BY PASTOR GLENN PEASE
Robert Fulghum, who became famous for his book All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, has written another funny book titled, It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It. He has officiated at over 1000 weddings and knows by experience that they are the events that bring out the ding dong in most everyone involved. They are the comedies of life, and he writes, "Not that they are intended as such. But since weddings are high state occasions involving amateurs under pressure, everything NEVER goes right. Weddings seem to be magnets for mishap and for whatever craziness lures in family closets."
He begins his book with this example. When the bride announced her wedding day the mother literally went bezerk. She was so delighted she was going to make this the wedding of the century. It would be a royal wedding fit for a princess. She had the money and 7 months to work toward her grandiose goal. I won't bore you with the details, but everything was engraved, and an 18 piece brass and wind ensemble was engaged. Cecil B. DeMille could not have planned a bigger scene. The final hour arrived with a church packed with people in formal attire. The orchestra was in place, and candle power equivalent to the Northern Lights filled the sanctuary. The mother of the bride glowed as she took her place. Nine chiffon-draped bridesmaids stepped down the isle, and finally the wedding march thundered, and all stood to watch the bride.
The bride who was a nervous wreck because of all this preparation had slipped to the reception hall to eat something to calm her nerves. She started popping pink, yellow, and green mints and mixed nuts, and a couple of shrimp blanketed in bacon, and a cracker piled with liver pate. When people looked at her they saw a face as white as her dress. As she walked down the isle she was a living grenade with the pin pulled out. She was ready to explode, and that is what she did. There is no nice way to describe it. She threw up and shot used gourmet goodies all over the front of the church, hosing two bridesmaids, the groom, a ring bearer, and the pastor. The bride went limp in her father's arms, and the groom was so stunned that he sat on the floor. The mother of the bride fainted. Bridesmaids and groomsmen with weak stomachs ran for the exits. In the chaos Fulghum says he is not sure of many details, but the mother of the bride thought of everything. She had three video cameras going so that all would be preserved.
Guests were invited to adjourn to the reception hall until all was cleaned up, and the bride could change into one of the bridesmaid dresses. Then the wedding was continued. The mother of the bride wanted it to be a memorable occasion, and it was. Nobody there will ever forget it. But the bottom line is, they have been married for 12 years now, and have three lovely children. This true story illustrates the need for determination to achieve a goal. There are all kinds of things that can go wrong in any plan, and you have to be determined to overcome these obstacles, or you will not arrive at the goal for which you are aiming.
Our text begins with the announcement that the time had come for Jesus to be taken up to heaven. He was to finish His mission on earth and come home to the Father. Unlike the Prodigal Son who went into the far country to waste his substance in riotous living, here was a Son who had come into the far country to save it from riotous living, and to restore it to the kingdom of God, His Father. It was now time to achieve this goal, and that meant the cross.
The cross was the only way back to heaven for Jesus that would open the door to heaven for His bride to follow. If He chose another route the door would be closed to man, and Jesus would fail in His mission to be their Savior. The way of the cross leads home for Christ and His people, and no other way does. The cross was not one of several options. It was the only way. As Jesus is the only way to the Father, so the cross was His only way to the Father that would fulfill His plan. The cross was the single most important goal Jesus had to get to in order to be the Savior of the world. The entire plan of God for man's salvation depended upon Jesus reaching this goal. Thus, we see the absolutely determined face of Jesus. I like the KJV here which says, "He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem." Thank God for a stubbornly determined Savior.
Nothing could stop Jesus from the cross. It was a rough road with pot holes galore, and obstacles everywhere, but He plowed ahead not looking back. He said that no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. He set the example, even though His plow would take him to the hill of Golgotha. It was an uphill road all the way. Jerusalem is up in the mountains, and Golgotha was a hill up there, and so the road to our redemption was literally and psychologically a climb. Just look at the obstacles Jesus had to face in the few verses of our text.
The people of the Samaritan village where He wanted to stay the night were prejudiced against the Jews, and they did not want Jesus to stay there, for He was headed for the Jewish capital. They were petty and prejudice people. Most of us would have sided with the hot heads James and John, and vote to call fire down from heaven to roast these rotten rebels. These disciples did not even know Jesus was going to Jerusalem to die for these very sinners who rejected Him. All they knew was that Jesus was a perfect and loving man, and He deserved respect. They could not tolerate the blind prejudice of these people, and they wanted to eliminate them from the earth. Jesus had just pointed His face in the direction of the cross, and already He was facing two obstacles to His goal: Prejudice and intolerance.
The prejudice that rejected Him could have made Jesus question His goal. Why should I bother to go to the cross to save the likes of these people who will not even let me stay in their town because they hate Jews? They are so unworthy of my love. They chose to hate people who are different. This is the cause of the wars and man's inhumanity to man all through history. Why should I die for them? I could take a short cut back to heaven and escape the cross, and men like this would be lost forever, and justly so. But if such thoughts ever entered the mind of Jesus, He did not let them change His mind, or the direction He was determined to go. The unworthiness of man could not stop Jesus from going to the cross.
His own disciples are urging Him to destroy these scum of the earth people, but Jesus has set His face to go to the cross and die for them. He would not be pulled off course by their wickedness. The love of God and the Gospel of grace is great when you are the object of it, and you are forgiven and accepted into the family of God. But when the Gospel is offered to people you can't stand, because of their wickedness, that is so disgusting, it is hard to swallow. It was hard for James and John. They were so repulsed by the injustice of prejudice against Jesus that they became equally prejudiced against Samaritans. They wanted nothing short of capital punishment for this sin of prejudice. If these two were permitted to make the laws, a large proportion of mankind would be executed, for prejudice is almost universal. Jesus rebuked these hot heads of His own disciples, for they did not grasp at all that if you fight evil with evil, you are part of the problem and not part of the solution.
Here is another obstacle to the cross. His own followers did not grasp His spirit. If just getting rid of evil people was the goal, He could have wiped out the Samaritans long ago, as well as the Jews, and every other race. The solution of violent elimination of the sinner is an abuse of power that James and John would have used, and many in history have used. It is one of the obstacles to the cross, for Jesus could have said, "Why should I die for men when they will often in my name kill people and think they are doing me a favor? Is man worth dying for when he is so unloving toward others?" He wants to solve the problem of evil, but not by killing evil people. His whole plan is to solve the problem of evil by saving evil people and making them righteous people. The Savior's solution to every sin problem is the cross. Atone for sin and make it possible for every sinner to be forgiven and restored to fellowship with God where he can become a godly person.
Man's way is revenge, but God's way is redemption. Paul states it in a way that is shocking in Rom. 4:5 where he says, "However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." Paul says God justifies the wicked. This often makes good people mad, as it did James and John on this occasion. Whose side is God on anyway? He should be justifying the good people and not the wicked. God is like a great criminal lawyer who knows his clients are guilty of sin, yet He finds a clever way to get them off and acquitted. That is what the cross is all about. It is about God being for the bad guy. Jesus told us to love our enemies because that is just what God does. He loves them and He gives His Son to die for them that they might no longer be His enemies, but His sons and daughters.
This wondrous Gospel is hard to grasp when it is applied to your enemies. Just ask yourself, who do you most despise in the world? What kind of sinner do you get repulsed by-the rapist, the homosexual, the serial killer, or the child abuser? You name it, and it is not easy to accept the fact that Jesus went to the cross to die for such scum. We probably would have advised against it, and voted for revising the will of God. Our plan would have Jesus skip death altogether, and just deal with sin by brute force, like sending down fire from heaven. That would suit us just fine. If Jesus had to die, then let it not be for the sins of the whole world, but just the minor sins like lying, cheating, gossip, and all the things most of us are guilty of, but let the bad sinners pay for their own sin.
The majority of Christians would probably vote for a package like this, and that is why God does not submit His plan to a vote. The Gospel is not of man, but is solely the plan of God. Good men not liking it, however, was one of the obstacles Jesus faced as He headed for the cross. Anyone of us might have been an obstacle to Jesus, for His determination to die for all men is far beyond our determination to do anything for people we do not like. So before Jesus takes a step toward the cross He is hindered from both within and without. Then we come to verse 57, and they are walking along the road on their way to Jerusalem and to the cross. In the next few verses Jesus is confronted by three men who appear to want to be disciples, but they are defective in their desire.
The first in verse 57 makes an absolute commitment and says, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus is not impressed by people who get emotionally excited and promise the moon. He wants people who will count the cost. Jesus is clearly more concerned here with quality rather than quantity. He wants no mass of followers who will forsake Him at the first sign of a problem. His response to the first man implies that the man hoped to gain some dignity by following Jesus. Jesus said, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." In other words, the perks are few if any, unless you consider it a pleasure to sleep out in the open fields.
Jesus is heading for the cross, and He will not deceive anyone into thinking that if they follow Him it will be a gravy train to glory. It is going to be a terrible ordeal for His disciples, and even the best will fall away and forsake Him. So He is not recruiting any half-hearted adventurers who want to tag along. Only those 100% committed to Him as Lord will survive what He is heading for.
The second man said to His call to follow, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." This sounds like a reasonable request, but we know this was not a request to just finish a funeral. It is request to stay at home and care for his father until he does die and is buried. He is saying, "I'll follow you someday when it is more convenient, and I have other obligations out of the way." In other words, when it fits my schedule and I can fit you into my life, then I will follow you. Again, this is an obstacle to the cross, for Jesus could be discouraged by all this evasion from wanting to give His life for those who only had leftovers for Him. Let the dead bury the dead was the comment of Jesus. That is, let those who are not believers handle the affairs of this life. Believers need to be busy about the affairs of the life to come. Get your priorities straight and go proclaim the kingdom of God. A major obstacle to the cross was the fact that He knew His disciples would get so involved with the obligations of this world that their labors for the world to come would take a back seat.
I am often appalled by the demands of secular life. The enormous number of hours it takes just to deal with personal and family matters. Shopping, keeping your car and home in shape, and dealing with all the issues of records and taxes, plus health issues, all take a great deal of time. The point I am getting at is not that this is not important, but that it is possible to get so involved in the important that we fail to achieve the best. Jesus knew we would have endless obligations in trying to keep life orderly, but He gave up His all for us, and the cross demands that we do some sacrificing for Him. The issue is priorities. He was determined to go to the cross, for He made it the number one priority of His life. He expects His followers to seek first the kingdom of God, and not make it the choice of convenience. Jesus knew some would say, "I'll do your will Lord when I get all my other obligations in order. I'll seek first the kingdom of man, and the kingdom of God I'll get to when I can squeeze it in."
The third man said, "I will follow you Lord but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." Again, not only does this seem like a reasonable request, but one that should be granted just out of courtesy to the family. It seems ridiculous for Jesus to expect a man just to take off following Him, and not even say good-by to his family. This seems contrary to all that the Bible teaches about loving others and being kind and considerate. Sometimes Jesus can sound too harsh, and it does not seem to fit His loving character. But you have to see the context, and recognize Jesus is trying to teach the lesson by words that He is, at this point in His life, living out- the lesson of priority and determination.
The cross is His goal and the number one priority of His life, and nothing will hinder His getting to that goal. He is now being very strong in teaching His disciples that they too must be committed to godly goals that become their first priority. They must let nothing hinder their determination to get to those goals. The implication is that these would be followers of Jesus were saying, "I want to follow you Jesus, but I've got some other things that take priority, and as soon as I get these accomplished I will be right behind you." Jesus sees these men as half-hearted followers who will soon fall away when He gets to Jerusalem and is crucified. They will not stick with the kingdom of God, for they put their hand to the plow, but are always looking back at all the other things they should be doing. As soon as they feel all is not right in the kingdom of God they will flee back to the kingdom of self.
Jesus is looking for disciples who are as determined to serve the kingdom of God as He is determined to go to the cross. Determination is dominating Him and He wants that in all who follow Him. Jesus knows that success demands determined disciples. Madam Curie and her husband had just failed in their 487th try to discover radium. He cried out in despair at the futility of it all, "It can't be done, I tell you it can't be done! Maybe in a 100 years it can be done, but never in our life time." But he turned and sees his wife's determined face, and she says, "If it takes a 100 years, Pierre, it will be a pity. But I dare do no less than work for it as long as I live." She had every reason to fold and walk away, but she was determined, and she pressed on, and her discovery has led to modern technology that has saved many millions of lives. Radium was her cross, and she set her face steadfastly to reach it, and did not stop till she did. That is what Jesus wants in His disciples.
Get a goal you know is a goal for the kingdom of God and make it a priority you will reach for, and be determined to let nothing hinder your reaching it. That is taking up the cross and following Jesus. We are saved by the Savior's stubborn determination to get to the cross, and our lives are saved for the kingdom when we have a stubborn determination to see that the good news of the cross is conveyed to people in our lives. Jesus reveals the three key ingredients to success in the kingdom of God. They apply to every realm of life, and they are:
First you have a goal. The goal of Jesus was the cross. That was His destination. Second, you make sure you know how to get there. For Him it was to get to Jerusalem. He knew that would lead to the cross, for on Palm Sunday He would provoke the leaders of Israel to show their hand, and carry out their plot to eliminate Him. Third, you have to be determined to stay on the road until you reach your destination. These three steps are the key to Christian growth. You may be trying to achieve a goal as simple as memorizing a Bible verse. That is your destination, and the direction to get there is by repeating it over and over until it is part of you. Your determination is to do it daily and let nothing hinder you from finding the time to repeat the verse. The end result is that you will succeed, for with these three steps success is guaranteed. Jesus by His life and teaching is our example of how these three steps can lead us to be successful disciples. Elect a destination; establish the direction, and exhibit the determination to overcome all obstacles to get there. This was the plan by which Jesus saved us, and it is the plan by which we can be successful in serving Him, and reaching goals for His glory.