Our study today offers three brief interactions, three dialogues, about discipleship.
In the first, one comes to Jesus claiming he will follow Jesus wherever He goes. Jesus' response seems cold. He declares to him, "The foxes have holes and the bird of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."
In the second, Jesus calls one to follow Him. The reply is, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father," to which Jesus says, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go, and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God."
In the third interaction, another claims he will follow Jesus, "but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." Jesus' response is "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
These seem like gloomy responses from Jesus. But we will see today that they go together and that there is good reason for Jesus' solemn reactions.
The Common Thread
The common thread running through all three interactions is discipleship. Jesus is calling people to discipleship. People are responding. But most of us come to discipleship with mixed agendas. We are attracted to Jesus; we want to follow Him. But part of us isn't sure yet, is not committed to His ways, perhaps not even fully converted. Various things drive us. And so, to come to Jesus and say, "I will follow you wherever you go," is a bold thing. We want to join Jesus but we may not have counted the cost. We will often discover that God's agenda was not our agenda, and that our motives were self-serving. We need to count the cost, and that is a solemn thing.
Fitting into Jesus' Agenda, or fitting Jesus into Mine?
To the first dialogue then: here is one who comes to Jesus claiming he'll follow Jesus wherever Jesus goes. And Jesus replies, "The foxes have holes and the bird of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."
Jesus' reply is a warning. If you are seek comfort, think carefully before joining Me. Wild animals and birds at least have nests; I don't even have a nest. There is no place for My kingdom among earthly kingdoms. Jesus' kingdom is not a modification of others, nor is it a similar but different replacement. His kingdom is entirely of a different order.
In Jesus' day, many were disgusted with the Roman occupiers. Seeing Israel as occupied by a pagan power, they longed to throw off the Roman yoke. The nation was ripening for revolt. Many wondered if Jesus might be a leader for such a project. Human nature seeks its own. Casting out Romans in no way implies a burning desire to do God's ways. Human self-seeking may try to be at least quasi-religious, but usually stops short of actually doing God's ways. That kingdom of which Jesus is King is so different, we need to understand that difference in order to truly be a participant in it.
In the kingdom of Jesus there is no pain, no suffering, no coercion, no exercise of power over others. There is no exploitation, no glory at others' expense. The kingdom of God is outlined in the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus' sacrificial death for all humanity on the Cross of Calvary. You remember the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:3-12)? Jesus said,
Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kind of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
That is the kingdom of God. There are principles of God's character, of unselfishness. There is also a very distinct, self-giving character. All our trials in this life are invitations to better understand God's givingness. They are intended to grow us into different people. God neither started nor created the evil, but in His mercies and providences He is working to bring good out of that evil.
All are tested, and it often seems we are under more duress than we can bear. But in the end, He will bring us to glory. Are we willing? He will remake us. Rather than being proud we will be meek in spirit. Rather than inflicting sorrows upon others, we will agree with God about what is good and what is evil, mourning for the evil and cleaving to the right. He will help us so that we become wise and gentle. He will create in us the desire for righteousness and He will fulfill the desire for righteousness.
He will help us to be more merciful and we will receive His mercy. He will grow in us a purity of heart, and we will see Him. We, who have fought and griped, will be peacemakers, children of the King. We will be rewarded for doing right in the power of God. When we have been misunderstood and misrepresented, we will be vindicated.
This is much different than a kingdom with voting and jury duty and traffic citations and taxes and force and tasers and surveillance and the slavery to disease and death. This is why Jesus warned the would-be disciple that if he was seeking glory and power, or an important post in a new human kingdom, he was all wrong. Jesus' kingdom is not through military or electoral conquest, but through the cross. There was nowhere to lay Jesus' head while He hung from the cross.
So Jesus warned His new follower: this may not be what you think it is. Are you ready to lay aside your human agendas for the complete restoration plan I have always had for humanity?
I Will Follow You but First Let Me Bury
Next, a different individual. Jesus asks him to follow Him. He says to Jesus, "Yes, I will follow you. But first, let me bury my dead." That sounds like a fair request. But Jesus' response is firm: "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go, and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God."
What? Is Jesus cold-heartedly telling this person to let the body of his dead father lay unburied while he goes to give a Bible study? Its true that Jesus hated funerals; He stopped every one He ever attended. Look at the stories:
Mark 5:35-43: Jairus asked Jesus to come heal his dying daughter. When Jesus arrived she had already died. Jesus sent the mourners out, but took the girls' parents and Peter, James and John into the room where the dead girl lay. He said, "Little girl, get up." She did.
Luke 7:11-16: Jesus stopped a funeral procession as they carried the casket to the cemetery. Jesus had compassion on the weeping mother. He told her to stop crying, then He raised her son from the dead.
John 11:1-44: Lazarus had lain in the grave four days when Jesus approached his tomb. Jesus asked the people to take away the stone. Then He called out, "Lazarus, come forth." Lazarus came out, still wrapped in the strips of cloth. He had to be helped out of them.
While Jesus raised these three, day by day others died. If this man's father had died, why didn't Jesus ask "Where is He?" and go and resurrect him? Jesus didn't do that. Realize, this man might not have been saying that his father had already died. Perhaps he meant that his father was aged and in poor health and he anticipated that soon he would die. When that day would finally come, he would give his father a respectful burial and then follow Jesus.
Or perhaps his father had just died as an unbeliever, a total pagan. Maybe this man's family were all unbelievers, because Jesus tells him, "let the dead bury the dead." This new disciple wasn't going to benefit by remaining with these poor influences; Jesus' invitation was his one serious opportunity. He must cut the ties now and go and preach the kingdom.
A third possibility is that many persons were available in that circle to help with funeral arrangements or caring for the infirm man. So this man's objection was actually an excuse. He was the kind of person who doesn't want to say "No," so he told Jesus "Yes," but with no actual intent of following through.
While we cannot be certain what is going on here, we can be certain that Jesus understood these hearts just as well as he understands ours. He saw through this man's words. There was a falsity about this person. Jesus was not calling for disrespect for the deceased, but He was calling to a heart who was holding back. Something else was first. In the kingdom Jesus must always be first.
Remember, on the way to Lazarus' tomb, Jesus wept. Jesus empathizes with all who mourn. His goal is to comfort those who mourn. Most of the time, Jesus' work was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted. This man was one of the comfortable people. To save him Jesus called him. But we never hear about him again.
I Will Follow You but First Let Me Say Good-bye
Finally, there is third person. He says that he will follow Jesus, but first asks Jesus to let him go home and say good-bye. This sounds reasonable and compassionate. Why does Jesus respond so firmly? Jesus relies, "No one, after having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
What’s going on here? Again there is something going on we might not be able to completely understand. We just aren't given the information to be certain. What we know is, this man claimed that he would follow but he just wanted to say good-bye to his family. But you don't have to leave your family to follow Jesus. You remain connected to your family and you follow Jesus. This person was been called to be one of Jesus' disciples but he is taking it lightly. Jesus is the King of the universe. Jesus is the price of heaven. And this person wants everyone to wait while he goes back to say good-bye?
Jesus wants whole-hearted commitment. He doesn't need our wholeheartedness. He's not insecure in His divinity; He knows He is God. But we have built up a selfishness in ourselves. We are the damaged goods. It is for our benefit, it is because of our psychological tendencies and weaknesses, that He requires our full commitment.
In these cases Jesus is not against having compassion on your family or caring for your loved ones; but Jesus is seeing through these people. He is reading their hearts and seeing that they are not fully "in" for God.
To be an authentic disciple of Jesus we have to be like Matthew Levi whom the book of Matthew is named after. Matthew was a tax collector. Do you recall the story? Turn to Luke 5:27-28:
"After that He [Jesus] went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, 'Follow Me.'' And he left everything behind, and got up, and began to follow Him."
Matthew was all-in. Jesus called him, and right then, right there, he followed. He didn't ask if he could stop and tie his shoes. Being a disciple of Jesus is an unspeakable privilege.
A disciple is a learner. A disciple follows his Master. A disciple is devoted to his Master. He rises to follow Him and immediately leaves all. Jesus gladly weeps with the mourner. He sympathizes with the sad. But it's in your nature and mine to try to have Jesus and the world together. We will follow Jesus, "but first..." something else. Our allegiance, may be divided. We try to serve both God and mammon.
We can't have it both ways. We can have Jesus, all of Jesus, or we can have a future, full-meltdown disaster. It will seem like we're following Jesus, but we will actually be customizing the cross, doing gospel-lite.
We must be completely-in for Jesus. Spend time with Him, praying, reading His Word with willingness to "do whatever He says." Do make certain what Jesus is saying, then do it. Beware of innocent excuses not to follow Jesus.
Is there something in your heart where you’ve been half-hearted? Where God is calling you to the next level? Would you seek Jesus today, take some quiet time alone with God today, and ask Him to show where you are hanging back? Ask Him to be your King again, make Jesus your Lord, again? Go forward. We need to get past "but first..." excuses and make "Jesus first."
Deer Park WA SDA 2016-11-05