Jason Helopoulos / Jan 1, 2017 / Luke 9:57-62
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
Let’s pray before we read God’s Word this morning. Father, as our bodies need food and drink, or they perish; as our muscles need exercise, or they atrophy; so our souls need your Word, or they languish and perish. We pray that you would feed us through your Word, attend to us by your Spirit, and enliven us in Christ, for we are in desperate need of hearing your voice. In the name of Christ, the only King and Lord, we pray. Amen.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “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.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:8
Thanks be to God. Amen.
As you go through your annual Bible reading plan, verses like these either make you stop, sit down, and study a little bit, or make you quickly move on, looking for the verses that are a little more clear and upbeat. This is a striking passage—one that jolts the sense—and I think it’s very helpful on January 1. These jolting statements aren’t tangential sayings of Christ’s. In fact, they strike at the very heart of the matter, and they’re important for all who would seek to follow Christ.
Luke subtly points this out through the way that he constructs this passage. He doesn’t give us the names of the three people who encountered Jesus. He doesn’t tell us the circumstances that surrounded their encounters. He doesn’t tell us any more about their conversations. He doesn’t even give us their responses Jesus’ statements. He just keeps it general.
Matthew doesn’t do this. In Matthew 8, he identifies at least the first two individuals. The man who said “I will follow you wherever you go” was a scribe, or a teacher of the law; and the man who said “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” was a disciple of Jesus. But Luke doesn’t give us these details. Rather, he says “…someone said to him…”, “To another he said…”, and “Yet another said…” Luke doesn’t want us thinking about scribes or other people in the 1st century AD. Instead, he wants us to see ourselves. He’s showing how this passage is applicable to everyone who would be a follower of Christ. That seems like a good thing to explore as we start another year.
We were doing family worship last night at my home. My son had said, “I want to understand more about where things are in the Bible, so let’s start at the very beginning”, and we’re doing that. Last night, we were in Genesis 8. We read the account of Noah emerging with his family from the ark after the flood—after the earth had been cleansed under that deluge. We were talking about how it was a new start for humanity. I think that the Lord, in his good providence, gives us these kinds of fresh starts throughout our lives. He gives us a new morning every morning. The calendar rolls over every month, and also every year (which we’re celebrating today).
If you’re like me, you probably use New Year’s to assess and make course adjustments in life. It’s easy to get a little off track, like an oil tanker that’s headed across the sea. During the night, it gets off by one degree here and another there, and in the morning, it has to redirect its course a little bit for fear of arriving at a destination it does not want to go to. In the same way, we’re given these little moments to make course corrections to our lives.
I think of things I want to do better, things I want to do more of, things I want to start doing for the very first time, and other things I want to stop doing, change, or repent of altogether. It’s a helpful exercise. If you’re like me, your mind goes through life on details. If I think, “I need to memorize more Scripture,” I lay out a plan for how I’m going to do that in the new year. If I think “I need to exercise more,” or “I need to play more games with my kids,” I put dates on my calendar and think about how I can steal away for different things here or there. I’m still waiting for that year that I wake up, convicted that I need to eat more donuts and take more naps. It’s never things like that, it seems.
While these small tactical things are good, as I think back over the last decade, if that’s all I was doing, they weren’t very helpful.
As a teenager, I went on a backpacking trip to New Mexico. We prepared for months. This may surprise you, but I worked out at a gym almost every day to get ready for the trip. Every night, I would put on a hard-frame backpack and my boots and go marching around my neighborhood to get those boots into condition. Further, I would put a few more cans of soup and vegetables into that backpack each night, to make it heavier and heavier, so that I built up strength and endurance. So we gathered all of our supplies and plotted out our course for those ten days in New Mexico.
Finally, the day arrived. We got on a train in Illinois and rode all the way down to New Mexico. Then we got out and began hiking in the mountains. After about three days up there, I was hiking—and it hit me, as I was walking along, that my eyes were staring only at my feet. I was just taking each next step—and that’s what I had been doing for the whole three days. It was hard going in that thin mountain air, and I got so caught up in the details of making sure I wouldn’t trip and fall that I missed the vision. I wasn’t there to just take the next step. I was there because I wanted to see grand, majestic views. We don’t have mountains in Illinois, and I wanted to see them. I wanted my soul to be enraptured with new and beautiful delights.
What view have you set before your eyes in 2017? What’s your vision? Yes, read more of the Bible. Pray more often. Memorize Scripture. Host people and exercise hospitality. If you’re married, strengthen your communication skills and affection for one another. If you’re a parent, I get it: you’re just trying to survive and not let the inmates run the asylum. But why? What’s your vision? The answer must be what we’ve sung about all this morning: Christ. That’s our vision. We want to know, serve, love, and obey him more. He is all we have, as we just sang. We want to have Christ in view. We want to follow him.
In this passage, Luke shows us three encounters with Jesus’ would-be disciples. He paints discipleship in very striking terms, and I think that it will help orient us here in 2017 if we take a moment to look at the high cost of discipleship that Christ sets before us, in order to have a better view of him. If you’re a human, it will probably offer you a little course correction, but it will at least give you encouragement if you’re already on track. He tells us three things: a disciple of Christ sacrifices knowingly, seeks the kingdom of God first, and serves Christ above all else.
First, discipleship in Christ means that we sacrifice knowingly. As you think about walking with him in 2017, know that it will cost you. Indeed, it must cost you! We’re told in verse 57 that Jesus was walking along the road with some of his followers, and one of the men walking along with him said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Wow. That’s a bold and courageous confession. This man offered to follow Jesus wherever he went, even to the very ends of the earth. It doesn’t appear that he was forced, cajoled, or tricked into making such a confession. It was of his free accord. He declares that he will follow, without reservation, wherever Jesus goes. That is wonderfully good news. Think about it. He was far beyond so many. Christ had been preaching to crowd after crowd, and very few (if any) had made such a declaration by this point—yet this man was ready.
If any of you came up to me after the service today and said, “Pastor Jason, I am yielding my life to Christ. I will follow him wherever he leads me,” I would say, “That’s wonderful!” There is nothing that would delight my soul more. That’s what I hope the effect of my preaching is every week I spend in this pulput. But that isn’t how Jesus responds. He doesn’t put his arm around the young man, pull him close, and say, “Thank you. You’ve made a wise and good choice.” His response, like all of his responses in this passage, is quite shocking: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” He’s saying, “You’re committing to following me—but have you counted the cost? Before you make such a bold declaration, do you understand what it entails? It isn’t as simple as saying a few words. It requires sacrifice.” That’s easy to forget, and even easier to ignore.
I need this reminder more often than I wish was necessary. My study at home, where I study on Fridays, and where I always sit down to work on sermons, is hidden away in the basement in its own little room. There’s a door that allows me entrance into this refuge from the world, and immediately when I walk through that door, before I can turn right and go to my desk, I’m staring at a sign. I asked my wife to create it, and she did. It’s a beautiful piece of art. I married an artist.
But I don’t stare at it because it’s beautiful. I stare at it because of what it says: “I am not my own.” As a disciple, I belong to another. All that I have and all that I am are his. It reminds me that discipleship costs disciples everything. I need that correction often. I need it before I begin working on every sermon. And this would-be disciple needed to know that serving Christ requires sacrifice. It’s not always easy, or even pleasurable. It’s certainly not always smooth. It can be hard, and it’s very difficult at times. It is arduous and costly. But the disciple must be willing to bear the cost.
As Paul said to Timothy,
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 2:3
In verse 58, Jesus pointed out that his own lot in the world was one of humility, lowliness, trial, and suffering. It was costly. He had nowhere to lay his head, and the foxes and birds seemingly had it better than him. The world was not a friendly place for Christ, and he was reminding this would-be disciple that it’s not a friendly place for those who follow him either.
Luke shares this account immediately on the heels of a scene of rejection in the life of Jesus. He was headed toward a Samaritan village in verses 51-56, but the Samaritans didn’t want him or his message, so they turned him out. When this man said “I will follow you wherever you go,” Jesus knew that he didn’t see the cross that he would have to carry.
We do others an incredible disservice when we tell them all about the cross of Christ because we want to get them into the pew, raising their hand—but neglect to tell them that on the other side of the cross, Christ demands that you carry your own cross.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24b
When I was in high school, my dream was to graduate from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, but my mom wouldn’t sign the paperwork. I wanted to join the Marines. That was my dream: to wear those blue slacks, the nice blue jackets with the brass buttons, and that stark white hat that they wear. And don’t you love the song that they sing?
From the Halls of Montezuma To the Shores of Tripoli…
I mean, you just want to go out and fight whenever you hear that. It’s great!
But my mom was thinking about what I probably wasn’t. When you join the Marines, it’s about more than the uniform, the name, the nice white hat, and even the song. It involves putting yourself in harm’s way, and being willing to endure bullets whizzing by, wounds, battle, and war.
This man was willing to sign up because he wanted the crisp, blue uniform. But Jesus tells would-be disciples to count the cost. Why does Christ do this? It’s certainly not to discourage this young man or us, but rather to set the truth before us. He wants us to know, friends, that if you’re in Christ, there will be some trials and sacrifice in 2017. There just will be. You’ve signed up for a life of sacrifice. Discipleship in Christ demands it.
If you think that your life is your own, and that it can look like the lives of the worldly around you, then your life probably is your own. The disciple knows that he’s embarked on a life of sacrifice, and Christ desires that we know this, because to share in glory with him, we must share the cross with him. He wants us to know it so that we don’t shrink in the face of the cost when it comes.
It’s so sad when Christ talks about the seed that is thrown out upon the rocky ground in the Parable of the Sower. He says that it springs up immediately, but it has no root. A few trials and persecution come, and it just falls away.
No, you must come to Christ knowing that it requires sacrifice, so that when the costs come, they don’t prove to be too much. Fix your eyes on the glory to come. The world, the flesh, and the devil will be set against you in 2017. Temptations will have to be resisted. Courage and faith will have to be kindled. It isn’t easy to endure the disdain from your coworkers because you won’t participate in the office gossip. It isn’t easy to stay in a marriage that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy because of the lack of love and intimacy that’s in it. It isn’t easy to stand up for truth in your academic department when people label you a fundamentalist or (even worse) a bigot, especially when it may mean that you don’t get on that tenure track.
Sacrifice is on every disciple’s to-do list. Jesus is saying, “Do you know this? And do you know that it’s worth it?” It’s more than worth it. Sacrifice is worth giving, because it conforms us more to the one we love. Remember the vision! We want to see, know, and love Christ more! Sacrifice conforms us more his image, teaching us over and over again that this world is not our home. Sacrifice prepares us for glory to come. We will have a full view of him for all of eternity.
Think about everything Paul went through. He details all of it: beatings, stonings, being left for dead, and imprisonment. Yet he can say:
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison… 2 Corinthians 4:17
Seeking the Kingdom of God First
Second, as disciples of Christ with a view of him before us, we must seek first the kingdom of God. The second person received yet another surprising response from Jesus containing another pointed demand of discipleship. This time, Jesus approached him and gave a command: “Follow me.” The man responded with willingness, but he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus replied, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
That’s not exactly the compassion and empathy we would expect from Jesus. Doesn’t he care that this man’s father has died? Is he calloused toward death? Listen, Jesus shows time and time again in Scripture that death is an enemy, and that it grieves him. He cries Lazarus’ tomb. He heals Jairus’ daughter. For goodness’ sake, he says that he came so that we “might not perish”. Death grieves Christ.
So why this seemingly calloused statement, then? It’s because Jesus knew the heart of this man, just as he knew the heart of the first man. Just as the first man wasn’t willing to sacrifice, this man had his priorities out of whack. He called Jesus “Lord”. He recognized who Jesus is and what he commanded him to do. He recognized that he should obey, because Jesus is Lord. But he just wanted to delay it, and his delay in obedience proclaims loudly that his heart was not where his tongue professed to be. His priorities were not Christ and Christ’s kingdom. Something else came first.
One can almost understand it, because family loyalties and traditional customs were all-important in the Jewish world. If this man did not bury his father, it would have been an act of incredible disrespect. Interestingly, we see this in Old Testament law. Both Nazirites and the high priest are given specific instructions to bypass their responsibility to bury their parents. The Nazirites were told in Numbers 6:
All the days that he separates himself to the LORD he shall not go near a dead body. Not even for his father or for his mother, for brother or sister, if they die, shall he make himself unclean, because his separation to God is on his head. Numbers 6:6-7
God says “Not even” because it was expected to be your responsibility to bury your parents. You can see the same thing with the high priest in Leviticus 21:
He shall not go in to any dead bodies nor make himself unclean, even for his father or for his mother. Leviticus 21:11
This was a duty.
When Jesus responds “Leave the dead to bury their own dead,” he’s offering a play on words: “Let the spiritually dead (those who aren’t alive in me) bury the corpses. You need to go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Christ is saying that even the most important of relationships, earthly duties, expectations, and traditions do not compare to the relationships and duties of the kingdom of God. “Don’t go bury your father. Seek the kingdom first.”
Of course, he is not advocating abandonment of our families or our social duties. He’s simply saying that this disciple must seek the kingdom above all else. When loving Christ and loving our families collide, the kingdom must come first. Is that true in your life? Is the kingdom first?
Our King’s work is to have the primary place in our hearts and lives because the King himself is first in our hearts and lives. As Christ says, “…seek first the kingdom of God…” He paints it in even starker terms in Luke 14, where he says:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26
What a shocking statement! Christ and his kingdom should have such importance in the life of a disciple that our love for everything else pales in comparison! The love a disciple should have for Christ and his kingdom is so great that it seems like everything else, by comparison, is hated! He is first!
I don’t hate any of you women in this room. In fact, I love you all. But I love my wife a thousand times more than you—even astronomically more than you. It’s almost as if I don’t even love you, in comparison. But I do still love you!
Serving Christ Above All Else
That leads to my third point: a disciple serves Christ above all else. We see this with the third person and Jesus’ response to him:
Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:61-62
Again, Christ is not minimizing the importance of family. He values the family. For goodness’ sake, his first miracle was at a wedding feast in Cana! He speaks of the church as his own bride, and of the wedding feast that we shall enjoy with him. He heightens, strengthens, and reinforces the importance of marriage when he teaches on divorce. I could go on and on.
The problem is not family, but the divided heart that’s manifested by this would-be disciple. He wants to tend to something else before Christ. That cannot be for a disciple of Christ. Christ and his kingdom must have our hearts completely. We must not only seek the kingdom first, but serve him and his kingdom above all else. “All I have is Christ!”
If a man plows a field and keeps looking back over his shoulder at other things, the rows will be crooked, and it won’t be worth sowing seed in. He has to focus on that field. That’s true for a disciple of Christ who continually looks back to other things. Even our love for family must be subordinated to the higher and greater demands of serving Christ and his kingdom.
While I was working through this passage, I thought, “Wouldn’t it have been striking if the would-be disciple had said, ‘Jesus, I will follow you, but let me first say goodbye to my dog’? We would’ve said, ‘He’s not ready to be a disciple of Christ!’ ‘Let me go back and say goodbye to my chess team, or my tennis partner.’ ‘I don’t think this guy is really serious about following Christ.’” But family is something different. It has strong pull on our hearts, and Christ is trying to show both this man and us that we too often allow it to have too great of a pull.
Listen, there is nothing that I love more (besides being a disciple of Christ) than being a father and a husband. But our love for our families can become inordinate, and the ramifications—sorrow, discouragement, even depression, and wandering from Christ—can be tragic. The family can’t bear the weight of that. Christ is to be our heart’s affection. He is to have our service and love above all. As an institution, the family wasn’t created to hold the affection of your heart above all else. Neither were your wife or child, as individuals. You can love it or them too much. Christ must be above all else.
If we primarily place our affections on something other than Christ, it’s inordinate. It can’t bear it. Further, you will be disappointed, discouraged, and empty. We must serve Christ above all else.
A couple of years ago, there was a full lunar eclipse. At the time, my daughter Grayson was really into astronomy, so we talked about it for weeks and weeks ahead of time. We planned out how we would get up in the wee hours of the morning, when the sky would be pitch black and the eclipse would be at its peak. We even went outside and charted where it would be in the sky. We dreamed about it and talked about it.
When the day arrived, I got up early in the morning and woke up Grayson. We put our shoes on, put coats over our pajamas, and went outside into the front yard. Then we stood there, looking up at this full lunar eclipse. I was standing there with my buddy and astrophysicist, waiting to hear what she would say—and after about fifteen seconds, she looked at me and said, “Daddy, this didn’t change my life at all.” She was underwhelmed and disappointed. I understand. Thinking your life would be changed by seeing a lunar eclipse was putting an inordinate weight upon it. A lunar eclipse can’t hold that. It was bound to disappoint.
Many of us set ourselves up for the same disappointments and discouragements in marriage, parenting, finding a boyfriend, or getting the right job, the right house, the right recognition at work, or whatever. It speaks of a divided heart. Christ alone is to occupy the place of preeminence, and we serve him above all else. If you do, dear disciple, I will guarantee (because the Scriptures guarantee it) that you will never be disappointed. He alone never disappoints. He alone is worthy of all our affection and service for all our life.
This past week, I watched a clip from a show on Netflix that’s getting incredible ratings: “The Crown”. It’s about Queen Elizabeth II and her reign. The clip showed Elizabeth having to make a decision of the most gut-wrenching nature. Her sister, Princess Margaret, wanted to marry Peter Townshend, a commoner and divorcée. This was not allowed by either governmental law or church law. Incredible pressure was put upon Queen Elizabeth to deny her sister, because the Queen was both the head of the government and of the Church of England. Yet she desperately loved her sister and wanted her to be happy. Further, she wanted to fulfill a promise that she made to her sister: that after two years of separation, she could marry Peter.
This scene shows Queen Elizabeth standing before Princess Margaret, after many restless nights of gut-wrenching searching, trying to figure out what to do. And she says, “I finally realized that I have no choice. The crown must win. The crown must always win.”
And so it is for the Christian. Our lives are not our own. We yield them in service and devotion to Christ, our King. We willingly make sacrifices and seek his kingdom first in our hearts and lives. We serve him above all else. The crown must always win.
I love what J.C. Ryle said on this passage in the 1800s, and I’ll close by reading it:
Let us leave the whole passage with many searchings of heart. The times are undoubtedly much changed since our Lord spoke these words. Not many are called to make such real sacrifices for Christ’s sake as when Christ was upon earth. But the heart of man never changes. The difficulties of salvation are still very great. The atmosphere of the world is still very unfavorable to spiritual religion. There is still need for thorough, unflinching, whole-hearted decision, if we would reach heaven. Let us aim at nothing less than this decision, Let us be willing to do anything, and suffer anything, and give up everything for Christ’s sake. It may cost us something for a few years, but great will be the reward in eternity. **J.C. Ryle – “The Cost of Following Jesus”
Is this your vision for 2017? Will you choose Christ?
Let’s pray. Our Lord and God, we’re thankful for the seriousness of our calling as disciples of Christ. We’re thankful that you’re preparing us for the eternal weight of glory, that we might live before your face forever, gazing upon your beauty. May we live both today and this upcoming year in light of eternity. In Christ’s name we pray, amen.
Transcription and editing provided by 10:17 Transcription
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.