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The Least Among You

March 3 2024

Book: Luke

Scripture: Luke 9:43-62

As Caleb said last week, the disciples come down from a mountaintop experience with Jesus and return to the hard realities of ministry in a sinful world. They witnessed the glory of the Son of God, they came down from that spiritual high, and they were immediately met by a crowd of people wanting Jesus to fix their problems. One of them was a father with a demon-possessed son. That’s a significant reality check!

The church was a mess then and it’s a mess now because people are a mess. But Jesus loves His people. He is patient with us, even in our worst moments.

But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples,

44 “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”

45 But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

The obvious question is “Why did Jesus tell them something they weren’t meant to understand?” The answer is simple. It was so that after the resurrection, they would remember his words and know that the death of Jesus was a surprise to THEM, but not to Jesus. It was God’s plan all along. Jesus knew what was going to happen.

But at this moment, they don’t understand. And that is obvious because of what happens next.

46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest.

Imagine a grieving father, sitting at the funeral of his only son. His neighbor approaches and says, “Since your son won’t need his bicycle anymore, would you consider selling it to me for a good price?”

Terrible. Insensitive. Jesus foretells his death, and his disciples argue about rank. But Jesus is not offended… He is patient. He gently teaches them a powerful lesson.

47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side

48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

Notice, Luke says that Jesus challenges the “reasoning of their hearts”. What are they arguing about? It’s their own value. Their own merit. In their eyes, this child has little value… little merit. Except that Jesus claims Him and places Him by His own side.

And then Jesus reasons with them. Whoever receives this child in my name receives me…

We believe that children followed Jesus often in His ministry. To the disciples, they were probably a nuisance, not important at all. To Jesus, these children were extremely valuable.

If Jeff Bezos visited your home unannounced, how might you receive him? Chances are, you would treat him like a king, to the best of your ability. Why? Because he’s extremely wealthy and if he visits you, he might be planning to bless you with some of his wealth. That’s what the word “receive” means in the text. The disciples believe Jesus is the Messiah, sent by God.

And Jesus says, “I want you to receive a child like you would receive me.” Receive a child in the same way you would receive a king. Receive people who have no influence as quickly as those who do have influence. If you do that, then you will begin to attract the kind of people meant for the kingdom of heaven. That’s a powerful lesson in leadership.

At every stage of life, we find ourselves looking up to the people who are one step ahead of us in life. Young children look up to older children. Middle schoolers look up to high schoolers. High schoolers look up to college students. Young adults wish they had more opportunities to learn from older adults. But often in our society, the people we look up to don’t have time for us, and we don’t have time for those younger than us.

We forget that our younger brothers and sisters in Christ are not here for us to overlook and ignore. They ought to be treated like kings and queens, not nuisances. We should see the same leadership and energy being applied to every generation in the church – from cradle to grave. Love and serve the children and youth of this church.

If Jesus had to teach the Apostles to do this, then I imagine He would give us the same lesson. I’m especially thinking of the men. Notice, appreciate, value, and serve the children and youth among us.

This obviously made the disciples uncomfortable, because one of them changes the subject!

49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.”

This sounds almost like a boast… John seems proud of the fact that they did this.

50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

This is another brief lesson in humility. The kingdom is bigger than your little circle of Christians. In the end, there are only two sides: the kingdom of God or the kingdom of this world.

And so, Jesus is correcting an attitude of exclusivity – an assumption that God can only be at work in ways that I expect… in people that I expect. And we can safely conclude that such attitudes have been a big problem in church history.

We have a long, violent history of rejecting people who don’t follow Jesus “with us” as John says. But I don’t get to be the judge of who’s really a follower of Jesus. Jesus can handle that job without me. And there are most likely true followers of Jesus scattered across most every denomination or gathering of professing Christians around the world.

This is why we make it very simple to be adopted into our church. It’s a simple profession of faith in the basic Gospel message. We don’t care what kind of church you came from. You don’t have to agree with us on all the secondary issues. We may have significant disagreements, but if you are living a life of repentance and faith in Jesus, then you are welcome.

This is also why I am highly disheartened and skeptical of any church or denomination, no matter how old or how large, that claims they are the only true church… the only true followers of Jesus.

And I’m going to name them. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Amish, Mennonites, Quakers, and most every cult – all of these groups have this in common… they claim that they are the only true church. And that doesn’t sound much like Jesus at all.

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

This is a nod to a prophecy in Isaiah 50 – that the Messiah would set his face like flint while he endures humiliation and disgrace. Jesus knew what was going to happen and He approached His suffering with courage and resolve.

52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him.

53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.

Already, Jesus begins to face rejection. This village refuses to provide hospitality and the only explanation given is that it somehow moves Jesus closer to His death.

54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

This is not a crazy idea when you consider the history. The Samaritans did not worship God as they should have.

Bible trivia question: God sent fire from heaven to consume his enemies three times in the Old Testament. The first was Sodom and Gomorrah. Do you know who called it down the second and third times? Elijah. Who did James and John just meet up on the mountain? Elijah.

They were ready to go Old Testament on this village because they just met Elijah.

55 But he turned and rebuked them.

56 And they went on to another village.

And now, Luke ends the chapter with a litany of brief encounters with prospective disciples. Pay close attention to the next few verses.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 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.”

In other words, count the costs. These people to follow a man of influence and power, not a homeless man. But that’s what Jesus was in this moment… homeless and rejected.

Will you really follow me anywhere? Are you willing to be homeless?

59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”

60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Man, that’s tough love! Why are you concerned with physical death? Be concerned with spiritual death! In other words, the business of the kingdom is more important than even your family commitments. Are you OK with that?

61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”

Let me say goodbye. I’ll be right back.

62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

We might ask, does Jesus even want these people to follow Him? He seems to be demanding so much, almost like following Jesus is going to cost us everything.

And there’s an important tension here. We are tempted to interpret these verses one of two ways, and neither is exactly right.

On the one hand, this text has been used to beat Christians up for not being “sold out” for Jesus. But I’d love for someone to tell me what that looks like because everyone seems to have a different opinion of what it means to be a “sold out” Christian. And last I checked, none of those “sold out” leaders are homeless and none of them have abandoned their families.

In fact, your opinion of what a “sold out Christian” should be doing can quickly become more important to you than Jesus. You become focused on certain truths or certain moral actions. And it still won’t be enough. Because you’re missing the point of this chapter.

On the other hand, some Christians are tempted to read this as if Jesus doesn’t really want us to follow Him – as if this is an impossible challenge only meant to highlight our need for grace. Jesus is going somewhere we cannot go. No one can really follow Him. We only need to trust Him to go and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

And of course, there is an element of truth in that. Jesus did do something for us that we could not do for ourselves. We receive that work by faith.

But we are also united with Him in His death and resurrection. And Jesus means it when He commands us to follow Him. He means it when He says count the costs. He means it when He says we must be willing to give up everything for the sake of the kingdom.

And that leaves us in a tension. It’s the tension of following Jesus without looking back. But how can we describe it in practical terms?

One of my favorite scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia comes near the end of Prince Caspian.

The children are in a forest. Some of the children think they have seen King Aslan, the great lion, walking through the woods, but he is blurry to most of them. One of them can’t see Aslan at all. But Lucy, the youngest, she can see Aslan clearly and perfectly.

One night everyone is asleep, and Aslan begins to call Lucy. She goes and speaks to him, and he tells her that she must lead the others because she is the only one who sees him clearly. She is afraid to lead because she doesn’t think they will believe her. Because she’s the youngest. But she agrees to try and the other children follow her, which keeps them safe in the end. Listen to this line from the story:

“He led them to the right of the dancing trees—whether they were still dancing nobody knew, for Lucy had her eyes on the Lion and the rest had their eyes on her.”

Can you see in your mind the picture of a little girl following a great lion through the woods and all the older children trailing along behind her? I think this is the point of Luke 9.

Jesus says, “Follow me.” Keep your eyes on me. Not on what’s happening in the world around you. Not on what other disciples are doing, unless their eyes are on Jesus. It’s not about what you’re giving up or not giving up. It’s about watching Jesus. The rest will work itself out if you’re following Him.

We follow Christ and our hope is that others will come as they see Christ in us. It isn’t us, it’s Him. All true disciples are doing nothing but pointing people to Christ. He’s the way. He’s the truth. He’s the life.

What I’m saying is this – stop obsessing about what it means to follow Jesus and just stay with Him. That’s what it means to live in the tension between “my yoke is easy and my burden light” versus “take up your cross”. Just follow.