Luke 9:57-62 “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No-one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”
We are very familiar with the concept of being a follower. Men and women follow certain soccer teams; or they might follow the Welsh rugby team. Certain political or cultural movements have their followers. Bands, film stars, soap operas and even shops have their followers. There are few men so unique and individualistic that you’d say, “He follows no one. They broke the mold after they made him.” Most people have heroes whom they follow. Christians especially have been influenced by certain movements; we have become ‘followers’ of Reformers like Luther, Puritans like Bunyan, leaders of the 18th century evangelical awakening like John Wesley. There are certain preachers and writers today who have helped us by their sermons and books, and we always read with profit their new writings. We gently follow them while not giving them our hearts and lives. We don’t argue, “I am of this man or I am of that man.”
There were wandering rabbis at the time of our Lord who gathered disciples around them, followers who chose for a while to put themselves under the teaching of these rabbis and be educated by them. So it became natural and acceptable for people to come under the influence of other men – like students going off to college for a few years today. Men at the time of Jesus saw his life and heard his teaching and decided, “Yeah. I need to follow him.” They thought in terms of temporarily leaving their homes and vocations and accompanying Jesus around Galilee and going to Jerusalem with him. They would sit at his feet as he was teaching, asking him questions, watching his life, how he lived. Then, after a time, they returned to their wives and their callings. In the passages before us we meet three such men who were on the verge of making this decision. They were thinking, “I’ll become a follower of Jesus.” You see the key word in this section is ‘follow’; it is found on three occasions in reference to three different men; in verse 57, “I will follow you.” Then in verse 59 Jesus says to a man, “Follow me.” Finally in verse 61 we are introduced to a man saying, “I will follow you, Lord, but . . .” Let us look at each of them, and in doing so we are trying to build up a picture of what it means to become a real follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
THERE ARE SOME WHO VOLUNTEER TO FOLLOW JESUS CHRIST WITHOUT COUNTING THE COST.
We are told that as they walking along a dusty middle-east road they met a man whose opening words to Jesus were these, “I will follow you wherever you go” (v.57). “Look no further, Jesus, you have a dedicated new disciple. I will stick to you through thick and thin. In whatever weather, I’ll be there. Whatever tasks you give me to do, I will do them, if it’s chopping up a tree or carrying a pitcher of water then it won’t be below my dignity. However great the opposition, you can rely on me supporting you. If others leave you I’ll never leave you. From here to eternity you’ve got me, wherever you go I’ll dog your footsteps. I’m starting today to be your follower.”
We have no reason to think this man was anything but clean-cut, courteous and sincere. He was not out to get an easy life, giving up his home responsibilities to wander on a magical mystery tour with Jesus. On this occasion it was on a highway that he approached Jesus. He ignored the attention of the other people on the road and he volunteered publically to serve Jesus. Certainly you would love to have him sitting in a pew on Sundays as one of your congregation. There would be a buzz of welcome from the stewards as he walked up the steps into the church and he’d be given a special smile with the hymnbook. If he came back week by week, they thought, he would be a real asset to the church. He would certainly enhance God’s kingdom on earth.
What would be your response to such a circumstance, to a student volunteering to sign the Christian Union membership book? This man is the evangelist’s dream. He would ask him certain basic questions:
i] Do you believe you are a sinner?
ii] Will you accept Jesus as your person Saviour?
iii] Will you pray this prayer after me . . .?
The volunteer would agree to everything. He would need very little instruction. Just six meetings, once a night each week climaxed in a special week-end away. Putting him under the tutelage of the apostle Andrew or Matthew would be a mere formality. This man is a candidate for leadership in the church. He’d be added to the statistic sheet, and his conversion spread around the other disciples that night – “One more name added to the Lamb’s book of life!” That’s how it is done in the world today – everywhere. It is not hard to become known as a follower of Jesus Christ. It’s relatively easy. While becoming a Rotarian or a Freemason makes certain demands on attendance and of financial support for their organizations becoming a follower of Jesus requires only the words, “I will follow you,” and you’re in!
How did Jesus respond to this man? He replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Aren’t you a little shocked to hear that? We all know that phrase, “Foxes have holes . . .” Perhaps we couldn’t remember in what context it spoke of the utter self-humiliation of the eternal Son of God. We learn from our text that these words were warning a zealous new disciple what would be entailed in following our Lord. Maybe you’re a little disappointed to see Jesus handling this tender soul so roughly. How could our Lord use such an insensitive approach in dealing with an inquiring sinner? His first words to him were saying, “You don’t realise who you’d be following. I don’t have a home to call my own; I cannot guarantee one for you. I am utterly dependent day by day on people giving me a place to sleep; so will you be.” Our Lord is stopping this man in his tracks in the first flush of his enthusiasm to join the other disciples in following Christ.
This man didn’t know who Jesus was. He was ignorant of the fact that Christ was not an itinerant rabbi; he is the Lord from heaven; God made flesh; the one who “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Phils 2:7&8). The man was ignorant of something as fundamental to Christianity as that. This man could go to hell wanting to volunteer as a follower of Jesus, because his Jesus was merely an extraordinary teacher and healer, but in fact he was far more than that. He is God the Son, the Saviour of the world, the Lord from glory. He is the Lamb of God who takes away our sin. He came into the world to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Do you know that? Do you know what it would entail to follow Jehovah Jesus from this day on?
In other words our Lord was not motivated to humiliate this man, to throw a cup of cold water in his face and dampen his zeal to become a follower of Christ. Jesus loved him, as Jesus loved all who are moved to follow him through thick and thin. On them he smiles lovingly, but to them he also must speak words of truth to make them face up to the cost of discipleship. He did not look on him as a hopeful statistic, or a trophy of success to silence the voices of those who said, “This sort of preaching will draw no one into our gatherings.” Jesus loved this man’s soul and that motivated him to say these shocking words to him. The man must know from the start what he is getting himself into. Jesus had a moral obligation not to wear a cloak of deceit, to keep back nothing and lay out everything before him for the start. He didn’t want this man to turn on him later on and protest, “You never told me it would be like this . . .” Jesus wanted men to follow him, but primarily he was motivated by a longing to glorify his Father. That transcended everything. In every conversation his concern was to do the will of God, to be faithful to him, and make his glory known to men.
What Jesus was saying to this man was something like this; “Hang on a moment. This world in which we serve God is groaning in sin and utterly contemptuous of God. Becoming a follower of mine is not about learning my sermons, and trying to live like me. That won’t even scratch the surface of the problem. The God who is my Father is thrice holy, while you are not. You are in rebellion against him as are all men. To deliver you from your sin and guilt I’ve had to leave heaven and descend to this world, humbling myself to the death of the cross. There’s no other way redemption can come than my making myself of no reputation and becoming a servant. The Creator has to become created. The Ancient of Days has to enter time. The Almighty has to become weak. The Sustainer of all things has to become dependent. My glory has to be laid aside and I be found in fashion as a mere man. That is all people will see – a human being. Only by my dying can you live. You have to see that in order to become a real disciple of mine. You must have noticed that I have nothing, not even a pillow for my head. I’m nothing, and becoming a real follower of me means following me in this too.” Peter was growingly conscious of the cost of being an apostle of Jesus. He once said to his Lord, “We have left everything to follow you!” (Matt. 19:27). That’s what it cost. Didn’t Jesus spell this out to the enthusiastic crowds following him who wanted to take his offer of eternal life and healing and rest? Turn to Luke chapter fourteen and let me read to you the section beginning with verse 25:
“Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:25-33).
Listen to what Bishop Ryle says about those words of our Lord: “We learn from this passage, that those who are thinking of following Christ should be warned to ‘count the cost’ This is a lesson which was intended for the multitudes who followed our Lord without thought and consideration, and was enforced by examples drawn from building and from war. It is a lesson which will be found useful in every age of the Church. It costs something to be a true Christian. Let that never be forgotten. To be a mere nominal Christian, and go to church, is cheap and easy work; but to hear Christ’s voice, and follow Christ, and believe in Christ, and confess Christ, requires much self-denial. It will cost us our sins, and our self-righteousness, and our ease, and our worldliness. All – all must be given up. We must fight an enemy, who comes against us with twenty thousand followers. We must build a tower in troublous times. Our Lord Jesus Christ would have us thoroughly understand this. He bids us ‘count the cost.’”
Here is the example of that greatest follower of Christ, the apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11 he is dealing with troublemakers in the church in Corinth who were living as though the mark of a successful Christian was the fame and popularity you gained. Paul is comparing himself to the other apostles: “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Cors. 11:23-30). That is the living example of the cost of following the suffering Servant of God, and having nowhere to lay your head. Please follow the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no one else worth following compared to him, but first you count the cost of daily following the one who had nowhere to lay his head.
THERE ARE SOME WHO LAY DOWN CONDITIONS TO BECOME FOLLOWERS OF JESUS CHRIST.
There is different scenario in this second case. The Lord Jesus takes the initiative. He approaches a man and he says to him, “Follow me.” What is fascinating is that he knows that this man will make an excuse why he cannot begin to follow Jesus then and there. He is a man who is interested in Christianity, but he is not eager or desperate to be saved, and yet Jesus will personally approach such a person and present him with the duty of following him. Here is a man who has his own agenda; he has a admiration for Jesus Christ and some serious thoughts of one day following him, but he wants to put off obeying the invitation of Christ just then. We are told that “the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father’” (vv. 59). He judged it a bit inconvenient just at that time to begin to follow Jesus. It would be better later on. Perhaps the man’s father was not even dead and he needed to care for him until death ended that obligation. That’s just a guess.
However, we can judge that this man had some wrong thoughts of what following Jesus consisted of, that he saw it as a physical action, like people in a football stadium during an evangelistic crusade are asked to get out of their seats and come to the front to where the preacher is standing as a mark of following Jesus. They are confused into equating the outward physical action with what is an inward spiritual movement of one’s heart and life. In other words, man or woman stops following the world, and following other lords, and following sin, and he or she moves in a different direction entirely following Jesus Christ as Lord for ever. They are two different actions, do you see, the outward physical and the inward spiritual? The essence of following Christ was not actually walking in a group of disciples with him throughout Galilee, and following him through Samaria, and going along the road with him from Bethany to Jerusalem. In fact Judas followed Jesus in all those places but Judas was not a true follower of Christ, because a true follower is one inwardly. In our hearts we agree with his teaching; we have trust in his Lordship; what he says we will do; where he sends we will go. It is a life of happily obeying the Lord; it is not physical at all; it is not about walking to the front of a church, not kneeling at an altar rail, not being baptized, not swallowing bread and wine, not having the hands of a bishop rest on your head; nothing physical at all. Following Jesus is a spiritual change of heart and life wrought by the Holy Spirit in which inwardly we do his will.
In your daily work you are following him. As you attend lectures you are following him. As you cook and wash up and clean the house you follow him. As you wait at the check-out counter you are following him. As you care for your children you are following him. As you keep in touch with your family you follow him. As you attend your father’s funeral you are following Jesus. As you lie on your death bed you are following Jesus. Always, 24/7, you are a follower of Jesus. That is salvation; that is a credible profession of faith; that is the life of discipleship, eating, drinking or whatever you do you do it all to the glory of your Saviour.
It is to this that Jesus is inviting every single one of you today. The youngest of you; as soon as you know who Jesus is you know that you need to follow him. The oldest of you, soon to leave this world, you must leave it as a follower of Jesus and not of self and Satan. Maybe you are the most careless, bored and untouched person reading these words. You have no interest in the gospel. You have no desire for Christian things at all. You have your own agenda for the future, should you one day decide definitely to become a Christian, then you think it will be after you have tasted the world, and eaten its forbidden fruit. When you have drunk deeply from the world’s wells and they can no longer satisfy you then you may think of following Jesus. I am saying that Jesus is now speaking to you and saying follow me. He is actually saying that now, personally and sincerely at this moment to you, as if there were no one else here except him and you. You must follow me, he is saying, and the words are so simple and so clear that you cannot say, “I don’t understand.” There is nothing to understand except that from this moment on you should become a follower of the Lord Christ. Jesus invited a man knowing that he had his own agenda to follow him, and so he invites you today, whoever you are, however you feel.
The man had his excuses for refusing an immediate response. It seems to have been, “My father has just died and so there’s the funeral. I have arrangements to make . . .” What did Jesus say? Did he say, “Of course. I can’t expect people to begin to follow me who are soon going on holiday, or decorating their houses, or sitting some examinations, or having to look after their mother, or facing a lot of difficulty in work, or are expecting a baby, or waiting for some information from their son in Afghanistan, or going to hospital to have an operation, or who need to examine every other religion first . . . Of course, you have many responsibilities don’t you?” No. Jesus did not say that; he didn’t say, “Of course, old chap, there’s the funeral. Perfectly understandable, but when it is absolutely convenient for you then you would do me a great honour if you started to follow me.” Certainly not! It is an inexpressible privilege for sinners to become followers of God the Son. He doesn’t politely suggest we would be doing him some favour if we began to follow him. There are always a hundred excuses readily available why now at this minute we plead it’s impossible for us to begin to follow Jesus, that today it is particularly inconvenient. No. It is never a convenient time to take up your cross, deny yourself, turn your back on the world and begin to follow Jesus. It never seems the right and easy time to start to follow him.
What did Jesus say to this man who asked that first he might go and bury his father? He replied quite curtly it seems, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (v.60). Jesus is at that moment, there and then, offering this man life in this invitation to follow him; he is offering him power to turn from other lords, and from his unbelief and to close with Christ. The Spirit of God is there working as the Saviour himself is saying to him, “Follow me.” What a blessed day, to hear the voice of Jesus say come unto me and rest! The gospel is the power of God to salvation to all who obey it. As the Holy Spirit uses the invitations of Jesus Christ and we begin to respond then we have the life of heaven in our hearts. He has made us willing in the powerful day of Jesus’ gospel invitation. The word of the Lord Jesus is Spirit and it is life. So you are enabled by God to respond to what God is commanding you to do. You may respond to it here and now. Just where you are. You may tarry till you’re better and then never come at all.
You may sleep on like the man still lying in bed on a Sunday morning sleeping off the hangover of the night. He does not hear the invitations of Christ; he does not have the power of the Holy Spirit by the word and he cannot respond. He sleeps as a child of the world. What can he do this coming week? He can bury the dead, he can go on holiday, he can decorate his house, he can sit some exams, he can look after his mother, he can face a lot of difficulty at work, his wife may be expecting a baby, he may be waiting for information about his son in Afghanistan, he may be going to hospital to have an operation, he may be examining other religions first. He may think that he has a whole pile of priorities before he thinks of Christianity, and so it goes on decade after decade, always other things come first. He doesn’t need the saving invitations and the work of the Holy Ghost to do any of those things. He just needs a sound body and a sensible mind. He can be dead in trespasses and sins and yet be able to do any of those things. The dead can bury the dead, but if you are to follow Jesus Christ and proclaim the kingdom of God then you need the life of heaven in your heart.
So, isn’t it an enormous responsibility to have and hold on to this heavenly life for yourself? Isn’t it utterly crucial that you don’t continue one single hour longer in this state of being dead in trespasses and sins? I know you can do so much in this world as a person dead in sins, you can pass your exams, and get a good job, and marry a nice person and live happily together, and become good neighbours, and become parents, and prosper in your work, and enjoy a long retirement and live until you are a hundred. Yes, all those things are possible to someone dead in sin, but you cannot follow Jesus Christ and you cannot see or enter the kingdom of God without life from heaven. What do you want in life? Do you want success, marriage, a job, children, prosperity and long life before you die and that is all? Or do you want Jesus Christ the Saviour, the great teacher, the kind Shepherd protecting and keeping all his sheep, and this mighty King with you in life, with you in death and with you in eternity? Then follow him, and follow him today. Do not wait for a more convenient time. Put aside the other legitimate things and have dealings with God about following his Son today. Begin to follow Jesus Christ now. Start to tell your family and friends today about the kingdom of God that you have entered, about the king of grace, Jesus Christ, and never ever stop.
THERE ARE SOME WHO WOULD FOLLOW CHRIST BUT HAVE A DIVIDED HEART.
Another volunteer came to Jesus and said the same words as the first, “I will follow you,” (v.61). He even called Jesus ‘Lord.” There was respect and courtesy as well as a deep interest in the Lord Christ, but again it was all qualified; “I will follow you, Lord, but . . .” Jesus of Nazareth was to him Lord, but . . . When Augustine came under conviction of his sin and need of Christ then he prayed, “Lord, convert me, but not yet.” And so it is with many people in our land today. They are not Hindus, they are not Muslims, and they certainly wouldn’t say that they are atheists. They believe in God, but . . . and generally they add something like this, ‘but they don’t want to be extreme or they don’t want to be fanatical about their faith.’ So, amongst them are great family people, and they work hard in their vocations, and are good neighbours to the elderly when the snow comes, simply grand people, but Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is a dimension utterly outside their lives. It is so inconsistent isn’t it? I question them; “Who made the world?” God made it. “Who is the one you turn to when there’s a crisis, when there’s a baby on its way and there’s some sort of problem, or someone is going into the hospital for an operation. Do you pray?” Yes I pray to God. “After you die, do you hope to go to heaven, to the presence of God?” Yes. Then shouldn’t you get to know this God now? He speaks to us through his prophets and apostles. He speaks to us through the Bible. He tells us what we must do to be saved, to believe on his Son, Jesus Christ. He tells us how we should live, the sort of husbands and parents and wives we should be. He made the family; he said it was not good that man should be alone. He tells us what we should believe about himself, what sort of God he is. He tells us that he rewards them that diligently seek him. Shouldn’t you get to know this God better? Shouldn’t you come to church each Sunday and hear God’s word and think about it and ask the minister to come around for a cup of tea and ask him questions? What about your sins in God’s sight? Shouldn’t you seek forgiveness. There was a man whom Jesus saw in the temple and he was praying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” I think that’s a great way to begin praying. That is how it shows that we are serious about following Jesus Christ, and not to have excuses.
Here was a person who called Jesus ‘Lord’ and he said out loud that he wanted to follow him, but first, before he began to follow him, he wanted to say good-bye to his family (v.61). Again there was the same mistake as the second disciple, thinking that the essence of following Christ was geographical, physically following Jesus. No. I say again to you that it is an attitude of heart, that from this time onward Christ is going to be Lord of every part of your life. You give him the key to every room of your heart. There is nowhere that is a no-go area for this one you call your Lord, or he is not Lord. There is in fact something else that is lording it over your life. Destroy that idol and worship him!
Here was a man who wanted to specify the time and the way in which he was prepared to follow the Lord. Here were his priorities, that his family came first. Now when you begin to follow Jesus Christ you give up everything to him. Every single thing, because he is the eternal God and you are a tiny speck, born yesterday, living today and dying tomorrow. So whatever are those things you treasure the most you must put them under the control of Jesus Christ. Every single thing. Now I suppose what we treasure the most are our family, our parents, our children, our husbands and wives – God’s greatest and most enriching gifts to us. Our relationship with them we put under the lordship of Jesus Christ if we are following him. Or what we treasure most are our minds, our ability to think and judge and communicate our feelings and longings to others. Our appreciation of beauty and our mathematical skills. We give that over to the Lord. Or we have been prospered in our business and we have property and money in the bank. We present all of that to the Lord if we follow him. Or we have a gift – physical and sporting skill, and we give that to the Lord. Or a hobby that we love, our music, our computers – we put it under the Lordship of the one we are following. Every single thing we yield to him.
Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.
Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my intellect and use every power as Thou shalt choose.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take myself and I will be ever only, all for Thee.
(Francis Ridley Havergal 1836-1879)
Those are pictures of the life of the follower of Jesus Christ. We give back to him the life that he has given to us. Then we find something wonderful happens, that he takes nothing of any lasting value permanently from us. He destroys nothing that can be used to glorify and enjoy him. He simply teaches us how to enjoy those good gifts without them becoming our God. So of course you can visit your parents and have them visit you and there will be many good-byes from them to you and you to them during the course of your lifetime. But you don’t worship your parents, and after they die you don’t attempt to communicate with them at séances, or make sacrifices to them and offering to placate their spirits so that they are good to you. Nothing like that. The Lord saves you from wrong relationships with your family.
Jesus Christ does not plunge us into poverty and make us sell all we have and give it all away and adopt a vow of poverty. There was one rich young ruler who came to Jesus and this man worshipped his many possessions. There was no way he was going to make progress in the life of a disciple until he had got rid of everything. “Sell all you have and give to the poor,” Jesus told him, but he did not tell that to every disciple. Rather he guides us as to how we can best use our wealth. The music you love so much – you give it to the Lord and he will save you from the immorality of much of modern popular music. He won’t take it all from you, but he won’t let it be your master; he will deliver you from its power. Isn’t that so valuable? That all the things in creation you can use to his glory and you have some control over it. Your painting skills, your photography, your love of travel – if you follow Christ then they must be under his Lordship.
Jesus says to this man who wants to follow Christ that it has to be whole-hearted: “No-one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (v.62). You have been delivered from a life in which other lords ruled you. Don’t look back to them. Lot’s wife was delivered from the ugliness of life in Sodom, and she was told not to look back in longing and nostalgia for that lifestyle. She looked back and died! All the great men and women who have left their mark on your life and mine, or on the church or the nation, are people who put their hand to the plough and looked on to the end, to where they were heading and drove a straight furrow on and on without looking back. There were few wobbles. There was great faithfulness and so they became fit to serve in God’s kingdom. God gave them responsibilities. He entrusted them with people whom he would influence through them. He gave them usefulness in his kingdom. He gave them talents, one or three or even five. He opened doors for them and they became very effective in God’s work. They never looked back; they looked all the time to Jesus the one they were following, the author and finisher of their faith. And in the end God said to them, “Well done good and faithful servant.”
17th January 2009 GEOFF THOMAS