February 10, 2019 | Randy Smith
Sunday, February 10, 2019
Pastor Randy Smith
Representing your country, winning a gold medal, standing on the podium as your national anthem is played – I’m sure we’ve all dreamed of being in that position in the Olympics. However, we all know it’s extremely rare. We all know that getting there is not “luck,” but an incredible attitude of dedication resulting in radical denial, effort and mental focus. This sermon is entitled, “Single-Minded Devotion.”
What are some traits that mark an Olympian?
- Olympic athletes have a “whatever-it-takes” attitude. They’ve made the decision to pay any price and bear any burden in the name of victory.
- They have a plan to push forward when they encounter obstacles. They know facing adversity is part of being successful.
- They have strict accountability.
- They consider “very good” (or worse, “good enough”) to be “bad.” They are driven to perform at an elite level.
- They set high goals for themselves. Motivation is keeping your eyes on the goal. Fatigue means you are warming up.
- They are teachable. They are humble to know others can provide advice to make them better.
- They can compartmentalize their agenda. Levels of priorities are set and their life stays in-tune with those priorities.
Source: Adapted from: 10 characteristics of Olympic athletes worth copying
You say, “Why are you sharing this?” Remember the sermon title? As far as I know, I don’t think any of us are training to be Olympians. I am sharing this because the same single-minded devotion expected from an Olympian is the same single-minded devotion our Savior expects from His followers.
Yes, the fruit of sacrifice and self-denial will be different. Yes, the goals and rewards are different. And yes, the source of strength is different. However, the traits that mark an Olympian that I read earlier could also apply to the traits that mark a disciple of Jesus Christ. If anything, we should be more motivated.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave (1 Cor. 9:24-27a).
Main point, this morning I would like to look at the single-focus devotion of Jesus and the single-focus devotion He expects of those who would follow Him.
The Example From Jesus (verses 51–53)
First sub-point, beginning in verse 51 – “The Example from Jesus.”
So we are now entering a new section in Luke. Everything so far was focused on His coming. Up the mountain to the glory of the Transfiguration. Apex. Down the mountain. At this point everything will now focus on His leaving. From verse 51 all the way to 19:28, we will see Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. We will see the opposition He faces along the way, but more importantly we will see His determination, His single-focus.
We learned in this chapter that He predicted His work in Jerusalem (verse 22 and 44). In verse 31 we learned that on the Mount of Transfiguration He spoke of, “His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” At this point, everything is about training up the Disciples prior to His departure because He had a cross waiting for Him in Jerusalem.
He was well-aware of the dark cloud of shame and suffering that was looming. Within months His earthly life would come to an end. But to be obedient to the Father and fulfill His primary purpose for coming, verse 51, “When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem.” NIV – “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” ESV – “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Single-minded devotion!
The Lamb of God (as Jesus is called) would be the Passover sacrifice to cover our sins by shedding His blood at Jerusalem. God in the flesh would lay down His perfect life and be our human substitute at Jerusalem. The Savior of the world would pay the penalty we deserved and bring forgiveness at Jerusalem. The Redeemer would make salvation now available by being the ransom for us with life at Jerusalem. The gracious God would provide salvation as a gift making a way to heaven for those who receive Him by faith at Jerusalem. All of this would be possible because Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem.
Jesus had it all – the right goals and motives. Empowered by the Holy Spirit and devoted to the Holy Father. Looking beyond obstacles set in His path from the religious, the secular, the demons and even the disciples. He’d push through the physical weakness of His humanity and the temptations He faced spiritually. He had perfect time management. He knew where He needed to be and what He needed to do along the way. And with that, verse 52 says He made arrangements for Himself and the disciples. “And He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him.”
If you know anything about the geography at the time, there were three districts in the Holy Land frequently spoken of in the New Testament. To the north was Galilee. To the south was Judea where Jerusalem was located. And in the middle was Samaria.
And if you know about the cultures, you know the Jews lived in Galilee and Judah, but in Samaria were the people called the Samaritans. They we half breed Jews with their own religion. The Samaritans hated the Jews and the Jews hated the Samaritans. That’s why our Lord’s parable about the Good Samaritan (in the next chapter of Luke) drew so much hatred from the Jewish religious leaders. They were the bad guys in the story and the Samaritan was the good guy. As a matter of fact, the hatred between these two parties was so intense that the Jews would often travel completely around Samaria rather than pass through the district.
Jesus was willing to go through Samaria. He embraced all people, especially the outcasts. Even a sinful Samaritan women at a well – remember that story? An arrangement for their lodging was attempted, but when the Samaritans wanted no part of it. Verse 53, “But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem.”
The Exclamation From Jesus (verses 54–56)
As we move to the second subpoint, there is a lot I can say about the connection with Elijah and how he called fire down from heaven at this same location (2 Ki. 1:1-15). We can also talk about the textual variant in the second half of verse 55 and first half of verse 56. Maybe your Bible has those words italicized or in a bracket. We don’t have time for either of these. I simply wish to focus on how Jesus responds to this rejection from the Samaritans?
What’s interesting is that His response is not directed toward the Samaritans, but rather the Disciples. Properly focused people know that between them and their goal roadblocks and obstacles will come. Weak people shut down, but strong people keep their goal in mind and come up with a new solution to achieve it. Furthermore, strong Christians refuse to make it about themselves and the engagement in petty battles. It’s not about personal vendettas, but winning the war for Jesus. Weak people get easily offended and use their energy to defend their wounded ego. Their will and their kingdom now becomes more important than God’s will and kingdom. And when Christians get there, they are in the flesh and being used by the devil. They are defeated.
Our Lord’s response to the rejection? Look at the end of verse 56. “And they went on to another village.”
The Disciples’ response to the rejection? Look at verse 54. “When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’”
Verse 55-56, “But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.’”
So interesting, rebuke for His own disciples and nothing negative for the inhospitable and unmerciful Samaritans. Why? Because Christ wanted to teach these guys that following Him meant thinking and acting as He does. That true spirituality in His case is not killing the people, but rather being killed yourself for the people. That true spirituality demonstrates strength not by returning evil for evil, but rather restraint through the fruit self-control. And that true spiritually is not just the absence of retaliation, but rather the promotion of goodness to all people, even your enemies.
The Disciples were ready to wipe out the Samaritans. God was patient with the work He wanted to do in their lives. Sure it was rejection now, but when the Holy Spirit arrived at Pentecost the Gospel was commissioned to go out “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And when the Gospel did come to Samaria “they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike” (Acts 8:12). “ So there was much rejoicing in that city” (Acts 8:8).
The Expectation From Jesus (verses 57–62)
So we have seen the single-focus demonstrated and directed from Jesus. Let’s go to the last point and see the single-focus demanded from Jesus. This is the Lord’s expectation for us. In other words, how important is all-out devotion to Him? What is the “cost” to follow Him? What does He expect? Very simple, He expects a reorientation of our lives whereby we now live for Him and see all things from His perspective. It’s a total submission to Him as Lord. It’s not adding Him to our lives, but living our lives for Him whereby everything flows from Him living in us. And as we will see in these three short cases, it’s a high calling that very few people are willing to accept.
The First Case
Verse 57, “As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go.’”
Now that sounds good! I know many professing Christians do not say they would follow Jesus wherever He goes! I know without a doubt that this guy would come forward in a church altar call to be a Christian. It appears this guy is expressing significant dedication. And it’s safe to assume that Jesus will wrap His arms around Him and welcome Him into the family with kind words of appreciation and encouragement. After all, doesn’t Jesus need people like this to get His plans accomplished?
Verse 58, “And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’”
This is not saying everybody who follows Jesus needs to be homeless. This is saying that anybody who follows Jesus needs to make Him number one in their lives. Obviously this man loved comfort. Jesus put His finger right on this man’s god. Would he love Jesus more than his comfort?
Remember the first of the three expectations for discipleship from verse 23?
The Second Case
Verse 59, “And He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’”
So the first guy comes to Jesus. This time Jesus goes to a guy. The command is simple. “Follow Me.” You see, salvation is not a decision. Rather it’s a commitment to listen to Jesus, obey Him – follow Him.
The man responds in verse 59, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” Sounds like a fair request. In other words, “I’ll follow you Jesus, but let me just bury my dad.” That doesn’t seem like he’s asking for too much.
Verse 60, “But [Jesus] said to him, ‘Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God’”
Kind of harsh! What’s up with that? Well, it was a male child’s responsibility to bury his parents. It was a very honorable thing to do. And since the Jews did not embalm bodies, the burial would happen immediately. This man would not be hanging out with the crowds while his dad’s dead body was rotting back home in the closet of his house.
No, he meant something else and Jesus knew exactly what He was getting at. This guy’s dad was probably on his last leg. Leaving the family now would mean he would forfeit his inheritance. So in other words, “I’ll be glad to follow you Jesus in the future, but for now I need to stay home until the old-man dies. Then I’ll have my inheritance and if things don’t work out with you I’ll have a little something to fall back on.” This guy’s god was a love for money. Kind of a “Rich Young Ruler” story.
Remember the second of the three expectations for discipleship from verse 23? Take up [your] cross daily.” Are you willing to suffer less for Jesus?
The Third Case
And for the third case, look at verse 61, “Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.’”
Now what can be wrong with that? Before you hit the road with Jesus you can’t say good-bye to your loved ones? This man’s god was a love for family that surpassed his love for God. It was an issue of truest allegiance.
Remember the third of the three expectations for discipleship from verse 23? “Follow Me!”
Our Lord responded, verse 62, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Single-focus means doing the “plowing” your Lord commands and not “looking back” with regret or a divided heart. It’s the famous story with Elijah and Elisha. When called to assume the prophetic work of Elijah, Elisha the farmer slaughters his oxen, burns his plow and cooks them over the fire. It signified a complete break from the past.
And let’s be clear, this is not a deeper level of discipleship. This is what it means to come into the kingdom. There were apparently prime converts and after hearing the words of Jesus, they all appear to go away empty-handed. Jesus refuses to cash-in on the moment of emotional excitement.
As a church we need to keep this teaching in mind. Sure, our church may be smaller, but it will be stronger and it will be filled with true Christians who are filled with the Spirit and not further deceived that they are saved when in reality they are not. It seems so many in the church today want to talk about their “experience.” Here we see that true disciples should be talking more about their commitment.
Is this reaching radical? Yes. Will the teaching scare people off? Yes. But this is what Christ taught and I think it is safe to say that He being God knows this type of commitment will bring us the greatest joy.
It’s said people today will not settle for this no-nonsense approach. It’s asking for too much. We’ll fail if we talk this way. Really? Maybe the church has failed because don’t trust our Lord’s words and don’t talk this way enough. Maybe this is what people really want. Not some superficial religion with emotional ecstasy or countless man-made rules or trite worship. Where is the fulfillment in more of the world with an outward veneer of religion? The world can provide that better than us. That does not meet the human soul in its desperate condition for true satisfaction that only comes from a confrontation with the living God.
We all know we most respected the teachers that didn’t make their class a joke, but made us work and desired that we really learn. They are the ones that demonstrated the greatest love because they cared to give us what could benefit us the most.Likewise we don’t sugar-coat the words of Christ. He is God meaning He can and must demand total allegiance. Likewise we don’t neglect His Word as if we know what the culture needs. Rather we proclaim it that single-focus living for Christ is what truly honors the glorious God we claim to follow and that following Him with that single focus is everything our flesh might resist, but deep down inside what our soul really craves.
(Some of conclusion adapted from: Garland, Luke, p. 419)