ISN’T JESUS INCLUSIVE?
A sermon on Luke 13:22-30
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
August 18, 2019
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Here is a hymn that I remember singing in church frequently when I was a kid growing up in northwest Georgia and central Alabama. It has been a favorite among Baptists for a long time and is still sung in lots of Baptist churches. Curiously, it is absent from the hymn book that we currently use at First Baptist. I haven’t got the foggiest reason why. The hymn goes like this:
I am so happy in Christ today,
That I go singing along my way;
Yes, I’m so happy to know and say,
“Jesus included me too.”
Jesus included me, Yes, He included me,
When the Lord said “Whosoever,”
He included me;
Jesus included me, Yes, He included me,
When the Lord said, “Whosoever,”
He included me.”1
Does this hymn sound familiar to anyone?
“Being included.” “Inclusiveness.” “Inclusivity.” I honestly do not remember hearing those words very much back 20 years ago. Not so anymore. It has gotten to the point to where you can hardly watch the news or read a newspaper without encountering them. They’ve become among the latest “buzz words” in our society. Inclusiveness has become—and continues to be—a hot topic in government, in educational institutions, in the workplace, in the military, in our churches. It is everywhere you turn these days.
Being inclusive is a matter of justice. It is a matter of recognizing the fundamental worth of each individual, regardless of who they are. It is a moral issue that states that everyone should be included in the conversation regardless of race, or of ethnic origin, or of gender, or of age, or of social status, or of physical difficulties, or of mental disabilities or any other category. The goal of being inclusive is to give everyone a voice and to give everyone a place at the table…so that everyone may be treated fairly and that all can reach their God-given potential…
After all, isn’t that one of the principles upon which our country was founded? Our national motto is E Pluribus unum—a Latin phrase that means “one out of many.” From early on, the founders of
1 “He Included Me” (1914) by Johnson Oatman, Jr. and Hampton Sewell. The Baptist Hymnal (1991) #436.
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our nation recognized that Americans come from many different places and from many different backgrounds. And yet we are all one people united in purpose and in a vision for our country. We are guided by the principle famously stated in our founding documents: “We hold these truths to be self-evident—that all men are created equal…” That is essentially what inclusivity means…
All of this leads us to the central question that we are thinking about this morning. The question is this: Is the Kingdom of God inclusive? Or put another way: Isn’t Jesus inclusive?
On one hand, the answer is a resounding “YES!”—The kingdom of God is inclusive of everyone. The New Testament is very clear in stating that the human distinctions that we make between people are meaningless when it comes to the gospel. Here are just a few examples. Many more could be mentioned…
In 1 Corinthians 11:13, the Apostle Paul declares, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” And in Galatians 3:26-27, Paul again writes, “You are all [children] of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Or Colossians 3:11, which states, “There is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” What the apostle wants us to know is that ethnicity, nationality, gender, social status, religious background—these are all distinctions that we may deem to be important. But Paul says that they mean nothing in the kingdom of God.
And then there are the words of our Lord himself—words that you all know—words that served as the inspiration for the hymn which began the sermon. I am referring, of course, to John 3:16. You know how it goes: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Nothing in those words of Jesus even hints of any exclusivity in the gospel message. “Whosoever” means that all are welcome into the kingdom…
So back to the question: Is the kingdom of God inclusive? Well, according to today’s scripture text, the answer is “NO.” God’s kingdom is not inclusive. Jesus lets us know that there is one kind of person that is not included…There is one kind of person who will remain on the outside of the kingdom…
In verse 23 of today’s text, someone comes up to Jesus and asks him a question. The question is, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
It strikes me as kind of an odd question. The question assumes that there will be people who are welcome to be a part of the kingdom…and those who will be on the outside looking in. Scholars tell us that this was a live topic of discussion among the rabbis and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day. At the bottom of the question is the assumption that only members of the Jews—God’s chosen people—could be saved and, of those, only those who were faithful to the Old Testament law would make the grade.
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Usually in the gospels, when someone asks Jesus a question, he seldom gives a straight answer. This time is no exception. The person asking the question of our Lord in verse 23 wanted to know how many people would be saved. Jesus’ answer instead focused not on how many people would enter the kingdom—but on what kind of people would be a part…
Jesus then tells a story about a man who is entertaining his friends at his house. After the door has been closed, some other folks arrive at the door, seeking entrance to the party. The householder refuses to let them in and he tells them that he does not know them. The folks at the door begin to protest. They claim to know him. They call out, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But the householder is unwavering. He is not moved by their plea. And he does not open the door to them because he does not know who they are. Jesus concludes his story by telling them that, in the kingdom of God, the ancient Jewish patriarchs and the prophets will all be there. He also says that people will come from the four corners of the earth—north, south, east and west—to take part in the kingdom. This is a clear reference to the shocking inclusion of people who were not Jews—Gentiles—into the kingdom. And then he says that others will be excluded…
The teaching in this passage is similar to one that our Lord gave toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus told his disciples and the crowd,
Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out many demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers!’
The question posed by the sermon is this: “Isn’t Jesus inclusive?” The answer to the question is, “Yes, the kingdom of God is inclusive…except for one kind of person. That person is the one who does not take Jesus seriously…”
If there ever was a Baptist who deserves to be canonized as a saint, that person would be Clarence Jordan. Jordan was a pioneer in the area of justice and equality in the 1950’s and 1960’s during the days of racial segregation. Using the New Testament model of the church in Jerusalem described in Acts 4, Jordan set up a community called Koinonia Farms, located near Americus, Georgia. The farm was racially diverse and attracted people from all over the country. Jordan envisioned it as a living demonstration of what harmony between the races could look like. It was Jordan’s desire to live out the teachings of Jesus to a world that was not always open to hearing about them.
As one might guess, there was plenty of trouble at Koinonia Farms from the very beginning. Their roadside vegetable stand was fire-bombed on a number of occasions. The farm was boycotted by the local townspeople who refused to purchase their produce…or even to do any business with them. Members of the Ku Klux Klan would sometimes drive by at night and shoot into their houses. And in the face of the violence, local law enforcement agencies turned a blind eye to it all and did nothing.
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Finally, Jordan turned to his brother for help. His brother was a lawyer who could help by prosecuting those who were responsible for the violence and insisting that the police do their job. But he refused. He told Clarence that he did not want to get mixed up in it because he was considering a run for the Georgia state legislature. And if he were to help Clarence and the Koinonia Farm community, then his political career would be over before it started.
After talking with his brother for a while and asking again for his help, Clarence told him, “OK. Next Sunday, I want you to go down to that little Baptist church where we both walked the aisle as boys and accepted Jesus. And I want you to stand up, face the congregation and tell them that you made a mistake. Tell them that, when you made that profession of faith, you really did not intend to follow Jesus. Instead, you merely wanted to admire him…”
It seems to me that those words describe a lot of people. I have never met anyone who said that they did not like or admire Jesus in some form or fashion. Now I will confess that I’ve run into some people over the years who do not like the church. That is especially true when they have been wounded by the actions of a church. Or when the church does not seem to say anything of importance to them. Or when they have been damaged by a particular church’s self-righteous dogma. Who wouldn’t find that offensive? I know that I do…
And I’ve run into those people who have a low opinion of Christians. This can be true when Christians live drab, dreary lives that betray no evidence of the joy and hope that they have within them. It also happens when Christians behave poorly and reflect badly upon the Lord they claim to serve. I don’t blame them. There is lots to be ashamed of as a Christian when others who name the name of Jesus do evil…and awful…and hateful things. When Christians say or do stupid things and it is reported in the media for all to read, it makes all of us look bad…
In spite of all of that, many people find lots to admire about Jesus even in our day and age. They like his teachings about God’s love and grace. They like the stories that he told. Perhaps they even like some of his teachings like The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” They like this nice, kind, friendly, inoffensive Jesus.
But when it comes to some of the harder teachings of Jesus—the teachings of our Lord that demand obedience to him—the ones that call for a change of our hearts and lives—those things that call us to risk and to sacrifice—then they turn a deaf ear. They like Jesus all right. In fact, they can be said to even admire Jesus. They might have good, positive feelings toward him. But they are not going to follow him if it costs them anything significant. Their attitude seems to be to let Jesus stay in his place while I live my life unencumbered by him in mine…
And so—what does it mean to follow Jesus instead of just admiring him? Well, it all comes down to being willing to learn from him…to follow his example…and to do what he says to do. And what is it exactly that Jesus tells us to do?
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In John 15:17, our Lord tells his disciples, “This is my command: Love one another.” In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ’Love your neighbor as yourself.” And in Matthew 25, Jesus tell us that if you feed the hungry and thirsty, if you welcome the stranger, if you clothe those who need clothes, if you look after the sick, and if you visit those in prison, then you are obeying his commands. This is what it means to follow Jesus…
Today’s text tells us is that there is one kind of person that is not included in the kingdom of God. And that is the person who admires Jesus…but who does not take him seriously. To that person, Jesus says in today’s text, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, you evildoers…”
It’s a decision that all of us have to make. And it is not a once and for all decision. I find that I have to daily decide what I will do. It’s a question that I have to ask myself every day: Will I take Jesus seriously and do my best to listen to his voice…or will I stand afar off and just admire him from a distance? They are not the same thing. And how you choose carries its own consequences for the present…and also for the future. So what will you choose?
To God alone be the glory! Amen.
ISN’T JESUS INCLUSIVE?