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Get On Board the Jesus Train!

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  - Luke 12:4-7, NIV

People get ready, there's a train a comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith, to hear the diesels hummin'
Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord

So people get ready, for the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board 'em
There's hope for all, among those loved the most

 (Lyrics by Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler)

I heard this song growing up as a kid on Chicago’s West Side playing on the radio. I always wondered what it would be like to hop aboard the train to heaven. Would there be people I knew? Would there be enough seats for me? I loved the idea that the cost would be free. All I needed was faith. 

What did it mean to have faith in Jesus? People elbowed their way to hear Jesus speaking about heaven and they were interested in how they could get access to this marvelous place.  There were all kinds of people listening to Jesus. All were at different places of trusting him as the supposed way, truth, and life. Some listened for a quick and easy way to secure the kingdom life. If Jesus made it convenient and simple, they might get on board. Others waited to hear if Jesus would call for a war with Israel’s enemies. If Jesus would only say the word that there was a fight underway, they would be willing to pick up their swords and go toe to toe with Rome. Maybe ordinary men and women pushed their ways to hear Jesus speak about the conditions of becoming one of his disciples. They were frightened that his admission ticket was too high a price. They were confused if Jesus’ way was still God’s way. Listen was what they did.

Jesus smelled the air of apprehension from the crowd. He put their anxieties at ease with, “I tell you, my friends”. Luke was the only synoptic gospel writer to record that Jesus called his disciples “friends”. Jesus was not interested in using people like a used car dealer or trying to hustle them for money. He wanted to make friends for life and the life to come. He insisted that they count the cost of following him with their whole heart, soul, and mind. 

Jesus raised the cost of discipleship for his transportation to levels unheard of – levels that demanded serious thought and decision.  

Master Jesus welcomed them with a warm handshake of friendship only to plunge them into the deep and dangerous details of discipleship with him. He knew some people were listening for only rewards. Others wanted to know what they would get out of the deal without much sacrifice. Jesus could not have been more transparent than a squeaking clean window. He was discerning hearts, not popularity numbers.

The people loved being called a friend of Jesus. They wanted to hang around with him as a buddy or pal. They were cool with Jesus doing miracles and still being down to earth. They might have believed the ticket to get on the Jesus train required nothing of them. There was nothing to fear about the rabbi from Nazareth in their minds. He appeared to be normal to them. They did not get that he was more than a good seminary professor or learned lay teacher. Jesus raised the cost of discipleship for his transportation to levels unheard of – levels that demanded serious thought and decision.  

All Jews feared God. Fear of the Lord meant to acknowledge that God was God and man was not. The distinction between human beings and a holy God was never questioned. Most Jews knew the stories of the temple that God was holy. He was the great God above all gods. They knew not to approach him as if he was some drinking buddy or some girlfriend from the old block. Why should people fear God? According to biblical scholar Marva Dawn, God has the power to determine which train all people will board at the end of life. She wrote, “(God) is the One we fear has the authority to cast (people) into (hell). He doesn’t have only power; He also has the authority…No one else has the authority to condemn us” (To Walk in the Kingdom, p. 37). 

The word Jesus used for hell was the place where everyone burned his or her trash outside the city gates of Jerusalem. The Valley of Hinnom was the garbage heap where the fire burned continually. The valley had a reputation of being hell on earth because everything from children offered to the god Molech (1 Kings 11) to the slaughtering of animals was done in Hinnom. Jesus warned them that discipleship must look at the cost of following him as God’s answer. Who could throw both body and soul into the ever-consuming fire of hell? It was the Lord himself. In addition, Jesus wanted to know what was willing to come aboard his train to glory or take the H train to Hinnom.  

The picture of hell Jesus pointed out to them overwhelmed the people. They burned their garbage in the same valley. They knew the smell all too well and they wanted nothing to do with it. They might have backed away from Jesus after his warning that God might toss them into the eternal furnace of flames and judgment. Can you see some people were pulling away from Jesus? Maybe, in some people’s minds, the Jesus train was on a short highway to hell. They were not signing up for his destination at all. Anything else, Jesus? 

Jesus switched word pictures for his resistant crowd. Maybe he saw sparrows nesting in a nearby tree. On the other hand, he would have seen sparrows in the marketplace for sale often. In our minds, a penny does not buy much. In first-century Palestine, a penny brought much more buying power. Jesus knew how shopkeepers marketed their products. It is the “buy two sparrows and get one for free” deal. Sellers regularly sold two sparrows for a penny, but if a person brought four sparrows; the seller would throw in an extra sparrow free. Five sparrows for two pennies.  The buyer was happy as a lark to know he or she got something free, so he or she did not care what happened to the “free” product. It is free, right?

Jesus pressed in with more good news to his anxious skeptics. (If you are reading this part and you are bald, please forgive me.) 

The people might have kept their arms crossed and looked unconvinced. They were not sure if they could buy what Jesus was selling because it appeared to be a bad deal. With a grin on his face, Jesus regained their attention from a different angle. Jesus said to them that he knew they did not care about the free sparrow they got from the marketplace sale. However, God does not think of them in those terms. If they thought God had forgotten them like a free bird, this was not the case. Every person who felt forgotten by the powerful, the well-connected, and the religious elites, they were not forgotten by the God who cares about them more than a free sparrow. In God’s eyes, they were worth even more than a little bird purchased at the marketplace. They were worth the death of His only Son.

Jesus pressed in with more good news to his anxious skeptics. (If you are reading this part and you are bald, please forgive me.)  Anyway, Luke used the Greek perfect verb tense for good reason. It meant that no matter how many hairs sprouted from our heads, God counted them once and had a perfect accounting for every person. No matter if we lose some or gain from Rogaine, He will always have the right number. God cares about even the little details of our lives. That is the kind of God he is and always has been! 

There was a sigh of relief from some who had the glowing fires of Hinnom catapulted into their minds. Others released their arms from folded resistance to open hands and hearts. The notion of judgment made people think clearly that Jesus was not playing church, but he was defining church in stark contrast to the Pharisees who play-acted holiness. Discipleship with Jesus requires a made-up mind. 

However, this same Jesus reminded frightened men, women, boys, and girls who felt forgotten and dismissed by the world, the devil, and society that God had not forgotten them. He is the One who has not forgotten you! He is the God who knows your life and cares about even the minute details. He cares about your hurts and disappointments. He cares about your triumphs and achievements. He cares about your family, your soul, and your well-being. He cares about you because you were made in His image. He really cares about you!              

So my “people get ready, there's a train a comin'. You don't need no baggage, you just get on board; All you need is faith, to hear the diesel hummin'. Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord”.

Photo by Charles Forerunner on Unsplash


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