The Book of Luke, Conflicting Commitments, Part IV - Lesson 129
We have been in and continue to be in a passage of scripture where we are privy to the recruitment methods of the Lord Jesus Christ.
For in a way Jesus Christ is recruiting disciples for his cause, the cause of preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.
He is very particular as to the quality of the disciple and he places strict criteria that a disciple must meet before he is accepted as a true disciple.
We are told in scripture that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
For our passage today think in particular that Christ is the Way.
That means that the way he goes and the way he functions is the way that we are to go.
We ponder his recruitment methods as to disciples and immediately find that his way conflicts with how we would recruit disciples.
We tend to be inclusive but he is exclusive.
So what is our response to his Way?
Our response is to change our way for he is the Way and he will not change to suit us.
We are to learn that his disciples are to meet the requirements of preaching the kingdom of God and as such are to fit the criteria that he has set for such an important function.
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.
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in good stead?
Our Lord does not leave us wondering about this for he is very clear in his instruction regarding what is required of a true disciple.
Jesus Christ does not mince words when he instructs nor does he tip toe around us so as to be careful of our feelings for to him truth is more important than our feelings.
The primary care and concern for feelings will clothe your mind in soothing platitudes of error.
But Jesus Christ is truth personified and he always instructs in truth as we see him address the three would be disciples of this passage in Luke 9.
Last week we looked in detail at the first of these three and the response of Jesus Christ to this man’s seemingly unconditional commitment to him.
In this response it is easy to see that this man did not count the cost of following Jesus Christ.
This then is a mark of a true disciple.
A true disciple will count the cost but will follow in spite of any cost that is counted.
Jesus Christ will instruct his disciples in this later in Luke 14:28-33, where we read:
28For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? 29Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, 30Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. 31Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? 32Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. 33So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
The greater faith is exhibited not by one who follows blindly without knowing the cost of following but by one who knows the cost and follows regardless.
This is who God desires as a follower for the one who counts that cost and then follows is the one who exhibits greatest faith.
When Christ fully informs as to the cost of following him he is setting up a separation process separating unto him those who have faith and separating away from him those who do not.
The second volunteer wanted to follow Jesus Christ but on his own terms.
Yes, he seemed to have a dire need to participate in the burial of his father but Jesus Christ did not yield himself to come behind this important duty and told the man that the dead can bury the dead just as well as the living can bury the dead.
60Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.
Jesus Christ here brings up a competing duty of preaching the kingdom of God and it is obvious that this competing duty takes precedence between the two, even if the one duty is burying your own father.
Consider the eternal value of these two activities for that is from where Jesus is coming.
There is a song which reminds us to take into consideration eternity’s value.
In other words the long term view of things, not just the short term view. It goes like this.
values in view, Lord,
This is where Jesus Christ is coming from when he places these two activities next to each other for examination.
Put these on the scale of eternity’s values: (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.
Now one difference between the spiritual man and the natural man is that the spiritual man can be involved in both natural work and spiritual work but the natural man can only be involved in natural work.
The natural man cannot do spiritual work.
So Jesus Christ is telling this volunteer “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.
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, even for one’s father, or of preaching the gospel, which is more important?
Doesn’t following Jesus now appear to be infinitely 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.
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 volunteer says in:
Luke 9:61, ………., 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 unimportant?
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 negligible that it hardly appears to matter one way or the other.
But Jesus doesn’t see it that way for he has eternity’s values in view.
His response is meant to hit us over the head with a two by four so we can get our thoughts out and his thoughts in and think in light of eternity’s values.
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 for furrow will cross over furrow and work done will be undone.
I remember the old yellow river bridge out past Gator’s Restaurant on Highway 87 south.
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 will 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 to 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 for true discipleship.
It is not that he cannot become fit but at this point he is not yet fit.
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 commitment being little.
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 and you know what a woman’s crying is designed to do.
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.
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.”
You’ve got to burn your bridges.
This applies to every one of us, in every area of our lives.
These, then, are three examples of conflicting commitments.
Each one of these three men’s commitment to Christ is nullified or minimized by some other commitment.
Each one professes a commitment to “follow Christ,” but only in a partial or restricted way.
As we have already noted every excuse for not fully following Christ in our passage is related to the home or to the family.
The first man says, “I will follow you wherever you go,” and Jesus says, “Following Me means having no place to call home.”
“Oh,” the first man may say in response, “well that’s a different matter.”
The second man says, “I will follow you, but first I have an obligation at home.
I must first bury my father before I can follow You.
My family must come first at this time but afterwards I will follow you.”
Jesus says, “No, I must come first, and the preaching of the gospel must take priority over burying the dead.”
And the man seems to respond, “Oh, well that’s a different matter.”
The third one says, “Jesus, I most certainly am going to follow You, but the least I can do for my family is to go say good-bye to them.”
Our Lord seems to respond, “It’s them or Me.”
Jesus says in response to all three, “You must choose Me, or them, but I will not be followed by half-hearted disciples.”
We see then that in all of these cases there is nothing inherently wrong with what these people propose.
There is nothing wrong with having a commitment to one’s family; there is nothing wrong with having a home; there is nothing wrong with carrying out your responsibilities to your father; there is nothing wrong with saying good-bye—unless these are what keep you from wholeheartedly following Christ.
Ultimately, Jesus is not talking about whether or not one ought to have a home.
He is not talking about whether or not one ought to take care of the funeral arrangements for his father.
He is not talking about whether or not one ought to go back and say good-bye to his family.
Jesus is talking about having the right priorities.
Jesus is saying that those who would be His disciples – those who would follow Him – must be those who put Him first, above all things, including one’s family.
We demonstrate our love for God, most often, by loving our fellow men.
But we must never love men above God.
We demonstrate our love for God, most often, when we love our family.
But we must never put family above God.
Our Lord said this in the clearest possible terms, not just in our text, but elsewhere as well:
34Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. 37He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:34-37).
Our Lord is talking here about the priority of our love and commitment to Him over the love and affection which we have for our family.
He is talking about Who must come first whenever these two loves (love for God, love for family) become competitive.
Our love for God must always have a higher priority than our love for family.
The words of our Lord in Luke chapter 9 should caution us that “love for family,” as good as it is, can become an evil if it diminishes our love for God, and our commitment to follow Him.
The family is under attack today but that is no reason to overcorrect here by putting the family before Christ.
We are not to emphasize the family so much that it is at the expense of discipleship.
Our hope is to be in Christ and Christ alone.
If we place our hope in family we will soon be disappointed.
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness, I dare not trust the sweetest frame (and that includes family) but wholly lean on Jesus name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand.
The Bible teaches us that the essence of life is not to be found apart from a living, saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
I can delight in my relationship with God through Jesus Christ, without ever being married, and without ever having a family.
It is possible that God may enable you to better serve Him through marriage and a family than by serving Him alone.
But the ultimate issue is that we choose to follow Him and to follow him regardless of where or though what circumstances that takes us.