Learning to Fly

When birds are first born they cannot fly. Just like humans their muscle structure needs to develop. Parent birds take care of all the baby birds needs at first. However, the parent birds force their babies to learn about flying by remaining a short distance from the nest during feeding. The young birds have to come out of the nest to get their food. Sometimes this means a few falls to the ground and a long trip back to the safety of the nest.  However, this trial and error eventually teaches the birds about the mechanics of flight. Slowly the parent birds encourage their fledglings to spend more and more time away from the nest until they become independent.

In the beginning of Luke 9 we observe Jesus continuing his training of his disciples by giving them the first lesson on learning to fly. Jesus sent his followers out on a mission to the area towns. He gave them a specific assignment and instructions. This mission accomplished two purposes. First, it expanded the proclamations of the gospel. Second, it was a step in the training of those who would carry on the work of Jesus after He had gone back to Heaven.

Internships are required in many jobs. Educators have learned that everything cannot be taught in a classroom. Somewhere a person has to practice actually starting an I.V., teaching real children, operating on a live patient, perform before a real audience, or apply formulas to a real life situation. This morning we see Jesus teaching his disciples how to fly. We will learn some valuable lessons from their internship.

The Assignment

Jesus “gave the disciples power and authority to drive out demons and cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Their job was to go to the neighboring communities and basically do what they had seen Jesus do. They were to put into practice what they had observed and been taught.

I believe the work of the disciples was unique. They had a unique power to heal and cast out demons because of their role in establishing the church. They were given extraordinary signs to validate their proclamation. God is not in the “extraordinary sign” business but in the changing lives business. I believe God still does miracles and some of them are extraordinary. I think we would see more miracles if we lived with the authority that God wants us to have. The disciples situation, however, was unique.

Note the instructions that Jesus gave the disciples: “He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. (3-4) The idea seems to be one of simplicity. The men were not to take time to pack and plan for their trip . . . they were supposed to go. They were not supposed to worry about provisions but trust God to provide for their needs. They were not supposed to keep looking for better accommodations but to be content in whatever home gave them shelter. Kent Hughes writes,

That they were to travel light is an understatement. They went beyond light to nothing! Incidentally, on a subsequent mission Jesus commanded his followers to take a purse (cf. 22:35–38). So we are to understand that the instructions in Luke 9 were not literally meant for all who would preach the gospel in every age. The reason Jesus ordered them to travel light was to avoid looking like other false missionaries in the ancient world who made personal profit from their preaching.[1]

This is quite a contrast to what some Christian speakers and performers demand from their venues today. They charge large fees and the contract states what kinds of accommodations are required, what kinds of beverages (specifying even the brand) of water, tea, and soda should be supplied, how many meals, what kinds of foods, how much time the performer will spend with the audience and much more. One contract I read even listed how many hand towels needed to be available and in what color! We live in the day of Christian celebrities. We seem to be missing the point that the focus of the mission was the work . . . not the comfort of the missionary. The missionary was to go out with the confidence that God would provide for their needs.

Jesus also told the disciples that when they found themselves in a town that did not welcome them they were to leave the town and shake the dust from their feet. This was something a good Jew would do when they left an alien land. They would shake the dust from their feet and their clothing to separate themselves from the defilement and ungodliness of these places. When the disciples did this they would be declaring that the Jewish communities in which they spoke were pagan-like in their unbelief. Hopefully, it would cause the community to think deeply about their spiritual condition.

Is there something we are supposed to learn from this? I think there is:

  1. Ministry is to be Evangelistic and Practical. The disciples were to preach the gospel and extend practical aid. The love of God must not simply be proclaimed . . .it must be practiced. The old saying is true, “what we do speaks so loudly that people cannot hear what we say.” The two must go together. If all we do is to extend social assistance people may feel better but they will still be eternally lost. If we only preach and do nothing to alleviate suffering and distress people will see us lacking compassion. We will have “talk” but possess no “walk”. The two go together.
  2. We are to depend on God to provide for us.  This is important in this day of superstar speakers and Christian entertainers. But it is also important in the local church where we have a tendency to trust the latest and best programs rather than the Lord.  As individuals we spend so much time trying to eliminate any risk in our lives that we never learn the exhilaration of living by faith. Jesus wants us to know that we can depend on Him to meet our needs. He wants us to learn to be satisfied and content in His provision for our lives.
  3. We shouldn’t keep wasting our time where we are not wanted. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to work harder in the places that resisted their ministry. He told them to move on. This does not mean we should “give up on people”. It means when we are not received we should “cut our losses” and go to someone or someplace who is open. We can return at a later time when the hearts of the people are more receptive or God may use someone else to reach those people.

The  Result of Their Ministry

After these instructions we read,

So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere. Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he tried to see him.

The disciples did what they were told. As a result, word of the work of Jesus spread even to Herod. There were several men called Herod in the Bible. The Herod at the time of the birth of Jesus (who died while Mary and Joseph and Jesus were in Egypt) was known as Herod the Great. He was the father of this Herod who was known as Herod Antipas. He is the same man who examined Jesus on the night before His crucifixion. The other Biblical Herod (the nephew of Antipas) ruled in the time of Paul he was Herod Agrippa).

Herod Antipas had surely heard about Jesus before this time but all of a sudden His ministry was flourishing in a new way and Herod wondered “Who is this man?” When the people of God live in the power of God’s Spirit people will always be drawn toward Christ.

Isn’t it interesting what people said about Jesus? Some thought John the Baptist (whom Herod Antipas executed) had come back to life. Herod knew he had executed an innocent man and it haunted him. Some thought Jesus was a reincarnated Elijah.

It is interesting that there is no indication that anyone considered the fact that Jesus might be the Son of God, the promised One from God.

R.C. Sproul was asked in an interview: “What do you think is going to be the most pressing theological issue for the next generation?” His answer was “Christology”. In other words, the most pressing issue that the church will need to face in the coming years is the very question asked by Herod: Who is this Jesus?

Today people tend to view Jesus as a motivational speaker, an insightful teacher, a prophet of old, or a worthy example to follow. Even some in the church see Jesus more as a Life Coach than the Lord of life. People celebrate His teachings on love but they reject His teaching on the moral issues of life. They call Him a great teacher but completely dismiss His command to repent. They celebrate the way He cared for hurting people but refuse to accept His statements about accountability, judgment and Hell.

There is this contemporary arrogance (and we see it in history, theology and politics) today that we are better able to interpret the lives of the people of the past than those who were contemporaries of those people. Historians are rewriting history (which is an oxymoron). We see this with revisionist interpretations of our founding fathers, former Presidents, and we see it in the way theolgians re-imagine, “revise” or “reconstruct” our understanding of Jesus.

I know this may sound irrelevant to you but we are wrong about Jesus we are wrong about everything else. This question: “Who is this man?” is vitally important. Is Jesus just a religious leader or is He God who became man come to bring salvation and new life to all who will entrust themselves to Him?

I encourage you to ask the same question as Herod: “Who is this man?’ Read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) and listen to what Jesus said. Look at what He does. Instead of reading how contemporary authors explain away Scripture, listen to the testimony of those who traveled alongside Jesus. If Jesus is who He said He is, the Lord over all creation, follow Him. If He is not who He said He is, head in a different direction.

What Should We Learn?

Let me draw five principles we can take away from this text.

First, everyone needs training. We grow in grace and truth. This isn’t an excuse for laziness or inaction, it is just a fact of life. In hindsight, one of the best things I ever did was to take a year between college and Graduate school to work. During that year off I worked as a bank teller and as a youth director in a church. It was an important internship. I learned about the day to day problems that people face. I learned that the answers found in the books were not always effective when talking to hurting people. I learned that I needed to grow in my own life. When I went to seminary I had a whole new set of questions and a brand new perspective on the things I was learning.

There are three practical implications here. First, we should look for opportunities that will stretch us and help us grow. We need to experiment perhaps by going on a short-term mission trip, or by volunteering at a Nursing home or a food pantry. You might want to help out with AWANA or Vacation Bible School. The point is to DO something so you can learn and grow and stretch in your service to the Lord.

Second, we should not get discouraged. We need to give ourselves time to learn and to grow. Every skill must be developed. Give yourself time to learn.

Third, we should be patient with others. If everyone needs to grow, we need to make sure that we give other time to grow.

The second principle is one we have already mentioned: Jesus calls us to be balanced in our ministry. Practical ministry that doesn’t point to Jesus is like putting a bandage on a broken leg. You may have treated the surface injury but you haven’t addressed the real problem. On the other hand you can be so focused on communicating the urgency of the gospel that you ignore the need for the real help people need. We can talk all day about the different Greek forms of the word “Love” but if we never show love we become as annoying as a telemarketer who calls at dinnertime. We must strive for balance by proclaiming and demonstrating the love of Jesus. Jesus maintained this balance. We must follow His example.

Third, we must learn to trust the Lord rather than ourselves. This is a lesson we have to apply every day of our lives. It may be in the classroom, in the fields, in our family life, our jobs, and in our budget meetings. We are to work hard and trust Him. We are to trust Him to accomplish the work He needs to accomplish in us. We must trust Him to lead us rightly and to provide what is best for us. We must resist the urge to put our confidence in programs, methods, or even our own ability. We are to trust Him! Even those who are the most creative and talented cannot accomplish what He can accomplish in an instant through His Spirit.

Fourth, When we do our work correctly we will point others to Jesus. We certainly want people to have better marriages, more financial security and a more enjoyable life but our goal is much grander. Suppose you were a salesman. Let’s say people really liked you and looked forward to you stopping by to talk with them. You always received warm handshakes and broad smiles. Would this make you a good salesman? No. If people liked you but never purchased your product, you would be a failure in your job. In the same way, people can hold us in high esteem, we can be popular with everyone around us, but if our lives are not leading people to Jesus, we have failed.

Finally, People are responsible for their own response to the Lord. I suspect on Judgment Day there will be a large group of people (especially from our generations) who argue that they are not responsible for the choices of their lives. They will blame the media, their circumstances, or the programs at their church (or the lack thereof). People will blame their parents, the government, or the opportunity that got away. When the disciples were told to shake the dust from their feet it is a reminder that whether you accept your responsibility or not . . . .God holds you personally responsible for how you respond to the message of grace, forgiveness, and new life.

You are making decisions about your spiritual life and your eternal future whether you admit it or not. If you attend church but are virtually ignoring God in the rest of your life, God is not fooled. He knows that you have chosen not to follow Him. If others call you spiritual but in your private life you are rebelling against the Lord, He knows the truth. You alone are responsible to choose who or what will have control over your life.

I encourage you this morning to lay aside all the excuses. Instead of blaming your schedule, your job, your family history, or your circumstances for why you are not following the Lord, take responsibility for your own life. Jesus calls you to follow Him and you are the only one who can decide whether you will follow Him or ignore Him. Set down the excuses and follow the only One who can teach you to soar.

The disciples must have been apprehensive when they left the comfort of their nest . . . but they took that first step. They did what the Lord told them to do. As a result God used them in astounding ways. We are here today because they followed His instructions and were faithful. God can use us as well. We can learn to soar in the power of God’s Spirit. Like the disciples, it all starts when we dare to take that first step and spread the wings of faith.

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