3rd Sunday after Pentecost (June 26, 2022)
No doubt about it, yesterday, 25th of June, 2022, will go down in the annals of U.S. history as a truly historic and precedent setting day. As you know, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the infamous Roe vs Wade decision which has in effect for the past 49 years permitted abortion on demand at any time of gestation in our country. Millions upon millions of children have had their lives taken away from them over these past 5 decades. Yesterday’s decision, however, does not stop the killing of the unborn but now allows the citizens of each state to decide for themselves through their elected legislatures and governors if they want this inhumane and ungodly practice to continue to be allowed in their state or to end it.
The court has been under immense pressure. Many have come to accept Roe vs Wade as not just a decision by a court 49 years ago, but a fundamental, human, right to have an abortion. They have been unrelenting to pressure these 9 jurists whom they perceive to be a direct threat to their right. The justices’ home addresses, daily schedules, and even the places where they worship and their children attend school, have been published. Illegal protests have been allowed to take place in front of their homes. Many have received death threats. And in the case of Justice Kavanagh, the police thwarted an assassination attempt on his life.
Given all the political pressure and even death threats placed upon these 9 jurists these past few years and months to keep abortion on demand legal, one has to admire the level of courage and commitment on the part of six voting with the majority to strike down Roe. In many respects, for those of us who rejoice in this decision, it will now take even more commitment and effort on our part to educate and convince the people of our state to pass laws that protect and preserve the sanctity of the lives of all Montanans, from the womb to the tomb.
Yesterday, also marked the 492nd anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession to the then Holy Roman Emperor, the young Charles V, at Augsburg, Germany. This, too, was a bold and courageous move. The confession, as you no doubt know, clearly presented not only what those who signed it believed to be the true teachings of the Holy Scriptures concerning the nature and person of God and the true way of salvation, but also what they believed were the erroneous and false teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. This took real commitment on the part of these reform minded laymen and clergy. After all, the emperor was dedicated to execute anyone who taught things contrary to papal teaching.
The spiritual landscape of our world today is not that different from what it was 492 years ago. False theologies, unbiblical preaching, wrong gospels, pernicious and evil philosophies not only are pervasive in our society but they still pollute the teaching and practices of many so called Christian churches. And the pressure to conform to these “new gospels” and “new theologies” and to abandon the ancient, orthodox, teachings of the Holy Bible is increasing exponentially through a steady propaganda campaign waged through the public media, government imposed limits on our constitutional right to free speech, and public ridicule by Hollywood, the liberal and woke elites of society and heretical denominations. It is becoming more and more dangerous by the day to be stalwart and committed to the proclamation of the Truth of Christ. The question we explore today is how committed are we?
In our text this morning, Jesus teaches about commitment: His commitment to us and our commitment to following Him. He does so by drawing upon a farming analogy. He says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Even if you and I have never plowed a field the old fashion way by following behind a horse or an ox pulled plow, it is not hard to imagine the fiasco that would arise if, with our hands on the plow, we kept looking behind us all the time. Such backward looking is liable to make for a pretty crooked furrow. Hands to the plow, looking only forward, is being committed.
We have no better place to observe this sort of true commitment than in the Master of Commitment Himself: Jesus Christ. Luke writes: "When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem."
By saying that Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem is not a way to say that Jesus was confirming His travel plans. Jerusalem was indeed Jesus’ destination. But more than that, Jerusalem was to be Jesus' Waterloo and He knew it. It was ordained by God, even before Creation itself. The serpent would crush the heel of the Seed of the woman. God's Son... His Messiah... would suffer and die at the hands of His enemies at Jerusalem. There Jesus was to offer Himself as The Lamb of God to atone for the whole world of sinners. Not a very pleasant prospect for Him to look forward to, was it!
During this third year of Jesus' ministry, the time for this all to happen had come. Luke calls it Jesus' lifting up. Luke means by this phrase much more than just Jesus' ascension into heaven. From the greater context it is clear, he is referring to Jesus' passion, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension all in one package.
You see, Jesus recognized the time was ripe for Him to go forward with God's plan of salvation. He was ready to put His hands to the rough, hard, and even unbearable, plow. He was committed to not look back for better times or an escape from what awaited Him. He was not about to renege on His commitment to redeem a sinful human race, even if it meant sorrow, pain and certain death for Him.
This commitment made it difficult for Jesus also at times to carry out His everyday ministry tasks. For example, Jesus intended to preach the Good News of the Kingdom to the people in a town of Samaria. But once they detected His determination to go to Jerusalem and not to stay with them, they had no time for Him. Luke says, "They rejected Him!"
The Samaritans were a different lot. They were descendants of the Jewish tribes of the Northern Kingdom, who had departed company from their brothers and sisters in the tribe of Judah and, in violation of God's strict law, intermarried with the Canaanites. They had also abandoned the worship of the true God. Despising the LORD's temple in Jerusalem and the order of the Levitical priesthood, these rebels of Israel built their own centers of worship at Mt. Gerizim, created their own priestly order, and built idols for their gods. The result was generations of animosity between Samaria and Judah.
These Samaritans wanted Jesus to be a party to their "self-styled" religion. And how attractive it must have been for Jesus to stop and serve this special interest group and forgo the cross that awaited Him. But His love for sinners, including the Samaritans, moved Him to remain resolute. He would not be deterred from His mission, otherwise, neither the Samaritans nor anyone else could be saved.
The Samaritans quickly saw that Jesus had no intention of abandoning His salvific destiny in Jerusalem. He had set His face... He had put His hands to the plow. So, they despised and rejected Him for it.
But Jesus also found it necessary to remain resolute in the face of opposition from a most unexpected place: among His own disciples. In reaction to the Samaritans rejection of Jesus, John and James were more than happy to pray for God to send fire down from heaven and blast these heathen from the face of the earth.
In so doing, however, John and James now found themselves trying to thwart Jesus' true mission. For in His rebuke of James and John, Jesus said in essence, "The Son of Man did not come to destroy souls but to save them."
In their own quirky way, I’m sure these disciples were thinking that they were protecting Jesus’ honor. But Jesus did not need their protection. He is the Son of God! He could blast away his rejecters all by Himself, if He ever chose to. Instead, all John and James’ request did was to reveal their impertinence and false understanding of Jesus' mission. In all actuality they were at that moment nothing more than roadblocks in Jesus’ way!
But again, Jesus could not be deterred from His course. There was a cross in Jerusalem with His name on it and He was committed to bearing it for His rejecters in Samaria, for His foolish disciples and for every sinner like you and me. His face was set like flint toward Jerusalem. He hands were to the plow. He would tolerate no looking back. How thankful we can be for His commitment to His cross!
It was time, however, for this King of resolve to teach His followers about such commitment. After all, if they were to be His disciples, their hands needed to be on the same plow as His and be just as resolute as Him. “If you want to be my disciple,” Jesus has said, “take up your cross and follow me.”
You and I cannot follow Jesus through His lifting up and not be committed ourselves! Our faces need to be equally set to follow God's will for us in Christ. Our eyes need to look only forward. There is no place for second thoughts, wishing for better days or divided loyalties when following the Crucified.
As Jesus and His disciples traveled to another village, several opportunities occurred for Jesus to teach them about a disciple’s commitment. The first came as a rather zealous person approached Jesus and boldly said: "I will follow You, Jesus, wherever you go!" Wow! How impressive! Surely this man was a committed disciple, right?
Wrong! Jesus’ response to his statement reveals that this man was not committed at all but was in all actuality, operating under a delusion of grandeur. Where Jesus was going was no glory trail. Why, unlike the fox and the birds, Jesus said, "The Son of Man has no place to lay His head." Whatever this man had imagined following Jesus would be like, you can bet it did not involve a cross in Jerusalem or a hard road for himself, otherwise he would not have said something so arrogant.
The Twelve all had to be called and encouraged by Jesus to follow Him down that hazardous road to Jerusalem. No one simply, glibly and naively, choses such a path. Those who think they enlist themselves to following Jesus are being driven by a personal theology of glory not a theology of the cross.
To be sure, glory comes for the believer at Christ's final coming, when all His enemies will be put down forever. Yet, as Jesus teaches elsewhere, in this present age a disciple can expect the same opposition, rejection, and even persecution that Jesus received. Jesus alone bore the cross that atones for sin, but, be assured of this, His followers will find a cross of their own to carry as well.
Talk about a downer! There’s nothing like Jesus’ talk of His disciples having their own cross to kill discipleship fervor! Just think about it. We seem to want our religion to be convenient. We want our church services short and at times that fit our own personal schedules. We want the worship services themselves to conform to our own personal tastes so we feel comfortable. We say we are committed to His Word, but so often we tend to shy away from discussing any of His teachings that might prove to be controversial to our friends and neighbors. We are all for supporting our church with our time, talent and treasure, but only when to do so doesn’t involve any sacrifice, make us uncomfortable or add any stress in our lives. In fact, if the truth were to be known, we secretly wish Jesus hadn’t even said anything about His disciples also having a cross. We want ease in our following and glory now!
Let’s also talk about another deterrent to commitment: priorities, ours verses Jesus’. Another man called out to Jesus, "Lord, allow me first to return and bury my father." Jesus replied rather harshly, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead!”
We might find ourselves dumbfounded by Jesus’ response. After all, on first hearing, the man’s request sounds completely reasonable. Surely no one should be expected to abandon his familial responsibilities, especially the proper burial of his father. We do have God’s Commandment: "Honor Your Father and Mother."
There is, however, something else going on here other than a request for a hardship leave. Unlike the first man, at no time does this man actually commit to following Jesus. He is simply making excuses. Most Bible Scholars believe that this man's father was probably not even dead yet. There was no immediate emergency involved. This man just had other priorities. He couldn't follow Jesus no matter where He went. Something else was much more important to him. In this case his family. Jesus at best came in "second."
Jesus had to wake the man up to the importance of following Him. Life was only to be found in Jesus. He could help his father, who was spiritually dead, much more by leading Him to Jesus, not following his father to the grave and eternal damnation.
Do other priorities impede our level of commitment to Jesus? God put our hands to the plow of His kingdom in Christ on the day of our baptism. We personally acknowledged that on the day of our confirmation. Are we truly committed to Him and His Word, when we won’t stand for others to besmirch, defame, or otherwise say false things about ourselves or our family, but we put up and shut up when it comes to someone espousing false doctrine or slandering the truth of Christ? …… How committed to Jesus are we when we can make time for television but not for the reading and studying of God’s Word? ...... Are we truly committed when we can spend a small fortune on cars, boats, and holidays for ourselves, but struggle to put something in the offering plate? .......... Are we resolute in following Jesus when we allow other priorities and activities to keep us from being regularly in worship?
One more time Jesus confronts His hearers about their level of commitment to truly following Him. This time we might call it havingdivided loyalties.
In response to Jesus' call to follow Him, a third man replied: "I will follow You, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." This wishy-washy commitment also warranted a severe rebuke from Jesus. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” This "would-be" disciple wanted the best of both worlds. We can assume that his desire to follow Jesus was sincere, but it was with reservations. His heart was torn between two masters. He had committed to following Jesus but just couldn't refrain from looking behind at all he was giving up in the way of earthly relationships.
Of all the scenarios presented in this text, this case of lackluster commitment is probably the one that fits most of us best. After all, we are here this morning to worship our Lord, aren't we? But the question remains, what will become of our level of discipleship once we leave here? Will we be looking forward, seeing the road of discipleship in everything we say and do? Or will we be looking back, putting out of our mind what Jesus said to us today, going about our worldly business with no thought of Jesus and His Word until next Sunday?
Remember, Jesus said looking back once we have our hands to the plow makes us unfit for His kingdom. To the church in Laodicea in the Book of Revelation Jesus says it this way: "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold or hot; I would that you were cold or hot. But because you are lukewarm, and neither cold or hot, I will spit you out of My mouth." Are we lukewarm in our level of commitment to Jesus? Are we looking back in our service to the Lord or looking ahead to what lies ahead in the kingdom of God, fully embracing in faith His Word of command and promise to us?
There is only one cure to a lack of zeal and commitment for Christ and His Word. It is going forward again and again in repentance and faith to the cross of Jesus' commitment to us through our participation in Christ's Holy Word and Sacrament. In these means of His grace He meets us to forgive us for all our sins, even our lack of commitment… He meets with us to renew us with His own commitment to our temporal and eternal welfare…
He empowers us by His Spirit in faith to set our face toward following Him in every avenue of our lives…and He strengthens us to not only put our hands to the plow but to also plow on behind Him proclaiming with all conviction, zeal, and without any reservation, the full truth of His Gospel that others might be saved in Him.
God grant such commitment to us all! Blessed plowing! Amen.