Following Jesus: What does it mean?
FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW
It is good to be with you this Sunday and gather in this way. May God bless you. Let’s begin this time of worship with prayer and join our hearts together.
"Eternal God and Heavenly Father, we thank you that you are God and that You reign. We thank You that You are on the throne. Thank You that we are safe in you. We thank You that Christ rose again on the third day and that we can remember His victory. We thank You that we have the word of God not only in our hands, but in our hearts. We know there is no greater thing than to belong to the people of God. We pray that this day people might turn from sin and turn to Christ. We pray especially for Italy with so many people suffering and Spain and the escalation in the United States. We pray that it may be a wakeup call to the nations and a wakeup call to us. We pray for those who are front line NHS workers in our church that You would protect them And for those who feel isolated and alone in their own homes – that You would strengthen them and help them. Cleanse us Lord form our sins and cleanse us afresh and help us to love You and serve You all our days." Amen
Please turn to Luke’s gospel and read 14: 25-33 and then Luke 9:57-62.
This morning we are going to look at what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. What it really means to follow Him. Am I truly His? The context is this; Jesus has set His face to go to Jerusalem. He is now in Judea. He has come through Samaria. He is on the road. We read in Matthew 8:18 that there are crowds around him. They have seen His miracles and heard His words. They are curious and fascinated and want to know more. Now Jesus encounters 3 individuals and they each pledge to follow Him. But Christ seems to discourage them and put barriers in their way. His words almost sound harsh so we are going to ask the question. Why does He speak in this way to them? The first person is found in v57-58. He is an enthusiastic man and he says “Lord I will follow you wherever you go.” The second man is more hesitant and indecisive and it is Jesus who calls him out of the crowd and addresses him, “Follow Me.” Then the third man wants to say goodbye to his family. Now were you shocked or surprised by the responses Jesus gives. Did His words jar? His responses to them are surprising. The only way to explain them is that He knew the heart of each individual. He knew their thoughts and motives and He understood exactly what was going on in their souls. He knows all of us. He knows if we are true. In John 2:24,25 we read that Jesus “did not commit Himself to the people because He knew what was in them.”
Now there is a great danger for churches just to judge from outward appearances. We are so keen to see conversions and accept professions of faith. But the Lord does want us to be discerning. There is a danger because we want to see God’s church increase that we can be too quick to baptise and to give false peace to people who make a profession. In so doing we can weaken the church of God. So this passage helps us to know who is a true follower of Jesus. It is good to examine ourselves also. Are we still making excuses for not following Christ? v57 The enthusiast. “I will follow You wherever You go.” This man is a scribe, a religious man. He has his own disciples. There is a great buzz in the crowd and this man pledges that he will follow Jesus wherever He goes. It seems a wonderful declaration of faith. But the Lord Jesus knew he was just taken up with his emotions. Imagine that you are an environmental campaigner listening to Greta Thunberg in Bristol. You are a young person and she speaks and you are moved and she asks you to make a monthly donation and you sign up to her cause. Why do you do that? It is because you are swept away by the moment. It was a bit like that. Jesus however wants people to stop and think and to ask if they really understand the cost of following Him. Jesus uses the illustration of a man who has a building project and wants to build a tower. First of all he must do the maths and count the cost to see if it is really realistic, whether he really has the finances and expertise to finish the project. (Luke 14 v28) In the same way an army general must know that he has enough soldiers and equipment to know if he can fight against another army. In the same way Jesus says we must count the cost in following Him. Now when Jesus speaks to him, He is burdened for this man. He wants the man to understand that following Him is a very serious thing. Jesus says, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” He had no home of His own. This started even at His birth. There was no room for Him in the inn. Then He became a refugee. As a man He went from place to place and was to be rejected in Nazareth. The villages and towns in Galilee- many crowds turned back. He had just come through Samaria and it too had rejected Him. He started in Judea and there was rejection. He has now come back to Judea. He knows that many have given up on Him. He faced continual rejection and He faced persecution from the chief priests, the scribes and the Pharisees. He knows that even his disciples will forsake Him and He must face the cross alone. Yes He has had temporary accommodation and had some lovely times in people’s homes with Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Yes He has had temporary accommodation in Capernaum- but no permanent home. Ultimately He has come to suffer and be rejected. So he wants the man to really weigh it up. Jesus knew what the cross meant – not just capital punishment or an awful execution but the bearing of God’s awful judgment. He would be forsaken and it would be a place of curse. It was a place of horror and He had come to bring peace and reconciliation and joy to men’s souls. But it was through the cross. He had come as a Man of Sorrows. So He responds to this man, He says “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests – but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” It is the same path we follow. “Through much tribulation we will enter the kingdom of heaven.” The cost is this; we must go outside the camp to the cross, the place of shame and be willing to bear His reproach. To be a disciple means to go the way of the cross – it is a way of rejection and reproach.
Then secondly let us consider this other man. Jesus starts the conversation with him. The other 2 speak up themselves but Jesus calls out this hesitant man who is on the verge of making a decision. But he is wavering between two opinions. Jesus says to him; “Follow Me” but the man says “first let me go back and bury my father.” Jesus then replies with these shocking words; “Let the dead bury their own dead but you go and preach the kingdom of heaven.” (Luke 9:60) How do we understand these words? Surely this was a reasonable request; to go and bury your own father. Well think about it for a minute. Burials took place very quickly and much had to be organised very quickly. If it was this man’s responsibility to make funeral arrangements, surely he wouldn’t have been out on the road with Jesus at such a time. It is far more probable that he is saying this. “My father is at home; he hasn’t got long left. He is weak. But it could be a year or two. I ought to care for him. Then I will follow You.” So Jesus wants to make him realise the urgency of following Him now. Of course he isn’t saying you mustn’t bury your own dead and help and be there. Jesus discerns that for this man, family is too important. He is using family as an excuse to not follow Him. As Jesus says inLuke 14; “If anyone does not hate father or mother, sister or brother or wife , yes even his own life He cannot be my disciple.” Of course He is not talking about literal hatred (that would be going totally against what the Bible teaches) but Jesus is using strong language to say, “You must love Me above above all family ties”. If they are holding you back, you choose Me, be loyal to Me first. People who are called “dead” by the Lord Jesus are the people of this world, spiritually dead people. Such people can take care of life - but you- if you want to enter My kingdom then the priorities are different. It is preaching the Word that matters. What you father needs more than anything is for the word of God to be preached to him, not just to care for him physically until he dies. Then interestingly at the end of ch9 Jesus sends out people 2 by 2 to preach the gospel – the life giving words of God. So I ask you, my hearers, are you in any way like this man? Are you a procrastinator? Are you someone who is putting things off. Are you saying that there are other things that are too important, more important than Jesus Christ? In Thailand recently, there were some foolish, rich young people who decided to go down to a beach party to drink and have a party. One of them said this, “Let’s celebrate the end of the world.” Numbers of them contracted corona virus as a result of that party. They thought they were invincible, that they were secure and would be ok. “Let’s eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” But this virus is saying to us that your life is not in your own hands; it is in the hands of the Lord. Don’t be like this hesitant man.
Lastly let us consider the third man. He is someone who again has divided loyalties. He really loves the comforts of this world. Now he says; “Lord I will follow You but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” (Luke 9:61-62) In other words I will follow You Jesus, but first I have something else to do. His request seems reasonable. Do you remember Elijah said to Elisha to go home and say goodbye to his family and then come and do the work of the Lord? Thie is reasonable. But Jesus understood that for this man, priority number 1 was his family, his comfort, his life. Priority number 2 was Jesus and His kingdom. Now Jesus says, “No one having put his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.” In other words you have to look ahead and focus. If you look back over your shoulder it is catastrophic. If you want to furrow straight and deep, and do a good job you cannot do so if you look back. You can’t do the work properly at all. And such a person who has a divided heart is not fit for the kingdom of God. “Remember Lot’s wife.” She was warned to flee Sodom and not look back, but her heart was still in that city- with her home and friends and with its pleasures. She really wanted to be there and so she looked back and the Lord judged her.
Do you see how the Lord Jesus looks into the hearts of these 3 people and he knows them perfectly? Our Lord Jesus understands the thoughts and intents of the heart. Jesus says to us, “Do not love the world; love not the things of the world. If anyone loves the world – the love of the Father is not in Him. For all that is in the world; the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life is not of the Father but of the world. Friendship with the world is enmity against God.” Where is your heart? Have you turned your back on the world to follow Christ? “You cannot serve two masters.”
Now what we have considered are not words about entering full time Christian service or being a better follower of Him. His words are to unconverted people. There is the danger of enthusiasm. “I will follow You”- but a person needs to understand what this really means. Then there is the danger of procrastination. There is the danger of putting it off till the next day, the next month, or the next year, until it is too late and you are dead. Then there is the person who has divided loyalties. Augustine was a man of God. Before his conversion he was listening to the great preacher Ambrose in Milan and he was disturbed after hearing the word. It affected him. You see he was living with his mistress and he didn’t want to give her up. So he prayed to God in this way, “Lord make me good ,but not yet.” I wonder if that is you? You want to have Christ-like character and be His child but you love the world and so you say “Not yet.” May each of us search our hearts and may we be sure that we are on the path that leads to life. Now remember the disciples with all their faults and failings …they had forsaken all to follow Christ. He will keep us to the end. If we are His people then He will keep us to the end but let us keep to the path. Let us take up our cross daily and follow Him
May the priorities of the kingdom ever be our priorities.
“Eternal God and ever blessed God we thank You for this portion of this word. We realise it is hard-hitting. It affects us deeply and touches our souls. For Lord we confess there are times when we do not put You first but ourselves and our families. Lord, we ask for Your forgiveness. And Lord if there is anyone who is listening to this message who hasn’t yet surrendered to You, and hasn’t yet believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, that they would do so this day. We thank You that Christ holds our hand all the way to heaven. We thank You that though we may have tribulation in this world, we are to be of good cheer for Christ has overcome the world. We pray that this day would be a day of refreshment and encouragement to each one of us. We ask You this in Jesus Name.” Amen.
Thank you to Jenny Love for providing this transcipt