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And Looks Back

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and looks back…

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No-one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

                                                                                Luke 9 57-62

I do not deny that there is an essential contradiction between the words of my text this morning and the general advice for a New Year.

In one sense at least looking back over the past year is an entirely worthwhile activity which we should pursue – so that we do not lose touch with what God has done for us over the past twelve months.

So I won’t pretend – the connection is not so obvious – but the message is nevertheless about looking back.   It’s about the kind of looking back that distracts from the real intention of following Christ.

What I originally started out preparing for this morning’s service it was with the thought of singlemindedness – a thought that I have been pondering since Carol included it in her prayer letter. But of course the message is essentially the same – and we will continue it briefly this evening for those stalwarts who will come out on New Year’s Day.

I suppose we might have expected Jesus to encourage any and everyone who talked of discipleship – but in these verses where Luke summarises three attitudes to following Jesus each one has a sort of excuse – and each one receives from the Lord a STERN WORD.  This is not what we might expect.  Did any of them follow Jesus?

And I suppose that, if you had hoped this morning for a word full of hope for the future you might be a little disappointed because I want to challenge my own commitment and yours – and the threshold of a New Year is as good a time as any to do that.

Before we focus on the words of our text I want to suggest that you have a look at the three would be disciples, for the lessons are instructive to the Christian life in general and times of review and commitment like today.

Þ   The first is told that the Son has no settled home.

Þ   The second is told to get his priorities right.

Þ   The third is warned of the dangers of looking back.[1]

It is interesting to notice that all three challenges to the reality of discipleship and commitment are placed within the context of family and society – these are areas of life which make very great demands on us – and we often have to balance those demands.

This is not peculiar to religious pilgrimage or stewardship.  The ambitious worker often has to decide – where to live, how to fit in family duties, and how much time and energy to devote to the chosen job.   Our times are littered with the wreckage of those who have failed to get the balance right.  Working mums, responsible carers, career minded people – all these have to play a juggling act with responsibilities and duties.  Some succeed – many fail.

But it is also interesting to notice that each excuse seems at one level entirely plausible.

“Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family.”

And the first seems to be offering no excuse – but in reality simply hasn’t weighed up the COST of following.

In approaching these sayings this morning let me put the questions to you in a slightly different form:

1.                Would you be willing to follow Jesus if it meant giving up your home and everything that provided stability in your life?

2.                Is it really unreasonable for Jesus to suggest that we should give up our obligations to our families in order to follow Him?

3.                Does He expect us to be willing to turn our backs on existing relationships to follow Him?

Well, what do you think?

No one denies these are hard sayings – they cut into our preconceived ideas about what really matters in life:

Þ   Home

Þ   Family responsibilities

Þ   Relationships

A quite reasonable reaction seems to be that Jesus isn’t teaching that His followers should abandon all security, avoid duty to parents and not stop to say goodbye – that He is somehow making a challenge of a THEORETICAL kind.

We know that Jesus elsewhere teaches responsibility for parents and scathingly criticised the scribes for avoiding care duty by drawing up a religious trust deed.[2]

You see we will go to considerable lengths to avoid the degree of commitment to following that Jesus requires.

In his final word he makes it clear:

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No-one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

I have never handled a plough – but I think I see the point Jesus is making. The ploughman needs to fix his eye on a distant point so that the rows are straight and the work properly completed.  Distractions are dangerous.  It is those distractions in the spiritual sphere I want to speak about this morning.

I’ll give you five to consider :

1.                We may be distracted by DIFFICULTY

2.                We may be distracted by RESPONSIBILITIES

3.                We may be distracted by RELATIONSHIPS

4.                We may be distracted by RELUCTANCE TO CHANGE

5.                We may be distracted by FEAR OF THE UNKNKOWN

All of these come out of the passage before us – some will be more relevant than others.


Jesus reminded the would be follower that He had no fixed home.  Following Jesus is still a risky strategy as the world calculates risk.   If you really follow you may have to move – you may even have to lose your present security.

In a world that values a settled home, and income, a job, supportive friends etc. Following Jesus just might require you to do what all the twelve did and give up all to follow Him.  It is a hard call.

But difficulty may also come later – and in forms we did not anticipate.  If we truly trust Him with our lives and then come up against hardship and all sorts of tribulation – then we will be in good company.

But difficulty has that strangely perverse way of sometimes making us depend on Him more – and sometimes pulling back from our involvement.

I guess if you look back over the year you will see plenty of evidence of this matter.

The question is – did it derail you in your following?    

Only Jesus has the ability to transform difficulty into a glorious opportunity.


Let me first go and bury my father.    There is nothing to suggest the father was dying – but that this would be follower had obligations.  

This too is a hard call.   So many responsibilities demand our attention – and not all at the same time.   Some come along with certain distinct phases of life.   Our responsibilities change – and many times those changes have derailed a disciple.

But I think it is also true that responsibilities within the Church can derail our intent to follow Him.

Our priorities shift and with them comes the temptation to do rather than to be – to work rather than to worship.


Again an again – we hear the “but” of the last would be follower. But listen closely it is not someone else saying it – but you and me!   And whatever the relationship is that demands an immediate “farewell” – a polite severing of ties – it can and often does distract us from the path of discipleship.



When Jesus talks about LOOKING BACK – I can relate to that.     In the case of Sodom two people looked at the evidence of God’s judgement – Abraham – and Lot’s wife!    One is a reflection on what God has done – entirely appropriate.

One is a reflection on wanting to go back – being reluctant to leave – unwilling to change.

2006 will challenge us in this way.   Which way will we look back?


Ah – and who hasn’t been there?   A looking back apprehensively over the shoulder at pursuing problems….

Today God wants you and me to take a firm grip of the plough – and to fix our eyes upon Him who can change and guarantee the future.

He wants us wholly committed to His work – to the simple but crucially demanding task




[1] [Someone else has suggested  - difficulty, urgency and sincerity of following.]

{ "The first case is that of inconsiderate impulse, the second that of conflicting duties, the third that of a divided mind" (Bruce).}

[2] Mark 7 11

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