Here’s the plan. . .

Good morning, Friends! I hope you’re all doing well today.

You know, I’m always reading the Bible, trying to understand what it means, trying to figure out how everything fits together. A day hardly goes by without someone asking me a question, or without some new idea striking me.

I guess that means I’m in the right line of work.

One of the questions people at our midweek Bible study repeatedly ask me is, “How much did Jesus know, ahead of time, about what was going to happen?”

Did Jesus really understand what was going to happen to him? Did he really know that he was going to be betrayed? Why didn’t he stop it? Did he know he was going to die?”

As we get closer and closer to Easter, these questions keep piling up. People keep asking me. I’d like to say, “I don’t know, myself. Why don’t you ask Jesus?”

One of our deepest beliefs is that God has a plan. We don’t always know what God’s plan is. We may not understand it. But we believe that God has a plan. And Jesus was fulfilling that plan.

I’ve heard people argue about this all my life. Did God plan that I couldn’t find a pair of socks that match this morning? Did God plan for me to get sick this week, or to have car problems?

I don’t know how far we can push this, because we also believe that we’ve got free will. And we use that free will a lot, every day. Sometimes we use our free will in ways which are contrary to what God says. My kids are driving me crazy. Is that part of the plan? Some idiot cut in front of me and almost caused an accident. Is that part of God’s plan?
You see how tangled up we can get, when we try to figure these things out?

This morning I want to understand some of this stuff, and I want to do it by, of all things, reading the Bible.

We’re going to read three stories, which all come from the same part of the gospel of Luke. We don’t usually think of them as fitting together, but they come one right after the other, in sequence, without skipping anything. Are you ready?

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

– Luke 18:31-34

OK, that’s part one. Jesus tells his friends that all the preparation, all the promises, all the prophecies, are about to come to a head now. Everything that was written in the whole Old Testament is about to come true. It’s all according to plan.

Except that the plan isn’t what they thought it was going to be. They thought that God’s plan was for the Messiah to come riding in to the capital city at the head of a triumphant army. He was going to take over the throne of the greatest king in Israel’s history – the throne of David.

He was going to roll back the thousand years that had happened since then – a thousand years of defeat, a thousand years of division, a thousand years of disaster. He was going to make Israel great again!

But that’s not God’s plan, Jesus said. God’s plan is that the Messiah is going to be turned over to the pagan army, to the Romans. They were going to mock him, insult him, spit on him, beat him, and kill him. But three days later, Jesus said, God’s plan was that he would rise again.

We always need to remember that. God’s plan is to win. Make no mistake – God’s plan is victory! But it’s not a cheap, easy victory. It’s not even a come-from-behind victory. It’s winning even after it looks like we’ve been totally defeated. It’s winning when it looks like death has won, and wrong is celebrating, when the crowd’s gone home and the game is over.

That is God’s plan. That is how God wins. God wins by rising again, by rising from defeat. God wins by saying that death is not the last word. When we think that God has been utterly defeated, just wait – the real victory is just days away.

The disciples – Jesus’ closest friends – didn’t understand this. They didn’t get it, even when Jesus told them, straight up, what was happening. They were so tied in to the idea of the Messiah as a mighty warrior, flattening all of God’s enemies. They simply couldn’t believe that God could have a different plan. Their plan was getting in the way of seeing God’s plan.

Jesus knew what was going to happen. I don’t know if he knew every last detail. But he had a real clear understanding of what was going down.

But he also had a real clear understanding of what was going to happen, on the other side of Easter. Death was going to lose. God was going to win.

All of Jesus’ enemies, the people who hated him, the people who rejected his teaching, the people who wouldn’t listen to what Jesus had to say – it looked like they were going to win. They were going to kill Jesus, and throw his body into a borrowed grave, and put a big stone over top of it.

But love, and justice, and faith, and truth, and life, were going to roll away the stone. And the grave itself – the place of death – would be empty.

We could stop right there. That’s God’s plan. Death loses. God wins. Hatred and violence and evil may have won the first round, but God was going to win the game, all along.

Now, we could stop right there. But as you’re always hearing me say, context is important. So instead of stopping with that point – and it’s a powerful point! – I want us to read on, and see what Luke says next.

When people ask, “What’s God’s plan?”, Jesus shows, very clearly, what God wants to happen. This happens immediately after our first reading today.

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

– Luke 18:35-43

Remember, this happened immediately after the first part that we read this morning. And the first part finished by saying, “The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they didn’t know what he was talking about.”

Sometimes, instead of telling people, it works better if you show them. Instead of words, the disciples needed examples. So, that’s what Jesus did.

When Jesus talked about God’s plan, it was like they had earplugs in their ears. It was like their brains were turned off. Their idea and God’s idea were so far apart from each other, it’s almost like they were on a different planet.

Actually, that’s the way it is a lot of the time with Christians, even today. We still don’t get what Jesus is talking about. It’s really embarrassing!

Jesus was walking along, on his way to Jerusalem, to the place where he knew something bad was going to happen. And along the road, there was a beggar, asking for money.

The blind man heard the crowd, and asked what was happening. People told him, “Jesus is walking by. You can’t see him!”

If you look at this story from a different angle, this guy is all of us. We are all blind beggars by the road side. We don’t understand. We don’t see Jesus. All we know, is that we’re miserable a lot of the time. We sit, in the same place, day after day, with our hand out. That really is the way a whole lot of people live.

But somewhere, this guy had heard of Jesus. He’d heard Jesus’ name. He’d never seen Jesus. He’d never met Jesus. He didn’t really know what Jesus was about or what he could do.

But he took a chance. He seized the opportunity. Instead of sitting there, he cried out, at the top of his voice – “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

People told him to shut up. But he called out again, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Even though Jesus was on his way to something much more important – even though Jesus was on his last journey, and he knew it – he stopped.

Jesus could have kept on going. He could have said, “Oh, it’s just another beggar – there are so many of them!” Or he could have told one of his disciples, “Just give him some money!”

But he stopped. Helping one worthless beggar was just as important to Jesus as keeping his appointment with destiny in Jerusalem.

Jesus asked them to bring the beggar to him. I’m sure Jesus knew what the guy was going to ask. He knew the man was blind. But Jesus gave him the dignity of asking for himself. Maybe we need to do that more often, too. Don’t just give. Let the other person ask, in their own words.

Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?”

He said, “Lord, let me see again!”

Maybe that’s a prayer we should be praying more often. “Lord, let me see!”

“Let me see, Lord, what you see every day. Let me see with eyes like yours. Let me see into hearts, into minds. Let me see into needs. Open my eyes, Lord. Open my ears. I know there’s more, Lord, and you see it all the time. Let me see!”

We get into so much trouble when we think we know it all. We think that our plan is God’s plan. And we don’t even realize it.

How many of you remember that line from the hymn, Amazing Grace? That part where it says, “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see. . .”

That song, that we love so much, is a song the blind beggar by the road side could have written. And our position is so much like his.

God’s plan for Jesus was to go to Jerusalem. It was a big plan, an enormous plan, a plan which Jesus said God had in mind from the very beginning. But God’s plan, that day, was also to stop, and listen to someone crying out, and heal them. And because those two stories are right next to each other in the gospel, I think they’re just two sides of the same plan.

Third story for this morning. You already heard me tell it earlier today to the children, in a simplified version. Let’s read the real version now.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

– Luke 19:1-10

Like I said, you heard this story once already today. And a few weeks ago, we talked about why tax collectors were so unpopular in Jesus’ time. Everybody hated the tax collectors. They were traitors and oppressors. They sold their soul to the enemy. They got rich by stealing from their own people.

We all read this story in Sunday School. But we miss the real point. We make a big deal of Zaccheus climbing up in a tree. But the amazing thing is that Jesus even talked to him, and that Jesus invited himself to come and stay at Zaccheus’ place.

Again, on the most important trip that Jesus ever made, on his last journey to Jerusalem, Jesus stopped to reach out to someone who nobody else would even talk to.

You would think that on this trip, Jesus would have ignored everything, and pushed on, because this was God’s plan. This was so important, this was why Jesus came. Nothing could get in the way. Nothing could stop Jesus.

But instead, Jesus stopped to listen to a blind beggar by the road side. And he healed him. And Jesus stopped to reach out to a complete social outcast, to someone who everyone despised and hated.

And he didn’t just stop. He went to his house, and ate dinner with him.

This was beyond incredible. “What does Jesus think he’s doing? He’s gone to be the guest of someone who is a total sinner!”

And again, this story follows immediately after where it talks about God’s plan, about Jesus’ death and resurrection. I don’t think these stories are just thrown in there together. I think they’re saying something to us.

God’s plan is that no one is beyond reach. God’s plan is that even someone as awful as Zaccheus can turn around. God’s plan is that Jesus will go anywhere, into any home, invite himself into any place, in order to reach someone.

I also want you to think about what Zaccheus did in response to Jesus. He didn’t just say, “Oh, I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” That would have been cheap and easy.

I want you to imagine the head of some huge evil bank or some huge evil corporation – the kind of person we love to hate – standing up in front of everyone and saying, “I’m giving half of everything I own to charity. No strings attached. I can’t bear to hang onto this stuff which doesn’t really belong to me.”

“And all my employees, who I’ve cheated by under-paying them. Anyone whose company I forced into bankruptcy, anyone whose ideas I stole, anyone I’ve wronged in any way – come tell me what I took, and I’ll pay you back four times as much. No questions. I’ll do it.”
That is what repentance looks like. Not words. But making things right.

And Jesus said, “This man is my brother. He’s a son of Abraham, too. Salvation came to his house today. Because God’s plan was for me to seek out and save people just like this.”

Do you want to know what God’s plan is? Here’s what it’s all about.
God’s plan was for Jesus to lay down his life, so that everyone could be saved.

God’s plan was for Jesus to stop and listen, to the poorest beggar on the road. And remember – that’s us.

And God’s plan is for Jesus to go into the home of the worst person we can think of – our enemy, the person we hate and despise – and help them to turn around, and for us to remember that they are our brother and our sister, too.

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