[A 6-minute read]
I was asked to speak recently on Luke 9, verses 51-62. This passage is challenging for me because the parts superficially don’t seem to connect very well. But there is nothing superficial about Jesus, and so digging in, the Lord showed me what some of the lessons were.
51 When the time came for Him to be received up, He was steadfastly set to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers ahead of Him. They went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make things ready for Him 53 but they did not receive Him, because He was set to go to Jerusalem.
54 When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did?’ 55 But he turned and rebuked them and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destoy men’s lives but to save them.’ And they went to another village.
57 As they went along the way, a man said, to Him, ‘Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.’ 58 Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests. But the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.’
59 He said to another man, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ 60 Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own daed. But you go and preach the kingdom of God.’
61 Yet another said, ‘Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go bid farewell to those at my house.’ 62 Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back at things is fit for the kingdom of God.’
Context helps. Jesus’ disciples had just returned from being sent out and doing great miracles. They were arguing amongst themselves about which one of them was the greatest. Typical teammates after they win the big game.
Jesus rebukes them of course, reminding them that the one who is least among them will be the greatest. Meanwhile, He is getting ready to head to Jerusalem, and getting ready to send out a larger contingent of disciples for more preaching and miracle-working.
On the surface, this passage seems jumbled, with disconnected ideas.
1. Jesus is going to Jerusalem.
2. James and John (who Jesus jokingly calls ‘The Sons of Thunder’) want to destroy Samaritan villagers who don’t like that.
3. Jesus tells them off.
4. Next, Jesus appears to lament about his poor travel accommodations.
5. After that He ups the ante on two followers who declare loyalty to Him, using opaque parables.
That’s a big day’s work for anyone, even Jesus.
But Luke has interwoven themes here that become an easy three-part recipe for creating good disciples.
1. Look to Jesus
2. Be like Jesus
3. Rely on Jesus
It is a recipe for boldness. It makes us effective and fruitful carriers of the kingdom of God.
1. Look To Jesus. In other words, set your eyes on the kingdom of God
(v 51) Jesus Himself was ‘steadfastly set’ to go to Jerusalem. He had His mind made up. He was resolute. He was determined. He was unwavering. He had His eye on what the Father was calling Him to do, to advance the kingdom of God.
Jesus looked to the Father in all things, and so do we – through Jesus. After all, isn’t everything we have a gift from God? Yet His gifts of money, jobs, health, people we count on, these only give us the appearance of security. Any or all of them could fail us at any time. So here Jesus calls us by example to be set, and look only where our true security lies.
Look to Jesus, who saves, heals and provisions us. He is the full stop to every sentence we write in this life. And, when we Look to Jesus we will…
2. Be Like Jesus. In other words, we will be of the right spirit.
When the Lord’s messengers returned from Samaritan cities saying the Samaritans would not receive Him, John and James were ready to call down fire on them, maybe like Elijah – to punish and destroy them. Remember, they had just come off the mission field with great success, and the testosterone hadn’t worn off yet.
Jesus rebukes them. The New King James translation additionally has Jesus saying ‘you do not know what manner of spirit you are of,’ suggesting they were listening to the devil and not to Him. Either way, His rebuke echoes his statement recorded in John 10:10 that ‘the thief does not come, except to steal and kill, and destroy, I came that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly.’
In other words, ‘get back on the right team, boys.’
Here’s what Jesus is telling James and John about the Samaritans: go to them and love them by offering them salvation. If they turn you away, continue to love them, but don’t retaliate. Then Luke adds another ingredient, ‘then He and His disciples went to another village.’
In other words, don’t invest in your enemies either. Jesus says this same thing in Chapter 10 of Luke when he sends out the 70.
8 When you enter a city and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’10But when you enter a town and they do not receive you, go your way out into their streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your city which clings to us, we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near to you.’
Be of the right spirit then. Love your enemies and also be willing to invest in them, but only if they too will to Look to Jesus in order to Be Like Jesus.
3. Rely On Jesus. In other words, rely on God alone for what we need to do the job, not on our own strength or ideas.
In verse 57, a man says he will follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus responds with what might be sarcasm, or is it a challenge? ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests. But the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.’ He wasn’t complaining about a bad hotel. He was modeling a lifestyle of being directed by the Father, through Holy Spirit.
Jesus didn’t commission His disciples to do a prayer meeting, or volunteer, or make an offering or stand for church leadership. He commissioned them, and us, to a lifestyle – an all-consuming lifestyle of total commitment and loving sacrifice. Be like Him, not like the world.
This call to a bold life of demonstrating and presenting the kingdom of God on earth is the Christian life. But how do we best live this life of looking to Him and being like Him?
We rely on Him, and live that life of abundance that Jesus promises. It is nothing less than an exercise in bold faith 24-7. It is a faith that allows us to set out into the unknown and take risks, and be obedient, having faith in God.
When the disciples were sent out to preach and to heal, Jesus commanded they take no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no smart phone, no debit card, that they rely solely on Him. How is Jesus calling you in your life right now? What is He asking you to do that may seem challenging? How are you responding, and are you relying on Him in faith?
An example from my life: In March 2017, I gave notice on a really good and satisfying job. I was not only working with other believers, but doing real social good in my community – and seeing the tide turn.
Because I was looking to Jesus, and listening, relying on Him, I moved 400 miles way to a city I had never seen, relying on income He had provided, to immerse myself in a ministry school. I moved and rented a flat before I even knew I was accepted as a student. I relied on Jesus with bold faith, and my life changed in ways I could never have imagined.
Almost immediately, He presented me with the best friend I have ever had, caused a love to spring up, and she and I are now married, relying on Jesus together. After school was up, He asked me to sell or give away all I owned, and move across the ocean to a land and a city where I had never been before.
He has fully provisioned me so I can do the work he has called me to do: write about Him. I rely on the Father for my substance, Jesus for my peace, and Holy Spirit for my creative inspiration.
God rewards faith. But it can be intimidating, and risky. American humorist Will Rogers found the truth of it when he said, ‘You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes, because that is where the fruit is.’
At the end of this passage in Luke, one man says in effect, ‘Yes I will follow you, Lord, but first let me go bury my father. Another says, ‘Yes I will follow you, but first let me go say goodbye to my family.’ In both cases, they put their buts forward instead of their will. They are facing backwards.
Jesus has strong words for them both, and calls them to a higher level, to spread the gospel and make disciples. Jesus is not interested in their conditional love, or ours. He requires total commitment.
To the one guy the Lord says in effect ‘don’t spend time with the spiritually dead.’ To the other His message is, ‘don’t look back with longing for worldly things.’ Both of those choices are backward, and lead us astray. Instead, Jesus wants us to move forward with obedience and discipline, being resolute, wise, trustworthy and faithful.
The people of Jesus’ time knew what would happen if they looked back while plowing a field. You can’t look around if you want a straight furrow. The only way to succeed is to pick a point on the horizon, a rock, a tree, a post, and aim for it. Don’t take your eyes off it. It’s the same with faith. Don’t take your eyes off Jesus, or your track will wander.
Let today be the day we look to Jesus. In looking to Him, let’s take risks to be like Him, and fulfill the commission He has given us. We can rely on Him. ‘I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace,’ Jesus said. ‘In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33)
Looking to Jesus, being like Him and relying on Him means that we can be at rest in Him.* At rest, we won’t mind being out on a limb. Because that’s where the fruit is, and it is very sweet.
* see Matthew 11:30
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