What Kind of a Savior
The emergent church today, as the Jesus Freaks before them, delight in shocking people with a Jesus people don't expect. I suspect even those who think they have a revolutionary view of Jesus as Savior would have their expectations blown to pieces by the Jesus revealed in our text. Honestly, doesn't this text leave you wondering what kind of a Savior is He?
Jesus is 6 to 9 months away from the cross. For 3 years He has had a public ministry. Crowds of people follow Him as He goes to Jerusalem for Passover. You would think Jesus would be on His "best" behavior. You would think He would want to keep the crowds happy. What kind of a Savior antagonizes those He wishes to save? What kind of a Savior rejects what most everyone else naturally accepts?
Jesus is passing through Samaria. Since He's traveling with a large group, He wants to make sure the village He is going to can handle the crush of people. But the Samaritan villagers want nothing to do with a Savior that is passing by their holy mountain heading for the holy mountain of the Jews. They reject Jesus: though 3 years earlier He had come to Samaria to proclaim He was their Savior; though He always portrayed Samaritans in a positive light and not according to the prejudices of the day; though He Himself was called a Samaritan by His enemies.
They rejected Jesus flat out, so you can see why James and John thought fire should be called from heaven to destroy these ungrateful, unbelieving Samaritans. But rather than Jesus agreeing that those who rejected Him ought to fry Jesus rejects His disciples. He turns on them and rebukes them. "Rebuke" is the language of exorcism. That's why some Greek manuscripts have Jesus saying, "You don't know what kind of spirit you have." What kind of Savior says not a word about those who reject Him, but implies His disciples who only wish to defend Him are demonized?
We might be able to see why Jesus was opposed to violence, but tell me what kind of Savior rejects eager followers? A guy comes to Jesus saying, "I will follow You wherever You go." What a great prospect! Wouldn't you like to have that kind of guy walk through our church door? But what does Jesus do? He discourages him. Rejects him. Says to him, "You have no idea how difficult it is to follow Me." Does that make sense to you? Don't you think Jesus should be all gushy and happy with a person who is eager to be a disciple? Wouldn't you be shocked if a person was eager to be a member of our church and I said, "Not so fast there; You have no idea how hard it is; it means being worse off than animals?" What kind of a pastor goes around busting the bubbles of eager followers?
Okay, I can see how some need their rose colored glasses broken for their own good. But what kind of a Savior rejects the bereaved? Now we're on shaky ground, aren't we? All the guy wants to do before following Jesus is bury his father. But Jesus replies, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go proclaim the kingdom of God." Now we know dead people don't bury anyone. So the first use of the word dead by Jesus cannot refer to the physically dead but must refer to the spiritually dead. So Jesus says, "Let the spiritually dead bury their own physically dead." What kind of a Savior talks this way? Shouldn't Jesus let the guy comfort the bereaved? What kind of Savior says, "The death of your spiritually dead father is of no concern to you; the kingdom of God is?"
Okay, okay, I can see why Jesus might not want a new follower to return for a funeral where emotions run high, where people will want him to stay, where the details of death can keep you occupied for weeks. He could easily slip back into the spiritual death of his family. But what about this last case? What kind of a Savior won't let a man say good-by to family?
It might help you to know that the man actually asks Jesus to let Him go home and arrange the things of his house. He wants to go home and organize his household affairs, so he can return to them when he's done with Jesus. That's why Jesus uses the illustration of a man who looks backward while trying to plow forward. Such a man, says Jesus, is unfit for service in God's kingdom. He's double-minded; He wants to serve the things of God and the things of man too.
And what's wrong with that? Don't we all have an eye towards the things of this life? Does any of us put all our eggs in the Jesus' basket? Don't we all think it's really up to us to take care of ourselves? What kind of a Savior says, "If your heart is not on the things of God exclusively, it's not on the things of God at all?"
The kind of Savior who rejects the half-baked, lukewarm, halfway Christianity we accept with open arms. Jesus rejects a Christianity tainted by the spirit of vengeance, shallow eagerness, family ties, or conditional commitment. He says I want no part of that kind of a disciple. And that means He wants no part of me because all 4 of these examples describe my Christianity in some way. What kind of a Savior can accept followers such as us? The kind that accepts what we cannot.
We would not be Christians if it meant having nowhere to lay our head; we would not be Christians if foxes and birds had more of a home than we did. But that's what Jesus had. In order to accept us, Jesus accepted this. Jesus, the God who provides foxes with holes and birds with nests, willingly denied Himself a place of rest. He did that just so He could accept us who reject any sort of deprivation on account of our Savior.
And which of us has always put our family behind the kingdom of God? And no it's not been funerals for family that have come first, but holidays, birthdays, and parties with family. But we're in good company in our sins. See how many times in Scripture family came first for God's people? Rebekah's and Isaac's favoritism of their sons wreaks havoc in the Church. Eli and David can't bring themselves to discipline ungodly sons. Solomon's wise heart is turned toward stupid idols by the women he loves. And Mary and Martha flatly blame Jesus for the death of their brother Lazarus.
What kind of a Savior could ever accept sinners like us who put family in front of Him? Only the kind of Savior who accepted both our duty to do that and our debt for not doing it. Jesus bluntly told his mother that she wasn't to come between Him and His heavenly Father's business. Jesus bluntly said his family were not those related to Him by blood but those related to Him by the Word. And Jesus broke His mother's heart by dying on a cross just to save our lost hearts.
What about the total commitment that Christianity calls for? Which of us doesn't regularly looked back at sins we left behind or at other things we're committed to? Who among us is not like the Israelites who once freed from the cruel Egyptian slavery looked back lustfully at the fleshpots of Egypt? And yet the Lord forgave their sins, didn't He? He held them up with everlasting arms even though they kept looking to someone or something else. What kind of a Savior could accept such double-minded, fickle-hearted sinners?
Only the One who never looked back. For the joy set before Him, says Hebrews, Jesus endured the shame and suffering of the cross without looking back. He set His face to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, and did not blink. He accepted all the scorn, all the pain, all the tears, and all our sins, just so He could hold us in His everlasting arms, just so He could forgive us our sins, just so He could dry our tears.
Who can accept the homelessness, the sacrificing of family, the never looking back? Only the Man who was perfect; only the Man who is God in flesh and blood, Jesus. But how can He accept us as followers? We don't endure hardships well let alone homelessness; we won't sacrifice time with family let alone our family; we not only look back but spend as much time looking back as we do forward. How can the perfect Jesus accept us fallen followers? Because He weeps at the things we rage at.
The disciples raged at the Samaritans who rejected the Savior, but what did Jesus do when Jerusalem rejected Him? He openly wept over it as people do for a dead loved one. He shed tears, true holy water, for the city that rejected every godly messenger and killed every holy prophet sent to her. You know how sometimes you will think, "So and so ought to be here hearing this sermon?" Most of the time you say that, the part of the sermon you want them to hear is the Law part in order to crush their proud heart or expose their dirty one.
That's not how the Savior thinks. He doesn't rage at those who aren't hearing the Law; He weeps for those who won't hear the Gospel. And if Jesus would gladly gather those outside the church into His everlasting arms of grace and mercy, how much more will He gather you who are inside? He doesn't cast you off because you rage against sinners. He doesn't reject you because you sometimes have a shallow eagerness for the things of God. He doesn't reject you because your heart gets all tied up with your family or because you can't stop yourself from looking back. What He does is forgive you.
What kind of Savior do we have? One who expects to save sinners not holy people; one who doesn't act based on our commitment to Him but based on His commitment to us; one who set His face to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die for us sinners long before we were committed, loved, or even liked Him. That kind of a Savior is better than we expected, more than we deserve, and exactly what sinners need. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (20100704); Luke 9: 51-62