Sometimes when Carla longs to visit Kristen in Banff, or wants to bring some food to the boys or worries about one of the children, I tell her, “Oh, your such a mother.” Which is of course absolutely true. That kind of behaviour is normal and expected for a mother. I would be worried if she didn’t have that kind of concern for her children.
When Ron Kroeker draws things or Margaret Dueck quilts or Eric Eidse plays hockey, we say that is normal behaviour. We know that they enjoy these things and we are not surprised if they are involved in them.
There are also certain values and behaviour’s that we expect of one another. We expect people to say thank-you, to pay their bills, to help when they can. These are just normal expected human behaviours. If someone departs from what we expect is normal behaviour, we might even comment, “that’s out of character.”
What is normal behaviour for a Christian? What kind of values, what kind of lifestyle is what we expect of a person who is a disciple of Jesus? What does Jesus say about this?
This morning, we will look at Luke 6:17-49. As we follow Jesus around in his preaching, teaching and healing ministry, we come today to a passage that summarizes some of his teaching to his disciples. In Vs. 20 it says, “Looking at his disciples, he said…” In this passage, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, more than just the 12 as we see from verse 17, and describing what it means to be a disciple.
Verse 17 says that the teaching takes place “on a level place.” The specific teaching sounds so similar to the sermon on the mount, which Matthew records that we wonder if this is perhaps not the same teaching, but there are differences. Matthew talks about “the poor in spirit” and “those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” whereas Luke talks about “you who are poor” and “you who hunger now.” In Matthew, we have just beatitudes, but in Luke, we also have woes. Perhaps Jesus preached similar sermons in different locations.
I believe that this passage teaches what is typical behaviour for a disciple of Christ. What also strikes me, however, is that typical behaviour for a follower of Jesus is radically different from the world. As we read this, we need to ask ourselves, “Are we living in a way that is normal for a Christian and radically different from the world?” One writer says, “The commands of the Sermon are not only invitations, they are a test.”
In this passage, Jesus gives us three areas in which he describes the normal behaviour for a follower of Christ.
It is not surprising that we are quite familiar with the beatitudes in Matthew, but not as familiar with the beatitudes in Luke. These beatitudes in Luke are disturbing and shocking, especially to us as North American Christians. In Matthew, we understand that the intent is spiritual. Matthew talks about the “poor in spirit,” “the meek,” “the merciful” and so on. Luke disturbs us greatly by talking about the poor, the hungry, those who weep and those who are hated, excluded and insulted for the sake of the Son of Man. Then to make things even more difficult to understand, he pronounces a woe on the rich, the well fed, those who laugh and those who are well spoken of. When we read this, we are tempted to put it down and not listen, because it is talking about us and it makes us uncomfortable. We are rich and well fed and we laugh and are well spoken of. How can we understand this? Since there are other places in the Bible that call being well fed, rich and having laughter a blessing, we have a hard time understanding what Jesus is trying to say to us.
I believe that what Jesus is trying to teach us is that there are values which are normal for a follower of Jesus but which are radically different from the rest of the world.
For instance, all of the world values riches. Television exploits this concept with advertising for lotteries, with invitations to experience freedom 55 and so on. We like it when we have enough and a little extra. The world wants a full stomach. Food is very important and we agree, especially around lunch time. The world values laughter and pleasure. Advertising assures us that we “deserve a break today.” We enjoy laughter. We join the world in wanting to be well spoken of. We try to live our lives so that people are not offended at us.
There is nothing wrong with these things, but Jesus is teaching us that as disciples, we can have a deeper perspective. When we are poor and hungry, we know that we have no where to turn except to God who supplies all our needs. Hunger and poverty teach us that we are completely dependent on God. The woe of riches, and what is often a problem for us, is that riches teach us to depend on riches. That is why Jesus says that it is hard for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. One writer asks, “In the tug of war between the world’s riches and God’s, which side has the stronger grip on your heart.” Marshall wrote, “Jesus expression of sorrow for their condition is not directed against prosperity in itself but against those who enjoy such prosperity, are satisfied with it, and do not look beyond the satisfaction of their own desires.” So the thing we value more than riches is dependence on God and knowing God.
Values for a normal Christian are different in that we have a larger view of things. Laughter is great, but we can rejoice even when we weep. Even though we may weep now, we have more than a faint hope that some day we will laugh. The laughter that Christians can expect is a laughter that is deeper and more certain and comes from God. It may not come in this life, but for believers it will surely come and so we can live with weeping because of the hope we have. It is normal behaviour for Christians to live with hope.
Normal values, so radically different from those of the world recognize that there is something much more important than having everyone speak well of you. Two weeks ago, we looked at the persecuted church and heard that the persecuted church is not asking us to pray for the persecution to stop, but to pray that they will remain faithful. When Jesus says that we are blessed when we are persecuted, he is saying essentially the same thing. There is a value that is higher than being spoken well of and that is the value of remaining true to Jesus in the midst of persecution. Someone said, “for a disciple to be acceptable to the present age is a warning that he really may belong to it and will share its judgement when the kingdom of God arrives.” Another writer said, “Sadness lies ahead for those who chase after the crowd’s praise rather than God’s truth.” Jim Elliot, the missionary who was killed in Ecuador said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
The world does not understand when a Christian gives 10 or 20 percent or more of his money for missions, but because we value God’s kingdom more than our wealth, we understand - that is radical Christianity. The world does not understand why someone would give up food in order to seek God, but because we value knowing God more than eating, we understand - that is normal Christianity. The world does not understand why someone would be willing to give up their job or to die rather than give up faith, but we understand that the life, eternal life that God gives is far greater than reputation or even life - that is radical discipleship.
The important question we must ask ourselves is, which values am I living by? Am I only living by the values of this world, or am I living by the radically different and much more deeper values of what is normal for Christians?
The second section gives another way of living that is to be normal for Christians, but is also radically different from the surrounding world.
What is expected and normal from the world is that a person hates his or her enemies. We are seeing such hatred played out in the name of justice in regards to Iraq at this time. Normal for the world is that we demand justice from those who wrong us. Normal is to love and enjoy the company of our friends and to do good to them. Normal in the world is reciprocal benevolence - repaying good when people do good to us.
When Jesus asks the question in verse 33 “And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that,” he emphasizes the main point here and that is that followers of Christ follow a higher ethic.
As followers of Jesus, what is normal is that we not only love those who love us, but we love those who hate us and we love those who wrong us. It is clear that such love has nothing at all to do with what we feel. It has everything to do with a choice we make because we recognize the way that God has treated us. One writer said, “Jesus wasn’t talking about affection for enemies, he was talking about an act of the will.”
Many have tried to understand the extend to which this applies. All would agree that this applies when a family member rejects us or a neighbour cheats us. We understand and agree with that, even though it is a challenge to live it. All would agree that this applies when our competitor in business undercuts our prices or when we constantly get but ended in a hockey game. We understand and agree with that, even though it is a challenge to live it. We, as Anabaptists, believe that there is no reason to limit this saying in any way and so we also believe that it must apply in the way we relate as citizens of the world and so we also refuse to participate in war. This is unusual in the world, but we have to remember that this is the ethic for followers of Jesus.
Such an ethic follows the truth contained in verse 31, which has been called the golden rule.” Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Other religions have similar statements that are negative. For example, Confucius said, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” Christ is the only one who puts it positively which means that not only do we not do to others what we don’t want done to us, but we take the initiative to do to others what we would want done to us. It is active, in fact, it is pro-active. It initiates, it seeks to love others - even enemies.
The reason such an action is possible is because God is involved. He rewards such a life and he is the first one to live in such a way. As the text says, it is a call to mercy as the Father is merciful.
The third lifestyle issue is to live with totally changed relationships. It is not unusual in our relationships with others to question the actions and motives of other people. I don’t know the world in which Jesus lived, but I do know that today the world is less judgemental than the church. As people who know of the holiness of God, we have somehow taken it upon ourselves to judge one another. Philip Yancey has written a book in which he describes the judgement he felt in the church when he was growing up. Many of you can attest to similar feelings.
According to Luke, that is not what should be normal for Christians. Normal for Christians ought to be mercy, forgiveness and grace. Jesus declares this when he says, “do not judge.” Later in the same passages, he warns us that we ought not to judge others because we do not have the holiness within ourselves to appropriately make such judgements.
Sandwiched in between these two sayings, Jesus gives this interesting parable. He asks, “Can a blind man lead a blind man?…everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” What is this parable about? Who are the blind men? Who is the teacher? I think we are the blind men. We can’t see well enough to be able to help another see. One time a couple was planting their garden on a windy day. They placed their string between posts and dug the row and put in the seeds. Later, when their plants germinated, they discovered that each row had a little bit of a bow in it. The wind had given the bow to the string and they had followed a crooked reference point. That is what happens when we judge each other. Instead, we should be like our teacher. Jesus is our teacher and he has extended grace to all of us. If the “plankless” one is gracious to us, how much more should we be to one another!
Such a gracious, forgiving perspective is unusual compared to the rest of the world and even to what is normal for how we are prone to live. But, it is normal for what is expected of Christians.
The sayings of Jesus in this message are that, as Christians, we live in a way that is completely different from what feels normal to our human way of thinking and what most of the world lives. As disciples of Jesus, normal is a radical discipleship - one that is very different from what is around us.
Because we are called to such a radical discipleship, we wonder, “How in the world can we ever live like this?” Many have dismissed these thoughts as merely an ideal to shoot for, but which we will never reach. Others have dismissed them as belonging to another age. I believe that it is the call to normal Christian discipleship living. How do we do it?
As Jesus continues to teach, the next image, in verses 43-45, tells us how such a life is possible. He uses agricultural imagery. If you have a field which is full of wild oats, you do not expect that such a field will yield much wheat. Wild oat plants do not yield wheat kernels. Jesus uses the imagery of figs and grapes and points out that they do not come from thorn bushes or briers.
In the same way, the normal values, ethics and actions of a disciple of Jesus do not come from a normal human heart. It is impossible for a normal person to live in this radical way. It is no wonder that the people who do not know Christ do not understand this. It is no wonder that we have such a hard time living in this way when we try to do it in our own wisdom, understanding and strength. Jesus says very plainly, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart.” The only possible way for us to live what is normal Christian discipleship is if our heart has been changed by the power of the God of resurrection.
Last week, Norbert Richard shared how when God’s Spirit came upon him, he was able to overcome the power of alcohol and drugs. This is the truth. Unless God is within us and changing our heart, we will not be able to live the normal Christian life. However, when God’s Spirit lives within us, we begin to learn to live like this. Sometimes when I realize what a perverse and solid grip some sins have on my heart, I pray, “Lord, change my heart” and He does.
Such normal Christian living also does not come from people who have a nominal faith. If you are a follower of Jesus only because it is culturally acceptable to be so or because you think heaven would be nice, but you have not been changed by the power of God, you will never understand how it is possible to live such a radical discipleship. It will make no sense to you. But if you have been changed by the power of God and have had a new heart put within you, then such a new heart will act in a different way.
Listen to what Jesus says. He says some scary words. It is possible for people to say “Lord, Lord” and not do what Jesus teaches. Such a life is hypocrisy and a sham and will result in God’s judgement.
Living radical discipleship, is not merely a matter of waiting for Jesus to change our heart, it involves obedience and comes about as we make decisions involving doing what Jesus says. Jesus calls a disciple the one who “hears my words and puts them into practice.” Are you obeying what you know to be Jesus’ commands? To do so is the way of normal discipleship.
The wonderful thing is that when we have hearts that are being changed and when we choose obedience to Christ, then God gives us a tremendous promise. The promise is that by such a life, we build a foundation which is rock solid. By living radical discipleship, we develop habits into our life and do so to the very core of our life so that when the storms of life come, we are prepared to respond in the way that God, the creator of this world, would respond. God’s way is a way of victory and blessing. The normal human way of living is a “way that seems right to a man, but the end of it is death” as it says in Proverbs. By following radical discipleship, we will have a foundation that will not be shifted by floods or any other forces that come into our life.
One writer said, “obedience is the only flood insurance you need.”
I have watched many people go through crisis and there is no doubt in my mind that those who have built their life on Christ, are much more solid in their faith and in their whole life than those whose faith is nominal or those who have no faith at all.
These verses are so challenging that we often dismiss them. If we are thinking of them in the way of the world, they make no sense. They are foolishness. But, when we know Christ and when we have become familiar with the ways of God, then this way of living makes perfect sense and is a clear reflection of how God operates.
I know very well that I do not always live this way, but I am so thankful that God allows us to be people on the way. As we invite Him to change our hearts and as we obey even when it doesn’t seem to make sense by human standards, we grow to become - normal Christians, radical disciples.
I want to commit myself to radical discipleship. Do you?