Rev. Bryn MacPhail
Don't be misled by the brevity of today's passage. These 6 verses at the end of Luke,
chapter 9, are loaded with punch. This text, and this message, is for anyone who
knows what it is like to struggle with ordering their priorities. This message is
for anyone who has ever been 'too busy' to follow Christ.
It is important that you know that our Lord is not indifferent about your priority
list. Some assume that Jesus, since He is so meek and forgiving, appreciates our
need to get things done. Jesus, we think, would never judge us for looking after
our family. Jesus would never judge us for working overtime to pay our bills. Jesus would never
judge us for wanting some time to relax. Or would He?
As we will see in our passage today, Jesus insists that nothing is to take priority
over following Him. Taking time to relax, looking after one's family, and working
hard are commendable so long as they are not done at the expense of following Christ.
I fear that one of the reasons worldly things are prioritized in the life of a Christian
is because some Christians mistakenly believe that Christ died to make our earthly
life comfortable. With all of the authority of Scripture behind me, I can tell you
that Christ did not die to make our life comfortable. Rather, Christ died to make
our eternity comfortable.
Now just because Christ makes no promise of earthly comfort, does not mean that the
Christian life is to be joyless life. Just the opposite, in fact! In what is known
as 'The High Priestly Prayer' of John 17, Jesus prays to His heavenly Father that
"(His) joy" would be "made full in (us)"(17:13). Jesus does indeed want us to be joyful
in this life, but that joy is not rooted in our being comfortable. The joy Jesus
wants for us is the joy that comes from being in a relationship with Him.
The apostle Paul knew this truth quite well. While he was in prison, he wrote to the
Philippians, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!"(4:4). Paul's
joy was not rooted in worldly comfort-he had none! Paul's joy was rooted in the person
of Jesus Christ.
If you are looking for true and lasting joy, turning to Christ is the only answer.
Joy by any other means will prove fleeting. If, however, you are looking to be comfortable
in your earthly days I do not recommend Christianity.
We must, therefore, never confuse joy and worldly comfort when talking about Christianity.
Christ, when He saves us, has every intention of making us happy. This happiness,
however, comes from gaining Christ, not from gaining worldly comfort. What should
we expect then, if we follow Christ wholeheartedly?
Let us hear the answer from Christ Himself. Luke reports that while Jesus and His
disciples we traveling "someone said to (Jesus), 'I will follow You wherever You
go.' And Jesus said to him, 'The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have
nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.'"(v.57, 58).
Clearly, the point Jesus is making is that following Him is no light matter. Jesus
has chosen for Himself a life of insecurity and, therefore, following Him may involve
for us a life of insecurity.
How is it that some Christians envision the Christian life to be a life of worldly
prosperity? How can we accept this doctrine knowing that virtually all of the apostles
were martyred? How can we accept this doctrine when we read that Paul was imprisoned, beaten, stoned, whipped, left homeless and hungry?(2Cor. 11:24-27). How can we accept
this doctrine when Jesus says that, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air
have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head"(v.58).
The plain truth of Scripture is that it is the narrow and difficult road that leads
to life, while it is the broad and easy road leads to destruction(Mt. 7:13, 14).
Why then, would we choose such a difficult road? Life is difficult enough as it is,
why would we ever choose a road that could actually make things even more difficult? The
reason we choose the difficult road is because it is the right road. We choose the
difficult road because it brings the most fulfillment.
Every Tuesday, I face 2 choices: I can go onto the internet and, with the click of
a button, have a sermon ready to go for Sunday. This would be the easy route for
sermon preparation. If I did this, I would have 20 extra hours a week available to
me. But instead, what do I choose to do every Tuesday through Saturday? I study, and I study,
and I study. And then I type, and I type, and I type? Why? Because it is the choice
that honours Jesus Christ. It is the choice that is most fulfilling.
There is nothing fulfilling about taking the easy road. Following Jesus was never
meant to be easy, but it is the honourable thing to do. It is the thing that brings
the most joy and fulfillment. It was not suffering in prison, but following Christ,
that Paul had in view when he commanded, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say
The message of our society is that worldly comfort=joy, but this is not the message
of Scripture. True joy comes from following Christ and, as we can see from this text,
following Christ is not easy.
After warning the first would-be follower that anyone who follows Him should not reckon
on luxurious living, Jesus approaches another saying, "Follow Me"(v.59). To this
the man replies, " 'Permit me first to go and bury my father.' But (Jesus) said to
him, 'Allow the dead to bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere
the kingdom of God.'"(v.59, 60).
If Jesus' response does not raise your eyebrows, you are not reading the text closely
enough: 'Excuse me Jesus, I would be happy to follow you, but I should make you aware
that my father is very ill. He could die at any moment now and, as you might guess, it is my duty as his son to see that he has a proper burial. When that gets looked
after I can begin following you'. "But (Jesus) said to him, 'Allow the dead to bury
their own dead'"(v.60).
Was the man's request reasonable? Sure it was. We all agree that caring for aging
parents is important. We all agree that it is important to die and to be buried with
dignity. So what point is Jesus making when He tells the son, "Allow the dead to
bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God"?
Surely, the point Jesus is making is that there is no duty more urgent than our duty
to God's kingdom. Now this does not mean we shirk our other duties. We have responsibilities
to fulfill as a spouse, as a parent, as a son or daughter; we have responsibilities in our workplace and in our home; we have responsibilities in our community-and
our Lord calls us to fulfill all of these responsibilities. But the same Lord who
calls us to fulfill these responsibilities also commands us to "seek first His kingdom"(Mt. 6:33). The message of Jesus here is unequivocal: Following Jesus takes precedence
over all temporal business-even family obligations.
Some, even still, might object that such an approach to life is neither logical nor
practical. But I reckon that there is nothing more practical than following Christ-even
at the expense of important temporal affairs. The great preacher, George Whitefield, I think frames this the best. Whitefield says that, 'Were we always to live in the
world, then worldly gain and worldly wisdom would be our highest aim: but since we
have no continuing presence in this world, and since we were only sent into this
world to have our natures changed, and to fit ourselves for that which is to come; then to
neglect kingdom work for a little worldly gain is be like profane Esau, it is to
sell our birth-right for a mess of pottage'(this quote is paraphrased from Whitefield's
sermon, 'Worldly Business no Plea for the Neglect of Religion').
The last would-be follower of Jesus also had a request for Him, " 'I will follow You,
Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.' But Jesus said to him,
'No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom
of God'"(v.61, 62).
Again, was this man's request reasonable? Sure it was. Who wouldn't want to say good-bye
to family before leaving them? What are we to make of Jesus' response then?
A text that should prove helpful for us is 1Kings 19:19-21: "So (Elijah) departed
from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve
pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him
and threw his mantle on him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, 'Please let
me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.' And (Elijah) said to him,
'Go back again, for what have I done to you?' So (Elisha) returned from following
him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements
of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then (Elisha) arose and followed
Notice the common elements between this passage and the one from Luke 9. Elisha is
willing to follow Elijah just as the man in Luke 9:61 is willing to follow Jesus.
Elisha asks Elijah if he can say good-bye to his family just as the man in Luke 9:61
asks Jesus if he can say good-bye to his family. The difference is Elijah grants Elisha's
request to say good-bye to family while Jesus treats such a request as a sign that
the man is unfit for the kingdom of God.
What is equally as striking is the illustration Jesus employs to communicate His point.
Jesus says that, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is
fit for the kingdom of God". And what is Elisha doing when Elijah calls him to follow? His is plowing!
I would maintain that what Jesus is doing here is what He has done in many other places-He
is asserting His authority over respected Old Testament figures. Jesus, referring
to Himself, had previously told the Pharisees that "something greater than Jonah
is here"(Mt. 12:41), and that, "something greater than Solomon is here"(Mt. 12:42).
And now, by employing the illustration of a "plow" in a context where Jesus is asked
by a man for permission to say good-bye to family, the natural conclusion is that
Jesus was teaching the crowd that 'something greater than Elijah is here'.
Something greater than Tuesday night euchre is here. Something greater than your golf
membership is here. Something greater than your lodge is here. Something greater
than your career is here. Something greater than, yes even your family, is here.
Jesus Christ is not some dead historical figure. Jesus is our living, ever present, Lord,
and He is calling you to follow.
Jesus does not want a half-hearted commitment to follow. He wants your all. He wants
you to grab hold of the plow, and He does not want you to look back. Christ calls
you to follow and He wants nothing-absolutely nothing-to stand in your way.
It is a good thing we are not singing the hymn, 'Softly and Tenderly' this week because
there is nothing tender about Jesus' calling here. Jesus is being up front and straightforward
about the demands of discipleship.
Friends, it is time to take hold of the plow. It is time to put kingdom business ahead
of worldly business. Following Christ may be difficult. It may make your life a little
less comfortable, but I can assure you that nothing on this earth is more fulfilling, more joy producing, than following Christ. Amen.