Encounters: Follow Him

Luke 9:51, 57-62

It’s a new chapter! I recently retired after serving 38 years in pastoral ministry! People have made this statement to me: “This is the beginning of a new chapter, a new phase of life for you.” They also ask questions such as, “What are you going to do now, Steve?” “Do you have plans?” “What do you think God has in store for you?” A fellow pastor recently reminded me there’s no such thing as retirement in the kingdom of God. He is absolutely right! I still consider myself on call for the Lord.

I don’t know the answers to these questions yet. But what I do know is this: I am excited about this new chapter and what God has in store for my wife, Julie, and me.

In today’s passage, we see Jesus entering a new chapter of His life. He knows what God has planned out for Him. The cross lay ahead where He will suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins. For the first 8½ chapters of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has been busy revealing himself as the Son of God, the Messiah of God, sent from above with power and authority to carry out God’s plans to rescue a sinful world for Himself. Jesus has done this revealing through His preaching and His miracles. God affirmed it to Peter, James, and John at Christ’s Transfiguration on the mountaintop.

In today’s reading, we see Jesus setting His face to go to Jerusalem. This is a biblical way of saying He resolved, He was focused. He was determined to go to Jerusalem and accomplish that for which He had come.

Luke’s Gospel narrative says it marked the beginning of a new chapter, a new phase in our Lord’s life. The days had drawn near for Him to be taken up by sinful and rejecting men, nailed to a cross in Jerusalem, and suffer and die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. He would pay the debt for my sin and your sin, which could not be repaid by us.

But He would also be taken up from death, raised, and then exalted by God as the Lord over all things. This is Good News to build our lives upon. This is Good News. Trusting in what He has done for us, we share in His victory over sin, death, and the devil. We thank God He set His face to go to Jerusalem and we’ve been rescued.

This is the context from which we will be working for the next few weeks of Lent in this series I’m entitling “Encounters.” Jesus is resolutely on His way to Jerusalem to be taken up. He is doing it to rescue us from our sin and the consequences of sin. On His Way, Jesus and His disciples will have encounters with various types of people to whom He will speak important truths about important things in life. These conversations hold valuable insights for you and me to discover and then apply to our own lives.

Today we see the first encounter – three people who say they desire to follow Him. For some reason they were moved by Jesus. They admired Him. Maybe they had observed His miracles. Perhaps they had seen Him change the lives of those around them for the better. They had listened to His Good News about the kingdom of God being at hand. They were inspired, moved to say, I want to follow you, Jesus.

This scene is repeated often, even in today’s world. A person is moved emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually in some way and says, I want and need to be with Jesus. Maybe she is at a worship service where Jesus is portrayed as the Savior she needs, so she says to herself, I need someone like that in my life. I need a Savior. I want Jesus.

Perhaps someone has observed how Christianity has enriched a friend’s life. In an hour of need, they tell their friend, I think I need what you have. Maybe you are attending a large event. The speaker moves you to come forward for the altar call. Perhaps a light has gone on for you after reading or studying about Jesus on your own.

Any number of circumstances can move people toward Jesus. It appears these three men in our text don’t quite understand Jesus; they just are moved by Him. What they don’t understand is what it means to be His disciple. So He lays it out for them.

The key word in these encounters is the word “follow.” It is used three times here. They like Jesus and promise to follow Him. They’ve observed the positive possibilities for their own lives as they get involved with Him.

“I will follow you wherever you may go,” the first man says. He sees Jesus is an up-and-comer, perhaps. He wants to get in on the bottom floor and rise with Jesus into power and glory. But he has some misguided expectations and doesn’t know what is really involved in following Jesus.

The second one said, “Let me first go bury my father.” The father probably wasn’t dead. The man was procrastinating. Someday I’ll do this, but I have other obligations to take care of first. Family first!

The third one said, “I will follow you, but first let me go and say goodbye to my family.” He wants to have both worlds – one hand on the plow yet looking back. He is saying his “. . . but first, Jesus,” which is the issue.

Jesus continues to run into this thought pattern even today. I’ll go to church when I can and throw a few dollars in the plate. But I hope you understand, I have important things to tend to in my life. We can tend to be superficial in our thinking about membership in God’s kingdom. Church is oftentimes sold to us as easy and non-demanding. Say yes to Jesus and this is what He will do for you. There’s little talk of service, commitment, and crosses as Jesus talked about. People join churches like consumers asking, What can you do for me? instead of asking, What can I do for this church as it reaches people for Jesus?

Jesus’ responds to these thoughts with clear, hard words – uncompromising words. To the first He says, “Follow me!” You might be headed for homelessness, uncertainty, comfortlessness, but look at me! I don’t have anywhere to lay my head. Jesus doesn’t promise a Cadillac, but a cross.

To this second Jesus said, “Bury your father? Let the dead bury their own dead! Come with me, now, and let’s go proclaim the kingdom of God.” “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). Do it now. Following me means I am the center priority in your life, more important than anything else – even family.

To the third man who wanted to go back and say goodbye, Jesus responds, A farmer knows better than to look backward when trying to plow a field. It will be crooked. Anyone who looks back is not fit for kingdom work for being my disciple.

We learn from these three encounters that Jesus prefers followers not fans (those who are just enthusiastic admirers). He is looking for fully-devoted followers, wholeheartedly committed to serving Him, obeying Him, doing life His way, and following His lead.

Here is what we learn about following Him and this whole idea of discipleship.

1. Following Jesus is not always safe, certain, comfortable, convenient, or even popular these days, I know.

Pastor and Christian writer Kevin Miller commented on this attitude in a Christianity Today magazine as he talks about Christaholics versus disciples. He says,

Many Christians are only Christaholics and not disciples at all.

Disciples are cross bearers. They seek Christ.
Christaholics seek happiness.

Disciples dare to discipline themselves. The demands they place on themselves leave them enjoying happiness of their growth.
Christaholics are escapists looking for a shortcut to Nirvana. Like drug addicts, they are trying to bomb out of their depressing world. There is no automatic joy.

Christ is not a happiness capsule. He is the way to the Father. But the way to the Father is not a carnival ride in which we sit and do nothing while we are whisked through various spiritual sensations.

2. Following Christ means leaving the former life behind. I’m reminded of something Christian martyr and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer described in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. He wrote of what he called the great divide. “The first step,” he writes. “which follows Christ’s call, cuts the disciple off from his previous existence. The call to follow at once produces a new situation. To stay in the old situation makes discipleship impossible. You can’t stay where you are.” It’s like the song we learned in Bible camp, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back. No turning back.”

We need ask ourselves, What is competing for our allegiance to Christ? We may have both hands on the plow, but what is it we keep looking back at?

3. Following Jesus is not a part-time, but a full-time commitment. He isn’t just one more priority among many along the way. He is THE priority, central. He calls the shots. He is your commander, not your colleague.

4. Following Jesus is a lifetime commitment. His call to these three people had no expiration date on it. It is not a short-term but a long-term devotion; not a sprint but a marathon. One person wrote, Christ has not issued His call for a season, but for a lifetime. Service to the kingdom begins the moment we receive Christ and continues until the Father calls us home.

What does this look like? It is different for each person. Some are called to serve where they grow up. Others are called to journey thousands of miles away. Some live in hardship and lose their life for the faith, like Peter who died for the faith. Others live a long life, like John who apparently died of old age. What is the same, though, is the call to discipleship has priority over everything else.

We can baulk at these hard words of Jesus. Wait a minute! Salvation is free, I thought. Am I not right? 

Yes, Scripture tells us repeatedly that salvation is free in Christ. A person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Yet today we learned that while it is free, discipleship carries a cost. It might cost you everything. Christ is calling us to follow Him and be obedient, devoted disciples.

It’s interesting to note what is missing in these encounters. Luke doesn’t tell us what these three individuals did in response to Jesus’ words. Did they stay with Jesus? Did they become His followers. Were they part of the seventy that He will send out in Luke chapter 10?

This is not important for us to know. What is important is your response to these words of Jesus. How have you responded to Christ’s call to follow Him as His disciple? Have you entrusted your life to His leadership? Are you walking in His footsteps, committed to doing life His way, living according to His word.

We make so many commitments in the different areas of our lives, and while these commitments seem important, they pale in comparison to an all-important commitment to follow Jesus as His disciple and do life ways His way. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness in your life.

Author and pastor Tim Keller writes,

“I’ve heard people say, ‘I’m checking out Christianity, but I also understand Christians can’t do this, and the Bible says you’re supposed to do that. You’re supposed to love the poor, or you’re supposed to give up sex outside of marriage. I just can’t accept that.’ People want to come to Christ with a list of conditions. But the real question is this: Is there a God who is the source of all beauty and glory in life? And if knowing Christ will fill your life with His goodness and power and joy so you would live with Him in endless ages with His life increasing in you every day, if that is true you wouldn’t say things like, You mean I have to give up like things like sex or something else?

Let’s say you have a friend who’s dying of some terrible disease, so you take him to the doctor, and the doctor says, ‘I have a remedy for you. If you just follow my advice, you will be healed and you will live a long and fruitful life.’ But there’s only one problem: while you’re taking my remedy, you can’t eat chocolate.’ Now, what if your friend turned you and said, ‘Forget it! No chocolate? What’s the use of living? I’ll follow the doctor’s remedy, but I will also keep eating chocolate.’”

If Christ is really God, then all the conditions are gone. To know Jesus Christ as Lord, anywhere your will touches my life, anywhere your word speaks, I will say, “Lord, I will obey.” There are no conditions anymore. If He is really God, He can’t just be a supplement. We have to come to Him and say, Okay, Lord. I’m willing to let you start a complete reordering of my life.

Someone might ask if it is worth it. My response is this: The cost is great, but it is never a burden. I’ve never heard a committed follower of Christ say, Christ has become a burden to me. Listen to the testimony of this modern-day disciple named William. He writes, “I find discipleship means first truly living. It doesn’t mean a joy ride to heaven. It doesn’t mean there are no trials, no burdens, but it does mean peace in your soul, joy in your heart, and a sense – a supreme sense – of the smile of the Lord upon you. It is living.”

Long ago, the apostle Paul said the same thing. “For me to live is Christ and to die means gain” (Phil. 1:21).

If you think the price seems high, I encourage you to consider the price Jesus paid to make you His own. O how He loves you and me! Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer