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Sep 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 4, 2011

He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come!” Luke 17:1 (read vv. 1-19)

INTRO: A friend of mine mentioned a book to me about jerks in the workplace

In it, the author says, “More and more evidence keeps emerging that power causes people to be more focused on their own needs, less focused on others’ needs, and to ack like ‘rules don’t apply to me’ . . . .” Experiments “also show when people get a little power, they feel less compassion when hearing others talk about painful experiences, such as the death of a friend.” (Robert Sutton)

Moving up the ladder in status, position, or income changes a person
– not in the ways we tend to assume – that is, they do not become more generous, but less

Jesus had just told the story of a rich man who was insensitive to the needs of a poor man at his gates
– the story was especially aimed at Pharisees, “who were lovers of money”
Now he turns to disciples and, basically, his message is: “Don’t become like them”
– if the disciples end up like the Pharisees, Jesus has failed

The Lord’s goal was to prevent us from being jerks in life and condemned at death
– or to put it positively: Here will will discover traits Jesus wants to cultivate in his followers

Verses 1-4, Pay attention to yourself (v. 3)

First, so that you don’t become like the rich man
– trip up someone else who seems too insignificant to worry about

If the disciples enjoy any sort of success, they’ll run into danger
– as a person gets bigger, people around them seem smaller
– the danger: they’ll ignore, neglect, or abuse the “little ones”
How well did the disciples learn this?
– in very next chapter, they bullied people who brought their children to Jesus (18:15)

“Nowhere more than in America are Christians caught in the . . . syndrome of size. Size will show success. If I am consecrated, there will necessarily be large quantities of people, dollars, etc. This is not so. . . [Jesus] tells us to be deliberately careful not to choose a place too big for us.” Francis Schaeffer, No Little People

– in ch. 13, Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a mustard seed
(size is not the measure God uses–split an atom and you can blow up a city)
– in ch. 14, he advised party guests to choose a humble place

“All of us–pastors, teachers, professional religious workers and non-professional included–are tempted to say, ‘I will take the larger place because it will give me more influence for Jesus Christ.’” Schaeffer

– but both scripture and research reveal that it doesn’t work that way

“We should consciously take the lowest place unless the Lord himself extrudes us into a greater one.” Schaeffer

– Schaeffer gives two reasons for this:

  1. It is easier to be quiet before the face of the Lord in the lowest place
    – where we receive vision, get renewed, maintain orientation
    – growth increases activity (administration), lose our cutting edge
    The pastor or Christian leader who eagerly grasps at the opportunity to move to a higher place, may succeed, but, “Ten years later he may have a huge organization, but the power is gone, and he is no longer a real part of the battle in his generation.”
  2. We forget our brothers and sisters

Secondly, pay attention to yourself so you don’t become like the older brother (in the story of the Prodigal Son)

The person who is caught in sin is often degraded in the eyes of others
– a friend’s prayer, “I thank You, Lord, that I have not been caught”

The way of the disciple of Jesus is to:

  1. Go after the person who has “missed the mark” (not avoid or exclude that person)
  2. Forgive the “brother” who has sinned against us, betrayed us, let us down

Verses 5-6, A question of competency

“Apostles” (in 6:12 the apostles were chosen and in 9:1 they were equipped for ministry) – closest to Jesus and empowered by him
– they are the ones who ask for help
– their requests reveals several things:

  1. They feel conflicted over what he just said
  2. They realize they don’t have what it takes
  3. And, they cannot produce it on their own
  4. They are looking to Jesus for help
    – this, to me, is the beautiful part of their request – go to Jesus
    – too often we try to resolve these issues on our own or else Christian leaders tell us we need to have more faith

Jesus has talked about the faithful steward (12:42)
– and being faithful in very little things (16:10)
– that’s where they need help – can they believe what he’s saying?
– that caring for the little ones and forgiving their brother will do any good?
What’s the reward? What’s the payoff?
– how will we not get gobbled up by the needs of the poor?
– what if our brother never stops sinning and repenting?

Does it take faith to be faithful?
– the Lord’s answer, “Yes, but just a little” – the mustard seed again
– the mulberry tree was actually a sycamore whose leaf looked like mulberry leaf
– they have lots of thick roots that go deep
If we have a little faith and we speak and act on it, it is enough to uproot fear and prejudice from our hearts

It is not Jesus’ way to make things easy — it is his way to make them true

But what about the payoff?

Verses 7-10, Stop looking for payoffs and rewards

The Pharisee’s system was built on merits
– they earned the right to enjoy a privileged status with God
– Jesus takes that system apart — it introduces the wrong thinking into Christianity

This is another odd parable the first time you read through it
– culturally, it made total sense – a slave was a possession, asset
– it would be like saying “Thank you” to your garbage disposal
But Jesus has already dismantled this social structure
– 12:37, he announced that the master would “gird” himself and wait on his servants (i.e., the disciples)
– so this parable isn’t about their relationship with Jesus
At the beginning, he puts them in the role of the master, but at the end they are in the role of the slave

He is giving them a strategy to prevent them from developing the attitude of the master
– from feeling entitled, from taking people for granted, ot living ungratefully
– people who earn their blessings do not feel grateful, but proud

“Don’t accept the attitude of master. Don’t think of yourself as superior. Don’t assume you have the right to boss or abuse others–even if you’re the owner of the company”
– this is our slogan, “We are unworthy slaves”
– it is not a matter of taking pride in our low self-esteem, but it is a preventative from getting too big or too important

Verses 11-19, Take the path to wholeness

This story has a surprising twist
– notice Jesus is traveling the border of Galilee and Samaria
– it seemed strange to me that he would say “show yourselves to the priests (plural) – cf., 5:14
– no explanation is given for this, though in a moment it may become clear

The details regarding the one who returned build dramatic tension
– he saw, turned back, glorifying God with loud voice, fell at Jesus’ feet, gave thanks
– only then after all these other actions comes the shocker, “And he was a Samaritan
– maybe that’s why Jesus used the plural for priests – the Jews were sent to their priest and the  Samaritans were sent to theirs
Only the Samaritan did not go to his priest — he turned around and came back to Jesus

That Jesus commented on the missing nine shows that it mattered whether they returned to give thanks
– “your faith has made you well” – saved you – healed or whole
– “clean” is what Pharisees achieved, “whole” is the gift of Christ

At the heart of this episode is the lepers’ cry, “have mercy”
– it’s the whole point of everything Jesus has been teaching
– how much mercy do you want to receive from God? That’s how much you need to show others
Through mercy to cleansing, cleansing to giving thanks, to wholeness

As a leper, an unworthy slave, a little one, I am treated infinitely better than I deserve

CONC: The last story gave Jesus opportunity to do what he taught

In mercy, he did not make distinction in who he healed (Samaritan or otherwise)
– the whole teaching and example is an invitation to join him
– that is Communion – being joined in union with Jesus
– and it is Eucharist, “giving thanks” – eucharistoon

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