The Abiding Call of Jesus and the Radical Freedom it Brings
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Sunday, July 29, 2012 - 10:00 a.m.  Sermon #: 1578
Pastor Don Horban

Matthew 8:18-22 - ďNow when Jesus saw a great crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. [19] And a scribe came up and said to him, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." [20] And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." [21] Another of the disciples said to him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." [22] And Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead."

This is a series on savouring the glory of Jesus this summer. One of the things you realize as you begin your walk down the Christian road is, you really canít get to know Jesus the way you get to know about Abraham Lincoln, or George Washington. Jesus doesnít just grow like some mental concept in the mind. Sooner or later, hopefully sooner, you must confront Jesus. Or rather, He begins to confront you.

Jesus always comes with a voice of summons. There is always confrontation when a person deals with Jesus - at least, the genuine Jesus. Confrontation is what happens over and over in the Gospels. Sparks always fly. Sometimes tempers flare. There is a constant power struggle when His kingdom rule engages our kingdom of self and pride.

But as our literacy of the Biblical Jesus has waned in the church this confrontation with Jesus has been diluted - tamed. Jesus has been domesticated and air-brushed in recent years. Weíve become experts at teaching our youth that Jesus is always fun and cool. And theyíve largely bought into that scam. He has become just about whatever anybody wants Him to be. The result is everybody ends up with just the Jesus he or she likes. Jesus doesnít shake up anybody anymore.

This, of course, contrasts greatly with the presentation of Jesus in the Gospels. People had a terribly hard time with Jesus. He constantly made people uncomfortable (especially religious people). Frequently He made them angry.

People had a terrible time trying to adjust to Jesus. He didnít fit their schedules, expectations, or self-determined systems of living. Just take note sometime of all the places that kicked Jesus out - Judea, Galilee, Gadara, Samaria. Take a look down at the end of this eighth chapter of Matthew - "Get out of here! You're scary. We donít want you around!Ē

Huge crowds followed Jesus all the time. But to really be His disciple involved more than was usually understood. That's where today's passage starts:

Two people came to Jesus, expressing the same desire you and I have expressed: "Jesus, I want to follow you!" It's expressed in many different words ("I want to be saved", "I want to be your disciple", "I want to make my life count for You"). All of our worship songs are plastered with that type of lingo.

These two people come to Jesus in churches all across Canada on a Sunday like this. Maybe they put up their hands, or come to an altar or ministry room. Perhaps they just nod approvingly as the preacher speaks. But thatís all just the surface of things religious.

We need to look at the God-side of things. How does Jesus respond to these two followers in Matthewís account? What is He looking for? It seems to me, those are very important questions for would-be disciples to have face

Matthew chose these two examples very carefully out of many possible cases. One man responds too quickly. The other responds too slowly. Apparently those are the two dangers we have to look out for.

a) Matthew 8:19-20 - ďAnd a scribe came up and said to him, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." [20] And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

He says he'll follow Jesus wherever He is going to go. But Jesus points out that this man has no idea where that may be or what's involved. And the obvious point Jesus makes if following Him is more costly than this professed disciple has taken into account. He says he wants to follow Jesus. And he probably believes He wants to follow Jesus. But heís not really ready to follow Jesus.

He has a big general concept, but with no specific details thought through. And big general commitments are always the easier part of any venture. The big general promise usually has enough excitement attached to it to create its own momentum. Itís the small, disciplined, daily details, requiring immediate attention and effort that are tougher to get a handle on.

Itís a bit like the decision to have a baby. Babies are fun to conceive and tougher to deliver. And then the real work starts. Having a baby is much easier than raising a child. The decision to go to university is much easier than studying for exams. Have you been watching those Olympic athletes? The decision to be an athlete is easier than training and dieting to stay in shape. Yet, the only way to reach any worthwhile goal in life is to discipline yourself to take all the little steps required along the way.

"Jesus, I'll follow You wherever You go!" And look at Jesusí response. He seems strangely unexcited about that kind of big, vague promise. Heís still not that excited. "You really don't have any idea what youíre promising. That kind of commitment won't last long. Think things through! How are you going to follow-through on this huge promise?Ē

This same process gets played through whenever people stand at an altar in marriage. Everything is so beautiful and fresh. Life seems to contain nothing but roses for the young couple. It's all blushes and lace and candles and friends.

But while weddings may be like that, marriage isnít. Thatís why the marriage vows force them to face things that seem very remote and unlikely at the moment. "For better or worse" - and it can get a lot worse! In a year that young partner who looks so beautiful or handsome can end up in a wheel chair for the rest of his or her life! Youíre twenty-five and strong. She's in an accident and paralysed from the neck down. Have you thought about that possibility? How will you face that situation? You're making a big promise here. Figure out the cost of this whole thing right now. Because there's no turning back.

I wonder how Jesus feels about people who week after week sing about "Jesus being their all-in-all,Ē but don't ask them to come to church consistently, get involved in Christian Education, or tithe, or lead a Bible study.

Please donít miss my point. I'm not saying that you have to do everything, or that you somehow earn Jesusí love by your good works. And I'm not saying Jesus is overbearing or unreasonable. But every thoughtful Christian has to flesh those words out somehow in his life in a way that is deeper than just words.

b) Matthew 8:21-22 - ďAnother of the disciples said to him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." [22] And Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead."

These are some of the strangest verses in the New Testament. Doesn't Jesus care about families? Is He totally insensitive to the pain of human grief? How could He be so heartless?

"Leave the dead to bury their own dead" What can that mean? How can dead people bury other dead people? Jesus simply must have had something very specific and important in mind to utter such controversial and shocking words. What is He getting at?.

Hereís the issue with which Jesus confronts us all. How important is my obedience to Jesus? How serious is He about being followed instantly when He speaks? What are Jesusí rights as my Lord? Will He risk going against custom and proper protocol to exert His Lordship?

And hereís another good question: How valid does an excuse have to be to exclude me from taking every Word He says with immediate seriousness and responsiveness? What reason will allow me to be exempt from His command? What can I legitimately put before obedience to Him? What actions can be postponed and what actions canít. And in these verses Jesus is saying His followers frequently get those categories mixed up.

A Christian has to be able to come up with accurate answers to those questions. His soul may depend on it. There is no way to mistake the intent of Jesusí words. Heís straining words to show that there will come many times when following Jesus as Lord will seem totally unreasonable to our self-managed lives. The Christian life is totally inconvenient. Itís meant to be. And in these verses Jesus says, "if I have called you to something else - nothing must be allowed to pre-empt that call"

How easy it is to come to the conclusion that Jesus will accept any reason we offer as to why we can't do (right now) what He is calling us to. We can so easily assume that because He is merciful and gracious to forgive us when we sin, He is also patient if we choose not to obey Him immediately when He commands.

"Lord, I believe that You're so incredibly patient and kind and reasonable - we sing about that all the time - I just know You'll understand why I can't do that right now. Perhaps some other time!"

But look at our text. Jesus doesnít seem that reasonable or polite. He seems quite unreasonable and emphatic. He seems to expect that there are places where, even though His yoke is light, itís still a yoke. You have to pull with a yoke. You canít just do your own thing. The call of Jesus is always a pressing call.

Perhaps this individual was already smiling as he turned to walk away, "I'll see you in a little while. I just have a few things to take care of, K?" To his surprise he hears the Lord's voice in the background "No, it's not OK. Iím Lord and Master of your life. And I want you to do this for me right now".

This is the particular sin of good, church-going, Christian people. We can't just say ďnoĒ to Jesus for any reason. We can't just appear lazy. And we can't just offer some ridiculous excuse for not exercising a deeper walk of obedience with Jesus.

That leaves only one option. We need to find something that is so good and holy that nobody would dare blame you for not doing that first! Something no decent Christian or church or pastor could ever question.

"I can't follow right now - I have to bury my dad this afternoon!" There. Thatís air-tight. And then, to our shock, Jesus says "No, that isn't as important as what I'm calling you to!"

Make no mistake about it. There is great joy and nourishment in doing the will of God instantly. Jesus said that it was His meat to do His Father's will. That is, the Fatherís will was the central joy of His life.

But that joy is never accidentally discovered. It never just falls into place in my life like some kind of fairy dust. It will never come to those who side-step what Jesus calls them to by His Spirit.

And hereís the thing. We donít side-step the Lordship of Jesus with a flat-out ďNo!Ē We side-step the Lordship of Jesus by filling the place His command requires in our lives with other good commitments - commitments like this man used to postpone Jesusí call on his life - ďI have to bury my dead relative!Ē

Take note of how this habit grows. There will always be something else good to do when Jesus speaks. And the striking lesson of this passage is even good things arenít tolerated when they collide with the clear call of Jesus. Excuses will always emerge out of the blue. The Devil will make sure of that.

Do you remember the parable of those invited to the kingís banquet? "I've bought some land", "I've purchased some oxen and have to try them out", "I'm married - I have a wife, a family to think about!"

Make no mistake about it, the whole point of that parable is that's how people miss the kingdom! Itís not usually with really wicked stuff. Itís the seemingly endless string of really important stuff - legitimate stuff. Thatís what stalls deep discipleship and life.

Are you allowing the summoning call of Jesus to go deep enough into the territory of your life? Do you still try to follow Him pretty much on your terms rather than His?

What about His call on your life to Bible College, to the mission field, the Masterís call to making things right with a wife or husband whom you have forsaken. Or what about His call to the breaking up of a relationship that you know has no place in your life, or His call to a life of deeper prayer and Bible study, or His call to some kind of meaningful involvement in ministry in the body of Christ?

Has any true follower of Jesus here gradually come to the place where the call of Jesus has actually become optional or somehow less than totally binding in its impact on your life?

"My meat is to do the will of Him who sent Me", "For me to live is Christ" People who have tasted of that kind of commitment will never be content with anything less!

"But pastor Don, you don't understand, my plate is too full now!"

That may well be. But, when cleaning up your plate, make sure you scrape off the bones instead of the meat. Find other areas of your life to eliminate - other areas to scale back. Cut out things that don't necessarily add spiritual life and power!

You see, itís the things conflicting with Godís will that put the grit and strain on a life. Godís ways are finer than gold and sweeter than honey. But that is only discovered after Iíve yielded my life to His ways. In my stubbornness I so often become my own worst enemy as far as joy is concerned by cutting out the very things that would fuel and produce the life of the Spirit in deeper ways than I ever imagined.

Joy is reserved for those who pay the immediate price of obedience. Itís always been that way. Donít be one of those Christians who lives his whole life without discovering it.

So donít just babble about following Jesus until you have taken into account what it will cost to follow Him. And then, once youíve started, donít let any self-determined commitments usurp your Masterís call.

And everyone said.....