate 25 years of marriage. She’s always wanted to go to Hawaii. So, I contacted Lynda Mueller and made reservations. We had two years to save money and plan. And twelve years ago this July, we headed on a journey to Hawaii for a wonderful second honeymoon!

But what if I would have made this proposal to Aimee? “Aimee, I’ve made up my mind, no matter what you say I’m not going to change it. I’m going on a journey. I want you to come along with me. I can’t give you very many details, so you’re just going to have to trust me.   

“What I can tell you is that the journey’s not going to be easy. You can expect many hardships and sacrifices. We’ll have to walk or hitchhike. I haven’t saved up any money, so we’ll just have to rely on the generosity of the people that we meet along the way. I’m sure that somebody will let us stay with them.

“By the way, you’re going to have to leave everyone else behind—our kids and grandkids, our family, friends and co-workers. You may never see them again. And since we need to get going right now, there really isn’t any time for us to say good-by. You should also know that a lot of people won’t be happy having us around. Some will even threaten us with bodily harm. I won’t fight back, and I know for a fact that they’ll put me to death. But I’m going anyway. You can’t change my mind.” Do you think she would be going with me?

What about you? Are you ready for such a journey? It would have to be a fantastic destination to be worth it all, wouldn’t it?

But that’s very much the kind of proposal that Jesus lays before those who would be His disciples in our text as He sets His face to go to Jerusalem.

The phrase, “He set His face” sounds strange to modern ears, but it alludes to Jesus’ prophetic role. For God to “set His face” against a person, city, or region is for God to show His wrath. The opposite is for God to “make His face shine on you and be gracious to you” (Numbers 6:25). But here Jesus “set His face” to go to Jerusalem, not to show wrath or mercy to Jerusalem, but to face and overcome all temptation and opposition that would turn Him aside from traveling to the cross.

In Ezekiel, we are told that God made the prophet’s forehead as hard as flint so he could endure the hostility of rebellious Israel (3:8-9). In Isaiah, the Suffering Servant says: “I offered my back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting. Because the Lord Yahweh helps Me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set My face like flint, and I know that I will not be put to shame” (50:5-7).

Jesus, the Suffering Servant, “set His face to go to Jerusalem.” He is resolutely determined to go to the cross, fully aware of the torture and humiliation involved. He trusts in eventual vindication by the Father (Isaiah 50:8-9), and He knows that the cross is the only way to obtain salvation for humanity.

To reach Jerusalem, Jesus proposes to journey through Samaria, but the messengers whom He sends ahead of Him get a hostile reception. James and John ask Jesus if they can “tell fire to come down from heaven to consume them.” Clearly, they do not understand Jesus’ mission as the Messiah. He Himself will “be baptized” with the fire of heavenly wrath (Luke 12:49-50). His mission as Messiah is one of mercy and compassion, not of condemnation (John 3:17). Punishment of those who reject the Gospel will come at Judgment Day. Rather than lash out, Jesus simply moves on to a different village.

Along the way Jesus is met by some who wish to join Him. The first comes as a volunteer promising to “follow You wherever You go.” It is a bold promise, but Jesus dampens his zeal by warning him that he doesn’t know what he is asking. That is the meaning of Jesus’ answer: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

Jesus wants this man to count the cost of following Him. The path may look appealing as the crowds sing Jesus’ praises. But like enthusiastic troops marching off to war on a sunny day with bands blaring and crowds cheering, Jesus’ followers will soon find the cheers turning to the big guns of enemy opposition and the sunshine replaced by cold rain and muddy battlefields.

The Son of Man, while destined for glory, must first take the lonely route of suffering and rejection, culminating at the dead end of a despised cross. He calls His disciples to follow Him on the road of service and self-sacrifice. The way of discipleship always means putting the kingdom first, last, and all the time, and letting God attend to the rest.

Did this man follow Jesus? We are not told.

What about you? If you had been in that man’s position, what would you have done? Are you ready for the journey with Jesus?

The second man is asked by Jesus to follow Him. While the first man was over-ready and had to be cautioned, this man wants to delay and join Jesus later. “Lord, let me first go and bury my father,” he says.

Jesus’ answer is puzzling, and purposely so: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.” At Jesus’ time, the Jews considered burial a religious rite which took precedence over everything, even reading God’s Word. But Jesus is saying that the Gospel is so important, it takes precedence over all family ties and worldly cares.

So, do you think this man stayed with Jesus? Would you have stayed if you had been in his shoes? Are you ready for the journey with Jesus?

The third would-be disciple, like the first, thinks that following Christ means that he must make the offer on his own initiative, as if it were a career he had mapped out for himself. There is, however, a difference between the first would-be disciple and the third, for the third is bold enough to stipulate his own terms: “Let me first say farewell to those at my home.”

Jesus’ answer shows the futility of the man’s offer: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” It makes little difference to what part of the worldly life the heart looks back with longing and is unable to tear itself away, the effect is always the same: not fit for the kingdom.

Do you think this man followed Jesus after hearing His Word? What would you have done in his place? Are you ready for the journey with Jesus?

These are hard sayings. They dare not be interpreted in isolation from the rest of Scripture. In these statements Jesus is obviously making a strong statement to get across the point He want to make for all who would follow Him: you will need to be ready to make sacrifices. To be a disciple of Jesus means to be ready to reorder the priorities of this earthly life. The way of new life requires staying on the hard road of pilgrimage that leads to the cross, through death, and finally to resurrection. It calls for an unhesitating departure from ties to the old life, even ties to family. The family that matters, says Jesus, is the family of God.

Luke does not record the responses of the three would-be disciples in this text, suggesting that more important than the question of whether they heeded Jesus’ words is your response. Are you ready for the journey with Jesus?

An honest examination of our own discipleship will show that we often have failed. At various times, we have been just like the three would-be disciples. We have eagerly volunteered for service but have failed to count the cost. We have made excuses for not being able to follow Jesus when and where He wants us.

I personally can relate best to the third man, the one who wanted to be Jesus’ disciple, but only on his terms. It was January 1, 1995. I was planning for the coming year as a Lutheran Brotherhood representative. But I felt the tug to go into the pastoral ministry. On that day, I prayed two prayers: “Lord, I really enjoy my career with Lutheran Brotherhood, but if you want me to go to the seminary, let me know. If you have to, make me miserable enough to know that I should move on.” I also gave God another option: “Lord, if you’ll only come through with $12,000 so we have a little financial cushion, then I’ll go to the seminary.”

Neither one of these is a proper prayer. As disciples of Christ, we are in no position to bargain with the Lord. God is under no obligation to keep such an agreement. I might also add a word of warning here: you should always be careful what you pray for. You might get it!

From that day on, my life got miserable. The business that had been going along well suddenly dried up. We barely had enough money coming in to pay the bills. But God does have a sense of humor. After I finally committed to going to the seminary, He provided for our family very well. Less than a week after we put our house up for sale it was sold. And guess how much money I earned the last month I sold insurance? You’re right! $12,000. I dare say, more than I’ll ever make in one month for the rest of my life.

 It’s a good thing our journey of discipleship doesn’t depend on our faithfulness but on Christ’s. He already completed the trip for us. He “set His face” and went to Jerusalem, never once looking back. He died on the cross in our place, exchanging His perfect obedience and righteousness for our sin and disobedience. He rose again from the dead, and because He rose, we know that while suffering and the grave are still steps in our journey, they are not the end of the journey. In Christ we have been given the gift of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.

We follow Jesus in faith by His grace. Discipleship is not our work; it is Christ’s work in us. He calls us through His Word and Sacrament. In Baptism He makes us His own and baptizes us into His death and resurrection. He makes us His disciples and calls us to journey with Him to the cross.

In Holy Absolution, He grants us remission of all of our sins. By His Holy Spirit, He increases in us true knowledge of Him and of His will and true obedience to His Word, to the end that by His grace we may come to everlasting life. In His Holy Supper, Christ gives us pardon and peace, and strengthens us in service to Him as He feeds us His very body and blood.

Through each of these means of grace, Christ calls you to follow Him on the journey of discipleship. He equips you for the journey and promises you Paradise as your eternal destination.

Are you ready for the journey with Jesus? You most certainly are! Jesus gives you everything you need. For His sake, you are forgiven of all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.
Sermons, Uncategorized

Preparing for Departure

moses-sees-the-promised-land-from-afar.jpg!LargeClick here to listen to this sermon.

“And behold, two men were talking with [Jesus], Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Moses’ long life was marked with mountaintop experiences. At the age of eighty, God spoke to him out of the burning bush on Horeb, the mountain of God, and called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1ff). On Mount Sinai, the Lord spoke to Moses out of the thick cloud and gave him the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19-20). When Moses came down from the mountain, the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God (Exodus 34:29-35).

In today’s Old Testament reading, Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. The mountain traditionally identified as Mount Nebo is located about 12 miles east of where the Jordan River enters the Dead Sea, and it rises more than 2,600 feet about sea level. The Dead Sea is the lowest spot in the world, 1,300 feet below sea level. What a dramatic view the Lord gave of this land that Moses longed to see for many years!

By inviting Moses to view the extent of the land, the Lord showed one last act of kindness to this special leader of His people. But maybe it was more than that. Biblical precept, as well as later Roman law, let a man view land he was about to possess. Perhaps this was the Lord’s way of giving Moses a legal guarantee that the men and women he led for so long would really inherit the land, though he would die before it happened.

The Lord had a far better promised land in mind for Moses. The writer to the Hebrews included Moses among the believers from the Old Testament era who saw the Lord’s promises fulfilled by faith, not by sight:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth… But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13,16).

The account of Moses’ death is simple but mysterious: “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-Peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day” (Deuteronomy 34:5-6).

The final measure of Moses’ long life was that he was the Lord’s servant. What better epitaph could be placed under a man of God’s name on his tombstone than “Servant of the Lord!” As Jesus defines true greatness for His disciples: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).

Regarding Moses’ departure, there is much mystery. It’s not clear whether we should translate “He buried him” or “He was buried.” Some have proposed that the Lord Himself buried Moses; that’s possible, but it can’t be proved definitively by the text. There’s an additional air of mystery in the words, “no one knows the place of his burial to this day.” If the Lord buried Moses, some have suggested that his body may not have suffered the physical decay that unavoidably follows death. In his epistle, Jude makes a passing reference to a dispute between the archangel Michael and the devil over Moses’ body (Jude 9). According to legend, when Moses died (by the kiss of God), the Lord delegated Michael to bury his body, but the devil tried to claim the body for himself. At least one version of the legend adds that Moses’ body was later “assumed” into heaven, accompanied by angels.

However intriguing this notion may be, we can’t speak with certainty. And anyway, Moses also wrote Psalm 90, and it’s more likely that the death he described as the common experience of all people was what he suffered too:

You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away (Psalm 90:3,5,6,10).

Moses lived well beyond eighty years. Yet even at 120 years, his eyesight was keen and his physical strength unimpaired up until the day that he died.

Moses’ service to the Lord was unique because he enjoyed a more intimate relationship with the Lord than any Old Testament prophet before or after him. “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). The Lord explained this special relationship to Moses and Aaron:

If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all My house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord” (Numbers 12:6–8a).

Before his departure, Moses spoke of a prophet who was to come: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to Him you shall listen” (Deuteronomy 18:15). Little did Moses realize that the climb to the top of the mountain on the day of his death would be the precursor of another climb up another mountain to proclaim the departure of that even greater Prophet for the salvation of the human race.

That’s where we find him in our Gospel. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John along as He goes up onto a mountain to pray. As Jesus prays, He is transfigured and appears in heavenly glory. Moses and Elijah appear and speak with Him. We don’t know much about the specifics of the conversation. Luke doesn’t give us a verbatim account, but he does tell us they spoke concerning “His departure.” The Greek brings more to mind. They talked about His “exodus.”

This was not the first time Jesus talked about His departure in Jerusalem. Earlier in the same chapter Jesus spoke of His death and resurrection (9:21-22). He also spoke about the death of all who would follow Him (9:23-25). The connection between these departures and the Old Testament Exodus are obvious and worth noting. As God’s central act of deliverance before Jesus, the Exodus from Egypt meant liberation from bondage and hope for a future. Jesus’ departure in Jerusalem accomplished this and more for all who depart in faith in Him.

Which brings us back to the conversation on the mountain on the day of Transfiguration. What do you suppose that Jesus spoke about with the prophets? While we can’t be sure, I think that we can imagine the types of things they may have discussed. Perhaps Jesus told them about the difficulties He was preparing to endure in His passion. Maybe they asked Jesus how He was going to do it.

Perhaps Jesus was telling them about how the disciples—including the three with Him—would all run away. About how they would promise to stay with Him, but then how their fears would rise up and about how He would suffer alone.

Perhaps Jesus was telling them about why He was willing to endure the coming sufferings: Maybe He spoke of His love for creation, His love for all people, His great desire to restore all things. Maybe He let Moses and Elijah in on the secret—that by dying and rising He would conquer death for all time. Maybe Jesus was helping the two of them see this had been His plan from the beginning and how they (Moses and Elijah) were part of a much larger story.

Or perhaps Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elijah about how His departure—His death and resurrection—would affect our departure.

Most of us probably do not like to think about our own departure—our exodus—very often. We are too busy living to spend much time thinking about dying. But death has a way of forcing its way into the conversation. Sometimes it sneaks up on us suddenly; other times it lingers, slowly sapping life away. A few, like Moses enjoy a long vigorous life. But death always enters the picture.

Which makes this Sunday a good opportunity to prepare to not only enter the season of Lent, but also to die well. In three short days, we will be reflecting especially on our own death on Ash Wednesday.

As your pastor, my most important duty is to make sure you are ready for the day of your death. So, I must ask you: Are you prepared for your departure?

I’m not talking the practical aspects of getting your day-to-day affairs in order like purchasing enough life insurance, updating your will, or pre-planning your funeral. Those are all important details, especially for your loved one, but they’re not near as important as having your spiritual affairs all in order.

Death is inevitable. You and I must prepare for death, so we may meet it without fear and the danger of eternal ruin. It is a sad truth that we can get so wrapped up in ourselves and the attainment of our own goals, that we not only fail to take our coming death into account, but actually invite God’s wrath by the way we act and live. And day by day, month by month, year by year, we think and talk and live having no concern for the eternal consequences. And one day it’s too late.

The hard truth is: We are not able to make the preparations necessary to enter into the promised land of heaven and into the eternal Paradise that God wants us to have in His presence. Each one of us is a sinful human being who daily sins much in thought, word, and deed… by what we do and by what don’t do… by what we say and what we don’t say… by what we think and what we don’t think. Hour after hour, week after week, year after year, the burden of sin builds and there is terror as we consider what we deserve from the holy, just, righteous God. No, the Lord God must make all the preparations if we are to be with Him forever.

The Good News to you this day is this: God has done it. God the Father sent His Son into this world to take your place on the cross by enduring the penalty for your sinfulness and for all your sins… every one of them. With His holy precious blood, His innocent suffering and death, Jesus has made all the preparations for your departure from this life and into the promised land of heaven.

God baptized you into His death on the cross and your death became His death and His death became your death. You died on the day of your Baptism. You were crucified with Christ and from that moment on, it was no longer you have lived but Christ living in you; and the life which you live in the flesh, you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself up for you (Galatians 2:20). On the day of your Baptism, the Lord was preparing you for your departure.

Please remember, the Lord God must make all the preparations if we are be with Him forever. The Good News to you this day is this: God has done it. In order to accomplish your salvation, Jesus rose again from the dead on the third day. Neither death nor devil nor grave could hold Him. He has defeated them for you.

God granted you your first resurrection when He baptized you with water and the Word. You were buried with Christ through Baptism into death, that just as Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so you also have walked in newness of life from that moment (Romans 6:4). On the day of your Baptism, the Lord was preparing you for your departure from this world, for your own resurrection, and for eternal life in His presence.

The eternal blessings of God because of His Son’s life, death, and resurrection are yours by faith in Christ. Salvation is by God’s gift of faith and not by mans’ good deeds. Faith itself is God’s work that the Holy Spirit gives through the Word. The Lord works faith in your heart as you hear the proclamation of the Gospel. God grants you faith to believe in Him.

The Lord, through Word and Sacrament, sustains and strengthens the faith that He began in you throughout your life. As you receive the very body and blood of your Lord Jesus Christ, you are strengthened in faith toward God and in service to your neighbor. Each time you leave, fully prepared for your departure, that is, to depart in peace, knowing that for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.