PUT CHRIST FIRST

 

Week of March 5, 2006

 

Bible Passages:  Luke 9:57-62; 14:25:33.

 

Biblical Truth:  Following Jesus is a costly decision that requires putting Him above everything and everyone else, including personal and family concerns.

 

Christ Above Personal Comfort: 9:57-58.

 

[57]  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.”   [NASU]

 

[57-62] The structure of this passage is noteworthy. The familiar "rule of three" is employed by Luke in recording three conversations. There is an interchange of order: in the first conversation the inquirer initiates the conversation and Jesus states the objection; in the second this is reversed; in the third the man both initiates the dialogue and raises the objection, with Jesus adding a comment. Each dialogue contains some theological language: "Son of man" [58], "proclaim the kingdom of God" [60], "service in the kingdom of God" [62]. This shows that discipleship is not simply following Jesus in one's lifestyle but is involvement in the important work of the kingdom.

 

Any disciple who would follow Jesus needs to understand that this choice will require total commitment. In this passage, three would-be disciples clearly receive this message from Jesus. Since disciples will suffer rejection from the world, just as Jesus did, they need to place top priority on following Jesus. The individuals who converse with Jesus are not a focal point in the account, for there is no indication of their response. The point resides solely in Jesus’ responses, which are given for the reader’s reflection. This passage is significant because it shows that discipleship is not a fly-by-night affair. Discipleship requires that Jesus and the kingdom be the priority of life. The disciple is aware that allying oneself to Jesus sets one apart from the world and involves tackling tasks in a way that is different from the world. Jesus’ response only reinforces the mood of urgency and commitment already present.

 

In terms of form, the account is a series of three pronouncements that are also warnings. Jesus’ sayings dominate the account. Discipleship and the nature of mission are the key ideas. Discipleship must be seen in the context of Jesus being rejected. The cost of discipleship needs attention as one turns to mission. Disciples must place Jesus and the kingdom first. They must recognize that they will be distanced from the world by their discipleship, and that family matters may suffer inattention in comparison to their discipleship. Relative to each other, God comes before family. Disciples must not look back from their commitment to Jesus. It is a constant commitment.

 

[57-58] The first incident involves a volunteer who commits to follow Jesus wherever he may go. The man spoke with so much self-confidence because he had no inkling of the way of sorrows and death which the Lord would yet follow and also because he did not realize his own weakness and instability. In the Matthew 8:18-19 passage, the man offers to be Jesus’ student and follow him. But Jesus wants more than a student. Students of Judaism lived with their teachers in order to learn the Torah, but what Jesus offers is a more compelling and dangerous course. To follow Jesus means more than sitting at his feet and learning Torah. It is a reorientation of life, involving suffering and perhaps death. If one is to go wherever Jesus goes, one must be ready for the rejection that he experienced. Jesus describes what disciples can expect when he is their example. His situation is worse than that of beasts. A disciple of Jesus must realize that following him means living as a stranger in the world, because a choice for Jesus is a choice rejected by many in the world. To be a disciple takes resolve. What is true of the suffering Son of Man is true of his disciples. To live “rejected” and “homeless” means to trust God and know that one’s home is with him. There is a deep note of pathos in Jesus’ remark. The disciple must realize that the choice to follow Jesus is not an easy one.

 

Christ Above Family Loyalty: 9:59-62; 14:25-26.

 

[59]And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, 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] 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.” [14:25] Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, [26] “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.   [NASU]

 

[59-60]  Jesus calls a second man to follow him. The request to bury his father seems reasonable, as this responsibility was one of the most important a family member could perform. Jesus’ teaching often has a surprising twist to portray emphatically what God desires. The twist in this passage causes the reader to reflect on Jesus’ reply. In refusing this request, Jesus describes a demand that is greater than this important familial responsibility, that is seemingly rooted in the commandment to honor one’s parents. In fact, the remark may point to Jesus seeing himself as bringing in the new era. The man wanted to put commitment to family ahead of service to the kingdom. Jesus’ response shows that his call has priority. Jesus’ reply is designed by its stark character to show the extent of commitment that discipleship requires.

 

Jesus’ statement Allow the dead to bury their own dead raises the question of how to interpret it. The problem of literalism versus rhetoric is raised because the dead can bury no one. It seems best to interpret it with the rhetorical meaning of “do not be excessively preoccupied with less important concerns.” Nothing is to block the pursuit of discipleship and nothing is to postpone its start. In contrast to de-emphasizing familial responsibility comes the priority of doing the disciples’ task: preaching the kingdom.

 

[61-62] Again we have what appears to be a reasonable request. Jesus replies in terms of what that volunteer’s commitment really requires. One cannot follow after two things at once; following Jesus means making him the boundary of one’s life. It is easy to miss what discipleship demands. Jesus makes sure this commitment is clear. The point is not so much to rebuke the would-be disciple for having deficient desire as to warn about what association with Jesus involves and to point out with rhetorical clarity the newness of times that Jesus brings. Jesus’ reply is really a warning, since he sees a danger in the request. One may follow him initially, only to long for the old life later. If one is going to follow Jesus, one needs to keep following him and not look back. Once we commit to Jesus, we are to hold fast our confession. Perhaps in the desire to bid farewell, the heart never leaves the attachment to old values and the old way of life. It is this lack of a clean break that Jesus warns against here. To follow Jesus means to not look back to the way life was before one came to follow him. Good service requires undivided loyalty. Discipleship is not an emotional decision of one moment, but a walk of life.

 

The metaphor is proverbial. Just as one who ploughs must look before him and devote his full attention to his work so as not to plough a crooked and bad furrow, so also he who desires to be a member of Christ’s kingdom should never allow other matters to distract his attention from his holy calling. For Jesus, discipleship is serious business and an all-consuming priority in terms of the constancy of one’s allegiance. Family and home are prioritized in relation to one’s relationship to God. The highest priority is God’s kingdom. Everything else pales in comparison. The privilege and the seriousness of following Christ are of such tremendous magnitude that there is no room for excuse, for compromise with the world, or for half-heartedness.

 

[14:25-26] Verse 25 shows that Jesus’ comments here were directed to the large crowds, not just the converted. Jesus wants those who are contemplating a relationship with him to know what it means. Jesus spares no one who claims to have a disciple’s commitment. Faith, since it is trust in another, is essentially an entry into relational discipleship. Faith does not stop with decision; it commences. As with any relationship, faith is an ongoing affair. Beyond the decision comes the expression in action. This dynamic of faith, fundamental to its essence, is a key idea of New Testament theology. Faith is entry into relationship. Discipleship is fundamentally a call to allegiance. Jesus is to have first place over all, including family. The call to “hate” is not literal but rhetorical. Otherwise, Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor as oneself as a summation of what God desires makes no sense [Luke 10:25-37]. The call to hate simply means to “love less” [see the parallel passage in Matthew 10:37]. The image is strong, but it is not a call to be insensitive or to leave all feeling behind. Following Jesus is to be the disciple’s “first love.” This pursuit is to have priority over any family member and one’s own life, which means that other concerns are to take second place to following Jesus.

 

This saying needs to be set in the context of its first-century setting. At that time a Jewish person who made a choice for Jesus would alienate his or her family. If someone desired acceptance by family more than a relationship with God, one might never come to Jesus, given the rejection that would inevitably follow. In other words, there could be no casual devotion to Jesus in the first century. A decision for Christ marked a person and automatically came with a cost. If one does not make Jesus the first priority, one cannot be his disciple. The point is that only when one forsakes all others is one totally following Jesus, otherwise something else will have a greater pull on one’s allegiances than Jesus does. One cannot “follow” Jesus and learn from him if other realities have a stronger pull. Jesus’ call requires everything in terms of priority from the disciple. One who follows Jesus is led and instructed by him in the way to God. Such instruction and relationship is to have the first priority.

 

Christ Above Any Cost:  14:27-33.

 

[27] “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be My disciple. [28] For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? [29] Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, [30] saying, This man began to build and was not able to finish. [31] Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? [32] Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. [33] So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.   [NASU]

 

[27]  As he declares what real discipleship means, Jesus has a second area of concern: one must be able to bear one’s own cross. The process of discipleship is stressed here, not the decision to enter into it, since carry and come are both in the present tense. To carry means “to carry an object” or “to bear a burden”. The same verb is used in John 19:17 where Jesus bore a cross as he marched to his death. To follow Jesus means to follow in suffering, for the world rejects the disciple. The figure of cross-bearing denotes a willingness to bear the pain of persecution as a result of following Jesus. It is another way to express willingness to “hate one’s soul” in self-sacrifice. Come after me means to follow in someone’s path; in the Old Testament, it referred to following after Yahweh or false gods. As such, it is an allusion to allegiance and obedience. The disciple is ready to share Jesus’ fate of rejection by the world.

 

[28-30] Using a rhetorical question, Jesus presents the first of two pictures to illustrate what discipleship would involve: assessing the cost of building a tower before beginning construction. Before building, the wise person assesses the expense. One does not build the tower, despite its benefits, until one knows it is affordable and that it can be brought to completion. Sitting and calculating the cost means a reasoned assessment. The wise decision involves reflection, not reaction. So, Jesus suggests, should it be with discipleship: one should assess whether one is ready to take on the personal commitment and sacrifice required to follow Jesus. A graphic picture of the result of not counting the cost is that the project will not be completed. Such an error means the building will stand unfinished, as a monument to one’s foolishness. Such is the danger for a disciple who does not assess what it means to follow Jesus. The failure is not God’s, but the disciple’s because of lack of commitment, resolve, and reflection. Public mocking underlines the failure to count the cost.

 

[31-32] Jesus supplies a second example about the importance of examining a situation and reflecting before acting. Moving from personal projects to political intrigue, he tells about a king deciding whether to go to war. The king assesses the cost of war before entering the battle. The example is in the form of a rhetorical question. So also the disciple should assess discipleship in preparing to follow Jesus. It is foolish not to consider what it will take to be a disciple. The wisdom of such assessment is seen in the king’s response to being outnumbered. Rather than going to war, he asks for terms of peace. Jesus pictures the value of reflecting on becoming a disciple. To avoid an embarrassing and deadly outcome, one is to count the cost. Jesus uses the two different circumstances to illustrate his basic point: discipleship requires a conscious advance commitment, made with a realistic estimate of the ultimate personal cost.

 

[33] Discipleship is more than hating family or bearing a cross: one must also distance oneself from materialistic attachment to the world. A disciple’s attachments are potentially the most destructive thing for discipleship. This verse expresses positively what is required, in contrast to the negatively formed statements of 14:26. Hating family and self equals renouncing all possessions, that is, all earthly attachments. The will to renounce all possessions and to ally oneself totally to Jesus is the essence of discipleship. Jesus is the one object of focus. If Jesus offers what he says he offers, then there can be no greater possession than following him. Jesus seeks to lead people in doing the Father’s will, offering to the disciple the treasures of heaven. One is not really an effective, worthy disciple without this attitude. The one who comes to Jesus is to realize this standard. Jesus is not a minimalist when it comes to commitment. It is not how little one can give that is the question, but how much God deserves. The important thing is that whosoever desires to follow Him must be inwardly free from worldly-mindedness, covetousness and selfishness and wholly devoted to Him.  

 

This is clearly a crucial verse. But does it mean that it is impossible to retain any possessions at all if one wants to be a true disciple? The key word is apotassetai ("give up"). When used of persons, the verb means to take leave of or say good-by to someone. When used of things, it means to give up or renounce. Here, in contrast to the cares of the rich young ruler [18:22], Jesus does not say a disciple should sell all his possessions and give everything away. His thought probably is that of abandonment of things, yielding up the right of ownership, rather than outright disposal of them. The disciple of Jesus may be given the use of things in trust, as a stewardship, but they are no longer his own. The present tense implies that what Jesus requires in relation to possessions is a continual attitude of abandonment.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.     What is Jesus teaching us about the nature of true discipleship in verses 9:57-62? Do you think Jesus means this for all of His followers or just for a certain group of believers (for example, pastors, missionaries, etc.)? Why do you think this? How does the way you answer that question affect the way you view your Christian life and service?

 

2.     In 14:26, Jesus uses very strong language to indicate what is required to be His disciple. Reflect on your Christian life. To what degree is this verse true about the way you live? What changes in the way you think and live do you need to make in order for Christ to be the highest priority in your life?

 

3.     In verses 14:27-33, Jesus is emphasizing the importance of having perspective believers “consider the cost” of becoming His disciple. Why is this important? When you are witnessing to an unsaved friend, do you point out that being a follower of Jesus requires one to “carry his own cross”? Why or Why not? Does your church include this teaching in their evangelism program?

 

 

References:

Luke, Volume 2, Darrell Bock, Baker Books.

Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Norval Geldenhuys, Eerdmans.

Gospel According to Luke, William Hendriksen, Baker Books.

Luke, Walter L. Liefeld, EPC, Zondervan.