Citizens Of Heaven - Luke 11:37-54
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Citizens Of Heaven - 10.22.2023
Once upon a time there was a man visiting Shipshewana - if you don’t know, Shipshewana is this cute little tourist town in Indiana, a lot of really fun shopping down there, and they have a large Amish population living in the area. And one time there was a man who was sitting on a bench outside one of the many, many stores that are in the area. And an Amish man clopped up with his little horse and buggy. And as the Amish man was getting down and tying up the horse, the man on the bench watched him. Now the man sitting on the bench had heard of Amish folks, but he didn’t actually KNOW anything about them. Something about they don’t like electricity, and they’re religious or something? So eventually he spoke up and said, “Mister, excuse me, are you a Christian?” And the Amish man stopped, looked at the man on the bench and said, “Well, you’d have to ask my neighbor.”
Today we are continuing our study in the Chronological Bible - for those who are just joining us, we have been reading through the ENTIRE bible in a year. We are FLYING through the stories of Jesus, and so what we’re going to do today is that I have one text that I want to drill down into, Luke chapter 11, but I’m going to pull in other stories of Jesus from the readings. We have said this all year long - we can’t preach on 30 chapters of Jesus in one service, we’d be here all day. So what we’re going to do is explore a key concept, and then I want to encourage you to dive deeper throughout the week in your Chronological Bible Studies. And if you’re not in a study, it’s not too late to join. Those groups are where we get to know one another as a church and dive a little deeper in our faith walk. So today we’re looking at chapter 11 of Luke, and we’re talking about what does it mean to be a citizen of heaven. What does it look like to live out our faith in the real world.
And so we dive in with verse 37, which says [read v.37-38]. So we’ve got Jesus, hanging out with the Pharisee’s - going to have dinner at their house and Jesus doesn’t wash his hands! Now, okay - I know… I know that not washing your hands is not a sin, but I think I’m on team Pharisee here, “like, that’s gross dude. Jesus, you gotta wash your hands man.” But he responds, [read v.39-41]. Ahhh, okay - so it’s a metaphor. I still think he should wash his hands, but he uses that moment to teach them something key. Citizens of heaven, followers of Jesus, are not just concerned about what it LOOKS like on the outside. We care about what’s going on in the inside. If you want to grow and be more like Jesus, you can’t be a hypocrite - where you say one thing and do another. AND he gives us an action point. Verse 41, [read v.41]. The way, the method, Jesus is giving us to clean our heart is to give gifts to the poor. This is the first major teaching I want you to grab onto. Living out your faith in practical ways cleans the inside of your heart. Christianity is not just about what you believe up in your head, but it’s about the way you live your life - and caring for the poor is one of the best ways to measure that. Citizens of heaven are people who care for the poor, because 1.) Jesus told us to, and 2.) because it transforms our heart. It cleans the inside.
We see this in the story of the good samaritan. I don’t have time to dive into it too deeply, but it was in our reading for this past week. Back in chapter 10, a man comes to Jesus trying to find out what rules he has to follow, and the law says, “love your neighbor” - and then the man wanted to justify himself and so he asks, “okay, but who is my neighbor.” Jesus tells him a story about a man who was traveling on a road, and he gets mugged and left for dead on the road. A bunch of people walk by and ignore him, but one man doesn’t. The good Samaritan. And at the end, Jesus says, this is chapter ten verse 36 [read v.36-37]. So this guy was going along, living his life - trying to be a good person, but he wanted to pick who he had to love. I want to love these people, I don’t want to love those people - and wanting to justify himself he asks this question. But Jesus comes back at him and says, “nope. A good neighbor is the one who shows mercy. The one who takes care of the poor. The one who cleans the inside of the cup.” Living out our faith cleans the inside of our heart. We don’t get to pick and choose who we should love, who we should treat well. Citizens of heaven do things differently. See, here’s the thing. The rest of world says, “be nice to people you like. And be mean to people you don’t like.” That’s normal. Then Jesus comes in with this crazy idea that we should be nice to people we don’t like - and that action of loving them transforms our hearts and helps us be better at love. You can’t feel your way into an action, but you CAN act your way into a feeling. If you’re not sure if you love someone or not, treat them as if you love them, and the love will grow in your heart.
So we go back to chapter 11, with Jesus not washing his hands. And he’s still scolding the Pharisees in verse 42, [read v.42-44]. Now here’s something interesting. We’ve got Jesus CRITICIZING the giving habits of the Pharisees? Interesting church growth strategy. [laugh] But actually, he’s got a point. These pharisees were SO good at following rules, but none of it touched their hearts. You tithe everything, even your little herb gardens - but you’re ignoring justice and the love or God! See, here’s the problem - sometimes Christians substitute following a rule for following Jesus. Some of us are just natural rule followers. Anybody here just really, naturally good at following rules? Any other first born children? I’m one of those. Just give me a rule and I’ll follow the heck out of it. And I said heck because we don’t say “H-E-double hockey sticks” - that was a rule when I was growing up. Now there’s nothing wrong with following rules, in fact that IS a big part of being a Christian - but what Jesus is showing us here is that he wants more than that. This is the second major teaching from the text this morning. Love closes loopholes in the law, and God doesn’t just want rule following, he wants your heart. If you’re going to be a citizen of heaven, a follower of Jesus - it’s not enough to just follow the rules, God wants your heart.
Let me see if I can explain it like this. There’s a story in chapter 13 of Luke where Jesus heals a lady on the sabbath. She was crippled for 18 years! It says she was “bent double” - for 18 years!! And Jesus healed her. It says, chapter 13, verse 13, [read v.13-16]. Talk about missing the forest for the trees! They just witnessed an actual, literal, physical healing and yet they get huffy because he did it on the sabbath? I can’t wrap my brain around that. If I witnessed an actual healing - I feel like the proper response should be to fall on your face in worship, and yet Mr. Grumpy-Church Leader guy is standing over there crossing his arms “you’re not supposed to do it on Sabbath.” And really this is the key - when you turn it into a legalism, you lose sight of the purpose of the law. Sabbath is about a rhythm of rest, it’s about our growth and setting God as the number one priority in our life. It is possible to follow the law without your heart, but God wants your heart. Love closes the loopholes in the law. Let me give you one more example - curse words. One of the greatest identifiers of a Christian when I was little was that we were the kids who said, “frick and heck and gosh darn it.” Christians do not curse. But here's the problem - there’s no part in the Bible where it lists a bunch of words and says, “don't use these words.” You can read the Bible cover to cover - I have, it’s not in there. There’s no verse that says, “Christians shall not say… the A-word and the B-word and the C-word, the F word - you know.. the “off limits alphabet”’ - that’s not in the Bible. What the Bible actually says comes from Ephesians chapter 4, verse 29, [read it]. But here’s the thing, here's the thing - a list of curse words is EASIER than avoiding foul and abusive language. It is more difficult to look at your words and ask yourself, “am I using this incredible, POWERFUL, gift of language that God has given me - am I using it to encourage people or to tear them down?” There are people who have never used a curse word in their life, but they have still used their words to hurt people. That’s the power of legalism - you build a world of rules, and as long as you stay in the lines, you never have to give God your heart. That’s what Jesus was dealing with with these pharisees. They tithed ten percent of every little piece of income, even their little herb gardens - but they ignored justice and God’s love. But in order to be a citizen of heaven, we have to realize that love closes loopholes because God wants your heart. Jesus says, at the end of verse 44, “you should tithe - yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” So I don’t want to hear people leaving church today saying, “Pastor JJ said we can do a swear” - that’s not what I said. What I said was, “God wants the heart behind your words, not just your vocabulary.”
But Jesus kind of offended the Pharisees with what he said. I love this, check this out - verse 45, [read v.45-46a]. Yes, said Jesus. And then he just keeps going, [read v.46]. Jesus is all wound up because the Pharisees are crushing people with unbearable religious demands, and they’re not lifting a finger to help anyone. I was in our sermon prep meeting a few weeks ago, and I was presenting this idea to the group and I said, “Jesus was mad that they weren’t lifting a finger to help people, so we should lift a finger to help people” And then someone in the room, I won’t say who asked, “Okay, but which finger are we lifting?” [laugh]. But this shows us the third major feature of a citizen of heaven - that faith is a journey we take together and we need to help one another along the road. Following Jesus is not just about you and Jesus. Christianity is a team sport. And I think that’s hard for us in America - because we’re really individualized. I’m going to do my thing, and you do your thing and don’t touch me or talk to me or tell me what to do. But the actual family of God is brothers and sisters coming together challenging and encouraging, laughing together, weeping together. And sometimes that can be incredibly supportive, right? Having people who will cry with you and mourn with you and hold you and laugh with you - church family can be really beautiful. But then other times, they can be incredibly frustrating - they disappoint us, do stuff we wish they wouldn’t, make us angry, drive us crazy - tell us hard truths we don’t want to hear, challenge us.. Kind of like… well, family! I think some churches use language about family to be manipulative. We’re a family - and they conjure up images of a smiling, laughing family gathering around the dinner table and everything is picture perfect. But when I think of family - it conjures up pictures of love and chaos. Family is messy, because they know the real you - and I think the same is true for Church family. Faith is a journey we take together and we need to help one another along.
Jesus criticized the pharisees for not lifting a finger to help others with the burdens of religious law. And he shows us that this is not just what we should do for others, but this is also what God does for us! I think there’s a temptation when people disappoint you, when people let you down and fail - there’s a temptation to leave them behind. “Ugh, you’re not living the way you should - so I don’t want to talk to you anymore.” And yet, that’s not what God does for us when we disappoint him! Luke chapter 15, there’s three stories in a row - the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son. And it’s three different versions of the exact same story. When we fall, and we make a mistake and we are lost - God finds us, welcomes us back home. There’s a shepherd who loses a sheep and he goes and gets the sheep. There’s a woman who loses a coin, and she goes and she finds the coin. And there’s a father who loses his son, and he runs off the front porch to welcome his son back home. And so for us, when people around us fall, and fail and get lost - we need to help them, support them, love them. Sometimes people will walk away from us, and we can’t control that, we can’t make people do the right thing - but we can be ready to welcome them home, just like God welcomed us home. We should lift a finger to help people as we walk together down the way of Jesus.
So Jesus goes to have dinner at a Pharisees house, he doesn’t wash his hands (which I still think is really gross) - and then he proceeds to have a conversation with them about all the pieces of what it looks like to truly follow God. What are the pieces to the Christian life? What does it look like to be a citizen of heaven? First we saw that living out our faith in your actions actually transforms your heart, it scrubs your heart clean. Then we saw that love closes loopholes in the law - God doesn't want our legalism, but actually he wants our entire heart. And then the last thing we saw was that our faith - our life as a citizen of heaven - is a journey that we take TOGETHER, and so we should help one another along the way. And all of this comes together to give us a really awesome piece of good news - God is good for you. God is good for you. Living life as a citizen of heaven is GOOD for you. Now, the pharisees found out - God is not good for your status, he’s good for your soul. Being a citizen of heaven is not about where you live or even what people think about you - it’s about how you live and grow as a person. What God wants for you is for you to grow into the person he made you to be. It’s not about privilege or prestige, labels or approval. Being a Christian is not a test to get the right beliefs up into your head so you can join a secret club - no it’s about a transformation that takes place in your life. God is good for your soul. He is the one who completes you and the one who will help you grow.
Here’s why this is so important - our world is full of hypocritical Christians. There’s a lot of people who claim the name, but they don’t live the life. And I’m not trying to make anybody feel bad - for a long time in America, being a Christian was just another label you added onto your resume. I'm a republican or a democrat, I'm a lion’s fan or a packers fan, Spartan or wolverine, Christian or not. It didn't really change your life much, it was just which team you rooted for. But what Jesus is teaching us today is that following him isn't a label - it’s a lifestyle. There’s a whole way of doing life that Christians follow. But as the world changes - the way most people live life and the way Christians live life are getting farther apart. We stick out more, and I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing.
So let’s take what we’ve learned and turn it into action. We’ve been talking about Jesus’ teaching on what it looks like to be a citizen of heaven. So my challenge for you this week is to live your life as a citizen of heaven. If you want to follow Jesus, you’re not just a regular citizen of this world anymore - you’re a part of God’s kingdom. There’s three parts to this. First, live out your faith in your life. Jesus teaches us that living out our faith cleans our heart. Caring for the poor scrubs your heart clean - so care for the poor. Find ways to volunteer and serve in the church or even just in your community. Look for people around you that you can take care of. Go out of your way to serve other people. When we put our faith into action, the Holy Spirit starts working on our heart. It transforms us. For example - let’s say there’s a group of people you hate. Maybe it’s political - like democrats or republicans. Maybe it’s Hamas or Israel, maybe it’s just your neighbor who lets his dog poop on your flowers. If you start praying for them - because Jesus says love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you - if you start praying, God will start to work on your heart. Maybe they’ll still be bad guys, but your heart will have grown - you will be better at loving, even if the rest of the world is still messed up. So that’s step one - start living out your faith.
Step 2 - close the loopholes. When you look at the pieces of being a Christian - like curse words or working on the sabbath or tithing - focus on the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law. Maybe you don’t use curse words - but don’t think that’s good enough, check your heart - are you still using your words to hurt people? It doesn’t matter if you tithe perfectly 10% on everything if you don’t care about justice or the poor. There’s a very famous pastor named Rick Warren. He built up a mega-church called Saddleback Church out in California, probably best known as the guy who wrote the book “Purpose Driven Life” and he also wrote a book called “purpose driven church.” Now those books became so incredibly successful that Rick Warren became an extremely wealthy man. And he realized that giving ten percent of his very large income was not enough for his heart. He was giving God 10% and keeping 90%, but he was making millions, and he didn’t need 90% - so he flipped it. He decided to give away 90% and keep 10%. Now, Rick Warren was not living in poverty. 10% of hundreds of millions of dollars is still plenty to feed his family. But do you see it? Rick could have EASILY said, “the Bible says 10%, so that’s all I have to do” - but he knew it wasn’t about the law, it was about his heart. So in your life, ask yourself, “am I technically following God? Or am I following God with my whole heart?”
1) Live out your faith 2.) Close the loopholes and 3.) journey together with your fellow citizen. Jesus shows us that Christianity is a team sport. He calls out the pharisees because they wouldn’t lift a finger to help people live as citizens of heaven. There’s an old proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, bring a friend.” Christianity is not a race to the finish line - you don’t get extra bonus points for being a better Christian than the guy sitting next to you in the pew. We are in this together - brothers and sisters in the family of God. So walk with people. Let them lean on you when they stumble. Share your celebrations. Share your burdens. If someone falls, we don’t leave them behind - we hoist them up, sling their arm over our shoulder and we take the next step together. Think about the stories Jesus told - the widow searching for her coin, the shepherd looking for his sheep, the father looking off the front porch for his prodigal son - we should go looking for those who get lost. Journey together with fellow Christians. We’re not alone. We’re walking the path of faith together.
The world is changing. Being a Christian isn’t just assumed anymore. Authentic people who follow Jesus are going to stick out more and more - and here’s the secret - that’s how it’s supposed to be. We are citizens of heaven, not this world. I think back to that Amish fellow. Are you a Christian? Well - you’d have to ask my neighbor? May it be so in each of our lives. Let’s pray.