Telling it Like it Is
There are some people who are quite direct in their conversation with others. If they don’t like something, they tell you. If they have a different opinion, they let you know. Some of these folks just blast away without giving much thought to their words. Their words sting. Others however are tactfully direct.
Most of the time, I find direct people to be refreshing. They are less likely to talk about you, because they talk to you. You never have to wonder if they are angry at you because they address problems rather than stew over them. If these people see you heading down a dangerous path they won’t stand on the sidelines and shake their head, they will get in your face and warn you. Most of these people would prefer others to be just as direct with them. They cherish candor. That’s why I like them.
Jesus possessed tact and timing. He knew when someone could handle the truth and when they could not. However, He was also direct. In Luke 9:51-62 we see that directness illustrated. In the first few lines Jesus is held up as an example of focused living, then we will see stark contrasts to that example in the life of others.
The Example of Jesus
Luke tells us, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (51) The idiom of “resolutely setting out” indicates a determination to accomplish a task. Jesus was focused on the task before Him. He knew the cross was ahead and He moved forward with determination.
Surely you have had times like this in your life. You had a task to do that you were not eager to perform. Truth is, you would have rather done anything else. But you trudge forward and do what needs to be done. You may have had to deliver bad news; or needed to make a repair; or put a pet to sleep. Maybe you had to admit a mistake or fire an employee. In each case you knew if you started to make excuses you would never do what needed to be done. So, you focused on what needed to be done and did it.
Consider how difficult the task before the Lord. He was doing good things to many. Lives were being changed all around him. People depended on Him. It would have been for Jesus to turn from the path leading to the cross because: the disciples weren’t quite ready; or because of the heartache His death would bring to his friends and mother; or because he didn’t want to give his antagonists to think they were right. Jesus could have written a whole notebook filled with reasons why it was better for Him not to go to Jerusalem. However, He refused to be distracted. He kept focused on His goal of honoring the Father and accomplishing His work. Jesus surely reminded Himself over and over that God’s ways are right . . . .always. Jesus saw the big picture. If we want to be faithful in our discipleship we must have that same kind of focus.
The Short-Sighted Disciples
Contrast the attitude of Jesus with the disciples in verses 52-56.
52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 and they went to another village.
You can’t help but smile can you? The disciples are sent into Samaria because it was the most direct route to Jerusalem. However, the Jews and Samaritans did not get along with each other. It was like some family feuds . . . the origin of the feud went back a long time. When the disciples were not welcomed they reported the social slight to Jesus and asked if they should call down fire from heaven and wipe them out.
While Jesus was focused on the goal, the disciples were ready to give up their mission at the first sign of resistance. They were easily distracted by personal offense. Because the Samaritans did not act as desired the disciples overreacted. They drew conclusions that were not warranted. If you think about it you will realize that we can do the same. We conclude,
- A politician is out to destroy the country
- An unbeliever is hardened beyond redemption (remember Paul?)
- A wayward child is a “lost cause”
- A student is “hopeless”
- A church member is “indifferent” (or “uncommitted”) because they don’t share our passions
- A church is bad because it does not share our theological distinctive.
- Or a person is lazy because they don’t do what we want them to do.
When we draw such conclusions we have lost sight of the goal. Our challenge is to see the image of God in others. Our job is to champion the hope, grace, and love that is found through the work of Christ. We must be careful of hasty conclusions.
More Barriers to Committed Living
In the last part of this text Jesus encountered three different people. Each of them faced a barrier which they needed to overcome before they could serve the Lord.
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
The Barrier of Comfort. It is possible that the first man saw Jesus traveling with his disciples. He saw the crowds, heard the teaching and maybe even witnessed a miracle or two. This man may have wanted to be part of the “action”. He was attracted to being part of the team. He saw the glamour and the fame but he didn’t see the price tag.
Think about a music group that hits it big. People dream of being like them. They love the idea of standing on a stage and having people sing their songs and applaud their efforts. They like the idea of signing autograph and selling millions of CDs. The problem is that what people don’t see are the years of hard work performing in obscurity, the long van rides, the setting up and taking down of equipment night after night. They don’t see the shoestring budgets, the songs that get thrown away, the challenge of getting along with band members in such close quarters. More groups perform in obscurity than those who get on the stage. That’s the reality.
Jesus does a reality check with this guy. Life on the road with Jesus is hard. There are constant demands. Sometimes sleep is fleeting. Opposition is ever-present. Discipleship is not glamorous. Some people do become well-known. Some make great impacts. Most however work hard to live consistently in a world that really wants no part of their message. Kent Hughes reminds us,
No one who commits to following Christ, and does so, lives a life of ease. No one. If your Christianity has not brought discomfort to your life, something is wrong. A committed heart knows the discomfort of loving difficult people, the discomfort of giving until it hurts, the discomfort of putting oneself out for the ministry of Christ and his church, the discomfort of a life out of step with modern culture, the discomfort of being disliked, the occasional sense of having nowhere to lay your head. But Christ’s rewards far out value anything lost by following him.
We might all want to be a great prayer warrior or a gifted teacher. We may want to be a person who shows incredible compassion and has a powerful witness. What we don’t see is the work that must take place before a person gets to this point. Jesus reminds us that true discipleship means we must be willing to serve Him even though doing so will at times be uncomfortable. If you are looking for a comfortable faith you should withdraw you application to be one of the followers of Christ.
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
The second man had to overcome The Barrier of Previous Commitments Jesus initiated the conversation with this man. He called (commanded) the man to follow Him. The man’s response seemed reasonable, “Let me bury my father first.” It sounds like the guy is in the middle of planning a funeral and simply wants to finish his responsibility to his father. We sympathize.
That probably is not what is going on. Archaeology has discovered that one of the burial practices of that time was re-interment. In other words, the body would be stored for a year and then the bones would be buried a year later. It is possible that this man was waiting for the year to be up. It is also possible that the man’s father was not dead and what he is really saying is, “Lord, I will follow you as soon as dad dies (even if it is years from now) and the estate is settled.”
Jesus’ responded “let the dead bury their own dead.” In other words, let the spiritually dead people take care of non-eternal matters. Now Jesus was not telling us to forego family responsibilities. However, the emphasis is that when we fulfill family obligations it should be out of obedience to Jesus, not instead of obedience to Christ. This man needed to make Christ his highest priority.
We recoil because we use a variation of this excuse all the time. We tell Jesus that we will be glad to follow Him
- As soon as the kids are out of school
- As soon as I retire
- As soon as life is a little less hectic
- When I get some free time
- When our busy time at work is over
Life is filled with choices. When we choose one thing over following Jesus it makes it that much easier to choose another. When one barrier is removed there will always be another standing in our way. William Barclay observed,
The point Jesus was making is that in everything there is a crucial moment; if that moment is missed the thing most likely will never be done at all. The psychologists tell us that every time we have a fine feeling, and do not act on it, the less likely we are to act on it at all. The emotion becomes a substitute for the action. Take one example—sometimes we feel that we would like to write a letter, perhaps of sympathy, perhaps of thanks, perhaps of congratulations. If we put it off until tomorrow, it will in all likelihood never be written. Jesus urges us to act at once when our hearts are stirred.
We comfort ourselves with the fact that we “desire” to follow Jesus and we “want to be more committed”. We feel quite spiritual and noble in our desires but the problem is that it is just talk! Good intentions are not the same thing as discipleship.
There is a third man,
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
The Barrier of Family Obligations. The third man does not seem to make an unreasonable request either. He said he wanted to follow Jesus but he needed to first say good-bye to His family. However, Jesus used the image of plowing. Before the age of computer mapping technology a farmer planted rows by focusing on some point ahead of him and focusing on that spot as he drove. If he spent his time looking behind him the row would be all over the place!
Jesus isn’t telling us to neglect our families. He is telling us that we need to be led by the Lord not by the demands, schedules or calendar of our family. We can discipline ourselves and our families to put the Lord first or we can allow our families to so enslave us that we continually push the Lord to the side. I hear people all the time saying “You know, family comes first.” I always cringe. It sounds spiritual and noble but if those people mean those words in the ultimate sense they are living a life of confused priorities and are guilty of idolatry. The best thing we can do for our family is put Jesus first in our family!
We can guess what would have happened to this man when he went home before following Jesus (because it happens to us). His family would beg him to stay just a little longer. There would be one more chore to finish or one more obligation to meet. He would never get around to serving the Lord. When we put our family before the Lord, our service to the Lord will get pushed further and further to the sidelines. We must remember that we do what is best for our family when we put the Lord first in our family.
Our goal should be to have the kind of focus that Jesus had in our discipleship rather than give in to the distractions that we see in the disciples and the three men. Jesus showed us that discipleship is not about exercising power and authority over others; it is to follow, serve, and trust the Lord above everything else in our lives. We must put Him above
- Our comforts
- Our commitments
- Even our family
Jesus calls us to follow in spite of job demands, frustrations, or even great opportunities. It is a huge commitment. These are strong demands. It is fair to ask ourselves: Is Jesus worthy of such devotion? To actually ask the question answers the question for most of us. Jesus gave His life to prove His love for us. He has earned our trust, allegiance, and loyalty.
We devote ourselves to many things in life: a sport or hobby; a television program that we “never miss”; our job; getting the best education; and we even devote ourselves to winning the acceptance of our friends. These things aren’t necessarily bad things. But the issue is: Are these the BEST things? There is only One who can redeem us and lead us home to Heaven. However, the path of discipleship is the one less traveled. To follow the Lord means taking a different course than the rest of the world . . . including your friends.
We would all like to soften His commands. We would like to plead that our situation is the exception. However, we have no right to soften His requirements. We cannot simply erase them or run away from them. We need to face these truths and adjust our lives accordingly.
In our text Jesus speaks frankly: “don’t call yourself my disciple, don’t claim to be my follower, unless you are willing to really follow.” To many these words seem harsh. But they aren’t harsh; they just are not what we want to hear. Jesus is not in the business of developing fans. He is not looking for half-heartedness. He is looking for those who will love and trust Him enough to be His followers. I suppose you can be offended. But a better course is to listen, make the necessary changes, . . . and be changed forever.