What is the hardest thing about being a Christian?
As the disciples of Jesus are beginning to understand who Jesus is and are demonstrating their zeal for him, Jesus has determined to head toward Jerusalem. This means more than his annual treck for Passover. Jesus is heading to his execution. But he is also heading toward his ascension and victory. Luke chapter 9 marks a major turning point in the gospel of Luke and Jesus’ long journey to the cross. His mission to bring salvation to the ends of the earth will cost him his life.
Read Luke 9:57-52
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
These three interactions between Jesus and potential disciples are given no specific place or time when they occurred except that it was while Jesus walked along the road. Luke pulls three accounts together in one place as a means to make one united point: that following Christ is costly and must take first place in a disciple’s life. Many people will falter at this point but it is better to have a small church of seeing Christians than a full and overflowing church of people given only half the truth.
“As they were walking along the road…” As indicated in Luke 9:51, Jesus was walking on the road to Jerusalem.
“…a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”” The man is not named because the focus of the story is to provide three different approaches to discipleship. Luke has bundled three separate stories together to help us see the cost of discipleship. This offer to go wherever Jesus goes sits in contrast to the Samaritans of the last passage who refused to have anything to do with Jerusalem. We may think Jesus would welcome this offer in comparison but he uses it to teach us something more.
“Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus may very well be replying, “do you know what you are signing up for?” Everything and everyone in this world has a home to go to but this is not so for Jesus. This world is not a place of rest or comfort for him. He is the suffering servant (see Isaiah 52:13-53:12).
The Son of man was a title used of himself a number of times (Lk 5:24; 6:5, 22; 7:34; 9:22, 26, 44 and 18 more times in Luke!). It has a dual meaning of describing his humanity (child of mankind) and being God because of its clear allusion to a vision in Daniel 7:13, 14 of God coming in the appearance of a man. There is a reminder here that Jesus himself left the comforts of his home to save the world.
If you want to follow Christ, note that we say goodbye to the homeliness of this world.
“He said to another man, “Follow me.”” In this trilogy of lessons on discipleship, one example includes Jesus taking the initiative which ends with another lesson of warning. The theme of this section is clear thought, what does it cost to follow Jesus?
“But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”” Jesus’ personal invitation is met with a hurdle to cross. This offer came to the man at a very unfortunate time. It is good and right to respect and grieve our loved ones when they die. Is this not a reasonable request from the man? He is not saying no, but not yet. He is willing to leave his home and have no place to lay his head but he has responsibilities to his father and family.
“Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”” Too harsh? What is Jesus’ point? The next cross to bear as a Christian is to soberly see the great mission of God above and beyond our earthly ties to responsibility. Grief is right and responsibilities are real but Jesus’ prod here is to remember greater things. Giving attention to the things of this world is akin to ministering to the dead. But Jesus’ mission is for the living! John Calvin said of this verse: “those who do not rise above the world, — who devote themselves to pleasing men, and forget God, — are like dead men, who are idly and uselessly employed in taking care of the dead.”
“Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”” We have a similar category of trouble here but less about duty and more about giving our priority in life to our family.
“Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”” Jesus is challenging a divided heart. Christ wants all of us – the whole person. Will we follow Christ or not? So many people claim to be Christian and their lives show no determination to put him first or to seek first the kingdom of God. Many will begin a journey of following Jesus but then recall what they once left behind and wish to return. Jesus calls us to come and not look back. The race is forwards, not backwards.
Some will protest at this point that this is too harsh. The point of these three challenges though is to highlight the cost of discipleship. Jesus demonstrated his own responsibilities to his family as illustrated in Luke 2:51 (also John 19:26-27) but also taught that God comes first and we have a new family in Christ (Luke 8:19-21). It is too common for us to put our children and our family ahead of our devotion to God and following Jesus. When our mind is consumed with our love of our family over our love for God, we are not taking God seriously.
Jesus is speaking to people on his way to the cross. The theme of sacrifice and the cost of discipleship is clear. We live in a different situation where following Christ does not take us actually to Jerusalem. But our dedication to follow Jesus and join in his mission still comes at a cost. We must withdraw from our earthly home in order to claim heavenly citizenship. We must go about our responsibilities with the knowledge that all of this is passing away. And we must look to Jesus and never look back. We must take up our cross and follow him. If not then we are unworthy of the kingdom of God.
Topic A – Are your investments on earth or in heaven? The bible doesn’t teach us to be poor, but it teaches us to be rich in the kingdom of God. That is, find your treasure in God and not in financial gain. Taking risks for the kingdom of God is easier when the value of this world is diminished. What would you struggle to live without for Christ? How strong are your ties to live in this area? Are you deeply invested in your career such that it feels impossible to leave that behind?
Topic B – Managing responsibilities with a Christian view. God instructs us to be good with our money and with the responsibilities of this world. We are called on to pray for the government for example. Also, God instructs us to work and to provide for those we are responsible for (2 Thess 3:10; 1 Tim 5:4). Yet, he also says to do all things as though doing them for the Lord and not for men (Col 3:23). He calls us to seek first the kingdom of God and everything else will be taken care of (Matt 6:19-32). Having a Christian view of the world, puts all of our responsibilities in its eternal perspective and transfers the glory from ourselves to God.
Topic C – When family comes second. It is possible to love your family to death. The order of our devotion is God first, then family. The glory of this is that God loves our family more than we do. To truly love our family is to help them to see Jesus. A person can pour all of their time and energy and money and care into their family, but if Jesus is not given first place in this relationship, then the family is shutting their saviour out. You will be loving your family to death.
Father, accept our desire to follow Jesus and help us to do so despite the cost. Give us your grace to see the joy and privilege of knowing your Son and being known by you. Help us in our weakness and thank you for the price that you paid to call us your children. Amen.