The call of Jesus. 9:51-62
The central theme of chapters 9:51 through to 10:42 is the meaning and acceptance of the kingdom's message. In our passage for study we look at the first two episodes, namely Jesus' rejection in Samaria, and the cost of discipleship. These two stories tell us that the message of the kingdom concerns deliverance, not judgement, and that gaining this deliverance must take priority in our life.
v51-53. The Samaritans, who were half-cast Jews, were despised by the Jews. The Samaritans didn't much like the Jews either, and so when Jewish pilgrims had to pass through Samaria, journeying to Jerusalem, abuse, and sometimes violence, resulted. For this reason, a Jew would normally try to skirt around Samaria when heading for Jerusalem, but the picture we get here is of Jesus' need to press on toward his destiny. The disciples set out to organize lodgings in a nearby village, but the locals sense Jesus' agitation to be on his way to Jerusalem and this only provokes racial hostility.
v54. As usual, the disciples have missed the point, and so they ask Jesus whether they can call for an Elijah type judgement upon the village.
v55-56. Jesus' rebuke exposes the disciples' failure to understand the nature of his journey, which, despite their lack of perception, continues. Jesus was heading for the cross and thus, the deliverance of those enslaved by sin. Even the Samaritans were to share in this salvation.
v57. Again in travel mode, Jesus presses on toward Jerusalem. Luke wants us to see the journey within the context of Jesus moving toward the cross. So, on the way Jesus meets three candidates for discipleship, three people who want to join with Jesus on the journey. The first and third candidates volunteer, the second is invited.
v58. Jesus tests the commitment of the first candidate, as he does the others, telling him that discipleship is not for fair-weather friends. With the first candidate, Jesus calls for a commitment to the deliverance gained by the lowly suffering servant. Those wanting to follow the Son of Man must accept a humiliated, not a glorious messiah.
v59-60. With the second candidate, Jesus exposes his natural reluctance to commit. Religious duty demands that a dead relative be buried. Left unburied, all the relatives would be ceremonially unclean. Yet, Jesus' retort is that the "dead" (in the sense of those who do not, and will not, share the resurrection life of Christ - the spiritually dead) can be left to bury the physically dead. A disciple must commit to the mission of making known the good news of the kingdom, which of course, has nothing to do, one way or the other, with attending, or not attending, a funeral. Leaving aside excuses, it's commit to the mission, or go away.
v61-62. With the third candidate, Jesus again confronts a potential disciple, hesitant and in two minds. Visiting, or not visiting, one's parents has nothing to do with a decision for Christ. What is necessary is a clear decision, because a person in two minds doesn't have the aptitude for kingdom service. The imagery here comes from Elijah's call of Elisha, 1Ki.19:20ff.
"The privilege and the seriousness of following Christ are of such tremendous magnitude that there is no room for excuse, for compromise with the world, or for halfheartedness. What a challenge and inspiration to know that He who calls us to complete devotion and loyalty, Himself followed wholeheartedly the road of self-denial - yea, even to the death of the cross!" N. Geldenhuys.
Oh dear! such devotion and loyalty I do not possess, and I fear, I will never possess. Am I then lost before the throne of my God? Am I then that unfaithful servant without hope? Am I the forsaken one? Luther felt that he was the forsaken one and so mouthed the words "my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Yet, he came to realize that it was "Christ forsaken for me." Christ has taken the punishment due me, and in its place has bestowed upon me his worthiness. My salvation does not depend on my worthiness as a disciple, but on Christ's worthiness.
Here lies the point of our passage. Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, toward a cross and empty tomb. In this is deliverance for lost humanity. So, we are asked to rely on the humiliated Christ and the absurdity of the claim that he has risen from the dead, and that in his resurrection there is life eternal for lost humanity. The question is, are we willing to rely wholeheartedly on him for our salvation, or are we hesitant and in two minds? When it comes to a disciple's interaction with the world, communicating the gospel is of such importance that it dictates many of life's decisions. A potential disciple, hesitant in their decision for Christ, is simply not suitable for kingdom service.
Let us remind ourselves of the need to commit wholeheartedly to the deliverance achieved for us by Christ in his death and resurrection.
"Creatively" discuss the many possible meanings of v62 and compare them with the idea that this verse simply calls for a single minded reliance on Christ for salvation.
Print-friendly: Sermon Notes. and Technical Notes 9:51-56, 57-62
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