Sermon: Jesus, Our Prayerful Savior (Lk. 6:12-16)
Kevin P. Larson, 05.18.08, Karis Community Church
This weekend marks a time of many transitions in our community. People are graduating from college. People are taking new jobs. People are moving far away. They’re opening up new chapters in their lives. But how many of those decisions are being bathed in prayer? Sure there may be some spiritual phrases being chucked skyward, but how many are really praying, really seeking direction from God as to what to do? The biggest decisions of thousands of people’s lives are happening right now, and they are being done apart from the good, loving Father who holds everything in His hands. But let me also ask this, friends. We who claim to be children of that Father, do we do differently? I’m not convinced we do. Do we reach up to this God who loves us so much and seek His guidance? I know I struggle to do that. I’m sure you do, too. Don’t we usually just do what we want, just like everyone else in our world?
Today we return to our study of the book of Luke entitled “Jesus in the Margins.” We’ve seen in the opening weeks how Jesus cares for people our society marginalizes. And, in dealing with a whole range of topics, He shows that not one corner of our lives should be pushed into the margins, outside His authority. This morning, as we look at Lk. 6:12-16, we see Jesus prayerfully selecting people as His apostles. In doing so, He selects some people in the margins. And He calls them to a mission. In His prayers we see here, He serves as an example for us. But the answer to His prayers also says something about the gospel. He is more than an example. He is also our Savior. Let us pray.
I want us to consider two questions during our time this morning, and here is the first: Do we rely on God’s guidance through prayer, or do we just do what we want? My 5-year-old Hadley had a preschool project recently for Mother’s Day that I want to share with you. It’s called a “My Mommy Fact Sheet.” Listen to the questions and how he responds:
What is your Mommy’s name?
How old is she?
How much does she weigh?
“Ah, I don’t know how much she weighs.”
What does she do at home?
“Ah, she cleans the house. I think she plays with us and eats junk food.”
What is her favorite drink?
“Root beer, sprite”
What is her favorite thing to eat?
“Of course, pizza!”
What is her favorite TV show?
“Scooby and Indiana Jones”
What does she cook at home?
“She cooks-I don’t know how much she cooks. She cooks lots of stuff.”
Where does she like to go?
“I think she likes to go to places to eat the drive through.”
What is her favorite thing to do?
“I think play pinball and mazes.”
I don’t have to tell you this, but what’s interesting is that all the favorites listed for my wife Amy are really the favorites of my son. He is projecting them, quite humorously, on her. And, friends, we do the same thing with God. We act like our heavenly Father wants exactly what we want. We project our desires on to Him and do exactly what we desire.
Now all of us here should desire God’s will for our lives. He is good and kind. He is the Creator and Sovereign who knows what He is doing. Most of us here would say we do want His will, but we end up doing what we want anyhow. We either do it intentionally, deliberately not seeking His will, or unintentionally, wrongly projecting our desires on Him, just like my son, Hadley. Prayer, friends, faithfully seeking His desires for us, helps us overcome this.
Jesus here in Lk. 6 intentionally seeks the Father’s will before a key decision in His ministry. As we’ll see, He is about to choose His twelve apostles, so He spends time with His Father to seek guidance on the decision. V. 12 says that He goes “out to the mountain to pray.” In other words, He gets alone. It says that “all night he continued in prayer to God.” In other words, He spent considerable time. Faced with the decision of those who would establish and lead His church, He prays, and presumably fasts, asking the Father to help Him. Now Jesus, God in the flesh, does this. How much more should we, friends?
We know the early church got it. Beginning in Acts 1, the apostles choose Matthias through prayer in this way. Over in chapter 13, during prayer and fasting, the Spirit directs the church in Antioch, telling them to set apart Barnabas and Paul for a missionary journey. Acts 14:23 says this was their method in appointing elders, as well, through “prayer and fasting.” Following Jesus’ pattern was normal to them.
We are called as a church to likewise seek the Lord on installing leaders, on making critical decisions. We are called, as families, to consult our Father on big decisions regarding jobs we take or homes we purchase. We are called, as individuals, to petition God on partners we might marry, on college majors, and a host of other things. I can say, along with you, I’m sure, that I don’t practice this as faithfully as I should. But it makes no sense. We consult our earthly parents, our friends around us, our church family. Why would we not go to our Father?
Our purpose in this, of course, is not to change God in any way. He is the one in whom, as Jas. 1:17 puts it, “there is no variation or shadow due to change.” But, having said that, we must not be afraid to express our desires to Him. Sometimes we can pray, I think in a wrong way, with Jesus in Lk. 22:42, where He says, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” That doesn’t teach us to just pray, “I know You’re sovereign, and anything You say goes, anyhow. So let your will be done.” No, God uses our specific petitions as means to His ends. And, He uses our voicing of these concerns to do something in us. Yes, the purpose of these prayers is to see us changed, having our desires confirmed to His. We want His will to be done, and in wrestling with Him in prayer, we see ourselves gradually changing until we come in alignment with His purposes.
Some keys I want you to consider relating to this: First, this takes time and solitude. Jesus took all night. It can take much time to get our desires straightened out.
And, it’s hard in the middle of the madness around us to really encounter God and get our wants realigned with Him. Second, God doesn’t go around our mind, but through it. Although I completely believe, as we see in Acts at times, that God can give us revelations, telling us specific places to go and things to do, I don’t think that’s the normal pattern. I think our main objective is seeking wisdom from Him. It’s as Paul prays for the Philippians in Phil. 1:9-11. He writes to them, telling them His prayers that “[their] love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that [they] may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” Third, this prayer seeks a relationship and not just stuff. Although we should devote special times of prayer when important things present themselves, the rest of the time, and even during those times, we seek Him and not just use Him like some genie in a bottle. Fourth, in prayer, we acknowledge our great weakness and seek the Spirit’s power. We tell Him and those around us that we recognize our frailty. We acknowledge we don’t know the answers. We reach out for help. Fifth, we understand, when praying, God’s total sovereignty over all things. We know He has a plan, and we seek that plan, realizing that, even if we get it wrong, His will still gets done. And that gives us rest, knowing He can use our lack of prayer or foolish requests or listening failures to still accomplish His ends.
So, do we pause to pray, seeking His guidance? If we do, do we really seek His will or just a rubber stamp? Are we willing to pay the price to have His desires become ours? Do we rely on God’s guidance through prayer or just do what we want?
Jesus, then, spends time seeking guidance from the Father in one of the biggest decisions of His earthly ministry, as well as redemptive history, and there provides an example for us. But, as you well know, we often don’t like the answer we get.
It takes time again to bring our will in conformity to His. Jesus here is obviously satisfied with the Father’s will.
But looking at those God sets apart here, would we be pleased with those Jesus called? I’m a Kansas City Chiefs fan, and I could share with you many of the busts my team has had in the NFL draft. Heard of Todd Blackledge? Yeah, the Chiefs picked him at number 7 in 1983, before Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, and others. He’s only succeeded as a college football announcer. The guys to the east have done just as poorly. The Rams chose running back Lawrence Phillips over players like Marvin Harrison and Ray Lewis and others. Phillips is known more for beating girlfriends than other football teams. It’s funny to watch the NFL draft in New York and hear the reactions of Jets and Giants fans, both New York teams, to their draft picks. More often than not, they boo like crazy. Their teams come out of their times of research and prayer and make what fans think are bonehead picks, and they let them have it. What I want you to consider this morning is whether or not if you were watching Jesus as He did His draft here, if you would be booing, as well. You might think these guys are busts, too.
Here’s our second question: Do we embrace the vision for Christ’s church given in this list of apostles? Lk. 6:13 reads, “And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles.” Jesus, then, at this time has lots of people who are followers or learners of Him, disciples. Although other times in the gospels this group He chooses are called His “disciples,” here Luke says that, among that group, after seeking His Father, Jesus chooses “twelve, whom He named apostles.” He picks these men to be the founders of the Christian church. Catch the men He selects in vv. 14-16:
· “Simon, whom He named Peter” is the fisherman of weak faith and erratic behavior whom Jesus calls a Rock but who denies Him later. He is at the first of all the lists of disciples in the gospels, and is perhaps the biggest sinner there other than the guy at the end.
· “Andrew his brother,” also a fisherman, only has a small part in the gospels. We don’t know much about him at all.
· “James and John,” also fisherman, are the “Sons of Zebedee” who, along with Peter, are in the inner circle with Jesus. They are prideful, as seen in Mk. 10, where they ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left in His kingdom.
They are vengeful, as seen in Lk. 9, when they offer to pray for the Lord to
send fire down from heaven to consume a village that wouldn’t welcome
· “Philip” struggles to get things, not seeing Jesus’ power to feed the 5,000 in Jn. 6 and His identity as God in Jn. 14. In those reactions, he typifies the disciples as a group who are dull and clueless most of the time.
· “Bartholomew” or Nathaniel we see in Jn. 1. There he shows himself as prideful and bigoted, and unknowingly toward Jesus, saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
· “Matthew” or Levi we have already seen in Lk. 5:27-32. He ends up writing his own gospel, but before, he is a tax collector. In other words, he works for the Roman government, taxing his own people, and squeezing out more from them to line his own pockets.
· “Thomas” is a doubter and a pessimist. He is best known for, at the end of the book of John, doubting Jesus’ resurrection until he can touch the Lord’s scars. In general, he’s skeptical and doubtful before Christ’s glory.
· “James the son of Alphaeus” isn’t mentioned again. We know nothing.
· “Simon who was called the Zealot” is a member of a nationalist political party that advocated violence to overthrow Roman rule and led the eventual revolt that got Jerusalem squashed.
· “Judas the son of James,” also known as Thaddeus, is unknown.
· “Judas Iscariot” is, of course, the disciple who betrayed Jesus.
Note in this list of the twelve apostles three themes. They are ordinary. Jesus chooses simple, marginalized men, showing the grass-roots nature of the movement He would start. They are different. There is much diversity among these twelve guys. They are broken. They are sinful, messed-up people. Let’s focus on each of these.
First, see the striking commonness here. They are fishermen and other common laborers. There are nobodies in the list, about whom we know nothing. Do we see the grace of Jesus that calls nothings just like us? Do we believe this? Think of Flight 93 filled with ordinary, common people, who became heroes and took down the plane before it crashed into the capitol building or the White House.
Second, see the complete brokenness here. We see in this list cowards and arrogant jerks and doubters and thieves and brawlers and traitors. Do we see the grace of Jesus who loves sinners like us? Do we believe this?
My good friends Jamey and
We don’t know what is in store for us and for Ethan; I know that his story isn’t over yet. We don’t know how many more surgeries he will end up having. We don’t know what we’re going to find out about his ability to learn and how much of a struggle that will be. We don’t really know even if there are any more medical things that are yet to be diagnosed. But we do know that God led us to this child. When I first saw his picture I knew that he was my son. When we were in China and fighting to get him home, when many other people would’ve said ‘no, I didn’t sign up for all of these needs’ and stopped the adoption, I knew that he was my son. During the out of control times when I’ve had to restrain him so that he wouldn’t hurt me, himself or others, I knew that he was my son. And during the times when he snuggles up on my lap and tells me he loves me, I know that he’s my son.
Karis, do we believe that God loves us completely, even despite our baggage? That He loves us in this way?
Third, see the dangerous diversity here. This is easy to skip over. We have Matthew a tax collector. Again, he works as a Jew for the Romans, cheating his own people. We have James, John, Peter, and Andrew, all fishermen, who would have been extorted daily by Mathew. And if that isn’t enough, we have Simon the Zealot. He again wanted to use violent means to take out the Romans. He would have viewed Matthew as a traitor and would have wanted to chop his head off.
Here’s an example of the situation here. Do you remember the investigation of Bill Clinton back in the 90s? It’s like having Monica Lewinsky who is taken advantage of and is mad, and Bill Clinton who is responsible for it all, along with Kenneth Starr who is angry and wants to get him. It’s like having those three on the same team, trying to work together. It wouldn’t go too smoothly. Friends, do we see the grace of Jesus uniting sinners like us?
A big hit movie of 2006 was Little Miss Sunshine. That film shows an odd group of characters united together. You have the overworked mother. You have the homosexual college professor. You have the type-A wannabe motivational speaker dad. You have the son who reads Nietzsche and won’t say a word. You have the perverted, drug-snorting grandfather. And you have the nerdy girl trying to win a beauty contest. And somehow things hold together. Think also of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There you have humans and hobbits, along with dwarves and elves who don’t like each other much, laboring together as the “fellowship of the ring.” Despite their differences, they’re united.
This is the picture we see in the disciples, friends, and this is what also should be mirrored in the church. We are a common, sinful, diverse group called to be with Jesus. We see Paul stating this in 1 Cor. 1:26-31. Turn to page 952.
1 Corinthians 1:26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
This is who Jesus calls to Himself, who He elects. This is so that none of us will boast but in Him. These are those whom He loves and keeps. Do we believe this?
Let’s consider some problems that can arise in Karis and the church at large if we don’t understand this. First, we as the church and as individuals can deny Jesus chooses the common to be with Him. We can just reach out to those who seem successful and intelligent. We can think we’re not special enough for Him. But this is the gospel, friends: God didn’t choose us because we’re special. He chose us, ordinary dudes, by His grace alone. Therefore, we must seek out the common folk. We must believe Jesus loves us, despite being ordinary.
Second, we as the church and as individuals can forget Jesus chooses the broken. We can just reach out to those that seem to have it together. We can personally think we have to clean up before drawing near to Him. But this is the gospel—that we are all sinners, unable to help ourselves, who need reconciliation with God that can only happen through the righteousness of Jesus. Therefore, we must embrace those broken around us. And, we must look in the mirror and realize the Father welcomes us, just as we are.
Third, we as the church and as individuals can forget that Jesus unites diverse, sinful people. We can expect great uniformity in the church. We can have an expectation that there will be a total lack of conflict. But the gospel, again, is that God reconciles messed up people to Himself and also to other messed up people in His church. And that isn’t easy. But we must welcome diversity, knowing it’s for our good. We must embrace difficulty, knowing it’s normal.
What we can easily do is construct a Christianity and a church where we don’t need Jesus, where we don’t need the gospel. This gospel is that Jesus lived, died, and rose again for broken, humble people reconciling them to God. The gospel is that He brings us into community, the church, to be reconciled with others. His Holy Spirit now transforms us, putting us ever so slowly back together again, allowing us to draw nearer to God and to dwell ever more in unity with each other.
If we are not broken, and it’s easy for us to live together in community with “together” people, then who needs the power of the gospel?
Also, what we can do also is construct a church and Christianity where we don’t really need love at all. Little love for God results when we look in the mirror and see ourselves as together. Jesus, in Lk. 7 tells His disciples regarding the woman who anointed him this: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven- for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little." Also, not much love for others is needed if we all look and act alike and hide our sins and can’t be real with each other. As our Lord says down the page, in Lk. 6:32, "If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” Love for God and love for His people are our callings. Neither calling is that big of a deal if we’re not sinners before God and each other. When we see ourselves as we really are, it frees us to love God for all He has done. And as we see our brothers and sisters in their raw, sinful state, we can love them for who they are, as well, seeing the Lord’s work for them. Do we see those around us as broken, messed-up sinners? Will we allow the gospel to heal us and our relationships, enabling us to love, making us a unified, healthy body?
Jesus calls us to Himself and to each other, loving us and keeping us. But He also calls us to service. Not only does He love us, but He uses us. He calls us to a mission. In Little Miss Sunshine, they’re trying to get to and win a beauty contest. In Lord of the Rings, they’re trying to rescue Middle Earth from the powers of darkness. Again, Jesus calls these ragamuffins in this passage to be the founders of a new people of God. In calling the twelve men, He is clearly stating that these men and the nation they begin would replace the twelve tribes of Israel. This is made explicit in Lk. 22. God is doing something new here and is going to use this group of volatile, simple men to accomplish that.
And, they are called apostles, which means “sent ones,” chosen to go and spread the message of Jesus. They are apostles with a capital “A”, meant to establish a movement.
Jesus chose leaders here, and our leaders in the church must not be chosen for their charisma or togetherness. They must meet basic character qualifications, but the primary question is whether or not they are close to Jesus and pursuing Him. They will be broken, just like these disciples. That is a prerequisite, being weak, for serving the strong One, friends. But, all of us are called, as ragamuffins, also, to be missionaries of this gospel of God. This means that the Lord will use each of us on this mission for Him—those of us who are powerless, those who don’t have it together at all. We are all apostles or “sent ones” with a small “a.” God used this bunch of yahoos to change the world. All but John, of the faithful ones, died for Christ. He will use us, too. Do we believe it?
Well, what about the unfaithful one? One of the twelve wasn’t in a relationship with Christ. One wouldn’t be a missionary and die for Him. He would actually betray Jesus and end up dying by his own hands. This is a reminder that, as with Jesus’ core group, there will be traitors, agents of the enemy among us, trying to undo us. Christ’s betrayal was the plan, and was not meant to be warred against. But, in the church, such enemies must be confronted and expelled. The sheep must be protected by the shepherds. Or the wolves will eat them.
So there are our two questions. First, do we rely on God for guidance or just do what we want? Jesus acts as our example here. He takes this huge decision before His Father, and so should we do this all the time. And, second, do we embrace the vision given for the church given by Christ’s choice of apostles here? There Jesus is our Savior. As broken, fallen people, He saves us individually and unites us corporately. He forgives and heals our sins, reconciling us to God and each other.
Do we go to Him for guidance? If not, we’re saying we don’t need Him. We are saying we can do it on our own. Do we look in the mirror and at those around us and embrace God’s choice? If not, we’re saying we don’t like His work. Our problem is with Him. We’re saying we could do better.
Yes, I am a mess. So are you. Put us together and we have an even bigger mess. But it’s a beautiful mess. It’s not an easy one to clean up. In fact fixing things was the hardest thing ever, and even that, redeeming the church, was a small part of cleaning up a cosmic mess started at the fall. Redemption isn’t easy. It takes an amazing gospel. It takes a huge cross. It takes astounding, costly grace. Let that amaze us, friends, and let us embrace what Jesus desires to do in us.
Lots of decisions are being made or are coming to fruition this weekend without God. But all around us there are also people longing with everything in them to be accepted. They see brokenness in the mirror and want to know there is hope for them. They want to be a part of community where people love them with their warts and through their struggles. Let us embody that hope for them, Karis. Let us be people of prayer, but let us also be a people proclaiming and living this great gospel.