Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6
Happy new year!
A new decade brings a time for us to do a lot of reflecting. If you are new to Unity Baptist Church, each year we try to create a theme for the year that we use as an umbrella over our teaching; to point us in the right direction and keep us focused. We know that we are on a journey, and as we make our way in that journey, we know we have a purpose. And that purpose is clearly declared in scripture:
For the redeemed, God is working to conform us into the image of Christ.
In other words, we're on a journey of transformation. So as we work with the Holy Spirit, we try to do things intentionally by having such things as this theme: "Following in the Shadow of Our Savior".
And you say, "Wait, I thought we were going to start a new series?" Well, we are, and it is called "The Heart of Prayer", but this series is going to be just a little bit different. This is the first of four messages and we're not going to get to the subject of prayer till the very end, then it will all tie together.
This is the first Sunday, the first gathering of corporate worship in a new year and a new decade. You may have taken stock in your journey thus far and done some evaluating to see where you are in your journey of transformation, or maybe you haven't and maybe this is going to serve more as a prod for you rather than an affirmation.
This is a time of year that we often approach with good intentions, a sort of "fresh start". Some of you may decide that you're going to lose some weight this year by eating less cookies or M&M's. Either way, I would like to give you some encouragement (in the form of a booklet) as you develop your new year resolutions.
For those of you that are close to me, you know, I really appreciate Jonathan Edwards. He has been named as one of the greatest theologians ever produced in America. When he was in his twenties, he had such a love for the Lord and such a desire to live intentionally and righteously for the glory of the Lord that he established some resolutions that he would live by.
We've got copies of those resolutions in little booklets available for purchase [free pdf download here]. The booklet title is Jonathan Edwards Resolutions: And Advice to Young Converts. Don't let the title fool you, this is good for any believer. If you want to get your spiritual perspective and your direction for the year lined up, while getting a little bit of accountability from saints of old, I would recommend this little read for you.
On today's listening guide you will see our verse to contemplate. If you're new to Unity, the verse to contemplate is a verse we use for our whole series to let it give us direction in the series. It's something that we can contemplate, chew on, or even memorize. I'd like for us to read this verse out loud from Galatians 4:6 right now and we'll come back to it at the end of our message this morning.
What a wonderful declaration!
As we talk about the heart of prayer we have to start here. And so, I've entitled this message today "Following in the Shadow of our Savior" because if anybody demonstrated a heart for prayer and a heart of prayer, it was Jesus.
In this particular section of today's text (Luke 9:57-62) we're going to be looking at three individuals that approached Jesus (well, two approached Jesus and Jesus calls out one). I want to go ahead and give you a heads up as we read this, you may be thinking, "What does this account have to do with prayer?"
In fact, we need to be asking that prodding question. What is the connection between follow-ship and a heart of prayer? All this year, should the Lord tarry, we're going to have this constant thread of follow-ship or "following in the shadow of our savior" as our theme. And when I say "in the shadow of Christ", I mean getting up close to Him and staying close to Him.
That starts with having a heart of prayer. So let's read together and then we're going to make three observations that I believe we can see in our text. And then I want you to
reflect on them as we start this new year together.
As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62
Pray with me.
Father, we thank you for the gift of your Word. John wrote in his gospel that this Word is not just what we see as text on the page, but the Word was in the beginning, the Word was with God and the Word is God. And the Word literally took on human flesh and dwelt among us so that we may know you, Father, that we may see, that we may touch, that we may hear from those who have seen and heard and touched the teaching of our savior Jesus firsthand.
So this morning, we come to you from the gospel of Luke and pray, Holy Spirit, as you inspired Luke, that you will do a similar work and open our eyes and our ears and find our hearts receptive to the truth that Jesus laid out for his first followers.
And for those of us today who seek to follow you closely, may our time with You and Your Word minister to Your children and encourage them in this new season we call a new year, this start of a new decade. Only You know what's ahead, but what we know is that we are satisfied in You and we strive to follow after You.
Father, I also pray for our neighbors that may be here this morning or watching this word later, that they may be encouraged to see their greatest need. If they don't know Jesus as their savior, today I pray they would see their sin for what it is; they would see Your love by sending Your Son so that they, indeed, may know today they have a savior who is Christ the Lord, and may they repent of that sin and receive Him as their Lord and savior. Father, use this day together for Your glory and use our time in Your Word to grow Your children. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
[Luke 9:57-62 is] probably one of the hardest sections of the teachings of Christ to process, especially some of the things he says about "letting the dead bury the dead". This morning, as we try to tackle these things, keep in mind that Jesus is teaching. He's not just responding to a certain circumstance.
There is no one that has ever walked the face of the earth that has been more intentional in everything that he said and did than Jesus. We can see that because of the intent of His coming, which is revealed in this account of His interactions.
Verse 57 says, "As they were going along the road and someone said..." Who's this someone? Well, in Matthew's gospel, Matthew records this same event [Matthew 8:18-22], but he describes, or rather, he identifies this person that came to Jesus. He was a scribe. He was one of the religious workers in the temple who literally had the task of copying God's Word and interpreting God's Word because of their expertise. It was someone who was well taken care of because of this high responsibility.
So this person is coming to Jesus and saying, "I will follow you." And Jesus is making a declaration to him, a declaration in verse 58 that communicates this message:
To follow Christ, we've got to trust in the father's care and provision.
For the scribe, he trusted in his ability and his office to take care of his needs, and they were well taken care of. But Jesus goes on to say in verse 58, "if you follow me, the foxes have holes, the birds have nests but (notice he says "the Son of Man". Jesus is identifying as a human-God in the flesh, God-man, the Son of Man) has nowhere to lay his head."
What is Jesus teaching this guy? He [Jesus] is saying, "Listen, if you want to follow me, you've got to trust God to take care of you." As we start this new year we need to remember, (as we've talked about already in many Sunday gatherings) -
The way we process life preaches a message that says, either God is faithful to take care of His kids, or He is not.
Jesus says, if we're going to follow Him, we've got to walk as He walked. We've got to follow Him closely and live as He lived, in total dependence upon the Father.
Now again, don't misunderstand. I don't think the teaching is telling us we need to sell everything we've got and follow Christ and just trust Him every day to provide you meal and shelter and clothing. No, I think there's a principle here. We are to live a life of faith. Faith in who God is!
You say, "Well, that's the challenge. Sometimes I struggle with questioning "Is God faithful?" We need to remember that's part of what Jesus came to address. Take a look at John 1:18.
Now John is writing his gospel after literally following Christ, so he's writing with an account of understanding and knowledge that he's seen with his own eyes. He has literally lived the kind of life of care and trust in the Father because he's followed Jesus. Jesus has shown the faithfulness of God the Father, though Jesus (the Son of God, the Son of Man) had no home to go to, no place to lay His head.
The Bible gives this to us time and time again. God provided for Jesus' toll tax. We never see where Jesus is [unintentionally] hungry. As a matter of fact, in this particular chapter, God is feeding the 5,000 with just a few fish and few loaves of bread. Again, demonstrating that God is able to take care of us.
What I'm sharing with you is that:
We have a brand new opportunity this year to show the world that, in spite of what's going on (and a lot seems to be going on), God is faithful to take care of us and we trust Him.
We put our faith and our trust in Him because we're not like the "unbelievers" as Jesus described those who worry and show anxiety over their lives. Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-33
Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:31-33
Let that resonate in your mind. Your heavenly Father knows and is all-knowing, infinite in knowledge and wisdom, creator and sustainer of everything. He knows what you need. He made you. He knows of your frail flesh. He knows what exposure does to you. He knows what hunger will do to you. He knows you need food. He knows you need Him.
So our response in that faith is that we seek first His kingdom. We honor His sovereign reign and His righteousness. We walk according to His Word, His law, His way, and then we have the promise.
To my Unity family, you know Matthew 6:33 is a life verse that I've shared with you many times. What does it say He (God) will do as we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness? "And all of these things will be added to you." He will care for you!
In the context of this section of scripture [Matthew 6:25-34], he's talking about the birds. They don't worry about what they're going to eat. The lilies of the field don't worry about what they're going to dress in. God takes care of them.
The principle is: "God will take care of you."
The question is: "Does your life demonstrate that God will take care of you?"
Are you following so close to Christ that it impacts your life, just as He walked this life of care and faith and trust in the Father? That is what your testimony is.
I like what J. I. Packer said,
To know that nothing happens in God's world apart from God's Will may frighten the godless, but it stabilizes the saints. J.I Packer (“In God's Presence: Daily Devotions with J.I. Packer”)
We find the second observation as we look at the next man cited in this text (Luke 9:59-60).
59 And He [Jesus] said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”
Here it's a little bit different. "And He (Jesus) said to another, "follow me." So clearly we have a person being called to come follow Christ.
It's interesting to see that Jesus said to this man that he was to follow Him, but the guy's response was, "Well Lord, first permit me to go and bury my father." And what does Jesus say? To summarize, "Let the bear dead buried the dead. You go proclaim the kingdom of God."
As we read this, we are looking at one of the more challenging texts of Christ's teachings. It sounds like Jesus is being kind of insensitive and harsh here. Jesus called this man to come follow him, to go and proclaim the kingdom of God, and all the man says is, "Well, let me first go and bury my father." And Jesus said, "Let the dead bury the dead. You go."
Now, for those who don't have eyes to see, and a heart to know the love of God, you would think that is a harsh response. Insensitive. Yet, what Jesus is pointing out was that:
To follow him, we have to give him the priority in our life, especially if you've been called to go and proclaim the kingdom of God.
That's the key here in this text. I don't believe this text is talking about everyone necessarily. Even though we are all called to be the children of God, and even though we are all called to bear witness to the faithfulness of God in our life by our faith in Him, there are those that are specifically called out for the work of the ministry. If God calls you out to the work of a ministry, you are to give priority to that call because you are His servant. You are His possession. You are His tool to make much of His name to the glory of the Father.
As I was studying this I was thinking, how can I relate this to you?.
I'm a pastor called later on in my life. I mean, I was 28 or 29 years of age before I surrendered to the ministry, served two churches in Florida, and then God gave me the opportunity and, I believe, the permission to pursue my education. Which meant I needed to go to Texas to finish my training.
As I was praying in that direction, something happened. My dad passed. And then, about that time, the doors started opening for me to go to Texas.
Well, I'm the oldest of four. I'm the oldest son and my mom is now a widow. And now a door has opened for me to go to Texas, a thousand+ miles away from being close to my mom and taking care of her. I had a choice to make. I could have said, "Well, mama's a widow. Mama needs me. I'm the oldest. I have a responsibility". And I'll be honest, I had to process through that because I wanted to honor God and I wanted to honor my mom and my family. Much like this guy said, "let me go bury my father first."
(As a side note, many scholars don't necessarily think that the father was already dead, but probably dying. And so the son was just wanting to do what was responsible, what was expected in their culture. But Jesus had called him to go.)
Jesus has called me to go and to proclaim the kingdom of God. I can still vividly remember, I made the choice. God helped me make that choice because, in my flesh, I was wrestling.
I can still remember the day that I pulled out of my mom's driveway saying goodbye, and we hit the road for Texas. What I had to relinquish was my pride in "being the oldest" and "having responsibility."
As I said, I'm one of four. My brother and my sister both lived in the same town. They were already ministering to my mom, as we all were. And my baby sister was not far away.
What gave me the peace to leave was the fact that God ordained family. God is going to take care of my family just like He's going to take care of me as I trust Him and do His will. God is the one that has called us and ordained the family to be a place where we are nurturing and strengthening one another. God's word is even the one that tells us that as our parents grow older, we as siblings have a responsibility to step up and do our part!
Even Jesus demonstrated this from the cross [John 19:24-27]. What did Jesus say to John the Beloved, while He was on the cross? He said, take care of my mom. "Behold your mother. Woman, behold your son." Even Jesus is showing God cares for the family and for us.
When we give priority to who we are and whose we are, we trust God not only with ourselves but also with those that He has made a part of our family.
So I could go to Texas and see it as a step in my journey of growing in my faith and my trust as a follower of Christ. We need to understand that there could be times where God will call you out away from that family, and not always because of calling you to serve, but also calling you to stand for His will, His way, His sovereign reign because there are some in your family that may not agree with your devotion to follow your Savior, your King.
Another hard saying of Jesus is found in Matthew 10:34-36.
34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. Matthew 10:34-36
Some of you have tasted that sting when you've had to stand for what's right in God's sight, though a family member has not. You have to give priority to who you are and whose you are. God is working through all that.
For some of you, I've given counsel that when you do that, God can use the pain of that sting. The Holy Spirit can use it to open the eyes of your family members for seeing that your level of devotion to your King shows that it's real. It's not just some made-up infatuation or a manmade religion. It's real. You now are a citizen of the kingdom of God. You now have a new allegiance to a King that goes beyond the family bond.
Which takes us to observation #3
[Luke 9:61-62] "Another one said, I will follow you Lord, but first, let me go say goodbye to those at home." Reasonable request, but again, Jesus comes back and says, "No one having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God."
I believe our journey is a life of tests. We're either going to believe and be faithful or we're going to be distracted and stray as believers. I think one of the greatest weapons in the enemy's arsenal are the distractions of life.
You say, "Pastor, how is this referencing distractions? Again, the text is showing that connection to family, He just wanted to say goodbye. What's wrong with just saying goodbye? Well, it brings to light another text we find in the old Testament.
19 So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. 20 He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21 So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.1 Kings 19:19-21
We have Elijah the prophet coming to the end of his ministry and he chooses his successor, Elisha. In this old Testament text, we have a foreshadowing of what Jesus was telling this person.
Jesus' followers must stick close to Him, otherwise, the distractions of family life, the distractions of work, the distractions of play, the distractions of our own flesh and desires can lead us to move away from what God has called us all to do as His redeemed; to be like His Son.
The only way we're going to accomplish that is by staying close to Him. When we stay close to Him, things begin to transform in our life, especially within our minds.
We need to be like the apostle Paul. As he spent time following Jesus, his perspective begins to change. Has God provided for him faithfully? He has! He grew in his faith and his dependence upon God to the point that he wrote in one of his later letters before his martyrdom.
13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14
What was the goal? "The upward call of God in Christ Jesus." So we go back to the question, What is the connection between follow-ship and the heart of prayer that Jesus is teaching here?
To get to the answer I believe we need to follow the wisdom of another great scholar of the scripture, Martin Lloyd Jones.
The Christian sits loosely to this world and its affairs. Why? Because he belongs to another kingdom. Martin Lloyd Jones (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount)
To maintain this perspective, we've got to follow close to Christ and have the heart of prayer. So here's the point:
When Jesus' disciples (his first followers) asked Him, "teach us how to pray" [Luke 11:1-13] Jesus says, "When you pray, pray like this." How did it start, Church? Our father. Why? If we are going to follow Christ closely, we're going to have to follow him in the way he depended upon the father.
Jesus could depend on the Father because he knew the Father, just like the scripture said [John 1:18]. "He was the God who was from the very bosom of God". That was a phrase of intimacy.
18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. John 1:18
So we follow Christ closely so that, through what God has done by redeeming us, we make prayer a priority in our life.
As we pray to the father, we're fixing our minds and our hearts to the reality that He is; and we need that daily reminder. That's why we need the discipline of prayer daily.
In the next three Sundays, we're going to continue looking at the heart of prayer. It starts with the father. You've got to know the father. You've got to know who you can run to in that time of doubt and need. You're going to need to know who's the authority in your life, who you can trust to take care of you. You're going to need to know who you belong to because "who you belong to" affects your identity. You're a citizen of the kingdom of God!
We sing songs like "Our God Reigns." That's a declaration, an affirmation of your faith in the truth, that God is the sovereign living God. There's nothing that happens in your world around you that isn't a part of God's world. God, who is working all things to His glory and working to reveal Himself to you.
This is the wonderful truth in this verse that we are to contemplate throughout this series.
Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6
As we start this new year, let's remember the love of God demonstrated through the final act of faithfulness of the Son; dying for our sin so that we would not only have forgiveness of sin but also adoption to the family of God Christ. That we would have the right, as John said in his first gospel, to be called the sons of God [John 1:12].
If you're the son and the child of God, if you're an heir of God, then the degree to which you know your father is the degree to which you are going to trust him.
If that's wavering, then it should challenge you. It should prod you. It should push you to get to know Him better this year. To resolve to be in His Word daily. Not to know Him intellectually, but to know Him in your heart, to know the Heart of Prayer.