Selling the Cross / Third Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 9:51-62

Two of Jesus’ disciples, brothers James and John, asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans.

Have you ever noticed that people love to make jokes about certain professions? Lawyers, there are a million jokes about them. Doctors. Pastors, for some reason, the clergy are popular targets for jokes. Don’t ask me why. I think it’s because we’re nice people. And salespeople. I think the reason these professions inspire so many jokes is because, a small minority of people, in these jobs are lazy or unprofessional or even downright unethical. Any job that offers the potential for gaining a lot of authority or a lot of money will inevitably attract a few bad apples.

I can’t help but share some of my favorite sales jokes. If you’re in sales, you’re welcome to tell bad pastor jokes — at work — tomorrow.

After closing his first deal, a real estate salesman discovered that the plot of ground he had sold was completely underwater. He called his boss and said, the customer’s going to be mad. Should I offer him a refund? The boss said, refund? Are you kidding me? Get out there and sell him a houseboat!

Another store manager returned from lunch to find her clerk bandaging up his hand. Before she could ask him about the bandage, the clerk announced, good news! I finally sold that ugly suit we’ve had hanging on the sales racks for so long! Do you mean that repulsive pink-and-yellow striped leisure suit? That’s it! the clerk beamed. Great job! the manager said. I don’t know how you did it. That’s the ugliest suit this store has ever carried. By the way, what happened to your hand? Oh, the clerk said, after I sold the guy that suit, his seeing-eye dog bit me.

If I were to make a list of the worst sales tactics I’ve ever heard of, I’d list things like lying about the product or service, overselling its benefits, trying to coerce a customer into buying something they don’t need, putting pressure on a customer, not listening to the customer, or getting angry when the customer says No, thanks. I’m sure we’d all have our own list of the worst sales tactics we’ve experienced.

So, it’s interesting to see how Jesus responds in our Bible story to two different “sales situations.” Our lesson for today begins, As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Keep that sentence in mind. It’s going to be very important. As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. We’ll get back to it in a minute.

In the first situation, Jesus and His disciples plan to pass through a Samaritan village and they need places to stay, food to eat. So, a few disciples go on ahead to make the arrangements. But when the Samaritans learned that Jesus was heading to Jerusalem for the Passover, they rejected Him. Samaritans believed that religious sacrifices should be made on Mt. Gerizim there in Samaria, not in Jerusalem (John 4: 19). They refused hospitality to Jesus and His followers.

Two of Jesus’ disciples, brothers James and John, asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans. Talk about a bad selling technique! Let’s put the fear of God into those Samaritans if they won’t buy our “product!” Yet Jesus barely registered the insult. In fact, He rebuked His disciples and kept heading toward Jerusalem.

In the second “sales situation,” an unnamed man comes up to Jesus and says, I will follow You wherever You go. Jesus replied, foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head. Now this is one of the stranger sales techniques I’ve ever seen. Jesus has got a willing recruit, and He’s turning him away. Hold your horses, friend. You don’t want to follow Me. I don’t have stable housing or a place to sleep.

Then Jesus approaches another man and says, Follow Me. But this guy says, Lord, first let me go and bury my father. While another guy responds to Jesus’ offer by saying, I will follow You, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye.

It looks like Jesus is missing a lot of opportunities to sell people on following Him. He’s not listing the benefits of following Him. He’s not appealing to their fear of missing out on a good deal, or their desire to look good in the eyes of others. He’s not closing the deal here. Is Jesus the worst salesman ever?

There’s something else going on here. Let’s look back at the sentence that opens our lesson today. Remember I said it would be important? It’s Luke 9, verse 51: As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven . . . Jesus knows what’s waiting for Him in Jerusalem: arrest, torture, and a lonely, painful, humiliating death. And yet our Bible verse says Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” He didn’t protest, procrastinate, or try to protect Himself. He headed straight toward the cross, knowing that He was fulfilling God’s purpose by giving His life in our behalf.

The Greek word that Jesus uses in this passage for “follow” as in “follow Me” is made up of two separate words. One word means “to follow, accompany, or travel with.” The other word refers to a path or a journey. Literally, the word “follow” means to “to path-join to someone.” To path-join. That’s what Jesus was inviting these people to do. That’s what Jesus is inviting us to do. To join our paths with His. There’s no fine print in Jesus’ offer. He wants these people to know up-front the challenges of joining the path He’s walking. He wants them to count the cost.

How do people know that you’re a follower of Jesus? Is it because you attend church? Maybe you study your Bible, or you pray before meals, or you don’t curse or drink or buy lottery tickets. Is that what it means to follow Jesus? Or does Jesus’ path require a level of commitment, courage and sacrifice that goes beyond just trying to be a better version of Him? I hope this Bible story today helps us understand that Jesus’ journey isn’t easy, but it’s the journey to life and joy and meaning, and that God made us for this very purpose.

It’s important for us to see, first of all, that Jesus walked the path of commitment. He was committed to obey God in every moment of His life. Through prayer and obedience, He kept His heart, mind and will constantly aligned with that of God the Father. And this alignment of His whole self with God allowed Him to live purposefully, without fear or anxiety or distractions.

Jesus made it clear that His followers would experience difficulties and discouragement. What did He say to the first person who offered to follow Him? Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head. Jesus didn’t offer earthly security or comfort. He could have protected His followers from these challenges, but He didn’t. Why? In Philippians 3, Paul says that we know Jesus when we share in His suffering. It’s in the difficulties and discouragement of following in Jesus’ path that we understand Jesus’ love for us in a deeper way. And by persevering through the difficulties and discouragement, we show the world how much we love Jesus. Jesus calls us to walk the path of commitment with Him. Are you ready?

Jesus also calls us to walk the path of courage. Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

When you love someone deeply, you’re willing to confront your fears and face down challenges, without flinching, for their sake. That was the source of Jesus’ courage too. Jesus knew He was deeply loved by God; that was the source of His strength. And Jesus loved God and us deeply; that was the source of His courage. There was no pain He wouldn’t bear to show His love for us. And now He calls His followers to show that same level of courage in loving others in His name.

And finally, if we are going to join Jesus, then Jesus calls us to walk the path of sacrifice. Sacrifice is simply an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.

Jesus considered our life more valuable that His. That’s why He headed to Jerusalem. Jesus was giving up His life as a sacrifice, an offering to God, in our place. In His death He took on the weight and the penalty of our sins so that nothing would stand between us and a holy, holy, holy God.

The secret to the spread of Christianity across the Western world was because the followers of Jesus “out-loved, out-gave and out-died” the followers of the other religions and cults. They had a great example. Jesus did it first. His love for us motivated Him to walk the path of commitment, courage, and sacrifice for us. And He invites us to follow Him, no matter what the cost. I hope that you’ll link up your path with Jesus, God in the flesh, who loved you enough to give His very life to show you the way to God.