“Following Jesus Means Being Led by His Unselfish Love”

(Luke 9:51-62 – Pentecost 6 – July 17, 2022)

Luke 9:51-62 – 51Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 52and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. 53But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. 54And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” 55But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village. 57Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” 58And 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.” 59Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” 61And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” 62But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Dear fellow Redeemed in Christ Jesus,

What an impression unselfish love makes on us when we see it. Pure, unselfish love is proven by self-sacrifice. A young man nearly drowned in the ocean; but his good friend, thinking only of his safety, swam out to rescue him. But in the process of bringing him to safety that friend lost his own life. In memory of his friend, the young man who had been rescued spent the rest of his life looking for ways to help others. Unselfish love and sacrifice makes a deep impression in our hearts, especially when it has been shown to us personally. It makes us want to follow the example.

Dear beloved of God, who have been rescued for eternal life by His Son Jesus, let us consider the unselfish love our Savior has shown us. May His self-sacrificial love make a deep impression upon our hearts, that it may cause us to follow His example. Today we see how “Following Jesus Means Being Led by His Unselfish Love.”

1) When faced with opposition

First, we are led by Jesus’ unselfish love when faced with opposition. Here we see that, though Jesus came on a mission to save every sinner, He faced opposition from many enemies.

It says: “Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (vs. 51). Already Jesus has told His disciples why He is going: “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Luke 9:22). He goes with firm resolve, veering neither to the right nor the left from this mission given by His heavenly Father.

It is a mission of unselfish love, and no opposition will deter Him. He is on His way to die at the hands of the wicked, to sacrifice His innocent life for those who have offended God, to rescue those who are drowning in the sea of their own sins. Jesus will not be deterred from His path to the cross, even though He meets with resistance from the very ones He came to save.

On the way, Jesus and His disciples needed a place to stay. So He “sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem” (vs. 52-53). Pitiful sinners would not welcome their Savior. It was like a drowning victim pushing away a friend who came to rescue him from the deep waters. The people told Jesus to get out of town; they did not want Him, they did not feel a need for such a Savior.

How did the disciples react when they met this opposition? Maybe as we would be tempted to do if we were in their shoes: “When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ “ (vs. 54)

But Jesus knew His mission of mercy and rescue. The Savior’s heart was not filled with anger or hatred toward those who opposed Him, but with unselfish love for the lost. Jesus rebuked His disciples for their lack of love, saying: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (vs. 55-56). He did not call down fire on those who despised and rejected Him. He rightly could have, but judgment for the impenitent is reserved for the Last Day. Jesus’ mission was not to destroy, but to call sinners to repentance and save them from eternal death and hell. So He set His face and walked on toward the cross to pay for their sins. Jesus led His disciples on in peace to another village.

Soon, the disciples would fully understand the extent of Jesus’ unselfish love. They would see Him lay down His life in self-sacrifice, even for those who opposed Him, praying fervently from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Unselfish love makes a deep impression in our hearts, especially when we see that such love has been directed toward us personally. After all, we once were among those who opposed the Lord. By nature as sinners, we followed only the sinful desires of the flesh and selfish impulses of our heart. Thus we were at enmity with Him who came to save us; we did not want a Savior. Yet Jesus acted in mercy, to rescue us from drowning in our own sins. By His suffering and death on the cross, He took away our sins and the eternal death we deserved. He saved us so we can live forever with Him in heaven’s bliss. He saved us so we can live in newness of life by His Spirit in us, sharing His love and salvation with others: yes, even with those who oppose us.

Now when the impulse is to strike back, to call down fire from heaven on those who hurt us, instead we can remember Jesus’ unselfish love that led Him to lay down His life to save us. When there is someone who gets on our nerves, perhaps mocking our faith or spreading bad words about us, yet we can remember Christ’s self-sacrificial love for us, and be strengthened to turn the other cheek. We can pray: “Father, forgive them; and help me to forgive and love them, for Jesus’ sake.” We can pray that the Lord would bless our encounters with that person and give us opportunity to witness His saving grace, as we follow Him on in peace.

The Lord would thus lead us by His unselfish love that hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7); and prays that by God’s grace, even our enemies may join us in praising our Savior. Following Jesus means being led by His unselfish love when faced with opposition.

2) When faced with earthly concerns

As Jesus moved on from that Samaritan village, He met three men along the way. Each seemed to want to follow Him; there was no outright opposition here. But Jesus knew their hearts. He saw earthly priorities distracting them, bringing them to oppose following Him. Here we learn the importance of being led by Jesus’ unselfish love when faced with earthly concerns.

The first man Jesus met volunteered: “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go” (vs. 57). But Jesus could see that he did not really understand the cost of discipleship. It was easy to talk about loyalty, when following Jesus seemed to promise a life of ease and comfort. It was easy to jump on the bandwagon when Jesus seemed popular, and association with Him seemed to promise acceptance and praise among people. But Jesus does not promise His followers such a life. He told the man: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (vs. 58). Jesus Himself was not always welcomed, and His life was not one of ease.

If we kept company with Jesus and His followers because we sought worldly comforts, honor, and acceptance, our hearts would not really be with Jesus. For what happens when the path to heavenly glory leads in the way of the cross and suffering, and rejection by men for the sake of Jesus and His truth? The heart that was so eager to follow Jesus for the wrong reasons is just as easily turned aside to follow other paths that seem to promise greater glory.

But following Jesus means being led by His unselfish love – that love that Him to lay aside His heavenly comforts and glory; that love that would let nothing turn Him from the way of the cross, suffering, and death to win our forgiveness and salvation. Moved by that love, we are led to say with Peter in John 6:68: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

The second man Jesus met also wanted to follow Him – but not yet. 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’ ” (vs. 59-60). The point is that the work of God’s Kingdom and saving souls for eternity is more important than passing worldly concerns.

Does this mean that Jesus wants to take us away from our duty to family and other godly callings? No. Jesus Himself was a loyal and loving Son to His parents. He is not doing away with the 4th Commandment that says: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). He who puts love into our hearts for the people around us wants us to nurture that love and share it.

But Jesus could see in this man’s heart that he was putting worldly concerns over spiritual and eternal concerns. From the perspective of God’s Kingdom, his father’s soul had entered eternity and was beyond reach. Now anyone, even a spiritually dead unbeliever, could take care of burying a dead body. But Jesus was getting this man to think of spiritual and eternal priorities – first to care for his own soul by following Jesus, hearing His Word, and growing in faith; then to care for the souls of others whom he could still reach by preaching the Kingdom of God, and the Gospel of forgiveness and eternal life in the name of Jesus who came to save sinners.

Are there times when we need such exhortation? There will always be one more worldly concern that seems urgent, one more thing to do before we sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His Word. There will always be one more reason or excuse why we cannot quite get to sharing the saving Gospel with lost souls who are drowning in their sins around us.

But following Jesus means being led by His unselfish love – that love that led Him to lay aside all else and come to rescue us for eternal life. When we focus on that greatest love of all, we are moved to love our own soul by making a priority of being in His Word and growing in faith; and then to love the souls of others by sharing His Words of eternal life with them.

The third man Jesus met also seemed willing. He said: “Lord, I will follow You…”; but again with a condition: “but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house” (vs. 61). Again, Jesus could see that this man’s heart was divided between love for Him and other loves. If it came to choosing between his family and Jesus, he would not come back. He would choose earthly relationships over his heavenly Savior. So Jesus warned: “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (vs. 62).

Is there some other love that would draw our heart away from following Jesus and serving Him alone? Is there someone we desire more, to whose wishes we bow more than to the Lord? Is there some worldly treasure or sinful pleasure we would sorrow to leave behind, of which we might say: “I’ll follow You, Jesus, as long as You don’t take this away”? Our sinful nature would turn us back to worldly loves, to divide our hearts from our Savior and His Kingdom.

But following Jesus means being led by His unselfish love when faced with earthly concerns. He loved us so much that He left behind heavenly glory to give His life for us. He set His face for Jerusalem with each of us in mind. He went to the cross to suffer for all our self-serving attitudes. He sacrificed His life to rescue us from drowning in the sea of our sin. He stretched out His arms in love to save us from eternal death and open the gates of heaven to us. He who won eternal life for us promises to provide all we need in life. By taking to heart His unselfish love for us, we can conquer temptation to turn aside to worldly loves; for we know: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friend” (John 15:13). That is what Jesus has done for us.

What a deep impression Jesus’ self-sacrificial love makes on us. When faced with opposition from enemies, when faced with earthly concerns, may His boundless love for us lead us to entrust our lives to Him who gave Himself for us; and to share His saving love with others.

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.