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Those who Would Follow Christ

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Those who Would Follow Christ - Luke 9:57-62

Pastor Oesterwind

December 28, 2008

Introduction:  Are you interested in being a vegetarian, but concerned that you might not be able to adjust?  Not to worry…you can become a flexitarian.

As vegetarianism gains in popularity and increases its market niche, a variation has developed. The flexitarian is a person who eats primarily vegetables, but also indulges occasionally with meat.

The designation fits people like a 28-year-old woman who claimed that she usually ate vegetarian, but also enjoyed sausage.

She felt like a bad vegetarian because she was not strict enough or good enough.  She really liked vegetarian food but wasn’t 100 % committed.

John Beukema, Western Springs, Illinois; source: "Are You a 'Flexitarian?" (3-16-04)

This reminds me of people who were once would-be followers of Christ but never lost their taste for the world.  People like this are confronted with hard teaching from Scripture on issues like separation from an ungodly world with its ungodly practices.  Instead of staying the course with Christ, they veer off track because they are governed by their appetite for the world.  There are many would-be followers of Christ in our churches today; perhaps a few even in our midst this morning. 

Background:  Jesus “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9.51).  Jesus provides a pattern for all those who would follow after Him.

1.     He did not concern Himself with a world that was rejecting Him (9.57-58).

2.     He did not allow earthly ties to bind Him from accomplishing His Father’s purpose (9.59-60).

3.     He did not look back but instead set His face to go to Jerusalem, to the cross which was before Him (9.61-62).

Text:  “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.’”

Transition:  There are no exceptions for a follower of Christ.  No ‘if onlys’ or negotiations at the foot of the cross.  Only total commitment.  The would-be followers in this passage all maintain an appetite for the here and now.  Many of us seek to satisfy an appetite for the world while attempting to follow Christ.  There is no middle road for the true follower of Christ.  Since Christ requires commitment from all followers, all must break from the world.  This morning we find three clear warnings for all who would follow Christ in the new year…

1.     If we would follow Christ, we must separate from the world (9.57-58).

Explanation:  The moment that we decide to follow Christ, we will become increasingly marginalized by the world.  An ever-increasing appetite for a relationship with God greatly diminishes our appetite for the worldly things that once were. 

“Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, ‘Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.’” (57)  Really?  What led this man to make such a statement?  We don’t know, but Jesus responds to Him… 

“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.’” (58)  This response gets to the heart of the matter.  This man may have wanted what Jesus taught for a season of time.  Perhaps he desired knowledge for the sake of knowledge.  But Jesus offered something that might result in suffering or even death.  If we go where Jesus goes, we must be willing to face rejection.  We might have nowhere to lay our heads. 

Jesus did not have a home in this world and yet He was the Son of Man.  If the man in this text would follow Jesus, he would have to live estranged from the world.  This man did not have the resolve to follow Christ because to do so meant rejection.  The choice to follow Christ is not easy, and it must be made thoroughly with total commitment. 

Illustration:  A young boy loved to play marbles. He regularly walked through his neighborhood with a pocketful of his best marbles, hoping to find opponents to play against. One marble in particular, his special blue marble, had won him many matches.

During one walk he encountered a young girl who was eating a bag of chocolate candy. Though the boy's first love was marbles, he had a weakness for chocolates. As he stood there interacting with the young girl, his salivary glands and the rumbling in his stomach became uncontrollable, and he thought to himself, I have got to get my hands on those chocolates.

Concocting a plan, he asked the girl for an exchange:  all his marbles for all her chocolates.  She thought this fair.

He put his hand in his pocket, searching for the distinguishing cracks on the surface of his prized blue marble. Once he identified the blue marble with his finger tip, he carefully pushed it to the bottom of his pocket and pulled out all the other marbles.

As he handed the marbles to the girl for the chocolate, the boy thought his plan was a success and turned to walk away. As he began to eat the candy, he suddenly turned to the girl and asked, ‘Hey, did you give me all the chocolates?’

Christopher L. Heuertz, Simple Spirituality (IVP, 2008), pp. 116-117; Samuel T. Kamaleson, "Mangoes and Marbles," Decision magazine (January 1978)

Application:  The choice to follow Christ is not easy.  We want everything the kingdom of God has to offer. We want to have a secure sense of God's presence, we want all our prayers to be answered, we want to ‘feel close’ to Jesus, we want to flourish in the riches of God's glory—we want it all. But we are unwilling to give up everything in this world for it. Many times there is a ‘blue marble’ in our lives that we seem unwilling to give up for Christ.  Until we can fully accept alienation from the world, our commitment to Christ will at best be limited.  It may even be a lie.

Transition:  So as we head into 2009, we should take heed to this warning:  If we would follow Christ, we must separate from the world.  But there is a second warning in our text…

2.     If we would follow Christ, we must prioritize our commitments (9.59-60).

Explanation:  The moment we decide to follow Christ, we will prioritize discipleship above family commitment.  God always comes before family.  This is what Jesus means when he says, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14.26).  Instinctively, we don’t like this. 

When the second would-be follower of Christ comes along in Luke 9, he seems to offer a reasonable excuse for delay:  “Then [Jesus] said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ (59).

Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.’” (60)  Jesus refuses to hear the man’s excuse even though it seems perfectly reasonable.  Is it not reasonable to honor your father by giving him a proper burial?  Jesus’ reply seems shocking, but it was designed to reveal to this would-be disciple the extent of commitment required. 

Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead.”  (60a)  Literally dead people cannot bury other dead people.  So, Jesus meant something far different by His subjective use of the first reference to the dead.  Ephesians 2 states that before we came to Christ, we were dead in our trespasses and sins.  This does not mean we were not breathing.  It means we were spiritually dead, separate from God and unable to have His priorities. 

Jesus told this man, “Let those who don’t have spiritual priorities (the dead) bury their own dead.”  I can’t think of a better excuse than the one this man offered.  Yet Jesus dismisses it.  Nothing and nobody should block or delay our path to Christ.  It does us no good to soften this statement and explain it away.  Jesus is clearly taking the emphasis off of family responsibilities and placing it on our overarching responsibility:  “You go and preach the kingdom of God.” (60b). 

Luke 4:43 …[Jesus] said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.”

Luke 24:44-47 [Jesus] said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Illustration:  A girl in Texas understood clearly the priority of Christ over family.  She came forward to announce her decision to follow Christ and be baptized at a gospel-preaching church.

During the service, a missionary home on furlough noticed some worn-out luggage leaning against the wall of the church building. He asked the pastor about it. The pastor pointed to the girl who had just been baptized and told the missionary, “Her father said that if she was baptized as a Christian she could never go home again. So she brought her luggage.”

Raymond McHenry, Stories for the Soul (Hendrickson, 2001), p. 48; submitted by Steve May, Humboldt, Tennessee

Application:  Prioritizing at the beginning of a new year is absolutely essential.  But dead people are unable to put Christ first.  They will always emphasize some lesser god.  That lesser god may even be something as reasonable as family.  It takes spiritual life to see spiritual priorities.  Once we see them, our love for family will seem like hate in comparison to our love for Christ. 

If we would follow Christ and put Him first, we may lose big. 

·        We might lose a promotion or even a job.

·        We might lose some old friends.

·        We could lose some neighbors. 

·        We might lose children that are more interested in their peers than Christ. 

·        We might lose family connections and even our own lives.

Are you really ready to put Christ first?  Are you finally ready to say, “If I lose everything in this life except for my relationship with Christ, it’s worth it”?  If you are, then you understand the priority to proclaim the Gospel.

Transition:  Jesus warns us about misplaced affections upon the world and family, but finally he warns us not to look back…

3.     If we would follow Christ, we must focus on the cross before us (9.61-62).    

Explanation:  The moment we decide to follow Christ, we must not look back from such a commitment.  We constantly press forward for what’s ahead.  You cannot follow two things at once.  If we follow Jesus, He must in fact lead. 

The third man states that he will follow, but he wishes to go and say good-bye to his family.  There is a danger in doing so for this man because he may follow initially only to long for his old life later.  Spiritual growth cannot flourish in regret.  True followers of Christ never look back. 

Exodus 16:3 reveals a similar attitude in the children of Israel:  “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”   They looked back.

Genesis 19:26 demonstrates the longing for the past in Lot’s wife:  “But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.” 

“No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Once the man makes a commitment, he should hold fast to his confession.  Renouncing Him later means that his confession may have been mere profession. 

Luke 13:25-27 clarifies the life of one who looks longingly back:  “When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’”

Compare this with the warnings from the writer of Hebrews:

·        How shall the one looking back escape if he neglects so great a salvation (Heb 2.3)?

·        Those looking back may have an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God (Heb 3.12). 

·        Those looking back fail to hold fast to the beginning of their confidence steadfast to the end (Heb 3.14).

·        Those looking back often fall away never to return (Heb 6.4-6). 

·        Those looking back often sin willfully.  “If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Heb 10.26-27). 

·        Let those tempted to look back take heed lest they fall here this morning (1 Cor 10.12). 

We must not presume upon God.  Judas exemplifies those that do.  Peter exemplifies the one humble enough to repent and be restored.  Each believer must walk humbly before God.  We are confident of better things concerning those looking forward; things which accompany genuine salvation and discipleship (see Heb 6.9).

Illustration:  Thomas Linacre was king's physician to Henry VII and Henry VIII of England, founder of the Royal College of Physicians, and friend of Renaissance thinkers Erasmus and Sir Thomas More. Late in his life he took Catholic orders and was given a copy of the Gospels to read for the first time. The Bible in Catholic circles belonged only to the clergy and not in the hands of ordinary people.  In effect, it remains this way to day.  Linacre lived through the darkest of Catholicism’s dark hours: the papacy of Alexander VI, the pope whose bribery, corruption, incest, and murder plumbed new depths in the annals of religious shame.

Reading the four Gospels for himself, Linacre was amazed and troubled. He concluded, “Either these are not the Gospels, or we are not Christians.”

Os Guinness, The Call (Multnomah, 1998), pp. 109-110

Application:  Of course, salvation is the point.  One must depend upon Christ alone for eternal life.  But there is more here.  While one who looks back and renounces his commitment without reservation or regret (as Judas) is unfit for the kingdom of God, it is also true that discipleship is a serious commitment.  It is an-all consuming commitment.  We don’t tack Jesus onto our lives like we would a second job to get through an ailing economy.  Jesus is everything.  The family and the home are prioritized though this grid - Jesus is everything to me!  Anything less is shaky ground. 

Transition:  Following Christ demands separation from the world, prioritizing commitments, and a total commitment on the cross before us. 

Conclusion:  Luke 9:57-62 illustrates clearly what is demanded of those who would follow Jesus Christ.  I can’t think of a better topic for the new year. 

·        Following Jesus means following One whom the world has rejected.

·        Following Jesus means family duties are subordinated under our commitment to Him.

·        Following Jesus means forgetting ties we had or may have with the past. 

So great a salvation demands total commitment. 

A [2006] medical study reveals just how difficult change is for people. Roughly 600,000 people have heart bypasses a year in America. These people are told after their bypasses that they must change their lifestyle. The heart bypass is a temporary fix. They must change their diet. They must quit smoking and drinking. They must exercise and reduce stress.

In essence, the doctors say, "Change or die."

You would think that a near-death experience would forever grab the attention of the patients. You would think they would vote for change. You would think the argument for change is so compelling that the patients would make the appropriate lifestyle alterations. Sadly that is not the case.

Ninety percent of the heart patients do not change. They remain the same, living the status quo. Study after study indicates that two years after heart surgery, the patients have not altered their behavior. Instead of making changes for life, they choose death.

Change is that difficult. The majority of the heart patients choose not to change. They act as if they would rather die.  This is the way it is for many would-be followers of Christ.  Let this ring your ears through out the new year:  I need to change or I will die. 

Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger, Simple Church (B & H Publishing Group, 2006), p. 229; submitted by Bill White, Paramount, California

397 - I Have Decided to Follow Jesus

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