No Turning Back in the Kingdom (Luke 9:57-62)


Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg | August 31, 2014


Text:

57 And as they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  

59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Permit me first to go and bury my father.”  60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”  61 And another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.”  62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62) 

Notes:

  • Just 6 verses before our passage begins, Luke’s gospel takes a decisive turn at verse 51.
  • So decisive that Darrell Bock’s two-volume commentary begins volume two, of all places, not at the beginning of chapter 9 or chapter 10, but at chapter 9, verse 51.
  • Why? Because here Jesus ends his initial ministry in Galilee and resolutely begins his journey to Jerusalem.
  • And it came about, when the days were approaching for His ascension, that He resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem; (Lk. 9:51 NAS)
  • But he doesn’t journey alone. His disciples are going with him.
  • And if we were to read the remainder of Luke’s gospel we would see that this journey with his disciples to Jerusalem serves a dual purpose:
    • to demonstrate his resolve to fulfill God’s redemptive purpose and
    • to form his followers into those who will hear and obey the word of God.
  • So “following” Jesus here is related to joining him in the journey to the cross and in the proclamation of the KOG.
  • Jesus warns those who would follow him to count the cost.
  • Jesus tells these three would-be disciples in no uncertain terms that a true disciple…
  1. Risks rejection by the world (57-58)
  2. Makes proclamation a priority (59-60)
  3. Leaves the old life behind (61-62)

First, Jesus says that those who (would) follow him will

  1. Risk(s) rejection by the world (57-58)

57 And as they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  

  • Homelessness had been J’s fate from birth.
  • A disciple of J must realize that following him means living as a stranger in the world, because a choice for J is a choice rejected by many in the world.
  • Many will not follow J and will reject his disciples.
  • To be a disciple therefore takes determination, willpower and grit.
  • Jesus was more like a street person than an upstanding member of the community.
  • And thus, so were his disciples.
  • And who trusts a wanderer, a “street” person, let alone a group of homeless people moving from place to place.
  • That’s why Peter wrote to the churches in Asia,
  • “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers… Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (1Pe 2:11-12 NAS)
  • That’s why Jesus said in John 15, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. (Joh 15:20-21)
  • In other words, the people of the world will surely misunderstand you, and so will slander you as evildoers, just as they did to Jesus.
  • In order to live as a follower of Jesus, rejected and homeless, we can trust that God will one day vindicate our suffering and know that our true home is not this world as it is, but with him in the promised new heavens and new earth. 

A disciple of Jesus not only….

  1. Risks rejection by the world (57-58)

But second, a disciple…

  1. Makes proclamation a priority (59-60)

59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Permit me first to go and bury my father.”  60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”  

  • As they continue down the road J asks a second man to follow him.
  • But the man doesn’t drop everything to follow.
  • Instead he asks to take time to bury his father, a seemingly reasonable request.
  • Proper burial was a major concern in the ancient near east. Among Jews, it was an ethical priority.
  • So in refusing the request J describes a demand that is greater than this important family responsibility, even a divine command to honor father and mother.
  • Jesus sees himself as bringing in a new era.
  • With Messianic authority, he is able to set priorities that go beyond the surface of the Ten Commandments.
  • The new Moses has come.
  • So following J is a top priority.
  • Some interpreters believe that the man here is asking to wait until his father has passed away, so is asking for an indefinite delay to discipleship.
  • Others believe that his father has already died so he is asking only for a short delay.
  • The first reference to the dead probably refers to those who don’t have kingdom commitments and are thus spiritually “dead,” or separated from God and so not involved in the mission.
  • The point is that those without kingdom priorities can take care of such matters.
  • In the OT, only prophets were permitted to neglect funeral customs in order to reveal the presence of G’s judgment.
  • So Jesus’ call to ignore funeral customs signals that an important period of time has arrived on the divine calendar.
  • Essentially, what Jesus is saying is that even the “best” excuse – one that is reasonable from a human standpoint – is not an acceptable reason for postponing discipleship.
  • Nothing is to block the pursuit of discipleship, and nothing is to postpone its start.
  • The kingdom’s coming requires such priorities.
  • Then in contrast to de-emphasizing family responsibilities comes the priority of doing the disciples’ task: preaching the kingdom. “but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”
  • A disciple’s task, a disciple’s priority, is to explain what God is doing.
  • Jesus’ task and priority was the same.
  • He said earlier in Luke 4:43, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”
  • And he would say later in Luke 24:44-47. “.. everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
  • Jesus’ task of preaching the kingdom becomes the task of anyone who would follow him as his disciple.

A disciple of Jesus, not only…

  1. Risks rejection by the world (57-58)
  2. Makes proclamation a priority (59-60)

But third, a disciple…

  1. Leaves the old life behind (61-62)

61 And another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.”  62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

  • A third person offers to follow Jesus but wishes to say good-bye to his parents first.
  • Again this seems reasonable.
  • It parallels Elisha’s response to Elijah.
  • Elisha is an OT “disciple.”
  • Elijah granted his request. It may be that J’s response purposefully contrasts with the OT text, suggesting a greater urgency in the present situation because it’s a greater era in God’s plan of redemption.
  • J’s point is that a person can’t follow after two things at once.
  • Following J means making him the central focus of our lives.
  • That’s what discipleship demands.
  • J’s demands are new and radical.
  • These men couldn’t have anticipated what he would say so we should not criticize them.
  • J’s reply is a warning, since he sees the danger in the request.
  • A person may follow him initially only to long for the old life later.
  • It’s a warning to remember the fate of the nation of Israel who looked back after the exodus. “Would that we had died by the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger. (Exo 16:2-3 NAS)
  • And to remember the fate of Lot’s wife who looked back after departing Sodom.But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. (Gen. 19:26)
  • J warns here of a lack of a clean break.
  • To follow J means to not look back to the former way of life before joining him on the path to the cross.
  • Good service requires undivided loyalty.
  • Discipleship is not an emotional decision of one moment, but a consistent walk of life.
  • The metaphor is a proverb.
  • It refers to a farmer plowing with his eyes ahead so that he plows a straight furrow.
  • While one hand guides the plow and the other goads the oxen, the farmers eyes should look ahead to where he is directing the plow.
  • It’s a picture of total dedication to a task.
  • Repentance makes the difference between one who is fit or not fit for the kingdom.
  • J restores one who fails later as he did Peter.
  • The point, is that, tho the demand is present, absolute, and necessary for those who desire to please him, God is gracious to those who fall and desire to repent.
  • By contrast, one who turns back – renouncing his commitment without reservation or regret – as Judas did – is unfit for the kingdom.
  • Following Jesus is not a task added to others like a second job…it’s everything.
  • In The Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writes, “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the Church.
  • We are fighting today for costly grace….
  • Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession.
  • It is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace w/o the necessity of the incarnation.”
  • “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
  • Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow JC.
  • It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
  • It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.
  • Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son – it says, “you were bought with a price” – and what has cost God much can’t be cheap for us.
  • Above all, it is grace because God did not consider his Son too great a price to pay for our lives, but delivered him up for us.
  • Costly grace is the incarnation of God.”

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