Scripture: Luke 9:57-62 (ESV)
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “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.”
Jesus has these three exchanges with three different would-be followers. Each of the exchanges involves a challenge from Jesus, which are challenges for us to wrestle with as we consider what it means to follow Jesus.
In this first encounter, someone initiates a conversation with Jesus, and this person is really eager to follow after Jesus. He’s stoked. He’s pumped up. He’s ready to go all in. “I’ll follow you wherever, no matter what.” And Jesus throws a wet blanket on the fire of this would-be follower’s enthusiasm. He responds with a warning: count the cost. It’s like Jesus is saying, "Your enthusiasm is great, but make sure you know who it is that you’re so eager to follow. Make sure you consider what following me will mean." The Son of Man, Jesus, is going to experience rejection and suffering, and everyone who follows him should expect to share in the rejection and suffering.
Now, in the ultimate, deepest way, following Jesus is the only way to lead an abundant, satisfying, joy-filled life. This abundant life begins as soon as you say yes to following Jesus. And at the exact same time, there are no promises that following Jesus will make your life easier, or more comfortable, or more satisfying at the level of your circumstances. In fact, Jesus guarantees the opposite. Following him will mean sharing in his rejection and suffering. It will mean hurting with the hurt of the world. It will mean the possibility of being rejected by friends and family. In many places all over the world today, it means life-threatening persecution.
And so Jesus is saying, “Get real about your expectations. What is it that you expect following me will bring into your life? If it’s comfort and safety and acceptance at the level of your circumstances, think gain. If it’s things going well for you in this world, think again.” Count the cost.
The second challenge is this: don’t delay. Jesus issues the call to another would-be disciple, but instead of responding with immediate obedience, the man replies, “First let me go bury my father.” Which sounds like an extremely reasonable request. Scripture says alot about the need to honor parents, including giving them proper burial. But Jesus sees in this man’s request an attempt to delay obedience. One way or another, it looks like this guy’s trying to put off the call to discipleship, perhaps indefinitely. "I want to follow you, Jesus, just not yet. I plan to follow you, Jesus, just not now."
Maybe you’ve never responded to the call to follow Jesus. You haven’t embraced him by faith. You haven’t committed to him. Well, count the cost, but then don’t delay. What are you waiting for? Is it for all your doubts to disappear? Are you waiting because you think at a later season of life following Jesus will make more sense? Does it just feel inconvenient right now, and you think it might feel less inconvenient later? Following Jesus will always involve some measure of doubt, will never fully make sense, and is anything but convenient. But still Jesus is calling you to follow. Why are you delaying?
And for those of you who have been following Jesus for years, maybe decades, how are you doing with the day in and day our hearing and obeying the voice of Jesus? I don’t know who first said this, but I think it rings true: delayed obedience is disobedience. Pay attention to the voice of Jesus. Pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit. Pay attention to the opportunities that the Father is putting in your path. How is Jesus calling you to follow him in this moment, right here, right now? Don’t delay.
Finally, don't look back. The image Jesus gives is of a farmer who is plowing the land. If he doesn’t keep his eyes facing forward, looking at where he’s headed, it won’t be long before he’s veering off track. He’ll plow crooked lines. And so I think the challenge is about our attention. We are to follow Jesus in such a way that we keep our eyes fixed on him. If we’re constantly looking back or looking to the side, it won’t be long before we’re gone off track.
Discipleship means attending to Jesus as he gives himself to us in the present moment. And so there are subtle ways we can be distracted from him. Rather than attending to Jesus as he is giving himself to you here and now, you can spend your time pining forJesus as he gave himself to us in past experiences. You can always be looking back to your past experiences with God instead of being attentive to what he’s wanting to do with you and for you right here and right now. Or, rather than attending to Jesus as he’s giving himself to you here and now, you can be looking aside to the Jesus you wish you had. You have a notion of what you need and how you need to see God show up in your life, and that distracts you from the ways God is actually showing up in your life. Maybe the Jesus your wish for is Jesus as he’s making himself present to the person next to you. But you see, that can also be a distraction. The call is to attend to how he’s making himself present to you, right here, right now. Don’t look back, Jesus says.
The call to follow Jesus is costly, and it's also grace, because we're called by the one who has counted the cost of loving us, who hasn't delayed in his love, and who never looks back.