“Let Us Follow Jesus”
(Luke 9:57-62 – Pentecost 6 – July 21, 2019)
Luke 9:57-62 – Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ:
Imagine a person in a job interview. The owner of the company asks, “Why do you want to work here?” The applicant says, “Because I think it will be easy work, and I’ll get many benefits and bonuses. I aspire to rise to the top so I can make things the way I want them around here. I’m excited to begin this new venture of easy money and success.”
Later, a second applicant enters the room. The owner of the company says, “There’s a lot of work to be done. How soon would you be able to start?” The applicant says, “Well, I’ve got a lot of other things I’d like to do first before I get tied down to a job. My in-laws want me to help remodel their home, I want to go on a vacation.” At this point he pulls a paper out of his pocket and asks, “Would you like to hear the whole list of things I want to do first?”
Later, a third applicant is interviewed. The owner of the company asks, “Are you currently employed?” “Yes,” he replies. “I work at this company’s chief competitor. I make bids with potential customers to get our company the job.” The owner says, “That’s the same position you are applying for here; when will you be finished working over there?” The man says, “I don’t intend to stop; I think I can promote the interests of both companies just fine.”
If you were the company owner, which applicant would you want to hire? The one who is dreaming of ease and success his own way? The one who has priorities other than getting to work? The one who would be divided between conflicting interests?
As silly as those applicants’ answers sound, if they truly want to get their foot in the door of that company, the truth is that many people respond in similar ways when it comes to the far more important matter of entering the Kingdom of God and doing the work of His Kingdom. We see this in our text as Jesus holds interviews with three men. The lesson we are encouraged to take away from these interviews is: “Let Us Follow Jesus”: 1) Realizing that it will not always be easy, 2) Knowing what must be our first priority, 3) Looking ahead with an undivided heart.
1) Realizing that it will not always be easy
Consider Jesus’ first interview. “Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, ‘Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.'” This man, eagerly volunteering to join the ranks of Jesus’ disciples, was like the first applicant in the job interview. Jesus could see that he had wrong ideas about following Him. He imagined that being in Jesus’ company would mean a life of ease and success, that identifying himself as a Christian would bring him a life of glory and status, and that things would go the way he wanted from now on.
His offer to follow wherever Jesus led was not rooted in realistic expectations. It resembled Peter’s offer that time when he said: “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). We know what such over-eager pride amounted to in the actual hour of trial – in shameful denial of Jesus. Again, this man’s shallow faith and enthusiasm was like the seed that fell on rocky ground and grew up quickly without much root; but under a hot sun it scorched and withered away just as quickly (Mark 4:5-6).
At times, we may have boasted in our enthusiasm to follow Jesus. When things were going well we may have prayed: “I will follow You wherever You go.” But then things went the opposite of how we dreamed. Maybe a path to success that we had planned took a negative turn, or friends no longer related to us the same way when we shared our faith. The path Jesus led us on became difficult, disappointing, and painful. We questioned His leading. Under the hot sun of temptation, maybe we tried to follow the path of ease and pleasure we had hoped for through sinful pursuits. In the hour of trial, maybe our bold zeal faded and we tried to pursue the path of glory among men by denying Jesus.
How does Jesus respond to one whose enthusiasm in following Him is distorted by dreams of ease and success? He gives a realistic picture. He tells him to count the cost of being a disciple. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” In other words, following Him will not always be easy. Jesus Himself, being the Son of God, in becoming the Son of Man gave Himself less comforts in the world than the wild animals. In His ministry He was constantly on the move with no place to call home. He was despised and rejected. He was not a preacher of worldly success and glory. And He said: “It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher” (Matthew 10:25). He shows the path His followers must walk by choosing spiritual pursuits over fleshly, a life of eternal purpose over temporal, and heavenly glory over earthly.
We can be thankful that Jesus counted the cost in becoming our Savior. He who had infinite heavenly riches made Himself poor, so that through His poverty we might become eternally rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He gave His all for our salvation – laying down His life on the cross, shedding blood that is precious beyond all the treasures of this world – in order to cleanse us of all sin and present us holy before His Father. Jesus joined us to Himself by Baptism and faith, making us heirs of His eternal kingdom. So we are encouraged to follow Him with a realistic outlook, knowing that it will not always be easy; yet rejoicing that by the riches of His grace, He is giving us treasures beyond compare in His heavenly Kingdom.
2) Knowing what must be our first priority
We come to Jesus’ second interview. “Then He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.'” Apparently this man was already a disciple, a believer, because Jesus’ invitation was to join Him in the mission of proclaiming the Kingdom. The fields were white for harvest; there was a lot of work to be done. But this man was like the second applicant in the job interview, who pulled out all the priorities he wanted to do before getting tied down to a job. Jesus’ invitation seemed inconvenient as he thought of his father’s death, the funeral, settling the inheritance, taking care of his widowed mother, and everything else that might have accompanied the situation.
Jesus is not speaking against the Fourth Commandment and honoring parents. But the point is that, when there is a conflict between serving the Lord and serving other temporal interests, we must choose our priority. The work of God’s Kingdom and saving souls for eternity is more important than passing worldly concerns. When it came to burying the body of his dead father, even unbelievers – those who are spiritually dead – could take care of that. The soul of the father had gone beyond the son’s reach. His priority now was to make sure, first of all, that his own faith in Jesus was being strengthened through the Gospel; and then to go and share Jesus’ message of salvation, so that the souls of others could be saved for eternal life.
If we must decide between serving Christ and His Gospel, or serving purely worldly or secular concerns, which comes first? How often we focus on what is seen but only temporary, instead of what is unseen and eternal. We prioritize duties of work, satisfying the expectations of others, getting an education, chasing after amusements, and everything that seems so urgent. These things may have their place in this life. But too often we put such temporal concerns first, to the extent that following Jesus and hearing His Word often seems inconvenient and of second importance. Sometimes, even in the face of death, we focus more on the physical needs of a loved one than on his or her spiritual and eternal needs. It should not be this way.
We can be thankful that Jesus did not let wrong priorities distract Him from His spiritual and eternal mission of saving us. His laser-like focus was on preaching the Kingdom of God, and bringing His forgiveness and eternal life to us through His Gospel. So we are encouraged to follow Him with the same priority. We can do no better for ourselves and our loved ones than to be in His Word and Sacraments, receiving His salvation ourselves, and then sharing it with others for their eternal good.
3) Looking ahead with an undivided heart
We come to Jesus’ third interview. “And another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” This man offered to follow, but his heart was divided between love for Jesus and love for others. He was like the third applicant in the job interview, who could not work for competing companies without a conflict of interest. This is why Jesus said: “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” With an old-style plow pulled behind an animal, you had to keep both hands on the handle and look forward. Looking back would cause you to veer off course. Jesus knew that if this man were to turn back now and say farewell to family and friends, his relationship with Jesus would veer off course and be lost.
I once heard of an experience of missionaries in India as they dealt with new converts. Non-Christian parents would plead with tears and threats, trying to dissuade their children from being baptized. If this failed, they would ask at least for one more visit from their child before the baptism was administered. When this seemingly reasonable request was conceded, the recent convert would almost always be lost to the charm and influence of his old pagan home.
So we are tempted to try and follow Jesus with hearts divided between love for Him and other loves. Is there someone we desire more than Jesus, to whose wishes we bow rather than to Him? Is there some worldly treasure or sinful pleasure we would sorrow to leave behind for Jesus’ sake? Is there some idol we cling to, something we trust for happiness in life, saying: “I’ll follow You, Jesus, as long as You don’t take this away”? Our sinful nature always wants to turn us back to worldly loves, to divide our hearts from Jesus and make us unfit for God’s Kingdom.
Thankfully, Jesus always looked straight ahead with an undivided heart in His mission to save us. All His life He put His hand to the plow, neither veering to the right nor to the left, as He worked to fulfill all righteousness for us. Then as it says at the beginning of our Gospel lesson: “When the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Looking straight ahead with an undivided heart, our Savior took up His cross for us, neither veering to the right nor to the left in His resolve to take away our sin and death and render us fit for the Kingdom of God.
How good it is that our acceptance into God’s Kingdom is not like a job interview with the owner of a company. We do not have to come before the Lord and try to convince Him of our good qualities and say all the right things to get our foot in the door. We do not have to try and convince Him that we have always followed faithfully when the way was difficult, or that we have always chosen the right priorities in life, or that we have always plowed a straight row with an undivided heart. We confess our sins knowing that He forgives us, knowing that He accepts us in His kingdom because of what He has done to earn our salvation and give us status as the righteous children of God. This leads us to pray with the hymn (“Savior, I Follow on”).
Savior, I long to walk Closer with Thee;
Led by Thy guiding hand, Ever to be
Constantly near Thy side, Quickened and purified,
Living for Him who died Freely for me.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.