DISCIPLES OF THE KINGDOM
The Kingdom. The word itself conjures up all sorts of mental images of thrones and banners and castle walls and crowns. Such images are not exclusive to us. When Jesus promised in Luke 9:27 that some of His disciples would not taste death until they have seen the coming kingdom, I am certain this brought all sorts of speculation to the forefront.
And then there was that wondrous experience. Peter, James and John saw Jesus literally burst forth in heavenly glory. What were they to make of this? What would happen next? If this was a preview of things to come, then what would the fulness of the Kingdom entail?
It is at this point that Jesus begins to focus His effort in teaching the disciples about the Kingdom. In doing so, a great many of their misconceptions will be overturned. And as we read along with them, perhaps some of our own misconceptions will be dropped by the wayside, too.
And an argument arose among them as to which of them might be the greatest. But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by His side, and said to them, "Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for he who is least among you, this is the one who is great." (Luke 9:46-48).
I recall when the professional boxer Mohammed Ali raised his clenched fists above his head and loudly proclaimed, "I am the greatest!" It is a measure of the way the world views greatness. Strength. Position. Power. Influence. These are the ways in which we normally measure greatness.
The disciples of Jesus were not immune to such ideas. This came to a head one day when they began to speculate who might be the best disciple. James and John might have thought they were better because they had been with Jesus for longer than had Thomas or Matthew. Or perhaps Bartholomew looked at Peter and thought, "At least Iím not known as the apostle with the foot-shaped mouth."
Soon an argument ensued. The text seems to indicate that they were reluctant to bring Jesus into the argument. They knew enough to know that they shouldnít be arguing about this subject. Did you ever have an experience like that when you were a child? I did. There were times that my younger brother and I would start to argue, but we knew enough not to argue in front of our parents because we knew that they would put a stop to our arguing.
What was at the root of their argument? It was jealousy and selfish ambition. Jealousy is poison to a church. It can split a church faster than anything. The disciples were ready to split off and start their own denomination. And so, Jesus called them together. Their argument and their petty jealousy was no secret to Him.
The disciples had been playing a game of one-upmanship. They had been taking shots at each other in order for each one to elevate himself. Seeking status. Protecting their prestige. Coveting kudos. Grasping for glory.
Jesus responds with an object lesson. It is a child. There is nothing pretentious about the kid that lives down the street. He is just a kid. Snot-nosed. Knobby-kneed. Unsophisticated. Unimpressive. No one ever rolled out the red carpet for a kid. You donít leave him your business card and you donít trot out your resume. Why? Because brown-nosing is reserved for bosses, not for boys.
But Jesus says, "You treat such people as though they were Me... because they ARE Me." Of whom is Jesus speaking? He is speaking of how you treat the unimportant person. The poor. The downtrodden. The underdog. The child. The unborn.
If Jesus came to your church today, how would He be received? We would be ready to roll out the red carpet and to bend over backwards to serve Him. He says, "That is how I want you to treat everyone; even the most lowly and the most despised, for that is how you are treating Me."
The key to Kingdom greatness is in direct inverse proportion to the worldís model of greatness. Jesus demonstrated this in Luke 6 where He said, "Blessed are the poor; blessed are the hungry; blessed are those who mourn; blessed are those who are hated and despised and ostracized."
The church was never called to model the world. They are to have two separate and opposing styles of greatness. The world looks at greatness as the enjoyment of power and wealth and pleasure. But greatness in the Kingdom is identified as servanthood.
Francis of Assisi is said to have visited St Peterís Cathedral in Rome where his guide showed him the wondrous architecture and the priceless treasures, noting, "The church can no longer say, ĎSilver and gold have I none.í" Francis agreed, adding, "The church is also unable to say, ĎIn the name of Jesus, rise up and walk.í"
And John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to hinder him because he does not follow along with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you." (Luke 9:49-50).
The section is related to the previous verses. Jesus had been speaking of how you receive those who are despised and rejected. That brings to mind one whom had recently been rejected by the disciples during their recent short-term mission trip.
They were out preaching and healing and casting out demons when they came across someone else who was also casting out demons. The problem is that he was not one of the Twelve. And when the apostles invited him to join with them and to try out as the 13th apostle, he refused.
They had a problem with this. Here was an unordained man doing the work of the ministry. They could not allow this. It would not do at all! And so, they had ordered him to cease and desist.
Jesus corrects their misplaced zeal: "Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you" (9:50). This is obviously given for our edification. What is the lesson that we are to learn from it?
I think that it is a lesson in unity. It is a lesson that we are not called to be "cookie cutter Christians." We come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and we need to take care to accept one another. This relates back to what Jesus said in the previous verses:
"When you accept a lowly and despised and insignificant child, you are accepting Me"
"When you reject a manís ministry because he is not in your particular denomination, you are rejecting Me"
A KINGDOM GOAL
And it came about, when the days were approaching for His ascension, that He resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51).
Up to this point, we have seen the primary location of the ministry of Jesus taking place in the area of Galilee. But now marks a turning point. Now He sets His face to go to Jerusalem. For the next ten chapters, we will see Jesus moving closer and closer to Jerusalem.
Why is He going to Jerusalem? He is going there in order to DIE. He is going there because He knows that it is there He will be arrested and crucified. He is going there to become the sacrifice for sins. It is to this end that He set His face to go to Jerusalem.
This is fraught with significance. Throughout the Old Testament, when one spoke of the presence of the Lord, one spoke literally of being before His face.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8).
The Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make His FACE shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His COUNTENANCE on you, and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26).
Sin removed us from before the face of God. And it is for this reason that Jesus set His own face to go to Jerusalem that we might be restored to the presence of God.
A KINGDOM SPIRIT
And it came about, when the days were approaching for His ascension, that He resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem;52 and He sent messengers on ahead of Him. And they went, and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make arrangements for Him. And they did not receive Him, because He was journeying with His face toward Jerusalem.
And 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?" 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 menís lives, but to save them." And they went on to another village. (Luke 9:51-56).
The distance from Galilee to Jerusalem was about 70 miles as the crow flies. But Jesus and His disciples were not crows. They would have to walk this entire distance. There were two routes from Galilee to Jerusalem.
There was no love lost between the Jews and the Samaritans. They had parted ways many years earlier. The Samaritans were looked upon by the Jews as faithless half-breeds. Two hundred years earlier, the Jews had fought against the pagan king Antiochus Epiphanes when he attempted to set up a statue of Zeus in their temple. But the Samaritans had allowed a similar statue to be erected in their temple on Mount Gerizim. After the Maccabean Revolt, the Jews had destroyed the Samaritan temple.
In the days following the death of Herod the Great, the Samaritans had crept into the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem by night and defiled it.
It is in this setting that Jesus and His disciples approach one of the villages of Samaria. Their reception was not a favorable one. Jesus was headed toward the city of their enemy and, if that was the case, then they wanted no part of Him.
What do you do what you encounter hostility? James and John had a solution. They come to Jesus with a plan. It is called, "Operation Fallout." They come to Jesus with their plan: "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" (9:54).
What is the response of Jesus? He tells them that they are speaking out of ignorance. They donít realize the implications of what they are saying. They are speaking with the wrong spirit. They are speaking with a spirit of vengeance and of retribution and being a disciple of Jesus means to be filled with the spirit of a servant and a Savior: "The Son of Man did not come to destroy menís lives, but to save them." (9:56).
A KINGDOM CALL
During the next few verses, we see three people with varying levels of commitment. Each has a limited desire to follow Jesus. Each wants to become a disciple. But the real question is whether they are each willing to count the cost of that discipleship.
1. The Hasty Disciple.
And as they were going along the road, someone said to Him, "I will follow You wherever You go."
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." (Luke 9:57-58).
This first man was ready to follow Jesus anywhere. At least, he thought he was. The reply of Jesus seems to indicate that he had not counted the cost of that decision. He was ready to follow Jesus anywhere, but was he ready to follow Jesus if it meant having no place to go?
2. The Hesitating Disciple.
And He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Permit me first to go and bury my father."
But He said to him, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:59-60).
Jesus calls the second man to follow. But the man attempts to evade the cross with an excuse. He has a more pressing priority. There are family matters to which he must attend.
At first reading, we have a tendency to sympathize with him. The poor man has just lost his father and wants to attend the funeral and to pay his last respect. Certainly Jesus could be sympathetic to his plight.
Some commentators have pointed out that there is no mention of a recent death in the family and that this man is really saying, "Let me go home and attend to my family and await my father's eventual death and then I will come into my inheritance and then I will be ready to follow you."
However, such a reading is not specifically mentioned in the text. If we are to understand the words of Jesus, we must read what they DO say, not what they do not say. The point of this passage is that there is an urgency that will brook no delay. Jesus is calling this man to follow and He is calling Him to follow NOW.
3. The Undeciding Disciple.
And another also said, "I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home."
But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:61-62).
This man is ready to embrace Christ, but he has a problem with divided loyalties. He will continue to look back, regretting what might have been. He is the counterpart of Lotís wife who longed for the pleasures of the previous life.
The Hasty Disciple
The Hesitating Disciple
The Undeciding Disciple
He did not count the cost of discipleship.
He did not want to put Jesus first.
He wanted to follow only as long as it was under his own terms.
Which candidate are you? Have you counted the cost? Are you ready to give everything that you have to Jesus? Are you ready to be His disciple? Until you are, you are not fit for the kingdom of God.
At this point, Iíd like to stop preaching and merely speak frankly with you. Not about you, but about myself. I was 17 years old and fresh out of high school when I gave my life completely and unreservedly to Jesus Christ. My prayer to Him at that time was, "Lord, whatever I have and whatever I am is Yours."
It is easy to say that when you are young and you donít have a penny to your name. As you get older and you begin to accumulate stuff, it isnít long before all that "stuff" begins to own you. I would be lying if I did not admit to feeling the pull of materialism.
The older Iíve gotten, the greater has been my ambition to get rid of all my stuff - those things that serve to weigh down my soul. Iím learning to travel lightly and Iím learning to understand the words of Jesus when He said, "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?" (Luke 9:24-25).
There is a great deal at stake in this passage. These are teachings of life and of death. There is potential for great gain and for great loss. The question that you must ask is this - to what are you holding? Choose life. Choose Christ.