The Book of Luke, Conflicting Commitments, Part III - Lesson 128
We read: Luke 9:57-62, And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. 58And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. 59And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. 60Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. 61And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. 62And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
Based upon the response of the Lord Jesus Christ to the first man’s seemingly unlimited commitment to follow him, we are to know that his commitment was not sincere but was a rash commitment.
Last week I said that any pastor would be thrilled to receive such a disciple as this but upon reflection I don’t think a seasoned pastor would be so thrilled for a seasoned pastor would know that a commitment such as this is rarely if ever carried out.
A young pastor may be taken in but an old pastor has many experiences under his belt which give the lie to such an seemingly unlimited commitment.
I have learned to be cautious of folks who show a great deal of positive enthusiasm for the ministry when they first come for I have seen on many occasions that same degree of enthusiasm turn against the ministry when some small rebuke may come their way.
The response of Christ to this man’s enthusiasm recognized this.
Remember Peter’s enthusiasm which came out in his statement in Matthew 26:33,, …… Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.
Here again we see that Jesus was not taken in by this show of loyalty for Jesus Christ knew that Peter lived in a house of flesh and this cocky statement originated from that house for that house of flesh is fed by the emotions.
34Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. 35Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.
These were rash statements built upon a house of flesh and so too was this statement by this would-be-disciple.
I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. (verse 57).
Our Lord is obviously not satisfied with this commitment, as we can see from His response: Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. (verse 58).
Jesus knows that this man cannot be a true disciple for he knows his heart and this response is based upon that knowledge.
Perhaps the man was influenced by the crowds, the miracles, the enthusiasm that was welling up around him.
He was convinced that he would follow Jesus Christ in that setting but what about when the self denial was called for, what about when sacrifice, and service and suffering was demanded?
What about when separation from family was called for?
What about when he would no longer be welcome in his home town as Jesus was no longer welcome in Nazareth?
Our Lord Jesus clearly understood that this scribe did not understand the implications of discipleship.
He therefore compares his situation to animals who have definite places of rest and home but in his case Jesus Christ has neither places of rest or a home.
Jesus Christ started this journey as a babe in Bethlehem without a place in the inn, and now we see in his journeys throughout Israel, Nazareth casts him out, Galilee casts him out, Gadara begs him to leave its districts, and Samaria refuses him lodging.
His future will bring rejection in Jerusalem and even His Father will forsake him as he carries the sin of the world on the cross.
This is what Jesus Christ faces his would-be-disciples with as he takes this man’s offer at face value.
So now Jesus puts this man’s commitment to the test by bringing up the comforts this man was used to.
You say you will follow Me anywhere.
I do not own a home nor do I have a place that I can call ‘home.’
I do not even own my own bed. Are you willing to follow Me under these conditions?”
This response of Christ indicates that the man was willing to follow him as to location but not as to the comforts of that location.
Obviously this man’s commitment to follow Jesus “anywhere He went” had some limitations and because Jesus Christ knew the man’s heart he knew the limitations of his commitment.
He did not at all mean to say that he would follow Jesus anywhere, if that meant living in sub-standard conditions.
What once looked like unconditional commitment now, under the examination of our Lord’s questioning, looks very conditional and does not meet the standards for a true disciple.
This man’s focus is on where he would be willing to go; Jesus’ focus is on what one is willing to leave behind in order to go.
The Navy says to “Join the Navy” and see the world but it does not advertise the hardships as it seeks volunteers.
But Christ holds nothing back as he seeks volunteers.
Following Jesus may require leaving your home and all that includes.
It means being willing to leave family, friends, home, comforts, perhaps even wealth, and vocation.
He points out as a contrast that foxes have holes; that’s where they live.
That’s where they have a mate and a little lair of foxes.
Birds have nests where Momma birds, eggs, and then eventually little baby birds abide.
Jesus is saying to this man, “You don’t really understand what you’re saying.
In order to follow Me you must be willing to leave everything behind, even what you call ‘home.’
When this man talks about following Jesus, he is thinking about accompanying Him to this or that town.
Jesus says, “No, following Me requires that you imitate Me in every aspect of My life and ministry.
It is patterning your life after My life, and that means much more than just being willing to move from one place to another.
In the book of John, Jesus brings out clearly that attachment to Jesus Christ will also attach you to the things that Jesus Christ receives.
John 5:18, If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you;
Jesus Christ is saying. “The closer you are to me, the greater you are committed to me, the more you will receive what I have or will receive.
Christ is not finished teaching about discipleship for there are two other men that would be disciples but first they have needs to meet.
The last two volunteers demonstrate what I call delayed commitments.
Notice that in both cases the key word each man uses is “first:”
“Suffer me first” (verse 59), and, “let me first … ” (verse 61).
Each of these men intend to follow Christ but they intend to follow Christ within their own timing and their own timing puts themselves first.
You may say, “I’ll get saved when I’m ready.” That is your timing, that is putting yourself first.
God says Today is the day of salvation, that is His timing.
These two men fully intend to be our Lord’s disciples sometime and somehow, but not immediately.
Thus we have these two offers of delayed commitment.
Are there folks in our own Sunday school class who intend to follow Christ but not today?
Well, then these two men are your kinfolks. This lesson is meant especially for you!
Better listen to the words of Jesus and learn and act accordingly.
The first delay looks like a perfect excuse for delaying following Christ, doesn’t it?
Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.
We all know that a death in the family, especially the death of one’s father, is a valid reason for taking time off from work or putting something off for a while.
By presenting this excuse I can surmise that this would-be-disciple is concerned about one of three possible scenarios here.
We are not given enough information to be definite as to what this man is referring when he says: Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.
The first possibility is that this man’s father has in fact just died and has yet to be buried.
The second scenario has to do with the re-internment of his Father’s bones.
In those days it was the custom for the son to re-inter the bones of the Father a year after the Father’s death when the flesh had corrupted from the bones.
At that point the son would have placed his Father’s bones in a special box to be set into the wall of the tomb.
The third scenario is that this “father” has not really died yet and since this man may be the eldest son he must stay home with his parents until that time when his father dies, which may be a number of years off.
The first scenario calls for a delay of only a few days, the second scenario calls for a delay of one year, while the time delay of the third scenario is not fixed because the father has not yet died.
But let’s give this would-be disciple the benefit of the doubt and suppose that his father died that morning, and that he’s going to be buried that night.
This seems to be the most urgent of the three scenarios so we will focus on that one.
Now suppose that this man to whom Jesus has just said, “Follow Me,” is the oldest son.
As the oldest son, he would be expected to stop what he was doing and to handle all of the arrangements.
In spite of all this, Jesus says to this volunteer, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:60).
My, how that would grate on the mind of a person who had just lost their father.
How would you feel if you were that disciple?
We would say that Jesus Christ is being excessively demanding.
Couldn’t Jesus have said to him, “I’ll tell you what, we’re going to go on.
Why don’t you finish up with your father’s funeral and then catch up with us on our way to Jerusalem.
We understand this is difficult for you, so just do what you’ve got to do.
After all, it’s only 24 hours, so get your father buried, get your affairs in order, and then come join us.”
But Jesus does not say that. What Jesus says is rather shocking.
It flies in the face of what everybody expects but Jesus Christ does not say that which fits into everybody’s expectations for Jesus Christ is truth personified.
The man’s request for a delay seems reasonable until you begin to look at what Jesus says in response, for his response brings His divine insight to bear on the problem.
Our natural man response cries out that this duty must be done at all costs.
But Jesus challenges us on this point, “No, you must follow Me now, rather than to take the time to bury your father.”
He uses this event in this man’s life to point out what is most important.
He is getting down to the nitty gritty of the problem of commitment.
What does burying this man’s father entail?
It involves preparing the body, securing a burial spot, putting the body in it, and covering (or sealing) it up.
It is the disposing of the body of a dead man.
Is there some reason why the oldest son can do this better than anybody else?
When our Lord says, “Let the dead bury their own dead,” He is saying that that is a job anybody can do.
More pointedly, an unbeliever (“the dead”) can handle a burial as well as a believer.
In fact, our Lord indicates that it would be better if an unbeliever buried the dead, rather than one of His disciples.
Jesus Christ is not setting down a hard and fast rule prohibiting his disciples from being involved in funerals.
But he is saying that if forced to choose between following Jesus Christ and burying one’s father, one would have to choose to follow Jesus Christ to be a true disciple.
Consider the eternal value of these two activities: (1) of burying the dead; or, (2) of preaching the gospel by which men can enter into eternal life.
The first activity does nothing that others who are spiritually dead cannot do.
The principle that he demonstrates is that his disciples are to be involved in spiritual work.
Let the natural man be involved in natural work for he cannot be involved in spiritual work.
The activity that he presses his disciples to be engaged in is the proclamation of the message of salvation of men whereby death is defeated and the gift of eternal life is gained.
Is that not what the gospel is all about?
From Abraham, who reasoned that God was able to raise men from the dead, and all the way through the Old Testament, this is what the gospel is about.
The gospel is the offer of the gift of eternal life, life that extends beyond the grave.
If one must choose between the two activities of digging a grave, or of preaching the gospel, which is more important?
Viewed from this perspective, our Lord’s sobering words make a great deal of sense, do they not?
Doesn’t following Jesus now appear to be vastly more important than staying back to bury your father, if you must choose only one of the two?
Obviously for most of us, we don’t have to make that choice.
As part of our Christian responsibility to our family, we carry out such duties as burying the dead.
But if we had to make the choice, as some people have, between following Christ and fulfilling our family duties, which would we choose?
Jesus suggests that the answer to this question should be determined according to what is eternally more important.
The third man (whom the Gospel of Matthew does not mention) says,
Luke 9:61, And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.
This requested delay, in contrast to the one above, seems so trivial, doesn’t it?
Our response might be, “Well, sure why not, what’s another thirty minutes? No problem.”
In the case of the second volunteer, there seem to be compelling reasons for a would-be disciple to wait to follow Jesus until after the dead have been buried whether or not it is a few days or until the father dies some years later.
In the case of the third volunteer, the delay seems so minimal that it hardly appears to matter one way or the other.
Jesus doesn’t see it that way.
He says, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
Why does He say this when the man only wants to go back and say good-bye to his family?
Jesus sets down a principle that every farmer would understand:
You can’t plow a straight row looking backward.
If you want to plow a straight furrow, you must keep the plow lined up by fixing on some object ahead, and aiming toward it.
Anyone who tries to plow while looking backward is in trouble.
It would be similar to attempting to drive while looking only at the rear view mirror.
I remember the old yellow river bridge out past Gator’s Restaurant.
The best way to cross that bridge was to focus on your lane at a far distant object in the middle of the lane and just plow ahead.
The lanes were so narrow and there was no shoulder so it was best to just look ahead and be fearless of the oncoming traffic.
Look to the side and you veer to the side.
No man having decided to cross the yellow river bridge is fit to cross who looks to the right or to the left instead of gazing constantly and steadily far down the lane in which he is proceeding.
Jesus Christ is telling this man that he must be singular in his discipleship.
There must be a focus upon the cause of Christ such that nothing causes that focus to dim or be diverted.
When he says that a man is not fit for the kingdom of God he is not saying that a man is excluded from the kingdom of God.
What he is saying is that the man is not at his best when he has a divided interest, an interest that is not totally focused on the cause of Christ.
For example when you are expected to lift 200 pounds but can only lift 100 pounds it shows that you are not fit to meet expectations.
Jesus Christ is telling this man that his concentration on giving farewells instead of immediately following Christ show him not yet fit to the point where he should be fit for true discipleship.
It is as though Jesus knows that if this man went back to his family to say good-bye, he would be talked out of following Him.
His father might take him aside and remind him of his obligations to his family.
His wife might remind him that she was pregnant, and that this was no time for reckless decisions.
His mother might start sobbing uncontrollably.
It was not his going back to say good-bye that was wrong; it was that doing so would keep him from following Christ.
Jesus seems to be saying that anything that turns our hearts from a full commitment to follow Christ should be avoided, even though it may seem insignificant, even though it may look like the proper thing to do.
If going back to say good-bye to your family would lead you to turn from your commitment to Christ, it is something that should be avoided at all costs.
I believe our Lord knew that this man still had a yearning to stay home, rather than to follow Him.
In the matter of following Christ, Burn your bridges to the past, All things are new in Christ.
If there is a chance that in going back you will not follow Christ don’t go back, not even to say good-bye.”
In seeking to go back, we often want to savor our sin just a little bit longer, just one more time.
You’ve got to burn your bridges.
This applies to every one of us, in every area of our lives.
We are tempted to keep going back to our old ways, to our old sins, but the Bible keeps saying to us, “Don’t go back.”