Jesus' Ministry: Disproportionate Influence
Text: Luke 6:17–49
This chapter in Luke 6 provides so much depth and breadth and is so packed with wisdom from Jesus that I fear we can’t even scratch the surface this morning. In reality, this chapter could provide the text for many full sermons, but that’s not what we’re hoping to accomplish this morning. We aren’t going for a zoomed in, deep study of each sentence, each verse that we read. Instead, we’re hoping to catch a glimpse of what it is that Jesus calls us to and why these principles of His matter.
The main concept that I want to focus on is the idea of disproportionate influence. I’m hoping that at the end of this, you feel encouraged that your life, by the power of the Spirit’s work in you, may have disproportionate influence on our world. What I mean by that term can be illustrated by thinking about light. One tiny light can capture the attention and illuminate a space much bigger than you might expect. Think of that time during dusk when the sun has dropped below the horizon, but the sky isn’t yet dark. As it grows more dim, your eyes start looking for the first star. That pinpoint of light in the enormous canvas of the sky is easy to find.
I also think of a child’s bedroom. My kids have all appreciated a night light in their room. In the total scope of the room, a nightlight is a tiny little object, but it’s influence is huuuuuge. If you don’t turn on the nightlight at bedtime, the universe is not right with your child. The train derails and nobody sleeps. The small object of the nightlight has an outsized, disproportionate influence. The little bit of light it provides is incredibly noticeable. That’s part of what our text today provides us. It gives us an opportunity to have that disproportionate influence in our world.
So what I would like to do this morning is begin at the end of Luke, chapter 6. If you have your Bibles and haven’t opened there yet, would you please open to that chapter? The last section is about building your house on a rock. These are special verses for me, as it was part of the text used by the pastor when Katie and I got married. The man that officiated our wedding is a very gifted artist. He encouraged us to build our marriage on the rock of Jesus just as we had built the foundation of our lives on the rock. He presented us with a gift of an ink drawing that he made specifically for us and then nicely matted and framed. The drawing is of a little house on an outcropping of rock, and it still hangs in our house, where we treasure it for both the artistic talent as well as the reminder.
Jesus closes out his sermon on the plain, as Luke 6 is known, by presenting this metaphor of a house on a rock. He said in verses 46-49,
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built his house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” —Luke 6:46–49
Jesus’s metaphor is talking about how we build our worldview—that is to say, where you put your faith and what you believe about why everything in our world is the way it is. A worldview has incredible implications on how a person lives out their lives. It influences one’s perception of consequences for their behavior, it directs our motivations and even desires.
What Jesus is saying here, though, is that the problem with any worldview other than Christianity is that the foundation is faulty. You see, it’s not the strength of a person’s faith that is the vital component; it’s the strength of the object of the person’s faith. I want to say that again because I think it’s important, and then I have an analogy that might help snap into focus what we’re talking about—it’s not the strength of a person’s faith; it’s the strength of the object of the person’s faith.
Here’s the analogy: There were two men walking together high up in the mountains in January. It was cold, and there was deep snow on the land and thick ice covering the lake they were hiking around. They saw on the horizon a storm coming in quickly, and the older friend said to the younger, “We need to cut across the lake or we’re going to get caught in this blizzard.” The younger man was frightened as he had never crossed a lake of ice before and was nervous the ice would fail and they would fall in, creating an even more dire situation. The older friend assured him the ice was trustworthy and that they would be safe. The young man was nervous but convinced, and the two crossed the lake to safety. A couple of months later, the younger man was back up at the same lake with a different friend. Again, a storm was coming in suddenly and they were facing the prospect of getting caught in a late season blizzard. There was still ice covering the lake, but it was now much more thin. The young man told his new friend, I’ve done this before, we have to cross the lake to make it to our cabin in time. The new friend was unconvinced and nervous, but the young man insisted that it would work and that they must do it. He pleaded with his new friend to cross over the lake and assured him they would be safe because he had done it before and trusted it would hold them. The new friend was swayed by the strong faith displayed by his companion, so they set out across the ice. Despite the strong faith in the thin layer of ice, the ice could not hold them, and they met their demise when it gave way.
In the first storm, the ice is strong, but the young man’s faith in the ice is very weak. He doubts; he is nervous and unsure. His faith is not strong at all, but the object of the faith is strong indeed.
In the second storm, the ice is weak but the man’s faith is strong. He’s convinced he is correct, but because the object of his faith is weak, the strength of his faith doesn’t matter.
This is what Jesus is talking about with building a house on a rock. The truth is, it’s the foundation on the rock that matters. It’s the foundation on the rock that makes the house able to withstand the heavy winds and high waters. It’s not the house itself, but the fact that it was well built upon a strong foundation. If you build a house but don’t put it on a foundation at all, it doesn’t stand a chance of lasting! It’s going to fall apart. The fiercer the storm, the more quickly the foundation-less house will topple. Houses must be anchored, and the only solid foundation for a house that can weather any storm is Jesus. But in order to build our house upon him, we have to do what he says, which is what verse 47 instructs.
The difference in these verses between those who have a firm foundation in Christ and those who don’t have a firm foundation is the doing. It’s not simply hearing the words, and it’s not even agreeing with the words; it’s doing them.
An interesting aspect of Christianity is that in order to do the good works, your very substance must be different. Look at verses 43-45.
“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out the evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”—Luke 6:43–45
The production of fruit on a tree doesn’t lie. Apples cannot come from anything other than an apple tree. You can try to staple or glue or somehow attach apples to the peach tree, or to a thorny bush, but it’s going to be an obvious counterfeit. In the same way, people try to staple good things onto their lives. Doing good works certainly makes our world a nicer place, but it doesn’t change the heart of a person. I can muster the determination to do something good for someone I don’t like, but my heart toward that person isn’t changed unless the Spirit does that work in me. I’ve simply stapled an attractive fruit to a thorn bush. Jesus teaches that it’s all about the heart, and if my heart is evil, doing good things is just stapling fruit to a tree that can’t produce the fruit on its own. It’s like an apple that appears fine but is rotten on the inside.
So how does truly good fruit come about in a person’s life? It flows out of a changed heart. They’ve literally been changed from the inside out. Once Christ has become the foundation of your life, when you treasure him, as these verses put it, when you treasure him completely as being all-sufficient, when the emotions of your heart and the intellect of your mind both encounter Jesus and find him captivating and beautiful and satisfying, that overflows. It’s a heart change issue, and the Holy Spirit has to create that change for you to produce good works.
I want to return to the concept of worldview again. Human behavior shows us that people don’t just change their deepest held beliefs on a whim. People are usually entrenched in their worldview, and while their beliefs are not always well thought out and the implications of a worldview thoughtfully considered, they are usually deeply held. A person doesn’t decide with any conviction that they are a Muslim on one day, and then the next day abandon that belief system and decide that they are an atheist, and then on the next day or week change their mind again and decide that Christianity is in fact true. That just isn’t how people operate.
Rather, it usually takes a considerable amount of time to affect change in someone’s belief structure, no matter what their faith is. It’s not usually a miraculous intervention like we see in Paul’s life, it’s much more often many conversations over weeks or months. It’s like changing the direction of a huge ship. It doesn’t just turn on a dime but takes time and distance to change direction. And here’s where the rest of our text today can be incredibly useful. If we become doers of what Jesus teaches, it’s captivating to a watching world and can expedite that turning radius for people to head toward Christ as their foundation. It provides that disproportionate influence.
Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6 is radical. It’s so completely different from what any other worldview can display that it provides the potential to capture people’s attention. The principles that Jesus is teaching about weren’t new in his day, they are perfectly consistent with what we see of God’s character in the old testament. But the direct way that he words them is so convicting, so pure and beautiful, that it created a new paradigm for his disciples then and still does for us today. It seems totally upside down from what the world tells us, doesn’t it? As a kid, did you ever hang upside down from the monkey bars and stare in wonder at everything because it was flipped 180-degrees? That’s what Jesus’ teaching feels like in this chapter. If you don’t think so, let’s do a quick exercise to see.
I have two lists of four attributes to share with you. I want you to decide which list you desire for your life. Would you rather be rich, fed and satisfied, laughing, and loved by everyone, that’s option one, or be poor, hungry, weeping, and hated? Rich, fed, laughing, and loved, or poor, hungry, weeping, and hated?
This isn’t a hard choice, we all choose option one! If you didn’t, it’s because you’re either cheating because you know where I’m going with this, or because you’re a very mature believer whom the Spirit has richly sanctified. Yet Jesus, in verses 20-26, turns this seemingly easy choice on its head and says that the blessing is for those living out option 2. He says the poor, hungry, weeping, and hated are blessed! He pronounces woes on those living out option 1. To be honest friends, it has wrecked me this week to read verse 26, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” The question for myself that I scribbled under that verse is, “Am I risking too little for the gospel?” It’s incredibly hard, in our daily living, to intentionally seek out the blessing Jesus promised here to those who are poor, hungry, broken, and hated because of their faith in Christ. It’s absolutely counter-cultural and counter to our sinful, selfish nature.
The same is true of what Jesus says about loving our enemies. He says it’s easy to love people who love you. It’s easy to loan money to people who pay you back, or to say nice things to people who reciprocate by saying nice things back to you. There’s no challenge in treating people the way you want to be treated when they actually do just that! The challenge is to do all of those things when there is no returned love, no nice things reciprocated. When you do something nice for someone and they just take and take and take and never give back, it’s incredibly hard. Yet that is exactly what Jesus is telling us to do.
It’s a tall order, but when you’re God, you can ask hard things of your followers, especially when you’ve gone before them and done all of those hard things as a perfect example. The next challenge that Jesus tells us to do in Luke 6 is to not judge others. In studying this passage over the last few weeks, I have been so convicted of how often I fail in this. On several occasions recently, I’ve been mid-sentence and the Spirit has whispered to my heart that I’m doing the very thing verse 37 warns me not to do. Verse 37 says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged. Condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” I’ve been caught tongue tied as I processed my sin in my head. To make it even worse, I was the plank-eyed man in verses 41-42. Not only was I judging and condemning people, I was doing it while pointing out the speck in their eye while I had a board sized piece of wood in my own. As followers of Christ, we have to always be willing to self evaluate very carefully before we take steps to call out sin in another person’s life. We’re charged to sharpen each other, but when we do this poorly, we’re just being hypocrites.
So, I just quickly covered three incredibly difficult teachings that Jesus included in his sermon on the plain:
Seek the blessings that come from being poor, hungry, weeping, and hated because of your faith in Jesus,
Love your enemies and seek their good while you pray for them, all the while expecting nothing in return, and
Judge not and be swift at forgiving.
I think God wants us to do these things for multiple reasons. To name a couple, because it brings him glory and it brings us the greatest joy in life. But he also calls us to these hard things that are totally countercultural for another reason. When we are doers of these principles, it reveals something of the way God is to those around us in such a way that it makes the world stop and evaluate their worldview. We desire for all people to come to know the love of Christ and to base their worldview upon him, but as I talked about earlier, that often takes a long time to turn someone’s affections from their old ways. When we live out what Jesus tells us here in Luke 6, when we take the opportunities to love our neighbor, sacrifice our lives in ways that the world cannot explain, and live in deep humility, the effect is to accelerate the turning of their worldview ship. They notice the difference and ask, and when our only explanation is that we’ve asked that the love of Christ, our Savior, might dwell in us day to day and that the outflow of our faith in Christ is these acts, it’s incredibly attractive to our watching friends. These moments are some of the very best opportunities to be salt and light in our world, to be the city on the hill that we’re called to be.
Flip to Matthew 5:13-16. This is Jesus talking, and he says,
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
We are to be salt and light. Both salt and light have disproportionate influence. The darker the space, the more absent of light a place is, the more influential our light can be. If you’ve ever been in absolute darkness, you know this is true. I have been caving a couple of times, and when your eyes are completely open but it’s so dark that you can’t even make out a faint shape or see your hand in front of your face, the tiniest flicker of light is immediately noticeable. Sometimes, it’s during the darkest of times that our lights can shine most brightly. Maybe you’re experiencing a dark time right now.
Looking at salt can further clarify this concept of disproportionate influence. In a spaghetti sauce, the main ingredient is tomatoes. You put four cups of tomato sauce or paste in, along with chopped tomatoes, so you expect the flavor of the sauce to really be like tomatoes. The influence of the tomatoes is proportional to the taste. Salt, on the other hand, has a disproportionate influence. You add just a bit of salt, and it adds significant flavor throughout the entire sauce. The amount of salt has an outsized influence.
That’s what being doers of the words of Jesus amounts to. We can have that same kind of disproportionate influence that salt and light have. So I want us to leave today feeling the weight of that, knowing that we truly can influence the world around us.
But there are two side pitfalls that I want to properly buffer against. Knowing that you can have a great influence on those around you can puff a person up. There’s a temptation to turn that into a game of ‘look at me’ and steal the glory for yourself. When God creates a clean heart in you and leads you to the good works that he’s prepared for you to do, it’s for His glory, not ours. I pray you don’t hear in this sermon anything that would make you want to glorify yourself. Our aim in loving our enemies and being lowly for the sake of the gospel, and leaving judgment in the hands of God, who is capable of Judging, is to point others to Christ. We want others to see how amazing our Lord is, not to think that we’re amazing. Loving your enemy provides the opportunity to be salt and light, but you have to be prepared to share where the motivation to love them comes from. I love my enemy because Christ first loved me when I was his enemy.
The other caution is that I don’t want you to hear that this amounts to pulling up your spiritual socks and trying harder to do good works. If you’re going to strive to do any of these things, endeavor to pray consistently that the Holy Spirit would begin this work in you. I’m not telling you that you need to dig deeper and resolve anew to double your efforts. I’m telling you that it’s the Lord’s work to help you see the opportunities when they arise, and then its our job to step up and do them. Ephesians 2:10 says,
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
We don’t have to manufacture the good works, we just need the Lord to allow us to have eyes to see them, and then walk in them.
Of course, Jesus is our perfect example of disproportionate influence. He was born in a small town in the Middle East, not known for anything in particular. He wasn’t anything special to look at, not really good looking or stately. He wasn’t born into money or influence. He really only ministered for three years. Yet his short life of 33 years changed the world. His death can change your eternity! His influence is ridiculously outsized for what one person can normally accomplish. He’s our model. He’s our inspiration. He’s the one that not only instructs, but then said, “Here, just watch and I’ll show you what I mean.” Then he loved his enemies as they struck him down. He prayed that God would forgive them as he breathed his last breaths. His faithfulness to walk out his teaching is captivating. How amazing that God goes before us in the most difficult ways so we can not only see how we ought to live, but so that we can be with him for eternity.
I want to close by challenging you all to read this text each day this week. I don’t know what your current Bible study habits and routines are, but would you consider committing to doing that with me? To read Luke 6: 17-49 at some point each day? It takes about five minutes. Let’s let the lessons in Jesus’ teaching in the sermon on the plain percolate this week and infuse our minds and hearts so that we can be doers of his words. I feel like I’ve left so much on the table here that is deep and beautiful, but I hope that as you read it, some of those pieces that we didn’t dive into would become clear to you and that you too would be challenged, grown, and encouraged because I certainly was this week as I studied. Let’s be doers of Jesus’ words, that people might see God’s glory shining in our lives and be drawn to him.