The Crown or the Cross

Topical Scripture: Luke 9:51-62

We’ll begin with some good news: we have a second moon.

It was first spotted on February 15. It’s about the size of a compact car, so it’s being called a “mini-moon.” Scientists say it is an asteroid that got trapped in our planet’s gravitational force in 2017 and began orbiting us, but nobody noticed.

Here’s the bad news: it’s leaving us as soon as next week or as late as April.

By my calculations, it would take 1.1 billion minimoons to match the diameter of our moon. And three moons to match the diameter of the Earth. And 109 Earths to match the diameter of the Sun. And that’s just our Solar System, which is one of as many as 100 billion solar systems in the universe.

And the God we worship this morning made all of that.

As we’re dealing with the spreading coronavirus epidemic, the stock market fluctuations, the tornado disaster in Tennessee, and everything else in the news, it’s good to remember who is charge of the world. And the fact that he has a plan and a purpose for every one of our lives today.

We’re watching Jesus change lives on the way to Easter. Today, we’ll watch our Lord deal with people who miss their purpose. As we do, let’s determine that we will not miss ours. It has been said that there is in every human heart a crown and a cross. If we are wearing the crown, Jesus must wear the cross. If we will wear the cross, he can wear the crown.

What does it mean to give Jesus your crown, to submit to his purpose for your life? How can you do that today?

Choose God’s purpose and no other

Our text begins, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (v. 51). “To be taken up” refers to his crucifixion. “Set his face” means to be firm in resolve, especially when facing difficulty or danger. “He chose and would not be deterred” would carry the sense of Luke’s phrase.

If you and I are to follow him fully, we must be as committed to God’s will for our lives as Jesus was to his own. How do you know God’s purpose for your life?

First, believe that your Father does in fact have a plan for your life today. Some evolutionists say that life began as a chance coincidence, with no particular plan or purpose at all. Existentialists say that this life is all there is, and life is chaos. Martin Heidegger, for instance, wrote that we are actors on a stage, with no script, director, or audience, and courage is to face life as it is. Postmodernists say that truth is relative, that there is no overriding purpose to life.

So, does God have a plan for us, or is life a random coincidence? In the words of Shakespeare, are we “sound and fury, signifying nothing”?

Here is God’s answer: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). His will for you is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Second, ask him to guide you into his perfect will. He will lead you rationally through Scripture, practically through circumstances, and intuitively as his Spirit speaks to your spirit. He wants you to know his will even more than you want to know it. Ask him to lead you and trust that he will. His will is not a floodlight that reveals the entire path but a flashlight that reveals the next step.

The ultimate question is not if we can know his will but whether we will follow it.

Love those God loves (vv. 52–56)

So, Jesus determined that he would embark on the journey which would end in his execution. It was customary in his day for a rabbi to send messengers ahead to make things ready for his arrival in a town (v. 52). He and his band of disciples would need food and lodging, as their trip to Jerusalem would take three days by foot. Travelers’ inns were few and far between, while bandits preyed on unprotected groups such as theirs. At the least, he did not wish to be a burden on those who might offer hospitality to his group.

As they were traveling from Galilee to Judea, their journey took them through Samaria. Most rabbis went to the east and around this despised area and people. They considered Samaritans to be half-breeds and infidels. But Jesus’ ministry to the woman at the Samaritan well two years earlier showed his compassion for these rejected people (John 4).

Tragically, this Samaritan village refused the same grace: “The people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem” (v. 53). The Samaritans usually presented no obstacles to those traveling from the south to the north. But those journeying south to Jerusalem clearly rejected the Samaritan claim that Mt. Gerazim was the proper place of worship and sacrifice.

And so, Samaritans along the way took great pains to make such journeys more difficult. Josephus even claims that they murdered Jewish pilgrims on occasion (Antiquities 20.118). If Jesus and his followers would not worship at Mt. Gerazim, they would not find easy passage to the Temple at Jerusalem.

We can understand something of their antipathy. It is human nature to slander those who slander us, to feel justified in our anger against those who hurt us first. While Jesus understood the Samaritans’ reaction, his disciples did not: “And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?'” (v. 54).

In response, Jesus “turned and rebuked them” (v. 55). There is a week’s worth of theology in this short verse.

Luke records Jesus’ “rebuke” of the storm (Luke 8:24), a fever (Luke 4:39), and demons (Luke 4:41). But only one other time in Scripture do we find Jesus rebuking a person: when Peter tried to prevent his decision to face crucifixion, Jesus “rebuked” him. In fact, he said to him, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:33).

For Jesus to treat James and John as he treated Satan working through Peter was a stern response, indeed. It showed his displeasure with their racism and superior pride. It demonstrated his compassion for all people, whatever their status in society. And it stands as God’s requirement for those who follow him today: we must love those God loves.

Are there any Samaritans in your circle of relationships? Someone dealing with the pain and suffering of divorce? Someone facing their first Easter without a loved one? Someone far from home?

It’s been said that the best test of character is how we treat people we don’t have to treat well. If you’ll ask God to show you a Samaritan this week, you can be sure that he will. If you will show that person his love in yours, you’ll prove that you follow Jesus (cf. John 13:35).

Pay any price to be faithful (vs. 57-62)

In contrast to the Samaritan refusal of his band, Jesus next met three who wanted to join his disciples. Luke reports their stories because they are ours as well.

Go where he leads

One said he would follow Jesus “wherever you go” (v. 57). So Jesus told the man just where he would go: while even foxes and birds have places to reside, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (v. 58). Since beginning his public ministry, he had lived in Peter’s home in Capernaum, and with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus while in Bethany (cf. John 11). Now the Samaritans had offered him no lodging. His reception in Jerusalem would be far worse. To follow Jesus is to accept a future filled with potential danger and distress.

It is true that the will of God never leads where the grace of God cannot sustain. But it is also true that there are times in the will of God when the grace of God is all that sustains us.

Have you placed restrictions on God’s will for your life? Are there places you will not go, people you will not serve, resources you will not give? Sins you will not confess? We are not truly his disciples unless we go where our Master goes—and his way led to the cross.

Go when he calls

Jesus called another man, “Follow me” (v. 59a). “Follow” means “be my disciple.” But the man desisted: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (v. 59b), incurring Jesus’ stern response: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (v. 60).

At first glance this seems a callous and cruel request by our Savior. A man has just lost his father, the funeral is pending, and Jesus wants the grieving son to desert his family to follow him. But this was not the situation at all. This text is an example of the importance of historical exegesis, knowing the culture and customs behind the biblical narrative.

If the man’s father had actually died, the son would be at his home arranging the funeral already. Jews buried on the same day the person died whenever possible, as was done with Jesus’ corpse. If his father had died, the son would be exempt from social requirements for up to a year as he mourned his death.

But in Jesus’ day it was common for the son of elderly parents to use their advancing age and declining health as a means of avoiding life’s responsibilities. They would sometimes cite this concern as an excuse for not working, paying their bills, or serving in the military. The father was not yet dead; his son was looking for ways to avoid Jesus’ call.

And our Lord knew it. That’s why his response seemed so stern. The man’s avoidance of God’s call would cost him the chance to know and follow the Messiah of God. Tragically, it did.

Is there a call to service which you are ignoring today? A hurting person you know you should help? A witness you know you should give? A financial contribution you know you should make?

Do not mortgage today for tomorrow. “Today” is the only day which exists. God measures obedience in present action, not future intentions. What does he think of yours?

Don’t look back

A third man offered to follow Jesus if he could first go back and say good-by to his family (v. 61). Again, this seems a reasonable request met with a stern reply: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62). But the setting explains the sense of the text.

Imagine a man plowing a field who looks backward more than he looks ahead. Envision the wreckage such neglect would cause the field. Now envision an athlete who constantly leaves the game to talk with his family in the stands, or a soldier who abandons the field of battle regularly to visit his home.

It’s impossible to see where we’re going if we’re constantly looking at where we’ve been. Jesus wants full-time disciples, those who will be unwavering in their loyalty to his cause. Is there a distraction in your discipleship today? A temptation you will not reject forever? A personal agenda you wish to serve while serving your Lord?

You cannot plow in two directions at the same time. Every hour spent in the wrong field is an hour subtracted from the field assigned to you. It is an hour subtracted from the dream and passion of God for your life. It is an hour you can never regain.


This week we have learned how to follow Jesus fully: we are to be focused on his call, gracious to all he loves, and unconditional in our obedience. Now we are responsible for the truth we have learned.

That minimoon we discussed today is miniscule compared to our planet and our sun, but it’s bigger than we are. Here’s the amazing truth: if we give ourselves to the purpose of God, we will accomplish things of significance millennia after this planet is gone.

Winston Churchill noted: “It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something.”

What is your “something” today?

The Key to Being Pure in Heart

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:8

There are three tame ducks in our back yard,
Dabbling in mud and trying hard
To get their share, and maybe more,
Of the overflowing barnyard store.
Satisfied with the task they’re at,
Eating and sleeping and getting fat.
But whenever the free wild ducks go by
In a long line streaming down the sky,
They cock a quizzical, puzzled eye,
And flap their wings and try to fly.

I think my soul is a tame old duck,
Dabbling around in barnyard muck,
Fat and lazy with useless wings.
But sometimes when the North wind sings
And the wild ones hurdle overhead,
It remembers something lost and dead,
And cocks a wary, bewildered eye,
And makes a feeble attempt to fly.

It’s fairly content with the state it’s in,
But it isn’t the duck it might have been.

I don’t want to be a tame duck. You don’t, either. You want your life to have purpose and passion, a reason for being which transcends the hum-drum routine, the workaday world. You want to believe that your life counts for something bigger than yourself, that you are more than a dot on the screen of the universe.

How do we escape the barnyard?

Choose to have a life purpose

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” our Teacher says.

Greek scholar Fritz Rienecker defines “heart” as “the center of the inner life of the person where all the spiritual forces and functions have their origin.” “Pure” here means to have integrity, to be consistent, to be of one mind.

So to be “pure in heart” is to have a single purpose to your life. Kierkegaard was right: “purity of heart is to will one thing.” To choose to have a single life purpose.

Not everyone believes you can. Many think that life has no real purpose or meaning.

Philosopher Martin Heidegger says you’re an actor on a stage with no script, director, audience, past or future. Courage is to face life as it is.

French philosopher and playwright Jean Paul Sartre titled his most famous play, No Exit, and his autobiography, Nausea. In Existentialism and Human Emotions, he ended the chapter titled “The Hole” with these words: “Man is a useless passion” (p. 107).

“Postmodernism” says there’s no absolute truth, which is itself an absolute truth claim. It claims life has no real purpose, just what you make of it. Life is chaotic, random dots produced by the coincidence of evolution and the chance occurrences of life.

Why not share this chaotic world view? Why seek to be “pure of heart,” to have a single purpose?

One answer is practical: greatness is only possible through commitment to a single purpose. Winston Churchill in June of 1941: “I have but one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby.” Brilliant scholar and author William Barclay: “A man will never become outstandingly good at anything unless that thing is his ruling passion. There must be something of which he can say, ‘For me to live is this.'”

A second answer is logical: if the universe were chaotic, without purpose or meaning, you and I would never be able to know it or say it. Think with me for a moment. If reality were truly chaotic, there would be nothing we could “know.” Red today would be green tomorrow. Stand before a Jackson Pollock painting, splotches on the canvas, and tell me what it “means.” Or before a Mark Rothco, a canvas painted all a single solid color. Again, no meaning. Both artists committed suicide, by the way.

If the world were chaos like their paintings, there could be no objective truth, not even the objective statement that there is no objective truth. And we couldn’t speak of truth, for language could have no common meaning between us.

A third answer is biblical. Jesus made this statement about human experience: “No man can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).

James added this command: “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). To purify our heart, we must not be “double-minded.” We must have a single life purpose.

A fourth answer is spiritual: we must be “pure in heart” to see God. Jesus’ beatitude makes this fact clear. Let’s explore here for a moment. We cannot see God with our physical eyes: “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). But we can “see” God spiritually. Hebrews 11:27 says of Moses, “he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” Exodus 33:11 states, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.”

We can know God this intimately. But only if we are pure in heart. Hebrews 12:14 warns us, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” But Jesus promises: if we are “pure in heart,” we will.

Political campaign contributors will pay $10,000 and more for a table at a dinner, hoping just to meet the president or their candidate. Imagine knowing intimately the God who created the universe. You can. But you must be pure in heart. You must choose a single life purpose.

Choose the right life purpose

So how do we become “pure in heart.” Assuming that these practical, logical, biblical, and spiritual arguments are compelling, what do you do next? What single life purpose will lead us to “see God”?

We’re not the first to ask Jesus. Remember the lawyer’s trick question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36). Which of our 613 commandments will you neglect, so we can convict you of breaking the law?

And remember his answer, summarizing all the law and the prophets, all the word and will of God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself” (vv. 37, 39).

The two are one, Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s request for the greatest single commandment in God’s word. They are two wings of the same spiritual airplane, both essential for the soul that flies into the presence of God. Examine them for a moment.

Love the Lord “with all your heart,” by walking in the will of God. Remember that your heart is the center of your life, the origin of your will and actions. The Bible instructs us, “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). Flee evil, pursue righteousness. Walk in the will of God and you’ll be “pure in heart.”

Love the Lord “with all your soul,” by practicing the worship of God. With your spiritual life, your daily worship: “Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). To “fear” God is to reverence him, to honor him, to worship him. The “undivided heart” is the pure heart. Love God with your daily worship, as you commune with him, walk with him, praise him. And you’ll be “pure in heart.”

Love the Lord “with all your mind,” by knowing the word of God. Know and obey his revealed truth: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth . . . love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). Know and obey the truth of God’s word and you’ll be “pure in heart.”

And love your neighbor as yourself: “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart” (1 Timothy 1:5).

Share God’s love by living your faith. As Francis of Assisi suggests, preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words. Share God’s love by caring for hurting souls. Show them God’s love in yours. Share God’s love by explaining your faith. Share with them God’s salvation and urge them to experience his grace.

And you’ll be “pure in heart.”


When a crash closed a road leading to the Denver International Airport, Google Maps offered drivers a quick way out of the traffic jam. However, the route it suggested took them down a dirt road that rain had turned into a muddy mess.

Some vehicles couldn’t drive through the mud and became stuck. About a hundred others became trapped behind them. They were sincere in trusting the app, but they were sincerely wrong.

Today’s beatitude offers us the only path to a life God can bless. So, choose to have a single life purpose, for practical, logical, biblical and spiritual reasons. Choose Jesus’ purpose: love the Lord your God with your heart through his worship, with your soul through his will, with your mind through his word. Love others as yourself. And you will be “pure in heart.” And you will see God.

Your soul can be a tame duck. Or it can be a wild eagle.

The choice is yours.