Christ’s Call to Would-Be Disciples
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 9:57–9:62
Christ’s Call to Would-Be Disciples
I invite you to take your Bibles and turn to Luke, chapter 9. It is such a joy to be back with you and especially in Luke’s Gospel—Luke, chapter 9. We’re going to be in the last part of Luke 9. We’re actually finishing up that ninth chapter, hopefully today, and be back in chapter 10 next week—a very pivotal time. There have been a few times in our study of Luke’s Gospel when the author Luke wants us to stop and reflect, to stop and think, and to almost be meditative and contemplative about what we’ve read about to get our minds steeled before we move into a new section, and today is really one of those times.
Ahead of us in Luke chapter 10 is a massive missionary campaign as Jesus sends out seventy preachers to proclaim the Kingdom of God. We’re going to get into that next week, but before we get there, Luke wants us to be ready. He wants us to come into that text with the right heart. He wants us to have our hearts ready to make the right commitment, understanding that the stakes are high, but also understanding the joy that lies before us. So the short section that we’re looking at today—Luke 9:57-62—comprises three brief conversations, three interactions between Jesus and three individuals. And these short interactions occur as verse 57 tells us, “as they were going along the road.” Luke gives us no indication of time or place, the people with whom Jesus interacts are not known to us; they’re unnamed here. That means they’re anonymous. So as Luke would have it, the focus is really not on these individuals as individuals. It’s not on their individual identities. The focus, rather, is on what they say. The focus is on the thinking that each of these individuals represents. Each speaker, then, represents a certain kind of person, a type or a kind of would-be disciple. So as we read, think about yourself; think about where you tend to line up. Let’s read, starting in verse 57:
*As they were going along the road, someone said to him [that is, Jesus], “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.”*
As I said, those three conversations happened as they were going along the road—verse 57. You remember back in verse 51 that Jesus had set his face to go to Jerusalem. He began a journey that’s starting in Samaria but then into Perea and Judea, and that journey would ultimately end and culminate at the Cross-verse 52. Jesus is on this journey, having set out in verse 51; he’d hoped to stay the night in a Samaritan village. That didn’t happen; he was denied a welcome there. So in verse 56, they kept walking and went on to another village. And we’re to understand here that Jesus has a rather large company of disciples with him in addition to the Apostles. The disciples—as tends to be the case in a large group—have varying levels of commitment. He’s soon going to send out 72 of his disciples into—chapter 10, verse 1—“every town and place where he was about to go.”
So that’s what makes this section of Scripture—verses 57-62—so vital. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, and he said he’s going there to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes—back in verse 22 he said that—and to be killed and on the third day to be raised. The rejection that he just faced in that Samaritan village—his whole nation is about to reject him. And in even a worse way—they’re about to spurn him in an even greater way by crucifying him on a Roman cross. So we need to understand that if that’s our Lord, and we’re his disciples, should we expect any better treatment? If the Messiah—the King of the Kingdom—is going to experience that kind of treatment by his own relations, by his own people—whoever he sends to speak on his behalf—they, too, had better steel their minds, fix their faces like flint, and prepare their share in suffering for the sake of the Son of Man.
The uncommitted, the half-hearted, any false professors of faith in Christ—they’re always going to mix among the true disciples, just there will always be tares growing in the fields of the wheat, just as there will always Judas Iscariots among true disciples. That’s always going to happen. But Jesus, here in kindness and in grace, issues a call to challenge any would-be disciples. Before the mission of the 70, which is an all-in affair, Jesus sounds the call to make sure all of these disciples are all in.
So this morning, we here in our church have a chance, an opportunity, to hear that call—the call of Jesus Christ to these would-be disciples. We have time today to reflect, to stop and think, think carefully, counting the cost, searching our own hearts to remove all that offends him, and to follow after Jesus in faith and obedience. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. And the work we’re called to do has to do with heralding a Kingdom that is greater than any government or rule on this earth. It’s a great calling. It’s a great mission. What else do you want to spend your life doing? Watching TV? So we have a chance to listen, to think carefully. These three conversations, as I mentioned, are with individual speakers, interacting with Christ, each one of them speaking to Jesus, and then Jesus speaking back to them. So as we move through the verses, you can know for certain that Jesus deals with us as individuals. Yes, as a collective church. He bought and paid for and redeemed a church of elect people, elect from before the foundation of the world. But he deals with us individually. Know for certain that Jesus knows you personally. He recognizes you as an individual soul. He intends for you as an individual—one who is accountable to him—that you follow him as Lord. Having counted the cost, you follow him without hesitation, without any reservation, because of the joy set before you.
So as we move through these three conversations, I want you to listen carefully. Think reflectively. Examine yourself and ask the questions: Which kind of a person am I? What is my tendency? Which would these three—or maybe it’s all three—in what way do I need to heed Jesus’ call? Am I a would-be disciple or am I a disciple indeed?
Three kinds of people portrayed here—three kinds of hearts revealed. First, let’s look at Christ’s call to the impulsive heart. Christ’s call to the impulsive heart. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And that guy seems like a perfect disciple. He is all-in, isn’t he? “Wherever you go, whatever it costs, whatever path you’re on, I’m on, I’m there.” He’s the perfect disciple. He’s committed, he’s dedicated, and before any of the suffering begins, he’s confident, isn’t he? In the parallel account in Matthew 8:19, this person is a scribe—well-educated, skilled in the Law. So if it’s the same person—it may be—it’s rather remarkable that he expresses such a strong interest in following Jesus because as a group the scribes are characteristically hostile to Jesus. They were close companions, as you know, of the Pharisees. Often the scribes and Pharisees are connected together. They share a common concern about Jesus, judging him to shirk tradition of the elders. He’s one who threatens their power and influence over the people. And so if the speaker here in verse 57 is indeed that scribe of Matthew 8:19, this verbal commitment—“I will follow you wherever you go”—is a really, really big deal. The verb “follow” means to follow as a disciple. He is professing his interest in submitting himself to Jesus Christ. He is eager, here, to follow him in obedience as a committed disciple. In fact, in Matthew 8:19, the scribe there addresses Jesus as “Teacher,” which has an authoritative ring for a scribe. And notice here how he doesn’t just say, “I will follow you.” He says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” He’s strengthening his claim. He adds the weight of that superlative phrase, there, to this promise of discipleship. “I’ll not only follow you; I’ll follow you wherever you go.”
I’ve run across many would-be disciples who sound just like this. I’m sure you have, too. These people seem like the most eager students—Bible students, buying all kinds of books, spending hours every day in Bible study, listening to sermons, attending conferences. They can tell you about what John Piper and John MacArthur said. They know everything. They love to talk theology. They love to talk sermons. They love to talk controversies. They love to talk about changes they intend to make, about people they intend to evangelize for Jesus Christ. But as time goes by, it becomes clearer that the talk becomes just that—it’s all talk. They’re like the seed that fell on the rocky soil in Luke 8:13. This is the person who welcomes the Word with joy, excitement, enthusiasm. But having no root even though he believes for a little while, he falls away in a time of testing.
Think about yourself in this regard. Proverbs 20:6 cautions us: “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?” Even true believers can sound like this, can’t they? The Apostle Peter, the night of Jesus’ betrayal, he said in Luke 22:33, “Lord, I’m ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Really, Peter? Big promises, good intentions, sincere heart—right? But it can be blind self-confidence that really does wither away in times of testing. This promise to follow Christ—and by a scribe, no less—he had to break rank with his own fellow scribes and Pharisees, didn’t he?—those who didn’t regard Jesus at all. So this the scribe is showing a great degree of humility, sincerity, commitment professed. In Peter’s case, clearly he’s a believer, and his enthusiasm really is the true expression of his heart at that moment—sincere, eager to remain loyal. And that’s all good, that’s great. The caution here, though, is that our verbal commitments are well-considered. Professing interest in following Christ wherever leads—fine-sounding words—but Jesus here is going to test those words because it’s the qualities of faithfulness, of endurance, which prove the truth of a profession. “The one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” That’s what gives the evidence of true conviction.
And the implication from Jesus’ reply here in verse 58 is that this an impulsive man that we’re seeing here. This is a man who’s promising more than he’s able or maybe willing to deliver. He has failed to count the cost. And we realize from John 2:24-25 that Jesus knows all people. He knows all thoughts. He knows what is in a man, what is in a woman. He knows our thinking, our intentions, our will. So based on Jesus’ response in verse 58, we can sort of “reverse engineer” from Jesus’ response what’s going on with this guy. Jesus knows that this is a person who wants to avoid difficulty. This is a person who wants to avoid discomfort and suffering and persecution. He wants to identify right now with the popularity of Jesus. Jesus is a phenomenon. He is making waves. I mean, Herod knows him and is troubled by him. He’s popular. He’s taken Galilee by storm. He’s eradicated demons and disease. And so this person, whoever he is, whether he’s a scribe or somebody else, wants to identify with Jesus at this time, anyway.
But he’s going to melt away when the time of testing comes. And that’s what Jesus is pointing out. That’s what he’s concerned about. This is someone who has not carefully considered Luke 9:23, really thought about it. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself.” That is really hard to do, isn’t it? Deny yourself—all that you are, all your dreams, all your hopes, all your visions about who you are and what you want to accomplish and achieve. If you’re going to come after Christ, deny all that, and take up your cross, which as we talked about, when we covered that section of Scripture. “Take up your cross”—in that day they understood what a cross was. Not a piece of jewelry, not some something they celebrated—but something that was shocking and scandalous—terrifying. Jesus says, “Deny yourself, take up what is going to get your killed, and follow me. That’s where I’m going.” You want to follow in Jesus steps? Walk in a way that will lead to your death.
This is why Jesus doesn’t take this guy’s verbal profession at face value. He confronts him with the reality of suffering as a disciple. And here it’s compared to a cross. It’s relatively small. Homelessness, discomfort—verse 58—“Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” Even the animals can find some comfort in this earth, can’t they? What about us as Christians? When we find ourselves getting comfort from this earth, there’s a problem, isn’t there? Foxes burrow into the earth, they make dens for themselves, they make dens for their pups, protection from the cold, safe from predators, sheltered from all the elements. Birds have nests for themselves and their young. Unlike the foxes, birds migrate. They seem homeless to the eye, but even while they’re migrating, birds find roosts for the night, high perches out of reach of predators, places of safety and shelter and rest.
Considering the animals around him as he walked along the way had to be fresh on Jesus’ mind. He’s just been refused comfort and hospitality and shelter and lodging and food by this Samaritan village. So as they continue walking, worn out from the journey, hungry and weary, Jesus has this whole band of Apostles and other disciples following along with him, which to him are like his young. He’s got plenty of time to consider the creatures. All of them had a home, shelter, place to rest. But for the Son of Man, for the children of the Son of Man—no home, no respite, no rest in the world.
Today we tend to think of shelter as a basic human right, and those who are homeless with no roof over their heads as truly impoverished. But we’re not wrong to think that way. We live in homes, and we tend to take those homes completely for granted. They have become our safe havens, places for us of comfort and rest. But while we should thank God for the comfort of our beds and pillows and warmth and shelter—cool in the summer, warm in the winter—we need to take care that our havens of earthly rest do not turn into temples that house our idols of comfort and ease. It’s not that Christ doesn’t want us to have a comfortable bed, a pillow for our head. It’s not that he doesn’t want us to have shelter so we can have rest and refreshment. But we need to realize, though, that discipleship means that we join Christ in saying goodbye to the world’s welcome, that we embrace instead the world’s rejection, despising, hatred. Discipleship is about following Christ, and it does mean going wherever he goes, doing whatever he commands, suffering whatever he has planned for us, whatever God in his sovereignty has planned for us.
Commentator William Hendrickson put it this way: “In his wandering from place to place, he for whom there was not room in the end has no place on which he can figure to spend the night. As the story develops, Judea rejects him—John 5. Galilee casts him out—John 6. Gadera begs him to leave his district—Matthew 8. Samaria refuses him lodging—Luke 9. Earth will not have him—Matthew 27. And finally even Heaven forsakes him—Matthew 27:46.” Ultimately, Jesus did not find his rest and refreshment in this temporal, earthly life. And beloved, neither to we. Neither to we. Ultimately, Christ looked ahead to return to the Father, to go back to his heavenly abode, where he would enjoy eternal rest. And beloved, so do we. There is no rest here for those who are in Christ. We find that this world starts to agitate us and bother us and concern us to greater and greater degrees as we mature. We find that we do not belong here, and we are so grateful when we graduate to Heaven, where we are at home.
We learn that from Abraham, the father of faith, who modeled this for us in Hebrews chapter 11, which says—verses 8-10—“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place where he was to receive an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith, he went to live in the land of promise, but as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Abraham obeyed. He obeyed the call. He was called to go out, to leave his homeland, to leave his family, to leave all that’s familiar. It’s going to cost him. All he had to encourage him in leaving—all of that was what? The word of promise. Same as us, right? But he did. He went out. He left. For the rest of his life he wandered around as a nomad, living in tents.
Why did Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, ruler of Heaven and earth—why did he wander about with no place to lay his head? Because whether in ignorance, like the Samaritans, or in knowledge, like the Jews, the world hated him. The world rejected him. The world loved its own sin and hated his righteousness and would not welcome him. Beloved, if you would follow after Jesus Christ, if you would identify with him, you know what’s going to happen? People are going to hate you. They’re going to exclude you. They will revile you and spurn your name as evil. And when that happens, that is an opportunity according to Luke 6:22, by word of promise, “Blessed are you…” Because on account of the Son of Man, you may be known and rejected by his enemies, but you are eternally welcomed by Christ, your heavenly friend. And as we go and preach the Gospel, that’s what we have to offer. God. Reconciliation to him. Forgiveness of sins. A clear conscience from dead works. We offer to the world salvation in Christ and in Christ alone. That’s what we bring to them as we evangelize. It’s not “your best life now.” Christ’s true disciples have turned away from “stuff” and property and money and earthly kingdoms and fame and fortune and all that gives comfort and ease in this life. And instead, like Paul, they count it all as “scubalon,” as loss, that they may gain Christ. They find contentment in Christ, they look to spiritual satisfaction in him, they trust God for spiritual reward in Heaven. They don’t look to this life or this earth for rest. They find spiritual rest in heavenly repose, and in that place alone, where the risen Christ has sat down at the right hand of God.
So that’s the first point: Christ calls the impulsive heart. Count the cost. Examine your heart, beloved. Mortify all sins and destroy all idols of comfort and ease. Join Christ; follow his disciples along the pilgrim way.
Second point for this morning—the next two verses: Christ’s call to the reluctant heart. Christ’s call to the reluctant heart. This next individual represent those who are almost like the polar opposite of the impulsive. Instead, these are the kinds of people who are unwilling to make a commitment, unwilling to step forward. They’re always hesitating, never committing. You’re not going to hear them make any promises to Christ—“I’ll follow you wherever you go.” They’re not even going to say, “I’ll follow you.” They’re just sitting at the sidelines, staying at a distance, on the edges, on the fringe—and perhaps that’s why Christ is shown here as taking the initiative with these kinds of people. Verse 59: “To another [this kind of person] he said, ‘Follow me.’” He’s the one who initiates the call. It’s true with every one of us. But to this person, he goes to them. “Lord,” that person says, indicating his reluctance, his hesitation, “let me first go and bury my father.”
This person is responding to Jesus’ call to discipleship with a reason that he cannot come. Jesus calls him, “Follow me,” and he doesn’t say, “Sure!” He says, “Lord”—if you just abbreviate it—“me first.” “Permit me first.” “Lord, me first.” You see the contradiction? “Lord—Master—me first.” The one who says “Lord” and then says “Me, first” is only professing lordship with his lips, but then denying it by his actions, isn’t he? At first glance the request seems reasonable. “Let me first bury my father.” In fact, the more you know about Jewish culture and ancient burial custom, this request is not only reasonable, but it really seems an honorable request. Don’t be fooled, though. If we’re honest, we know how often we can masquerade our refusal to obey Christ with the most honorable of intentions, right? But if this guy’s father were dead at this moment—when he’s talking with Jesus—and still above ground and waiting to be buried, would there have been any chance of having this conversation with Jesus? No. He’d be back there making funeral preparations. He’d be attending to all the issues we’ve talked about before in our study of Luke’s Gospel that have to do with preparing to bury a body. This follows immediately after death. Lack of refrigeration, high cost of embalming—this meant that people had to get dead bodies in the ground right away. It’s possible, though, that this man’s father is nearing death, whether he’s suffering from malady or disease, or perhaps he’s just getting older. The man knew his father was not going to be around much longer.
That’s probably what’s going on here. I. Howard Marshall explains the religious significance of burial in Jewish culture. He writes this: “Burial of the dead was a religious duty that took precedence over all others, including even the study of the Law.” Leon Morris goes further. He says, “The duty of burial took precedence over the study of the Law, the Temple service, the killing of the Passover sacrifice, the observance of circumcision”—all the rest. Very important duties to a Jew. Marshall continues: “Priests who were not normally allowed to touch dead bodies could do so in the case of relatives, according to Leviticus 21:1-3. To assist in burying a person who had no claims on one as a relative was a work of love, which carried great reward from God both in this life and in the next world. It follows that the burial of a father was a religious duty of the utmost importance. To leave it undone was something scandalous to a Jew.
Let me ask you a question: Does Christ’s call to follow him as a disciple ever lead us to doing something that—in the world’s eyes, in the estimation of our friends, by the judgment of our own families—does Christ’s call to discipleship ever lead us to do what they would consider scandalous? Does Christ’s call to discipleship mean that we’re going to do things that other people don’t understand? Does Christ’s call to discipleship mean that we’re going to set aside what is counted as honorable by the world, but if we were to follow through with it, it would be counted as unfaithfulness to Jesus Christ? Does he ever call us to neglect our families for the sake of Christ-oriented, Christ-centered priorities?
You better believe he does. This is an example of one such call. It’s possible, too, that the father of this would-be disciple wasn’t anywhere near the grave. Could be. He may have been in decent health. In fact, some commentators take “I must bury my father” as the same as saying, “I cannot come so long as my father lives.” It’s like an ancient way of saying, “Look, I’d like to follow you, but I’ve got a family. I’ve got to focus on the family.” Or worse: “I’ll follow you once my father has died and I can cash in on the inheritance and fund this little venture.”
We hear similar things today, don’t we? All the time! “Hey, we’ve got this wonderful service at church; would you like to come? Hear the Word preached? Pray together?” What’s the response? “Oh, sorry, I’d love to, but I’ve got family in town this weekend.” Or “We’re coming together tonight to church to pray for souls to be saved through our outreach ministry. Care to join us?” “Oohh, that sounds great, but we’re watching the grandkids,” or “We’re washing the dog” or whatever the deal is. Amazing how often people today are so accustomed to pulling out that “family” trump card. It’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card. Just wave the card and you can get out of almost any uncomfortable spiritual commitment. The ancient version of this: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And that was that.
Look—taking care of family responsibilities is important. It’s uber-important. The principles set forth in that foundational text, the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother”—that is the highest priority of relationship. It’s the fundamental starting point for loving our neighbor, for dealing with all people. That’s the law of Moses after all, the bedrock principles upon which the Jewish nation is founded, built, remains today. So it’s not that the excuse of this reluctant disciple is insignificant. Quite the contrary. Honoring his father by giving him a proper burial—it’s very significant. But as we see from Christ’s response, what’s more significant? Christ’s priorities are higher. When Christ says, “Follow me,” you get clarification while you’re walking along with him about what discipleship means. It’s like in the military; they say, “When I say, ‘Jump, soldier,’ you say ‘How high?’ on the way up.”
Same thing. Verse 60: The man says, “‘Lord, first let me go bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Sounds callous at first glance, but knowing what we know, Jesus is just saying, “Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead.” It is not our job as preachers of eternal life in God’s Kingdom to run around burying dead people. It’s not our issue to run around pursuing all the dead priorities of the dead world around us. We need to put something as important as honoring the dead in proper perspective. There is a higher priority than our families. What is it? It’s whatever Christ tells you to do. If Jesus promised to build the church, if he shed his blood to die for the sins of his people, if he called and gifted and equipped the church, if he sent his Holy Spirit to baptize us into the church, if commanded that we love one another in the context of the church, if he commanded that we serve the church, loving one another and then extend the witness of the church, bringing the Gospel to all the nations—then you had better take a good, long look at your motives before you declare any Sunday “family day” and neglect the church.
Beloved, it’s shameful, actually, to see how much disobedience to Christ is excused by appealing to love for and devotion to the family. Many times I’m afraid love of family is just a cover. Love of family is often another altar of idolatry, hiding our evil intent to serve ourselves and avoid doing what we find distasteful, uncomfortable, less fun—that which strikes us as less desirable. It’s not that devotion to honoring father and mother isn’t important. It’s super important! But may God have mercy if you ever use family as a cloak to hide laziness, self-indulgence, or worse—apathy and indifference.
I’ve committed this sin. Have you? The watchful eyes of Christ are like lasers, penetrating deep within our hearts. The incarnate Word is always watching—Hebrews 4:12-13—“living and active, discerning the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes to whom we must give an account.” Don’t take that as a threat. Take that as a pleading, as a warning.
Why? What’s the danger? What’s the danger of committing this sin? When we go back to the parable of the soils, we recognize that this could be the seed that fell along the hardened path. The one who heard the word, heard the call of Christ, but the devil comes and takes away that word from his heart. When we talked about the hardened path—I don’t know if you remember this—we talked about how the hardened soil along the path, beaten down, that’s the religious heart. It’s not the atheist. It’s not the agnostic. It’s not the secular humanist. Jesus spoke to all the religious people of that time. Those are people who are hardened down, putting calluses over their heart by continual resistance to the Word preached.
The continual reluctance to follow Christ, the continual hesitation to heed his call, especially in the face of repeatedly hearing Christ’s call to obedience—you know what it does? It creates religious calluses over the heart. It hardens the heart by continually elevating other priorities over Christ’s priorities. Self-centeredness creates a blinding pride that does not allow self-examination, but continually gives self-affirmation, self-approval. No one can tell this person anything because the heart has become so hardened through religious, fine-sounding excuses. Think Pharisees. So dangerous. J. C. Ryle said, “Let us learn from this saying to beware of allowing family and social duties to interfere with our duty to Christ.”
Just quickly—notice how Jesus’ words in verse 60 are stark to this man, but actually they set this man free. Their boldness and starkness are actually meant to awaken this man to something better than burying dead people, to look away from stagnation, look away from empty association with dead people, and word for word, Jesus’ response in verse 60 contrasts the man’s request in verse 59. The man’s request was backward-looking. He wants to go and bury. Jesus’ command is forward-looking, graciously calling him to “go and proclaim.” The man’s interests are in his dead or dying father; he’s honoring a physical, temporal family relationship. But Jesus’ interest is in the Kingdom of God, an interest in spiritual realities and eternal relationships.
The subject of the man’s concern is actually not his father, as we’ve been saying, but in himself. Our own desires are always dead ends, and the subject of Jesus’ concern, though, is the will of the living God, the realization of his sovereignty on earth, the perpetuation of his reign, which is the Kingdom of God—his reign in the heart. In light of those realities, Jesus’ call to this reluctant would-be disciple—you need to see it—is so gracious and freeing. Stop looking backward. Stop looking down into the ground. Quit worrying about burying dead bodies and prioritizing family wishes and in cashing out inheritances.
What other dead priorities are ensnaring you or enslaving you, beloved? Cut ties with them now in your heart because I promise you there is no end to dead-end priorities in this world. They keep proliferating. They keep spawning. There’s always new interests. Instead, look up, look forward, look outward. Jesus is graciously calling this man to life, to go out, to spread abroad and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, and it’s a forward-looking, life-giving call. It involves immortality and spiritual reality. It involves eternal life.
Well, Christ has dealt with the two extremes, hasn’t he? He’s dealt with the impulsive on the one hand and the reluctant heart on the other. You may find yourself characterized by one or the other of those two kinds of would-be disciples. The last one, though, may very well catch us all. A third and final point—Christ’s call to the divided heart. Christ’s to the divided heart. Look at verse 61—a third kind of would-be disciple—“Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’” This guy says a little of what’s in verse 57 and a little of what’s in verse 59. Like the impulsive heart of verse 57, this guy professes, “I will follow you”—same exact verb—but like the reluctant heart of verse 59, this guy makes the same error regarding lordship: “Lord, me first.” He’s going in two different directions at once, isn’t he?
Clearly, he says, “Lord, me first. Let me first…” What is more important in this guy’s heart—the Lord, or the “Let me first.” It’s whatever follows the verb of request—that’s what’s the most important to him. It’s clear that those in his home have a greater claim on his heart than the Christ who’s standing right in front of him.
Now whether or not the speaker here in verse 61 is make a biblical connection, alluding to a biblical passage, you need to understand that Luke is. Luke is alluding to something biblical. I don’t have time to prove it all to you. Commentators note the allusions to Moses and Elijah Luke has been making since the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel. In our last point, the implicit appeal there to bury one’s father had to do with honoring the father, which is referring back to Moses—“Honor your father and your mother.” Here, though, the allusion is to Elijah recruiting Elisha to follow him in prophetic ministry. You can jot it down in your notes—1 Kings 19:19-21. It says this, that Elijah departed. He’d just heard from God encouraging him at Horeb, telling him to appoint Elijah,
*[S]o he departed and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” [Hmm…biblical precedent? Is that how we should follow Christ? Hold that thought.] And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.*
Does the person in verse 61 have this scene in mind as he says to Christ, “Lord, let me first go and kiss those at home,” or “Let me go say goodbye.” Maybe, maybe not. But I think Luke does. And Luke wants us—the readers—to consider the claims of Christ against the demands of the Law and the Prophets. Does Elisha’s delay in following after the prophet Elijah, but following after, set a precedent for Christian discipleship?
Back in the Transfiguration, notice in Luke 9:35 what the voice from the Shekhinah glory cloud said when he set Jesus apart from Moses and Elijah. Luke 9:35: “A voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him.’ And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” There’s a verbal demonstration of the exclusivity of Christ, and then a visible demonstration of the exclusivity of Christ. Listen—when Jesus speaks, God speaks. When Jesus calls, God calls. There are no prior patterns of discipleship—whether Joshua to Moses, or Elisha to Elijah, or of any other man or woman to any other man or woman. No prior patterns of discipleship create a paradigm for following Jesus Christ as our exclusive Lord. Jesus is not like Moses. He’s not like Elijah even though they are types and shadows that point to Christ. But Jesus is the God-Man. He is so infinitely higher than any man. He’s the Son of Man and Son of God, which means following Christ as a disciple is something completely new. It is something utterly and totally unprecedented. This new wine demands new wineskins. You don’t fit them into your old patterns of thinking. Following Jesus as Lord is about an all-encompassing, unqualified commitment to obeying his Word. Beloved, never ever forget that.
But how often do we? And I’m talking about not just would-be disciples; I’m talking about us true disciples, Christians. How often do we find ourselves hesitating in obedience, making excuses in our minds, putting qualifications on our obedience, compromising our commitment, hedging on all our resolve? Those of us who truly belong to Christ—we, too, can run the risk, can’t we?—of allowing weeds to grow because of a divided heart.
Again, back in the parable of the soils, the divided heart is portraying in the thorny soil, “choked out by the cares and riches and pleasures of life”—Luke 8:14—but when it’s choked and suffocated like that, the fruit doesn’t mature, right? A divided, distracted heart creates a double-minded person—all about professing commitment but failing to identify the idols in the heart. Thorns have grown up, choking good plants, suffocating life, stealing vitality that leads to real, genuine fruit-bearing.
Now listen—for some—and this was the intent of the parable of the soils—this may be the evidence of a lack of true conversion, that the good seed has not actually taken root. But even for true Christians, there can be—after truly being converted—such a double-mindedness that comes from a divided heart. That’s why Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart with all diligence”—vigilance, watchfulness, why?—“because from your heart flow all the springs and issues of life.”
What does Jesus say to the divided heart—verse 62? It provides both a warning and encouragement to every Christian. “Jesus said to the man, ‘No man who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” Key word there is the word “fit,” which is the word “euthatos.” It’s a word that literally refers to what is well-placed, what is arranged well and therefore orderly. Because it’s orderly, it’s useful. Used of people, this word “euthatos” means “fit, useful, valuable, profitable.” By contrast, someone who puts his hand to the plow and keeps looking back—not very useful, is he? He’s going to plow crooked furrows in the farmer’s field. That’s useless to the farmer. It actually makes more work for the farmer because when some distracted fool of a plowman cuts crooked rows, he’s got to go back, re-do the field, and start all over again. But the plowman who keeps his head down and keeps his eyes straight ahead of him at the target at the end of that row—he cuts a straight furrow, useful to the farmer. He is therefore a fit worker—useful, valuable, profitable. Beloved, if you’re a Christian, that is what you want to be, right? Fit for the Kingdom of God, useful to the Lord, undivided in heart, undistracted, with your eyes not looking around but looking straight ahead—fit for the Master’s use.
Turn a few pages to your right to Luke chapter 14—just to illustrate some of this. Luke 14:16—Jesus told a parable there about a man who gave a large banquet. He invited a whole lot of people, and after some time, after great expense of money and energy and preparation, finally the banquet is ready, and the man sends his servant to call all those people whom he had invited to come and share in the banquet that he had so diligently and expensively prepared for them. And notice what happens in verse 18. Those who were invited were more interested in their property, in their work, in their family. They all alike, it says in verse 18, without exception,
*But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”*
Sounds very similar to our passage, doesn’t it? Look down to verse 24—Jesus’ warning: “And the master said to the servant, ‘I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” You know what Jesus means, there? He means that none of those who made excuses because of a reluctant or divided heart will enter into the Kingdom of God. That is a warning in that passage about failing to partake of salvation itself. Very serious.
You know what the real problem is with these would-be disciples—all of them—the impulsive, the reluctant, the divided? It’s not their impulsiveness. It’s not their reluctance. It’s not their divided hearts. The fundamental problem which they all share in common, what unites all three of these would-be disciples, is this fact: They don’t love and value Christ highly enough. They don’t love him above all else. They don’t see Christ as truly glorious and precious. They don’t see him as beautiful and perfect. They don’t value him over…oxen? work? even a wife, as precious as our wives are?
Those who are impulsive—they don’t count the cost. They don’t take his word seriously enough to reflect upon it, to examine themselves in light of it, to carefully evaluate their own motives and interests, to put those out on the table and say, “Let me look at that carefully,” and then throw that all away because Christ is more valuable.
Those who are reluctant and pull back, never coming forward, never committing, never really sacrificing anything—they don’t consider carefully who it is that says to them, “Follow me.” They don’t consider how privileged they are to be spoken to by one such as Christ, how gracious he’s been to single them out and call them to himself.
Those who are divided in heart—who are looking both ways, who persist in living a distracted life and allowing thorns to grow, choking out the good fruit of the Word, perhaps through inadvertence, perhaps through lust—they count whatever distracts them as more valuable than Christ. They count their own priorities as more important than his marching orders.
Listen—there’s a warning and an encouragement in this passage. You’ll notice Luke has not given us here in this passage any hint of the outcome of these three individuals, has he? We don’t know what happens to them? We hear their reasoning, but we don’t know the outcome. And that provides us with both a warning and an encouragement. It’s a warning to know that we can and do often encounter Jesus—we even interact with Jesus as these three did—and we do so with the wrong thinking, the wrong motives, the wrong heart. Whether you’re listening right now and you’re not yet a Christian, or whether you’ve been professing Christ for many years, all of us can and often do fall into one of these three categories of would-be disciples. For some of you, it may call you back to examine your heart in light of the Gospel all over again. Are you truly forgiven of your sins before a holy God? Is this short life on earth so precious to you that you’re going to hold on to priorities, go where you want to go, go with what makes somebody else happy? Are you going to do that for the rest of your life and then stand before a holy God wrapped in your sin? You really want to risk that? Look—God has sent his beloved Son to bear your sins on the Cross if you’ll believe, to bear your sins and to give you the perfect gift of his spotless righteousness, to cover you as with a robe that you might be reconciled to a holy God as holy God as his Son is holy, and stand before him—forgiven and perfect and justified.
If you don’t know Christ, will you receive him today?
For those of you who are professing Christ and truly say you belong to him, maybe you just need a reminder of how precious that news is. This is the news that we share with the lost world—news that saves us. There’s a warning there, lest we be counted among those who are just would-be disciples, and never really follow up.
Having acknowledged that warning, there’s an encouragement here, too. Because we don’t know the outcome of these would-be disciples—the future remains to be seen. There’s hope out there, isn’t there? There’s hope in the fact that Christ is speaking to you even now. You might even wonder if one or even all three of these would repent, correct their wrong thinking, and then be counted among the seventy who are sent out in the next chapter—that they resolved to follow Christ, to stand up and be counted, and Christ sends them. That is encouraging for you and me, isn’t it? We may have been thinking wrongly, but there’s time to repent now. There is time right now to follow Christ without hesitation or reservation, without any qualification, without any excuses whatsoever. But now is the appointed time. Today is the day of salvation and repentance. Don’t delay in resolve in following Christ. Don’t delay in any resolve in your heart. You set your face like flint, and you put aside everything else. You follow Jesus Christ.
Beloved, let us together fight against the temptations that plague these would-be disciples here. Let us fight against them with all our strength. In fact—better—we have no strength, right? “He will hold us fast,” as we sang. Let’s fight by Christ’s strength. Let’s fight by the power and the might of the Holy Spirit who works in us mightily. Let’s repent of our sins, cleanse our lives of all idols and get rid of all that offends the Spirit and detracts from whole-hearted devotion to God. And then let us rejoice in that salvation, honoring him and valuing him so much, loving him, worshipping him, serving him, following him. Because he is our blessed Savior; he’s our dearest friend, our cherished Lord Jesus. With considered, zealous, undivided, undistracted hearts, let’s go forth and proclaim what’s nearest and dearest to his heart, as he says in verse 60—to broadcast far and wide the good news of the Kingdom of God. Let’s pray.
Our Father, we do pray that you would help us to deal with our hearts as Luke has stopped us in our tracks in the narrative here, that we might reflect and ponder deeply, that we might think carefully about what’s in our hearts. For those who are impulsive, who haven’t counted the cost, please help them to count the cost, and make good on their profession to follow you wherever you go. For those who are reluctant, sitting at the sidelines, never truly committing, never truly involved, never truly obeying you, really, I pray that you would move them off of that, that they would cut ties with anything that holds their hearts and give themselves wholly to you for that gracious work of going and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. And for those who are distracted, divided in heart, double-minded, I pray that you would make them of one mind, singularly focused like the Apostle Paul to pursue the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We love you, Father. We thank you for sending your beloved Son. We thank you for the salvation that he brought us into to make us partakers of. We thank you for the Holy Spirit, who is indwelling us, giving us a new heart, new eyes, new ears. We thank you for our life ahead of us to live in devotion and service to you. We pray that we would use it well, investing in the Kingdom. We do all this for the sake of your name, Father. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.