Grace For The Journey
We have been studying through the book of Luke as is my practice here at the church where I am privileged to minister God’s Word. I preach through books of the Bible, believing this is the best way to learn the Word of God, and we are at a point in chapter 9 that is like a hinge or a turning point. We can say that roughly the first 8 chapters of Luke concern who Jesus is. Several times we have read the question, “Who is this Jesus” or Jesus asks, “Who do men say that I am?” Following Peter’s confession in chapter 9 verse 20, “You are the Christ,” Jesus resolutely sets out for Jerusalem in order to die. The focus of chapters 9-19 is on what it means to follow Christ. Luke presents the reader with true questions in his Gospel. In chapters 1-8, he answers the question, “Who is Christ?” In chapters 9-19, he answers the question, “What does it look like to follow this Christ?” Think of that as we read in today’s text about three different people, all of them unnamed, who are faced with following Christ. Note that the word “follow” occurring three times in today’s passage, verses 57, 59, and 61.
I heard someone illustrate receiving Christ into one’s life like this: My name is Terry Davis. If you invite me into your home and you say, “Terry, you may come in, but Davis, you may not,” it is impossible for me to come in because Terry and Davis go together. You cannot have part of me without the other. You must have all of me. To receive Jesus Christ into one’s life is no different. We must receive all of Him into our lives which means that all of our hearts – our whole hearts – are given over to Him.
The way some people think of following Christ reminds me of a comedian popular when I was in college. He had a strange way of observing the world and I remember one time he said he wanted to get a dog and name it, “Stay.” Just think about that for a moment. He would call the dog and it would be like, “Come here, Stay. Come here, Stay.” And the dog would be like, “Do you want me or not?” I think this is the kind of relationship with Christ some people have who think of themselves as His followers. But Jesus says in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and be with him.” The reality is that you either get all of Jesus or none of Him because you cannot divide Him into halves or quarters or bits and pieces. You get all of Him and He wants all of us. He wants our whole heart. He says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.” He wants our heart. He wants our whole heart. Our passion should be like David when he proclaimed in Psalm 86:11-12, “Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on Your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name. I will praise You, Lord my God, with all my heart.”
As I read this passage and it seemed to me that this was the sum application of these six verses. It is like Jesus is saying, “Give Me Your Heart. I will not be satisfied with anything less than your whole heart.” Let me say also that you will not be satisfied, either, until you give your whole heart to Jesus Christ. I do not mean that we come to Christ to see what we can get out of it. I do not mean satisfaction in that sense. That is precisely the problem for many today. Some come to Christ to see what they can get out of it: Get me out of this problem . . . Make me feel good . . . Heal my marriage . . . Even, “Get me into heaven.” These are all selfish, self-centered reasons that end ultimately in emptiness because we come to Christ with only part of our hearts. We want this part of our life, but we want Him to fix that part. But coming to Christ with our whole hearts means He is number one. We surrender to Him. He is Lord. He determines everything. We live as His servants. He speaks, we listen. He teaches, we learn. He calls, we follow. What does it mean to follow Christ?
First, it means . . .
I. We Must Share In His Difficulties – Verses 57-58.
Verses 57-58 says, “Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, ‘Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.’” Now that sounds good, doesn’t it? Let’s give credit to this unnamed person for saying what thousands do not say. At least he is interested in Jesus. At least he wants to be a disciple. I do not, know what stirred his heart. Maybe he was inspired by the teachings or intrigued by the healings, but he says to Jesus, “I will follow You wherever You go.” But Jesus sees something lacking in this person’s desire to follow so He replies to him in verse 58, “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.’”
This statement is not so much about Jesus’ not having a house in which to live as it is about enduring hardships and facing difficulties along the way. Animals often seek refuge in the comfort of their earthly shelters, but such is not the case for followers of Christ. That is, there will be difficulties along the way. There will be hard days. There will be times you wish you could retreat like a fox to his den or a bird to its nest.
Paul said to Timothy in 2 timothy 2:3, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Endure hardship. Share in Christ’s difficulties. We are helped by remembering a previous call to discipleship earlier in chapter 9. In 9:22 Jesus tells His followers, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed …” Jesus suffered for us, so we must be willing to suffer for Him. He says in the next verse, 9:23 and following, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Jesus faced difficulties for us so we – as His followers – must share in His difficulties. He has our whole heart when we are willing to share in His difficulties.
When it comes to the reality of our difficulties and reiterating the fallen state of mankind and the effects of sin everywhere we need never fear overstating the point. Too many professing Christians think that when they undergo difficulties and suffering that it is because God is angry with them and or they have done something to deserve it. Jesus tells us at the outset to be prepared to endure hardships and trials and difficulties as we run the race known as the Christian life.
And let me say that we do well to learn from the Master when we speak to someone about being a follower of Christ. How quick we are to tell them to bow their head and repeat a prayer! I mean, think of it: How many of us would not be pleased to meet this guy in verse 57? Imagine someone coming up to us at work or at school and saying to us, “I am ready to follow Jesus Christ wherever He leads!” We might be quick to say, “Awesome! Bow your head and repeat these words,” instead of pausing thoughtfully and asking, “Are you sure? Following Christ requires a full-on 100% unqualified commitment. Are you absolutely certain the Holy Spirit is leading you to surrender?”
The first person in our text shows us that following Christ means we must share in His difficulties.
The next two persons in our text show us that following Christ means . . .
II. We Must Shift Our Priorities.
Verses 59-62 tell us, “Then He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’” Underline that word “first.” In fact, you will see not only here with this second man in verse 59, but also in verse 61 with the third man, you will see four words, “But, let me first.” These two men have their own priorities. They each wish to follow Christ, but only according to their own system of ranking priorities.
This helps us understand the relative harshness of what Jesus says to both of them. The second guy says in verse 59, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” and Jesus says in verse 60, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” Let the dead – the spiritually dead – bury their own dead – the physical dead. The Bible tells us in Ephesians 2:1 that apart from Christ, we are “dead in trespasses and sins.” Jesus knew that this man’s heart was bound up more with his family than with Him. This man wants to follow Christ, but only according to his schedule and agenda. He wants to follow Jesus but he has some other matters he has got to take care of.
Some of you have helpful study Bibles that tell you about Jewish burial and how it could take as long as a year for a Jewish man to bury his mother or father. Some believe that seems to soften Jesus’ statement somewhat as if the man could perhaps get someone else to take care of his affairs during that time. There are even others who believe that the man’s father was not yet dead and again, they believe this softens the apparent harshness of Jesus’ statement here, but I really think Jesus wants these words to stand on their own. Jesus is saying that there is nothing more important than following Christ. Honoring one’s parents is biblical, and while burying his father was perhaps the most important duty of a Jewish son, the duty to follow Jesus Christ was even greater.
I have about this in my own life – What greater way for my wife or daughters to honor me than that them to follow Jesus Christ? Their response to the urgent call to follow Jesus Christ would be more important to me than whether they took care of all the details of my funeral.
It is a matter of priorities. Jesus is not telling this man to not bury his father. He is not telling him to just forget about his father and not see to it that he is buried properly. He is speaking to this particular man at the point of his greatest weakness. This man’s heart was bound up with his family more than with Christ. He wanted to put family first and Jesus is saying, “I’m more important than your family.” Give me your heart.” Jesus wants our whole heart.
This is why marriage is the closest illustration of what it means to follow Christ. A marriage is not a 50/50 commitment but a 100/100 commitment. I remember Tony Evans saying, “If my wife’s giving only 50, I want to know who’s getting the other half!”
I’ve shared this illustration with you before. If I came home one day with some other woman and Michele asked, “Who is this?” I say, “Well, it’s just this other woman. She’s going to live with us and I’ll spend some time with her, but don’t worry: you’ve got 90% of my heart. She’s just got 10%.” That’s crazy, right? Nod your head this way. Yes, that’s crazy. But that’s the way many people try to treat the Lord. “Lord, I’ll give you part of my heart, but I can’t give You this part. I’ll follow you this far, but no further. I want to follow You, but first let me do this. First, let me do that. First, I’ve got to take care of this. Jesus says, “No, I want all of you. Give Me your heart. All of it.”
The same is true in the third man, where verses 61 and 62 tell us, “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.’” In our day Jesus would say it differently, “No man driving his car forward and looking the whole time in his rearview mirror, is fit for the kingdom of God.” It is an image of someone who says he wants to follow Christ but his heart stays behind. His heart is bound up more with what he will have to leave behind. Jesus knows this third man’s heart. The guy says he wants to follow Christ, but Jesus knows better. For the third time now, Jesus speaks to a man at the point of his greatest weakness. This man’s heart is bound up with all he will have to leave behind to follow Christ – family, friends, comfort, ease, and security. Jesus says, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Do not look back. Give Him your whole heart. All of it.
Have you given Jesus your whole heart? The Bible is clear on what that looks like in a life that is surrendered to Him.
The word “surrender” is defined as: to yield, give up or over, submit, abandon, relinquish, cede, waive, or capitulate. In some translations, the word “surrender” is not found, but the concepts of “yielding” (Romans 6:16-19) or submitting (James 4:7) are used instead. In order to surrender your heart, body, and soul to God, one must be willing to yield to the sovereign claim of a righteous God. What is that claim? We need to understand that man is separated from a Holy God by sin and there must be reconciliation. The Good News is that God has made a provision for man to be reconciled to Himself and that provision is found in the once-for-all sacrifice made by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.
To surrender body, soul , and spirit to God (1 Thessalonians 5:23), one must understand that as humans we are triune beings. We are made up of our soul (heart/mind), body, and spirit. Yielding one part of ourselves without yielding the other is impossible. If we try to separate ourselves, we become “double minded” and therefore unstable (James 1:8).
Life is filled with overwhelming emotions, unexpected challenges, and unpredictable relationships which can all cause our hearts to become selfish in an effort to survive. So many people and things compete for our hearts and attention that it can seem impossible to be whole-hearted for anything, let alone God. However, it is possible to be whole-heartedly surrendered to God and His love paves the way to give our hearts completely to Him if we follow his Word.
The Bible says in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Our hearts determine how we handle everything that life throws our way. The Bible says to be careful about what we allow into our hearts and what we allow our hearts to be devoted to.
The Bible shows us how this is possible in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” Jesus set the ultimate example of what it means to show love to people by dying on the cross for sins He never committed. In response, we have a choice to let His love compel us to surrender and let Him live through us, or to ignore him and live for ourselves.
Jesus says, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” That statement has a number of implications, but is summarily defined as allowing our heart to be captured by the things of this world instead of being captured for Christ, like Lot’s wife who looked back to the things she had left in Sodom and so was turned into a pillar of salt.
Jesus wants our whole heart. We sing, “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.” And I want to encourage you this morning to never turn back. Guard your heart.
The Bible says in 2 Timothy 2:4, “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” This means we live a life of complete, unreserved, unqualified commitment to Jesus Christ, and we never compromise.
Let me share with you an illustration of what happens when we begin to compromise our commitment to Jesus Christ. Clayton Christensen is a business professor at Harvard Business School at Harvard University. On the last day of the class, he gives an inspiring talk to students about what he calls “the bottom line on happiness.” One of the things he asks his students is what they will do to keep their families strong. Another thing he asks is, “What will you do to be sure you stay out of jail?” He is serious. Two of the 32 students in his Rhodes Scholar class spent time in prison, one of them was Jeff Skilling of Enron fame. Christensen is a Christian and so he understands the importance of our purpose to not being shaped by the secular world. The lecture was subsequently published in a recent edition of Harvard Business Review. Christen speaks of “Management tools that can be used to help you lead a purposeful life.” Some of these “tools” include: Create a culture of family, Remember to be Humble, and Avoid “Just this Once.”
He says, “I’d like to share a story about how I came to understand the potential damage of “just this once” in my own life. I played on the Oxford University varsity basketball team. We worked our tails off and finished the season undefeated. The guys on the team were the best friends I’ve ever had in my life. We got to the British equivalent of the NCAA tournament, and made it to the final four. It turned out the championship game was scheduled for a Sunday. I had made a personal commitment to God at age 16 that I would never play ball on Sunday. I went to the coach and explained my problem. He was incredulous. My teammates were, too, because I was the starting center. Every one of the guys on the team came to me and said, ‘You’ve got to play. Can’t you break the rule just this one time?’ I’m a deeply religious man, so I went away and prayed about what I should do. I got a very clear feeling that I shouldn’t break my commitment, so I didn’t play in the championship game. In many ways that was a small decision, involving one of several thousand Sundays in my life. In theory, I could have crossed the line just that one time and then never done it again. But looking back, I can see that resisting the temptation of “just this once” was one of the most important decisions I have ever made. My life has been an unending stream of extenuating circumstances. Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over in the years that followed. The lesson I learned is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold to them 98 percent of the time. If you give in to ‘just this once,’ based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates did, you’ll regret where you end up. You’ve got to decide for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place.”
Jesus says, “Give Me your heart – your whole heart – 100% of the time. Follow Me.” It is interesting: we don’t know how these three unnamed persons in the text ultimately responded to Christ’s call. He warns all three, but we never read what happens to them. While we do not know how they responded, we do know how we will respond this morning.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”