Sunday, June 27, 2010

Jesus - the First Responder

I'll be refering to this sermon this morning at our church... it's worth reading or listening to in its entirety... if you prefer listening, go to the Lutheran Hour website.

The First Responder
By Rev. Dr. Mark Larson, Guest Speaker

Text: Luke 9:51-62

Jesus said, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God." These words are very blunt and challenging. It seems perfectly reasonable and proper that a man be allowed to attend the funeral of his father. These words seem harsh. Why is Jesus in such a hurry when He calls to us, "Follow Me!"?

To answer that, put yourself in the big shoes of the first responders after the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11. Huge plumes of smoke are rising to the sky. Many people have already died. . . . And it's raining . . . raining people, people who are forced to choose between death by fire or death by jumping out of the buildings a hundred stories up. The sirens of the fire and police vehicles howl and echo back and forth in the skyscraper canyons of the city. The first responders speed toward the task appointed before them. Many in the Towers have already died, but some people still need to be rescued. The firemen and the policemen set their faces toward the Twin Towers. Their eyes are fixed on this catastrophe; I don't think they could look back if they wanted to. They could not say good-bye to their families. There was nothing more important at that moment than the task of saving the lives of those still trapped in the Twin Towers.

What an important task, saving lives. Yet this pales in comparison to the task of saving eternal lives. The brave first responders went to save earthly lives. Jesus and those who respond to His words, "Follow Me" set their faces to save the eternal lives of those who are trapped in sin. . . It's still raining. . . Raining the souls of men being lost from our Heavenly Father's tender care to a hopeless, despairing eternity. So Jesus says, "Follow Me. Right Now! Don't look back!" That's the meaning of this passage of the Bible.

I suppose that there are at least two groups of people listening to this message. For the first group the words "Follow Me" are impossibly challenging. This group is composed of those who are content with their current lives. They are comfortable, and perhaps even complacent. These words of Jesus require radical change. The second group is composed of those who realize that their lost condition, who have no hope of saving themselves or finding their own way. To them, the words, "Follow Me" are sweet hope. When we acknowledge that we are lost, Jesus' words are rescue because only He can lead us to life.

Let's turn to that first group. The Bible reading today from Luke 9:51-62 shows us some people like this. We see the Samaritan turning Jesus away and we have three conversations between Jesus and would-be followers.

The first verse of this passage (51) sets the stage for this passage of Scripture. "As the time approached for Jesus to be taken into heaven, He resolutely set out for Jerusalem." This verse establishes the basis to understand the rest of the passage. Jesus was going to heaven, but first He had to go to Jerusalem. Very important, so let me repeat that: that Jesus was going back to the glory of His throne in heaven, but He had to go through Jerusalem first where He would be rejected, mocked, and even killed, but raised back to life on the third day.

Between Galilee and Jerusalem was Samaria. Verse 52: "And Jesus sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem." The Jews and Samaritans did not get along. Each claimed to be the true worshippers of God, but each rejected the other's claim. The bottom line was that it was common for Samaritans to hinder the travel of Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem. Here is an example of people rejecting Jesus. They did not heed His words, "Follow Me." They were sure that they had the answers. They did not realize how much they needed Jesus.

"When the disciples, James and John, saw this, they asked, 'Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" This response strikes me as both funny and sad. Funny, because who are James and John to think that they should call fire down out of heaven. But, it is also sad because James and John in no way reflected the loving heart of their Master Jesus, Who didn't want anybody to be lost. In verse 55, Jesus squarely turned to them. He looked them in the face and rebuked them. Proudly calling fire down out of heaven is not the plan. The plan is to humbly go to Jerusalem.

Jesus continues His journey through Samaria. During this time He encounters three people, who are counting the cost to follow Him. In Verse 57, we meet the first man: "As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' Jesus replied, 'Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.'"

We meet the second man in verse 59 "[Jesus] said to another man, 'Follow me.' But the man replied, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.' We meet the third man in verse 61, 'I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family.' Jesus replied, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'"

What is Jesus telling us? He is telling us that the matters of the Kingdom of God are incredibly more important than the issues of this world, even family and home, as important as they are.

People have souls, souls that will live forever, either in the bliss of heaven - as God wants - or separated from Him in hell forever. As I said before, it's raining souls, souls of people being lost from the Father's tender care in a world that is ready to collapse. The work of bringing people back to God is so important that the lack of a place to lay your head should not deter you. It is more important than burying your father. It is so important that there should be no reason to look back after having set your hand to the plow.

So Jesus says, "Follow me!" And these words rock our world to the foundation. Do we find ourselves in this first group? Are we stuck? Are we so stuck in the earthly that we are not able to see to the greater purpose that Jesus has for our lives? Or, maybe, we like Jesus well enough, but are we ready to respond to His call to radical commitment?

What about the second group? It is not composed of people who are content and complacent, but rather of those who realize that they are in need of rescue.

They are like the people who were trapped in the Twin Towers after the planes struck. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. The elevators won't work. The stairwells are destroyed. The smoke is thick and choking. The flames are advancing. You will not get out alive. The only thing left to do is to choose between death by fire or death by jumping out of a skyscraper and you have chosen to jump. You balance yourself on the window's edge and glance down to the street so far below. You stay as long as you possibly can, but the fire's heat just keeps coming and building. It is becoming unbearable and searing and consuming.

You are about to jump when you feel a hand on your shoulder. It is a first responder. The rescuer speaks the words . . . "Follow me." Follow me! Of course! He knows the way out! No longer are the choices only about death. Now there is hope and maybe even a future. There must be a way. The rescuer got into the building. He must know the way out.

So, by no means would the rescuer's words, "Follow me" be viewed as an imposition to your busy schedule, but as the only hope for a new life. That is how it is with people who understand their spiritual condition before God. Because of sin, we have offended God and deserve only punishment from Him. The punishment that we deserve is eternal death and separation from Him. We cannot help ourselves out of this situation.

So, hear me on this, friends. You are the person trapped in sin. I am too. This sin has consequences for your eternal life. It poisons everything in your life - your relationships, your job, your family, but most of all your standing before God. Because of sin, you are like that person caught between the fire and the great, big fall. The only choices that you have lead to death.

But there is a way to life. In the same way that those first responders stormed the hell of those trapped in the Twin Towers. Jesus came to ours. He knows the way in and He knows the way out. He says, "Follow me." For Jesus, the way is through Jerusalem. He knew that there was some very nasty business awaiting Him. Yet it must be done. What Jesus was about to do in Jerusalem was the most important event in the history of mankind. Jesus knew that He was going to be rejected by the religious leaders and eventually by all the people. He knew that He would be killed on the cross in disgrace. He knew that the reason that He had to do this was so that He could take the fall for our sins.

Christians talk about the cross a lot. This is because it is the center of our faith. So, please let me explain in the plainest terms that I can, the meaning of the cross. And, if you remember nothing else about this message today, please remember this.

* There is a God. He made everything.

* He's absolutely perfect. He's so good that He can't tolerate evil. We're naturally evil. So we can't be in relationship with Him.

* But God is love. He's not just loving He is love. That's His nature. He wants to be in relationship with us. He's so loving He even made a way for us back to Him. That escape route is Jesus. He took the fall for us by dying on the cross. That was the punishment for our evil. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Through this message that you are hearing right now, Jesus' hand is on your shoulder, offering forgiveness, offering life, offering love. This offer is real. His word is trustworthy and true. With tender love, He says, "Follow me." He came into your world to rescue you from sin. He knows the way in; He knows the way out.

When Jesus turns you around to follow Him, you join a third group. Yes, there is a third group. This group is composed of those, who having felt Jesus' hand of rescue on their shoulders, have left all to follow Him.

These are people who, once having been rescued from certain death, go back into the fiery tower to rescue others because they too now know the way.

Who would do that? History is filled with believers who are so filled with joy at receiving eternal life that they followed Jesus even to the point of giving up their earthly lives. An early church father said that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." To this very day, Christians around the world work to put Jesus first. Believing in Him may cause a rift in their family that can never be repaired. It may cause them to be rejected by their communities. In some places, believing in Jesus comes with a death sentence.

In preparation for the sermon, I asked for input on this Bible passage from some friends at Lutheran Hour Ministries. From this small group arose a couple of examples that illustrate this text so well.

Wayne told me that the day before he was ordained his father died. The day after the funeral he had to bid his grieving family good-bye to begin his ministry. Verse 60 of this 9th chapter of Luke seems to apply, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God."

Roy wrote this to me: "My wife's grandfather is 97 years old. He still pastors a church. Two years ago his wife had a heart attack and died while preparing lunch on Saturday afternoon. The next day, Sunday morning, he was in the pulpit preaching to the congregation. When he was asked why he wasn't at home (as they expected him to be), and why he chose to drive himself a considerable distance to church, his answer was simple. He said, "Mae is fine". "She's in heaven now." "We have a church full of folks who are still trying to get there. I have to be here." He understood that it was still raining, raining the souls of people.

So in which group do you find yourself? It depends on the day I suppose. Some days you may be in the first group: stuck in complacency and completely oblivious to the rain of men's souls. On other days you may feel like that soul on the edge, feeling like you are caught between the flames and the fall. And, you know, feeling that way isn't all bad, because on those days when you feel that there is no hope or escape, there is one in Jesus. Through the Word, Jesus' hand is on your shoulder. He says, "Follow Me. I know the way. By my cross, I purchased salvation for you." His words have amazing power to rescue us. When you know the way back to God, I know that you will want to be among those who suffer and sacrifice for THE First Responder, Jesus Christ. This makes you a member of the third group, which is right where Jesus wants you to be. In His Name. Amen.

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