Luke 9 presents a series of vignettes about Jesus as he makes his way with his disciples to Jerusalem, where he will be crucified. One of the vignettes is from verses 46 to 48:
argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.
47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside
him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name
welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is
the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
Consider that brief statement in v 46:
"An argument started among the disciples as to which one of them would be the
Even at this late date, the disciples
thought of Jesus and their discipleship in earthly ways. They thought that
Jesus would arrive in Jerusalem and depose the Roman vassal, Herod Antipas, from
the throne of Judea, then take the crown himself. He could claim it, being in
the line of descent from King David. And the disciples knew that Jesus had a
very large following, not an army but large enough to be turned into a
formidable mob. In fact, when the Roman governor Pilate later interrogated
Jesus, he expressed surprise that none of his followers were fighting in the
streets to free him, prompting Jesus to reply, "My kingdom is not of this
So, the disciples argued on the
Jerusalem road, basically, about which offices Jesus would appoint them to once
he took power. Who would be the secretary of state? Treasurer? Chief of staff?
Secretary of commerce?
"But Jesus, aware of their inner
thoughts," put a stop to such foolish chatter. Then there is this stark
sentence, verse 51: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his
face to go to Jerusalem.”
John Piper wrote,
set his face towards Jerusalem meant something very different for Jesus than it
did for the disciples. ... Jerusalem meant one thing for Jesus: certain death.
Nor was he under any illusions of a quick and heroic death. He predicted in
Luke 18:31, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is
written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be
delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit
upon; they will scourge him and kill him." When Jesus set his face to go
to Jerusalem, he set his face to die. ...
If we look at Jesus' death merely because
of a betrayer's deceit and the Sanhedrin's fear and Pilate's spinelessness and
the soldiers' nails and spear, Jesus’ death might seem very involuntary. And
the benefit of salvation that comes to us who believe from this death might be
viewed as God's way of making a virtue out of a necessity. But once you read
Luke 9:51 all such thoughts vanish. Jesus was not accidentally entangled in a
web of injustice. The saving benefits of his death for sinners were not an afterthought.
God intended it all out of infinite love of sinners like us and appointed a
time. Jesus, who was the very embodiment of his Father's love for sinners, saw
that the time had come, so he set his face to fulfill his mission: to die in
Jerusalem for our sake. "No one takes my life from me,” he said, “but I
lay it down of my own accord" (John 10:18).
But all the disciples could talk about
was, "What will Jesus do for us?"
Nowadays we call this a
"consumerist" approach to following Jesus. Here is where the
disciples went off course:
They placed their
own welfare and desires at the top,
frame of reference was the organization,
themselves in competition with each other, and,
Of the four faults I have listed, the
second is the most fatal and the most relevant for 21st-century Christians. We
have a strong tendency to think of ourselves as organization people. Our
primary frame of reference is the Church, while the New Testament is clear that
it should be the risen Christ. Ideally, there would not be a tissue-paper's
width of difference between the two, but we have never achieved that ideal
though we must keep trying.
How much we fall into the disciples'
consumerist error is illustrated by two simple words: "church
shopping." Just Google those two words and see what comes up. The problem
with church shopping is not that people are looking for a church, which is a
great thing. It is that church “shopping” puts the church as the primary frame
of reference rather than the Lord. As retired pastor Gordon Anderson put it,
The danger for those of us who are looking for
a spiritual community is that we might slip into a consumer mentality. You can
tell this has happened when you sound like a movie critic at lunch on Sunday
“I don’t know, the sermon kind of bothered me.
I didn’t like the sound of his voice. How about that solo? Yikes, someone was
off key. Also, what’s up with [using an offering collection station instead of
passing the plate?] And anyway, I’m not sure they have the kind of youth
program we’re looking for.”
church consumer is focused on things like,
How large is your
children's or youth program?
Is there a Sunday
School for my age group?
What kind of
music program is there?
Is there a VBS?
other questions or statements with a similar outlook.
I want to be clear: All those things
are important, and churches neglect them to their peril. But they are not of primary importance. A church’s organization
and programs are not more important than the Christ who is our only reason for
Author Bill Muehlenberg put it this
The fact is that while we may be able to
market the church, we cannot market Christ, the gospel, Christian character, or
meaning in life. The church can offer handy childcare to weary parents,
intellectual stimulation to the restless video generation, a feeling of family
to the lonely and dispossessed – and, indeed, lots of people come to churches
for these reasons. But neither Christ nor his truth can be marketed by
appealing to consumer interest, because the premise of all marketing is that
the consumer’s need is sovereign, that the customer is always right, and this
is precisely what the gospel insists cannot be the case.
To anyone who may be church shopping,
I pray God will guide you and suggest that you ask these questions of this or
any church, its people, and its pastor:
Is this a
congregation where I can find help in moving on to Christian perfection?
Are the people of
this church taking dominion over sin and will they help me do the same?
Are they being
filled with the pure love of God, and may I also be filled here?
Is this a
congregation centered on Christ? Are these a people for whom Christ is so real
that they live all their lives to his glory?
If the answer to those questions is
predominantly affirmative, then looking at programs and activities may be a
next step. But if the answer is no, then a church’s programs and activities don’t
Falling into the disciples’ error is before
us and every church daily. So, let us pray that we remain focused not on what
has Jesus ever done for us, but how we may grow together in holiness to serve
the Lord and his kingdom no matter the benefits or costs to ourselves.
The disciples became apostles through Christ’s
resurrection and his commandment to go into the world to proclaim the Good News.
They learned their lessons superbly well. Never in their letters or epistles do
we read any hint of consumerist Christianity. In fact, all but John were
martyred for their faith, and John died in exile. Among the apostles, "What
has Jesus ever done for us?" is never asked in anticipation, but with
thanksgiving, as in Ephesians chapter 1:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual
blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world
to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption
to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will ... 7
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in
accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. ...
11 In him we were also chosen, having been
predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity
with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put
our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
This is the Spirit that should live
within all of us and should be the main attraction to people seeking a
congregational home. We can market
our church but must not. We cannot
market Christ; we can only give witness to our redemption through him and his forgiveness
of our sins. And that is where we find what unites Christian people together as
brothers and sisters with Christ and adopted children of God. We are not united
by the bumper stickers we place on our cars, not by the political causes we
support or oppose, not by our careers or credentials. We are united by loving
God and one another and living according to the mystery of our faith: Christ
has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
What has Jesus ever done for us? More
than we can ever imagine. Perhaps we also should set our face toward Jerusalem,
determined to stay faithful to the call of Christ no matter the cost,
understanding what the apostles did: It’s not about us.
Let us then ask the Lord to strengthen
in us and all Christians faith in Christ, the Savior of the world. Please join
me in our Litany for Christian Unity, number 556 in your hymnal:
us ask the Lord to strengthen in all Christians' faith in Christ, the Savior of
to us, O Lord.
us ask the Lord to sustain and guide Christians with his gifts along the way to
to us, O Lord.
us ask the Lord for the gift of unity and peace for the world.
to us, O Lord.
us pray together:
ask you, O Lord, for the gifts of your Spirit.
Enable us to penetrate the depth of the
and grant that we may share with others
the goods you have put at our
us to overcome divisions. Send us your Spirit
to lead to full unity your sons and
daughters in full charity,
obedience to your will; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
"May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."