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“Drags on Discipleship: What’s Holding You Back?”

June 9/13 Lk.9:51-62


Would you still be a disciple of Christ even if following Jesus didn’t actually make life any easier - in fact, even if it made things more difficult? CS Lewis declared, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy.I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
    Discipleship has its cost; as Jesus presents it, the rewards are not as commonly hoped for in this life. But following Him is still worth it in the end – it just depends on having eternal expectations.


In a competition on St.Joseph Island, I once won a beautiful watercolour painting by a local artist, Helen Coulter. [GRAPHIC] The watery theme with loons didn’t quite fit the competition, though: it was a plowing match! Yes, thanks to some good coaching by my Dad when I was young, I did manage to win a prize for my furrows, albeit (I must confess) in a rather small class! One of the key rules in plowing is “Don’t look back when you’re moving ahead!” If you want a good straight furrow across the field, you’ve got to pick a far distant point, like a fencepost on the far side of the field, or a house on the horizon - the further the better.
    In Luke 9:62 Jesus points out, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” You’ve got to have discipline in your attention to be a disciple; you need to FOCUS ON FOLLOWING. Do we want to end up with a life that’s like a crooked furrow, “crooked as a dog’s hind leg” as they say – or do you want your life in retrospect to be straight and true, honouring God?
    V51 “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Literally, He “set His face” to go to Jerusalem (NRSV). Resolutely. He’s an example of focussing, setting His attention on a distant goal. And what awaits Him in Jerusalem? Death - being killed, very painfully! Luke refers to it as “the time...for Him to be taken up to heaven”, but we all know (as Jesus did) that Jerusalem means arrest, trial, and crucifixion. But He was looking beyond just that - He was yearning for the occasion when He would “be taken up to heaven,” return to His Father.
    Jesus had focus that could re-frame into eternal context. Luke re-framed it as “taken up into heaven”. In Luke 12(23) Jesus put it this way: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Not “killed” (though He could have quite accurately said that instead) - “glorified”. Does our focus on eternity allow us to re-frame how humans commonly view things?
    Taking a long view helps us get reconciled to the fact of our coming death. Christians ought to be the most well-adjusted of mortals because we approach each day as a gift of grace. We have but 1 life to live, like a breath, the width of a hand as the Psalmist puts it in Psalm 39(4-6): “Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.Each man’s life is but a breath.Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.” Morbid? No, matter-of-fact; the longer you live, the truer it seems!
    We have just one short life. What’s your focus? What’s it going to be used for / devoted to? This passage in Luke 9 is all about following Jesus - vv57, 59, 61; is your focus the “Kingdom of God”? Jesus explained earlier in 9:23 what following Him is really about: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Christians should be, of all people, the most ready / best prepared / least surpised of anyone when the end of their life comes. But you need the right focus. Alastair Sterne, a Vancouver pastor, observes of the Apostle Paul and his difficulties: “When Paul’s life and circumstances were destitute, and when he could have been reasonably despondent, he experienced joy.How? He practiced an objective, God-focused Christianity rather than a subjective, me-focused Christianity.He was marked by a spirituality that takes the focus off oneself.”


In v52 Jesus sends messengers on ahead “into a Samaritan village to get things ready for Him...” Who were the Samaritans? The Jews looked down on them as racially impure half-breeds; the Assyrian empire had exiled many of the northern Israelites and transplanted people from other nations who then intermarried with the Israelites who were left behind. They practised a sort of DIY religion (do it yourself) combining pagan with Jewish practices. They used only the first 5 books of the Old Testament – kind of like Thomas Jefferson creating his own “cut-and-paste” version of the Bible that he deemed reasonable. The Samaritans worshipped on local Mount Gerizim rather than recognizing Jerusalem. So they didn’t take kindly to Jewish travellers from Galilee taking a shortcut through their territory because it seemed as though they were spurning the Samaritans’ own sacred things.
    By contrast, Jesus seems to have had a fairly warm attitude toward the Samaritans, sharing the gospel with them in John 4 through the “woman at the well”. But the warmth wasn’t reciprocated. V53 “the people there did not welcome Him, because He was heading for Jerusalem.” What about us: are we ready for opposition, persecution, rejection for doing what’s right? Psalm 37 says, “The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright.” (14; cf 12, 31f) Cain attacked righteous Abel; Joseph was nearly murdered by his brothers, though he had not wronged them.
    How should we respond when people reject us because of our Kingdom-focus? What had Jesus said to do earlier in the chapter (v5)? “If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” Shake the dust off and move on. But what did James and John want to do? V54 “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” They DID have precedent from Elijah calling down fire upon the forces of a wicked ruler in 2Kings 1(10,12) – but that’s not Jesus’ style! He’d said He’d come to seek and to SAVE the lost, not sauté them (Lk 19:10). He rebuked James and John and they went on to another village (v56). Ironically, this same John accompanied by Peter would later preach the gospel in many Samaritan villages after Pentecost, calling down fire of another sort perhaps (the Holy Spirit; Acts 8:25).
    People will reject and oppose us in life for being “in Christ”. How are we going to react? Will we retaliate (like James and John wanted to do) - or re-group and move on? Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek, absorb the offence, forgive as we have been forgiven. Paul writes to the Ephesians (4:32, 5:2), “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you...Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
    Who is blocking or frustrating YOU that you need to alter your attitude toward? Instead of calling down thunderbolts, can you “suck it up” gracefully?


In v57 we meet a man characterized by what commentator FF Bruce calls “inconsiderate impulse”; he enthusiastically announces to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” “Sign me up!” Every rock star attracts groupies, “roadies” – hangers-on attracted by the individual’s fame and charisma. Remember “Beatlemania”? Some people may respond to a distortion of the gospel that promises only good things through faith. Such lines as, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” – He does, but that doesn’t mean everything will be rosy. Some churches and popular ministries today preach a “prosperity gospel” based on carefully selected Old Testament passages, such as Psalm 37:9, 17f - “For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land...The power of the wicked will be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous.The days of the blameless are known to the LORD, and their inheritance will endure forever.” V19 adds, “In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.” PLENTY! That’s what we want to hear. But prosperity-preachers skip over v16 - “Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked...” Wait a minute, WHO has the wealth? The wicked! What do the righteous have? LITTLE.
    So Jesus warned our would-be roadie in v58, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Foxes have holes - burrows - lairs - dens: there’s a popular term in today’s comfier homes, a “den” or “man-cave”. Birds have roosts, places to hang out for the night; BUT the Son of Man has NO PLACE to lay His head. Less shelter and earthly security than even the wild animals. One commentator likens Jesus’ self-adopted title “Son of Man” to “the underprivileged Man”: would Jesus identify with those 200 Asian migrant workers held captive to make clothing in an underground town beneath the streets of Moscow? Does He understand those 119 workers in China who died when their chicken-processing plant burned down and the exits were locked? “Son of Man” is a title fit for the Messiah, but one who shares our humanity, who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb 2:14; 4:15). The King of the Universe accepted life as a transient, without material attachments or earthly “security”. He did not yield to temptation or desires for earthly prosperity, and that’s not what He offers His followers - He offers spiritual riches, the Holy Spirit is the seal of our inheritance.
    Alastair Sterne writes, “Jesus does make your life better. Jesus certainly is the ultimate problem-solver, and it is true that we will find our deepest purpose satisfied only in the life He offered on two crooked beams. But Jesus by no means promises a better life in the sense of all your circumstances. In other words, following Jesus doesn’t mean that everything will go smoothly, that every aspiration of your heart will be achieved, and that all your loved ones will live to see 100...Somehow people get the notion that when God blesses, it means that He will give us great things and perfect circumstances—and right now...Conversely, sometimes people believe that extended discomfort means there is something they have done wrong, or a lack of faith which inhibits God’s blessing. But what if this is a misconstrued concept of blessing? Can’t the blessing of God involve pain, suffering, waiting and holding on to a truth in spite of our circumstances? Isn’t it a blessing to be disciplined by our loving Father even if it causes discomfort?” Prosperity is NOT promised.


Focus on following – not necessarily the family. Our family grew up listening to “Focus on the Family” broadcasts; Dr James Dobson is practically a patron saint amongst evangelicals. But Jesus reminds us there are higher priorities for the Christian even than family. The last two cases introduced to us in this chapter FF Bruce calls “conflicting duties” and “a divided mind” - but they both involve family in a way.
    V59 “He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’” Presumably the man’s father wasn’t already dead, or he would have been engrossed in the funeral preparations already, not standing there talking to Jesus. The man’s father might not die for years. What he says can be an Eastern way of saying, “Let me wait until I receive my inheritance.”
    “Ah,” the person in the ‘sandwich generation’ with kids in college and parents in the nursing home says to themself, “Just wait until I get my inheritance!” “Imagine when my forebears pass on and all that money will be MINE!” In Canada we’re in the midst of a huge transfer of wealth from the “Builder” or “GI Generation” - those who built our economy after WWII - to the “Boomer” generation. The Builders tended to be savers; not the Boomers – so they’re looking forward to what they can do with that inherited wealth. What about us? Is part of us waiting eagerly for our parents’ demise so we can finally lay hold of their estate? This can be IDOLATRY! A cloak for greed. “Lord, I can’t do very much for Your Kingdom right now because money’s so tight – but when I get my inheritance, things will be different.” Don’t count on it. What are you holding as of most worth, most value, in your life? Is it God or mammon? Ps 37:4 “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” What are your priorities? Jesus counselled in Mt 6:33, “But seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, clothing, the necessities of life] will be given to you as well.”
    How does Christ answer the hesitater in v60? “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Those who are spiritually dead can look after the physically dead; God’s Kingdom takes priority.
    Likewise, another person in v61 wavers - “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” FIRST let me...What are the PRIORITIES? Jesus calls us into a new “family”, a spiritual “family” intent on doing God’s will; as He explained in Mk 3:35, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
    Don’t go back. V62 To be fit for service in the Kingdom of God means putting your hand to the plow and NOT looking back – that would give you an erratic furrow. You want a life that’s of championship quality, honouring to God, not a furrow you’d be ashamed of. That MAY sometimes mean doing what you perceive God’s calling you to even when that conflicts with what your family would pressure you into doing. If your family is caught in sinful patterns, generational bondage or addictive behaviours, you may need to break the pattern even if that goes against the grain. Ask the Lord to show you what’s right in His eyes, where He wants you to focus, and follow Him! [TESTIMONY] Let’s pray.