“Jesus Works for You”
Can you believe it? August is done. September is here, and Labor Day is just around the corner. Labor Day was created largely by the labor unions of the 19th century and made a federal holiday in 1894 as it was signed into law by President Grover Cleveland. The day is set aside to remember and honor the contributions to society and life made by the American worker.
American politician Tom Perez once said, “Each year, Labor Day gives us an opportunity to recognize the invaluable contributions that working men and women make to our nation, our economy and our collective prosperity. It gives us a chance to show gratitude for workers’ grit, dedication, ingenuity and strength, which define our nation’s character.”
Given the moment, I just want to say thank you to all those who have worked and do work so hard for their family, community, and nation. What we give and the effort we put out makes a difference, doesn’t it.
This is true for life. This is true for faith. There is work to do. The church stands because people in faith come together to work for the benefit of others. If a time comes when there is no one to gather for the joy of faith and worship, the strength of fellowship, or the sake of service, then a church usually ceases to be. I once had a church in Galien, Michigan. On day a person came up to me and mentioned how a family in the community had suffered a fire and that the church should have a benefit dinner for them. The problem was that the church had grown too few and too old to be able to put on a community dinner. The cause was noble, the idea was good, but the church no longer had the support it needed. The church later merged and closed. A church must be about the work God has given it and in our day one of the primary task must be to call others to become involved in this life of faith, worship, fellowship, and service. How focused are we? How focused are we on sharing the gospel and the salvation we have in Christ. How focused are we in calling people to faith in Jesus Christ and service?
Now Jesus was focused. Sometimes to the extreme. In our scriptures, Jesus focused on the call to discipleship; although, his words seem more of a warning then a sales pitch. Jesus said:
a. V26: Whoever comes to me and does not hate father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sister, yes life itself, can not be my disciple.
b. V. 27: Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me can not be my disciple.
c. V. 33: So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
That is focused. That is extreme. Can we hear these words without saying, “Say What?!” Discipleship means I am supposed to hate my family? But Lord I thought following you was about loving people not hating them. Discipleship means that for my trouble I get a cross. Well, trust me, no one wants a cross. A cross is a torturous instrument of death, forced on someone by a controlling power. We do not even want to go there. It is a deadly, dead end to life. Who in their right mind would volunteer to carry a cross. This seems to be a bad idea. Discipleship means to give up all of one’s possessions. The words really say to give up all that one has. I think it speaks of more than just material things. That is a steep price. There are a lot of things I value even more than material wealth.
How do these demands help us to be disciples or to call others to follow? How do these words help us in doing the work that God wants us to do? Jesus spokes these words to the crowd that was following him. One may wonder how they reacted. Maybe they joined the crowd on Good Friday and yelled crucify the crazy man. Give him his cross if that is what he wants. The words seem more likely to put off people from following rather than to encourage them. Hate everyone closest to you, take up a cross, and give up all that you have. Who would do that? Really?
Well, if you are paying attention, it is easy to see that there is one who did exactly that. Some biblical interpreters of this text argue that the words Jesus spoke here are more aptly understood by applying them to Jesus own life first rather than simply as an attempt by Jesus to frighten away any halfhearted would-be followers. Consider if you will the story from Jesus’ perspective:
a) Who in our text is turning his back on the ones he loves? –Jesus
b) Who in the text is taking up the cross? –Jesus
c) Who in the text is surrendering all they have? –Jesus
As the song says, Jesus paid it all. The extremes Jesus is talking about here are not necessarily the extremes he demands of us, but rather the work he was willing to do for our sakes. As Jesus is heading to Jerusalem the time is short. The hour is at hand. Is it not likely that Jesus saw within his own actions, of willingly walking to the cross, an act of putting his back towards the ones he was leaving behind? Taking up his cross and giving up all that he has.
But there is more. Jesus also coupled his words with two parables. The first was about a man building a tower. What man would start building a tower without first estimating the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? The second was about a king preparing to go to war. What king would go into battle with 10,000 men against another king who has 20,000 men without first considering whether he could prevail? If the chances of victory are small, would he not send out a delegation to seek for terms of peace?
Both insist that only a fool proceeds without counting the cost. Only a fool would engage the enemy without a plan for victory. If a person can only build half a tower, everyone will laugh. If the king loses a war and kingdom in a hopeless effort, everyone will say the king was foolish. Now, who has counted the cost and determined that the work can be completed, and the war being waged can be won? Again, that person is Jesus! Buried within this text is the thought that the times can be rough, but the victory has already been won. For us Christ has already done it all, and paid the debt. He has paid the ultimate cost. He gave up his home and family, his life and all for our sakes. He could have been king of every earthly kingdom, but instead he surrendered the possibilities of an earthly domain so that you and I might know of a heavenly one. Jesus finished this work for you, that you might have life in his name! The work is done.
Therefore, what calls us; what focuses us; what empowers us to service, and invitation to others is not what we fear we may have to give up, but rather realizing the work that Jesus has already done for us. Now are you ready to follow? Are you ready to call others to discipleship and to become part of this faith community? More than counting the cost, have you begun to count the price that was already paid and the victory that has been won. What difference will that knowledge make in your life? The more we give what we have to God the more we shall gain what is truly ours. As the Apostle Paul put it: (Romans 6:5) “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” There are many days when I think we just need to say to ourselves, Jesus you are the center of my life, and then live forward to into that reality.
Discipleship and discipleship making is more about availability then ability. It is about allowing Jesus to work in and through our lives for his purpose. God is able to take even the least of us and in some way change life for the rest of us. Do you love Jesus enough to allow him to live in and through you? That is the true sacrifice that God is asking you for –to love Jesus more. When you do this then the work of God continues.
Milton Cunningham, a missionary, shares a time when He had just settled in for his flight from Atlanta to Dallas. Next to him was a young girl with Down’s Syndrome. She turned to Milton and, in all her innocence, asked, “Mister, did you brush your teeth this morning?”
A little awkwardly, Milton answered, “Well, yes, I brushed my teeth this morning.” “Good,” the girl responded, “’cause that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Her next question was, “Mister, do you smoke?” This one was a little easier on Milton. When he said no, the little girl answered with approval, “Good, ’cause smoking will make you die.”
The third question was even easier for him to answer. The young girl asked, “Mister, do you love Jesus?” Milton answered with confidence, “Well, yes, I do love Jesus.” “Good, ’cause we’re all supposed to love Jesus,” she replied.
Just then, another man settled into the seat beside Milton. He had a grim look on his face, intent on reading his magazine. Immediately, the girl urged Milton to ask the new fellow if he had brushed his teeth that morning. Milton wasn’t about to disturb the stranger. He didn’t want to bother the man, but the girl wouldn’t leave him alone. Finally, he gave in. He said, “Mister, I don’t mean to bother you, but my friend here wants me to ask you if you brushed your teeth this morning.” When the man looked up and scowled, he noticed the girl, and he realized that her question was innocent enough, and he answered that yes, he had brushed his teeth that morning.
With a sinking feeling, Milton realized where this was going. Next, the girl urged him to ask the stranger if he smoked. Milton and the man went through the second question. And sure enough, the girl wanted Milton to ask the third question: did this man love Jesus? Milton protested that the question was too personal, that he just wouldn’t be comfortable asking it. Remember, Milton Cunningham is a missionary; someone we think would have an easy time with this question. But something inside him made him uncomfortable. (Perhaps having the knowledge that there is such a thing as being too pushy) But the young girl persisted, and so Milton said, “Now she wants to know if you love Jesus.”
At this, the man’s face darkened and then his shoulders slumped down. He began to talk about his desire to know God. He was at a point in his life when he was searching for God, and for meaning and purpose in his life. But he didn’t know where to turn. So, Milton Cunningham explained to the man how to have a relationship with God, and how to find salvation through Jesus. He was able to witness to a person in deep need, a person who was in need of God. And it all started with a simple question, asked by a child with simple, but sincere motives.
If you are available, God will do amazing things. Todays’ message is not so much about hating things well, but rather loving Jesus more. Remember the ultimate cost that Jesus Christ paid for us that we might have eternal life, and let Jesus be our example that we might be available for him; so that he might be found in us. This is the work of Jesus for you. Amen.