Sermon Options: March 24, 2024

February 11th, 2021

The Cost of Discipleship

Isaiah 50:4-9a

On this Palm Sunday we remember the ride Jesus took into Jerusalem on the last week of his life. But we remember more than that. We remember a prophet who lived before Jesus and who laid out his life as a testimony to God. Isaiah wrote about a servant of the Lord who was willing to pay any price in the cost of discipleship. Discipleship is costly because of what it requires from us. Here are some qualities that characterize true disciples.

I. A Teachable Nature

Being open to the truth is a quality needed for all disciples. How can we learn if we are closed-minded? Like Isaiah’s servant, we can remain receptive to whatever God has for us. The servant has an “instructed tongue.”

But this matter can go awry if we are not careful. Right after the Civil War, a host of people became teachers because they thought teaching was an easy way of making a living. In his autobiography, Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington told about one of these fellows. This man went from village to village teaching a little and receiving pay for it. In one town the people asked if he taught that the earth is round or flat. The teacher replied that he was prepared to teach that the earth was either flat or round, according to the preference of a majority of his patrons. Truth by survey!

A true disciple is teachable but not gullible.

II. A God-Formed Conscience

The servant in Isaiah has his ears opened by the sovereign Lord. He has not been rebellious, nor has he drawn back from the task. Even physical violence did not deter him. The description in verse 6 of the abuse is appalling. But the servant did not run. Disciples have their consciences formed by the Lord himself.

Our consciences inform us that we humans have a fatal flaw. We are lost and cannot save ourselves. We simply cannot pay the price. Even if we could, who would be willing? We are like a slave in the antebellum South named Tom. His owner allowed him to take jobs off the plantation at night, on holidays, and on weekends. He worked hard for his owner and then would walk fifteen miles into town, work there, and return home. After two hours of sleep he would repeat the action. This went on for years, and he saved every penny. He refused to marry but spent every waking hour working.

After he saved a thousand dollars he went to his owner and asked how much he was worth. The man said that most slaves brought from between eight to twelve hundred dollars. However, since Tom was getting old and did not have any children, if he wanted to buy himself, the owner would let him go for six hundred dollars. Tom thanked his owner and went back to his cabin and dug up his money. He fondled the cash and remembered how long it took to get it. He put it back into its hiding place, went back to his owner, and said, “Freedom is a little too high right now. I’m going to wait till the price comes down.”

III. An Assurance of God’s Vindication

Discipleship is not up to us alone, thankfully. Following the Lord is not a do-it-yourself project. It is living with the awareness that God will bring all things together under his control in the end. Waiting is difficult, but the wait will be worth the effort.

In Carl Sandburg’s books on the life of Abraham Lincoln there is a chapter entitled, “Palm Sunday’65.” It was about April 9, 1865, when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. On that Palm Sunday the war ended and peace began to reign. A few skirmishes flared up here and there until everyone finally got the word, but the war really was over.

That is not a bad definition for Palm Sunday. God was ready to present his peace plans to men. There would be no compromise. A skirmish broke out on Friday, but men did not yet realize that the battle was over.

Palm Sunday is the day when Christ proclaimed his victory over the hostile forces opposed to him. He faced these forces armed only with power of self-giving love, but that was enough. God is still seeking to let everyone know the battle is over and that Christ has won. His life was the treaty. Discipleship is the honor of signing the peace treaty with God. (Don M. Aycock)

Palm Sunday from the Inside

Philippians 2:5-11

Palm Sunday is such a joyful occasion! The decorations are festive, and we eagerly look forward to the coming Easter celebration! Yet there are times when I feel kinship to the Pharisees who urged Jesus to quiet the chants of the people crowding the way that Sunday as he came down the Mount of Olives riding on a donkey: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt 21:9) That was fiery stuff; the sort of thing rebellions are made of!

Jesus response was startling and firm: If the crowd ceased to proclaim his glory, the very stones of the streets would take up the chant! Still, somehow I see the rider of that donkey, the object of this adoration and celebration, looking rather sadly at the crowd, mindful of where this road will lead before the week is out, and equally mindful of the contrast between this charade and his previous existence. And I think it took a mind and heart full of love and determination to stay the course that day.

Paul dares to speculate on the thinking and heartbeat of Christ. “Have the mind of Christ,” he tells his beloved church. What was the mind-set of Christ as he rode the donkey that day? What is the mind of Christ which we are to have?

I. It Is a Mind-Set of Self-Renunciation

Can you picture in your mind’s eye the leave-taking of Christ from heaven to come to earth? I see Christ preparing to leave heaven, looking around at what he is about to leave. All the unspeakable glories of that place! He leaves all the beauty; he leaves the exalted position he has in heaven as the Son; he leaves the equality he has with the Father.

As he stands at the portals of heaven and looks downward, he is thinking of how incredible it is that he who created this universe should place himself into the body of a man, the mind of a man, the knowledge of a man; confined in time and space to the backwaters of history, to the tiny country of Palestine, and to the care of the young girl Mary. But it goes further. In his divinity as he takes leave of heaven, Christ sees the ordeal ahead when, experiencing all a man can experience of hatred and pain and suffering and evil, he will endure the cross because of the goal ahead.

II. It Is a Mind-Set of Humility and Obedience

It is a mind-set of commitment to a descent from glory, round by round descending into the domain of the devil, into the territory claimed by the spiritual powers who had rebelled from the Father. In verse 5 we are told that Jesus, having the nature (morphe) of the Father, having the inner character, essential and permanent, laid it aside, not seeing equality with the Father a thing to be held to, but rather, emptying himself, and taking on the nature of a servant, a slave. He humbled himself, taking on the skema—that which is changeable about one’s self—of a man. And not just a man, but a servant. And as a servant, he became obedient even to death. Executed as a common criminal, as one who plotted against the good of the people, as one who would foment rebellion against Rome.

III. It Is a Mind-Set Honored by the Father

In answer to this self-renunciation, this humility and obedience, the Father has raised him from the dead, says Paul. And not just that, but God has given to Jesus a name that is above every name. God has declared that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord! That was the earliest Christian confession, and still the only one that counts: Jesus is Lord!

This paragraph, nestled in the middle of Paul’s Letter, is no mere exercise in academic theology; it is a basis for daily living. I heard a talk radio host call a group fanatics because they believe that if they lose their life in an act dedicated to their faith (not Christian), they will go to heaven and be much better off. He thought it ridiculous that the prospect of how one will spend eternity beyond this life should dictate one’s actions and lifestyle here. He is the deluded one, the fanatic about this world.

Paul knew that Jesus was able to go through the garden and face the cross because he trusted in the Father, and trusted him to make all well beyond the cross. We must have this same mind-set, the mind of Christ, enabling us to look beyond this world and live in a way that will glorify Christ. As Charles Wesley said, “Mild he lays his glory by . . . Veiled in flesh the Godhead see” (“Hark the Herald Angels Sing”). (Earl C. Davis)

Which One Are You?

Mark 14:1–15:47

This Gospel text of Jesus passion is a moving narrative with all of the elements of powerful drama. Jesus is the object of a sinister plot involving betrayal and murder. The woman who anoints him at Bethany demonstrates the devotion of his disciples. Jesus transforms the traditional Passover meal into the sacred mystery of the Lord’s Supper. Christ is the only character in this drama who fully understands the plot and has already anticipated the ending.

It is a drama in which you might find yourself. The question is, which one are you?

I. There Are Those Who Deny Their Faith Because of Fear

Peter thought that he would never betray Jesus, but he discounted his own fear. His actions betrayed his true belief. Peter feared judgment by the Sanhedrin or the Romans more than judgment by God.

Fear is our greatest enemy. It keeps us from sharing fully of what we have. We are afraid that we will not have enough if we give some away.

Fear robs us of the power God brings to our life. When we live by faith, we can do all things through Christ. When we live in fear, our timidity robs us and others of the blessing of faithful living.

II. There Are Those Who Will Only Accept God on Their Terms

Fear is involved here, as well. Fear of change. Fear of God acting in new and different ways. Fear of things not being the way they have always been. Fear of life not being predictable. Fear of being challenged to grow and mature. Fear of being moved outside our comfort zone.

Judas had other expectations of Jesus. Judas frustration and disappointment led him to betray the one for whom he had been waiting. Judas wanted the messiah to come on his own terms.

Most of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and those of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Council) looked for a messiah who believed as they did. They expected God to meet their criteria. God’s kingdom needed to fit their mold of what was law. Though convinced that they were right, they would prudently wait until after the festival to make their move. After all, they did not want a riot on their hands (14:2).

III. There Are Those Unwilling to Accept the Radical Nature of the Kingdom of God

Christianity can never be faith on our own terms. It is not about building the church as we like it, but building the kingdom as God desires. When we insist on being in control, we are unable to give God the control.

Some people saw Jesus as someone to save them from tyranny and oppression. For them he was a miracle worker and a mystical prophet. He awed them, and they shouted, “Hosanna!”

Some people saw Jesus as a threat to established religion, a manipulator of men and women, and a purveyor of trickery. They shouted, “Crucify him!”

Today, some people see Jesus the way they see the church: with skepticism. Some folks wonder if Jesus can really do anything to save them from injustice, poverty, or a lifestyle of unhappiness.

Some people see Jesus as a good-luck charm. Christ is a “Saint Christopher medal,” which not only protects, but saves us from sin.

Some people see Jesus as a demanding Lord whose expectations are great and whose love we must earn. The notion of grace is foreign to these folks.

Some people see Jesus as a friend and companion, a Savior and a Lord who is worthy of a lifetime of commitment.

The question is: Which one are you? (Gary G. Kindley)

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