SF971 - The Cost Of Commitment (Luke 9 57-62)
The Cost of Commitment
The cost of commitment
As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, "I will follow You wherever You go." 58 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." 59 And He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." 60 But He said to him, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." 61 Another also said, "I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." 62 But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (NASB)
In the ninth chapter of Luke’s gospel, we find our Lord busily ministering in Galilee. In the opening verses, Dr. Luke chronicles the sending of the twelve into the villages of Galilee to minister. Their ministry in the towns and villages of Galilee was to demonstrate the Lord’s power and grace. They were instructed to only minister where they were welcomed and to depart from any place that did not receive them. As a result of their ministry, great crowds sought Jesus, who preached the kingdom to them and healed their physical needs.
In verses twelve through seventeen, Luke tells of the feeding of the five thousand. Aside from the resurrection, this is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. Following this powerful demonstration of God’s power and love, Peter makes his landmark confession that Jesus is “The Christ of God” (9:20).
Verse twenty-two marks a turning point in Luke’s gospel. From that point forward, Jesus moves toward the cross. Appropriately, verses twenty-three through twenty-six set forth the demands of discipleship, and for the first time, the disciples are confronted with the reality that suffering will be required of every disciple of Christ. Jesus suddenly makes being a disciple more than just showing up for preaching and dinner; to follow Jesus one must be willing and ready to sacrifice everything.
In the context of the radical nature of discipleship, Jesus promises that His kingdom will be revealed to at least some of His disciples in this life. Indeed, He fulfills His promise to Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration when they witness His glory (9:27-36).
The remainder of the chapter leading up to our text reminds us of the sinfulness and frailty of Jesus’ disciples. Their inability to heal the demonic boy (9:37-42), lack of comprehension of His prophesies concerning His death (9:43-45), petty arguments about who was the greatest among them (9:46-48), and their desire to call down God’s judgment on others (9:49-56) all give evidence of their lack of spiritual maturity. While on the surface we may find this fact disturbing, upon closer consideration, it should encourage us when we demonstrate similar failings. Remember, these were the men Jesus chose to use to change the world!
In direct response to their lack of maturity, Jesus sets forth this teaching on the cost of commitment. Like these early disciples, we often step out in commitment before we count the full cost. Jesus wants us to be committed. In fact, He demands it. But He also wants us to fully understand what that means. Let’s examine what He teaches about making and keeping commitments to God. We must carefully count the costs…
I. The Cost of Personal Comfort (9:57-58)
A commendable desire (9:57)
The unnamed disciple had the right desire in mind. It is never wrong to want to “follow (Jesus) wherever” He goes. In fact, that is exactly what Jesus commands each of us to do throughout the gospels.
In John 10, Jesus calls us to follow Him in salvation, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28, NASB).
In Matthew 4:19, Jesus calls us to follow Him in service; “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (NASB).
In Luke 9:23, He calls us to follow Him in sacrifice, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (NASB).
Truly, the desire to follow Jesus in commendable, but it is also very costly.
A challenge to our comfort (9:58)
Jesus immediately challenges this man where we all live, at the level of his comfort and possessions. Most of us work a lifetime to acquire a “comfortable” lifestyle. How that is defined may vary somewhat, but for most of us, it involves a home, a job, and certain possessions. Jesus tells us here that even the most basic “needs” must be sacrificed in order to follow Him. While He has not required all His followers to be “homeless,” He certainly sets the example for us. In other words, we are called to always choose obedience to Him over our own possessions and comfort.
This was the failing of the young man in Mark 10, who when confronted with choosing between Christ and his possessions, left saddened because he preferred his material possessions above Christ. How often have we been guilty of this same sin? How often have you been unwilling to give up something in order to obey Christ’s call to “make disciples of all nations?” How often have you spent money on your comforts while the Lord’s people suffer need?
Following Jesus is demanding! One of the first things it will demand is that you lay aside all your possessions; that you commit all your resources to Him. Have you done that? If not, perhaps you aren’t really following Him.
II. The Cost of Personal Security (9:59-60)
The call to “Follow Me” (9:59a)
Sandwiched between two eager, but unprepared disciples, is Jesus calling of a would-be disciple to follow Him. Jesus’ call to follow Him is recorded at least nineteen times in the gospels and is perhaps the most often repeated command of our Lord. In this case, Jesus calls the disciple to follow Him in the context of his demand for His followers to surrender their most basic comforts. That is the same call He issues today. Indeed, no one has ever followed Jesus unless He first calls them (John 6:44) and the call to follow has always involved sacrifice. As Dedrick Bonhoffer stated, when Jesus calls you to come and follow He also call you to come and die.
The concealed greed of the man (9:59b)
On the surface, this request seems very normal and indeed necessary, so much so that Jesus’ response sounds harsh. However, it is helpful to know the customs and culture of the day. Based on Jesus’ response, it is apparent that the young man’s father was not dead and awaiting burial. Rather, the young man had employed a common saying of the day which in essence meant, “Let me wait until I receive my inheritance,” then I will follow you. Knowing this, cast a completely different light on the conversation; the young man was not asking Jesus for permission to bury his recently deceased father, instead he was deferring his obedience to Christ until it was convenient and economically feasible for him. The young man was depending on his earthly father to provide the necessary security, in the form of his inheritance, that he needed in order to follow Jesus.
How often have you and I been guilty of similar sins? As young people, we tell the Lord, “Once I finish school, I will serve you” or “Once I get married, I will commit my life to your work.” As young adults, we tell Him, “Once my kids get older, I will go and serve you” or “Once I get settled in my career, I will serve you.” Later in life we offer these excuses, “Lord as soon as the kids graduate” or “When I get some bills paid” or “When I have more vacation time.” The excuses are endless and just like this would-be disciple; all we are doing is revealing our greed and lack of faith.
The command to forsake and follow (9:60)
Jesus’ response to this man, while on the surface startling, is exactly what he (and for that matter we) needed to hear. The man was deferring his obedience to Christ based on a lack of faith and personal greed. He was trusting in his inheritance for security rather than Christ.
Jesus calls him (and us) to forsake our excuses and our false security and proclaim the gospel. In stating that the man was to “Allow the dead to bury their own dead,” Jesus was simply saying that the unregenerate world could and would take care of such mundane matters. Jesus was not in anyway degrading the practice of Christian burials. He was rather stating that we have higher allegiances and callings as believers. The command to follow Jesus far exceeds any other obligation or allegiance we have. In a similar passage on the demands and costs of discipleship, Jesus proclaims:
“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. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, This man began to build and was not able to finish. 31 Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. 34 Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? 35 It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 14:26-35, NASB)
III. The Cost of Personal Relationships (9:61-62)
A conditional commitment (9:61)
Like the previous would-be disciples, this man expressed his desire to follow Jesus; however he wanted to follow him on his conditions. He was willing to follow Jesus forsaking his comfort and security if only Jesus would let him go home and say goodbye. While on the surface this request seems reasonable, it reveals a deeper problem in the heart of this man.
Like so many, this man’s first love was his relationships with family and friends not Jesus. Jesus consistently tells us that we must not allow any other relationship to take priority over our love for Him. Indeed, we are to love Him first and foremost as the Scriptures state:
“AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH” (Mark 12:30, NASB)
In fact in the Revelation, our Lord rebukes the church of Ephesus for leaving her “first love.” “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4, NASB).
How like this man are we, when we consistently place our relationships with others before our relationship with our Lord. We do this in so many ways. We worry about what our friends and family might say when they find out we are following Jesus. We seek the approval of men, often unregenerate men, before we obey the clear commands of our Lord. We spend most of our time cultivating friendship with the world rather than cultivating our relationship with Christ.
James warns us of such behavior when he writes, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4, NASB).
Toby Mckeehan and Mark Heimermann summed up well the believer’s dilemma and position in the lyrics of the popular Christian song “Jesus Freak.”
What will people think when they hear that I’m a Jesus Freak?
What will people do when they find that it’s true?
I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak, cause there ain’t no disguising the truth.
May God grant us the grace to come to the place that like the authors of the song where we can say, “I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak, cause there ain’t no disguising the truth.”
An uncompromising command (9:62)
Jesus final response to would-be disciples is but strong and subtle. As he often did, Jesus encases His teaching in the vernacular of the day.
First, He employs a common occupation of the day to illustrate the nature of a disciple’s commitment. Everyone in Jesus’ audience on that day would have immediately understood the point of the illustration, that if a plowman looked back it would affect his ability to plow properly. In fact, looking back from the plow would invariably cause him to plow a crooked row and possibly damage the crops he had planted. What an apt illustration of what happens when we focus on anything other that our Savior. We invariably plow a crooked row and damage the crop. In the case of a disciple of Christ, the crop is the souls of men and the damage may carry eternal consequences.
Second, Jesus emphasizes the consequences of disobedience, when he states that the person who looks back not “fit for the kingdom of God.” The original language here is helpful; the Greek word translated “fit” is “euthetos,” which means useful, fit, or suitable. The same word is used in Luke 14:35 to describe salt that is worthless, “It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out…” The idea being that a person who looks back, who focuses on anything or anyone other than Jesus renders himself useless to the kingdom. This is the danger of not counting the cost of commitment.
Let’s take a few minutes to ponder the lesson before us…
What comfort or possession do you have that you are unwilling to release in order to follow Christ?
What are you depending on for your security; who are you trusting to provide your needs?
What relationship(s) are placing before your obedience to Christ?