The Radical Cost of Following Jesus
And they went on to another village. 57 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."
God is always doing more than we know. In every event in our life and in the life of this church and this city and this state and this country and this world God is always doing 10,000 things that we do not know. The designs and the effects of every event from the fall of a bird, or the birth of a baby, or the death of a Senator, or the capturing of a sniper, or the storming of a Russian theater – the designs and effects of every event are 10,000 times more than we know. 99.9% of God’s specific purposes are hidden from our eyes.
When he scattered the nations at the Tower of Babel he was doing more than one thing. He was restraining evil by preserving diversity that would function as check and balance in the human craving for power and fame and wealth. But in the same act of judgment he was preserving and increasing the diversity that would become the many-colored mosaic of redemption. Evil would be deflected by diversity in language and culture; and the glory of Christ would be reflected by the diversity in language and culture. "Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you" (Psalm 67:3). All the languages, all the cultures, all the colors – let them all praise you. For you will shine all the more brightly in our eyes when we see you reflected and praised by all the peoples!
This is the final Sunday of our fall Missions Focus. And God is doing more in these days than anyone knows for the sake of the nations. His authority and his love and his mission are having a tremendous effect. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20). All authority is mine. Go make disciples. I will be with you. That banner is flying over us, and there are untold thousands of effects being unleashed.
In a few minutes, when I am finished speaking, I will invite many of you to come to the front to show some of those effects and to pray with me here, and with Erik Hyatt downtown, about God’s calling on your life in missions. "The harvest is plentiful," Jesus said, "but the laborers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:37-38). We have been doing that. And God is stirring in many hearts.
I will tell you ahead of time whom I will be inviting to come: 1) those who are already missionaries and are here for a time, and those under appointment and about to go; 2) those who believe that this is God’s call on your life, whether soon or later; and 3) those in whom God has been working, it seems, unusually in recent weeks or months to loosen you from your present situation to seriously consider going across a culture for the glory of Christ. You're not sure yet, but you have sensed, or will sense this morning, some unusually strong desire or pointer to cross-cultural missions.
Jesus’s Response to His Would-Be Followers
God is always doing more than one thing in everything he does. So let’s go to Luke 9:56-62 to see what Jesus is doing in this unusual and shocking series of encounters. Three would-be followers meet Jesus. And Jesus says to each of them something very hard and very sweet.
In verse 57 to the man who says, "I will follow you wherever you go," he says, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."
Then in verse 59 Jesus takes the initiative and calls another, "Follow me." The man responds, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." To which Jesus replies in verse 60, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God."
Then a third candidate for discipleship says in verse 61, "I will follow you, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." To this Jesus responds in verse 62, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
More than one thing is going on here in each of these encounters. To see that clearly the way Jesus intends it, you need to go back to verse 51 to make sure that you feel the tension in the air. In verse 51 it says, "When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined [he set his face] to go to Jerusalem."
"He Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem"
Now we know what Jerusalem meant for Jesus. He said to his apostles in Luke 18:31-33, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise." And then when he got to the city Luke 19:41-42 says, "When he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.’"
So there is an ominous ring in Luke 9:51 that we need to hear when Jesus says, "He set his face to go to Jerusalem." Then to make clear the implications of going to Jerusalem Luke tells us what happened next and why. Verse 52: "[Jesus] sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because he was going to Jerusalem." This is a signal to us: if you join Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, you may not have a place to stay. You may not be popular. You may be rejected.
Now we are ready to see more clearly what is happening in our text, verses 56-62. Three times we read the word "follow" to describe what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Verse 57, "I will follow you." Verse 59: "Follow me." Verse 61: "I will follow you." The point in this phrase is that being a disciple of Jesus, that is, being a Christian, is more than learning about him; it includes following him where he goes. "Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:27).
"Follow ME!" – "FOLLOW Me!"
Now we are ready to see that more than one thing is going on here. When Jesus says, "Follow me," and says it in the context of going to Jerusalem and having just been rejected in Samaria for going to Jerusalem, he is clearly saying two things, not just one thing. He is saying: "Follow ME." And he is saying "FOLLOW me." There is me, and there is my mission. There is a person, and there is a path. There is a sweetness, and there is suffering. There is Jesus, and there is Jerusalem.
This is the way missions has always been and the way it will always be. When Jesus said at the end of his life, "Go, make disciples of all nations!" he wrapped that mission and that path and that suffering and that Jerusalem in his mighty and merciful self. First he said, "All authority in heaven and on earth is mine." And last he said, "I will be with you to the end of the age." There is the "FOLLOW me!" (Go!) And there is the "Follow ME!" (I will be with you). There is the path to the nations through Jerusalem, and there is the person who will be with you, Jesus. So when you hear the words, "Follow me," hear two things (at least!) not just one thing.
Now what was Jesus doing in responding the way he did to these three would-be followers? No place to lay your head. Let the dead bury their dead. Put your hand on the plow and don’t look back. What was he doing? He was teaching, and he was testing. He was teaching that the Calvary road through Jerusalem will be a very hard road, and will require sacrifices of home and family. And he was testing to see if he himself was the greatest treasure of their lives. They said, "I’ll follow YOU." And Jesus said, "Really? You love me, you treasure me that much? Here’s what it will cost." So he is testing how much they treasure the "you" in "I will follow you," by telling them what the "follow" will cost.
So there are two things going then and now in this room and downtown. First, Jesus is offering himself for our fellowship and friendship and partnership in missions. Just think of it. This is the Creator of the universe. The King of kings and Lord of lords. The one who upholds all things by the word of his power. The one who is from everlasting to everlasting. Born of a virgin as the Holy One of God. Perfect in life. Triumphant over sin and death and hell and all the demons you will ever meet. In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. This Jesus says to you, as you ponder the possibility of missions, "Follow me." Not, "You go there while I stay at Bethlehem." But, "I am going there. Follow me . . . I will be with you to the close of the age . . . I will never leave you or forsake you."
John Paton’s Experience of This Promise
John Paton’s experience of this promise in the New Hebrides over a hundred years ago is deeply moving. He was being pursued by hostile natives.
Being entirely at the mercy of such doubtful and vacillating friends, I, though perplexed, felt it best to obey. I climbed into the tree and was left there alone in the bush. The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the Savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among these chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship. If thus thrown back upon your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will not fail you then? (John G. Patton: Missionary to the New Hebredies, An Autobiography Edited by His Brother [Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965, orig. 1889, 1891], p. 200)
A Treasure Test
Then the second thing that Jesus is doing in our text is to test you, to see if this is enough, to see if he is really your treasure, your joy, your security, your hope, your friend in times of loneliness, your home, your father and mother, your power to look straight ahead – to test you in all these ways, he tells you what it will cost.
Don’t make these hard words more difficult than they are. He is not saying, "There will never be time when you have a bed and pillow and a roof." He’s not saying, "It will always be wrong to be at your parent’s funeral." He is not saying that one battle with fear that you might have made a mistake in going to the mission field will make you unfit for future service.
Understand these hard sayings the way you understand Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler and his words to Zacchaeus. To the rich young ruler Jesus said, It is going to cost you all your possessions to follow me: "Sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Matthew 19:21). But when Jesus came into the house of Zacchaeus, the little tax collector said, "Lord, the half [not 100%] of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold." And Jesus responded with joy: "Today salvation has come to this house." (Luke 19:8-9).
Jesus Knows Your Idols!
In other words, the point of all these tough words as Jesus interacts with different people is not to create laws that all disciples or all missionaries have to keep: Thou shalt give all your money! Thou shalt give half your money! Thou shalt go without a bed! Thou shalt go without a funeral for your dad! The point is that Jesus knows everyone’s idol. Jesus knows perfectly what is competing in your heart with affection for him. He looks everyone of us in the face this morning and sees right to our heart.
Let him do that for you now. Don’t take offense. He does this to win us for himself. "Follow me!" is the goal. Being with Jesus is the goal. It won’t be easy. But it will be good. There will be joy even if there is continual sorrow (2 Corinthians 6:10 – "sorrowful but always rejoicing"). Because he will be with us.
Attachment to Your Home
So he raises the issue in verse 58 about your attachment to your home: "The Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Will you follow him? What about your home, your furniture, the security you enjoy there, your comforts in the climate controlled year-round perfect atmosphere, your roach-free, mouse-free, ant-free, totally automated kitchen, your new surround-sound home entertainment center? Jesus says, Follow me. Am I more precious, more satisfying than these?
Attachment to Your Family
He raises the question about our family in verse 60: "Let the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." Whom do you cherish more: Spiritually dead relatives, or the giver of life, Jesus Christ? The point is not that it’s never right for a missionary to come home for his dad’s funeral. The point is that it might be right not to, and the issue is how it serves the proclamation of the gospel, and how it reveals your treasures. Who is first, Christ or family? The point here is that Jesus Christ is absolute and all other allegiances are relative. There will be a hundred choices you must make in missions – indeed in life – that have no simple biblical command to settle the issue. The issue will be: Do you want Christ above all? Do you want to follow him more than anything?
The Danger of Indecisive Discipleship
And he raises the question in verse 62 about fickle following. The danger of indecisive discipleship. "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." You can’t plow a straight furrow while looking back. You can’t serve Christ, that is, you can’t make Christ look great, if you are always second-guessing the value of following him. Looking back means longing back. It means that we are not really sure he is worth following, especially to Jerusalem. Divided hearts like that are not useful in displaying the worth of Christ.
Jesus Is Worthy!
But I want to close by saying, He is worthy! He is worth following, even through Jerusalem to the cross and to the nations. Yes, he will die in Jerusalem. But that is not bad news. Not anymore. That is our life. He loved us and gave himself for us. He didn’t say "Follow me to Jerusalem" because he needed help with his redeeming work, but because if you are with him you will be saved, and not only will you be saved, you will be given a mission that according to verse 60 is more precious than burying your father. Namely, "Go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God in Christ Jesus."
If God is moving you at all to consider the possibility of missions in your future, know this: He is worthy. Following him will always mean more than one thing. If it means for you the place of suffering and loneliness, he will be there. "Follow me" means there is the path, and there is the person; there is the suffering, and there is the sweetness; there is the Jerusalem, and there is Jesus. Follow him.