Half-Hearted Interest or Total Commitment?

 

Week of March 10, 2013

 

Bible Verses:  Luke 9:20-26,57-62.

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson can help you evaluate your level of dedication to Jesus and choose to follow Him with total commitment.

 

Embrace Total Commitment:  Luke 9:20-23.

 

[20]  Then he said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered, "The Christ of God."  [21]  And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one,  [22]  saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."  [23]  And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  [ESV]

 

[20-22]  It is always interesting to hear what people think about Jesus. Asking about this is a great way to start a conversation about spiritual things. But the question for us is what we ourselves believe about Jesus, and this is exactly where Jesus was heading with His disciples. What other people were saying was all very interesting, but it was not nearly as important as what was happening in their own minds and hearts. So Jesus asked the disciples for their own opinion about His true identity. Jesus was bringing His disciples to a point of personal commitment. What mattered was not what other people were saying, but what they believed for themselves. Jesus was asking His disciples, but as we read the Gospel, He is also asking us. Who do you say that Jesus is? This is the most important question in the world, because Jesus is the most important person in the universe. But the question is also important because the answer we give determines our destiny. Heaven and hell are hanging in the balance. The Bible says that the free gift of eternal life is only for those who know Jesus Christ, but how can we know Him for sure if we do not even know who He is? So Jesus asked this crucial question. How typical it was for Peter to answer first. He was by far the most outspoken disciple, often serving as the spokesman for the others. On this occasion, Peter got the answer absolutely right: Jesus is the Christ of God. Immediately after Peter’s confession, Jesus began preaching to them the gospel of His crucifixion and resurrection. Before there could be any misunderstanding about what it meant for Him to be the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus commanded them to tell this to no one. Knowing that Jesus was the Christ was not the end; it was only the beginning. As soon as the disciples knew who He was, Jesus began telling them what He had come to do. We do well to follow the same pattern in our own personal evangelism, introducing people to Jesus and His saving work. We can scarcely imagine the disciples’ confusion and dismay as they heard Jesus’ extraordinary words about suffering, death, and resurrection. Why was Jesus talking about suffering and dying, and why was He so adamant in refusing to let them tell anyone that He was the Christ? Why wouldn’t He let them tell people who He was? The reason is fairly obvious: the disciples were just beginning to understand who Jesus was, and they had no clear idea what He had come to do. If they started to tell everyone who Jesus was, they were bound to give people the wrong idea. Waiting for instructions was especially important in this case because most people were looking for the wrong kind of Messiah. Their aspirations and expectations were largely military. They were looking for a Christ who could deliver them from the Romans. So if the disciples did not wait until they had a better understanding of what Jesus had come to do, the gospel would get all mixed up with politics. Later Jesus would send them out to tell the whole world who He was [Luke 24:44-49]. But that would only be after the training of the twelve was complete. For now, they needed to keep listening to what Jesus had to teach. No one can share the gospel without first knowing what the gospel is. Waiting was also important because when Jesus started teaching about His saving work, the disciples' had no idea what He was talking about. Jesus said that He would suffer and die, which was just about the last thing the disciples ever imagined that He would say. As far as they were concerned, the Messiah was a mighty deliverer and a triumphant ruler. For Him to suffer and to die was incomprehensible, which explains why the disciples abandoned Jesus at the cross. They did not understand what was happening, even though Jesus had tried to explain it to them in advance. Of all the things Jesus ever said to them, this was the most confusing, the most shocking, the most impossible to understand. But Jesus did not come to meet their expectations, or our expectations, He came to do His Father’s will in the plan of salvation, which meant suffering and dying for sin. The only Christ there is to confess is Christ crucified.

 

[23]  The only way to follow Jesus is to follow Him to the very death, every day: let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Jesus calls us to make a comprehensive and costly sacrifice. Like everything else that Jesus said, these words need to be understood in their proper context. Peter had just made his dramatic confession of Jesus as the Christ [20]. On the basis of what he had seen and heard, and by the inward witness of God the Holy Spirit, Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Anointed One. This was a major revelation: the disciples finally recognized Jesus as the Christ of God. This was only the first step, however. In addition to knowing the person of Jesus, the disciples also needed to understand His work. So Jesus immediately began to teach them the things He needed to do for their salvation. He would endure suffering, rejection, and death before rising on the third day. Jesus had to do these things because He was the Christ, and these were the things that the Christ was sent to do. The only Christ that Peter or anyone else can confess is Christ crucified and risen. All of this was very hard for the disciples to understand, when Jesus began speaking about His crucifixion and resurrection, they basically had no idea what He was talking about. But then Jesus said the hardest thing of all: just as He would suffer unto death, so also His disciples would suffer and die on the cross of daily self-denial. So here, in the space of just a few short verses, Jesus proclaimed the whole gospel message and applied it to daily life. Truly this is what it means to confess Jesus as the Christ. It means much more than simply knowing who Jesus is, or what he came to do. It means that His life, in all its suffering, becomes the pattern for our lives. Verse 23 is Christ’s own definition of what it means to be a Christian – the terms of discipleship. As Jesus issued the terms of discipleship, He used three different verbs to describe what every disciple must do: deny … take up ,,, follow. These are really three different ways of saying the same thing, but each has a slightly different emphasis. The first verb is deny, and what Jesus calls us to deny is ourselves, meaning especially our sinful selves, with all the selfish desires of our fallen nature. The verb means to forget oneself entirely, to reject any thought of doing what will please ourselves rather than God. Instead of gratifying ourselves or indulging ourselves in all the ways our sinful nature desires, we are called to deny ourselves, rejecting anything and everything that will get in the way of offering ourselves for God’s service. By doing this, we are following His example. At the same time that we deny ourselves, Jesus wants us to take up our cross daily. Cross-bearing is something that goes well beyond the ordinary trials of daily life. Jesus was speaking specifically about the suffering that we endure for His sake, the hardships we face due to the very fact that we are trying to follow Christ. The third verb that Jesus used was follow. To be a disciple is to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. By now it is perfectly clear that when Jesus called people to follow Him, He meant following Him all the way to the death. He has just said that He Himself will endure suffering, rejection ,and even death. Now anyone who follows this Savior must be prepared for the same kind of rejection.

Identify with Jesus:  Luke 9:24-26.

 

[24]  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  [25]  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?  [26]  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

 

[24-26]  If we are going to accept the terms of discipleship and follow Jesus to the very death, then we must have some supremely compelling reason for doing so. Jesus gives us a good reason in verse 24. Why should we deny ourselves and take up our cross daily to follow Him? Because that is the only way to save one’s life. This is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith – the tradeoff of discipleship: to save your life is to lose it, but to lose your life for Jesus is to save it. What does it mean to save your life, and what does it mean to lose it? The manner of Jesus’ expression is important. He speaks first of those who would save their lives. As it turns out, they will not save them after all, but they would like to. In other words, their aspiration is self-preservation. Their ambition in life is to protect themselves. People who want to save their lives in this sense believe that their satisfaction and security are up to them. Thus they pursue their careers with blind ambition, working so hard that there is little time for anything else, even the people they claim to care about. They are not willing to make any costly, interpersonal investments in the kingdom of God. They call themselves Christians, but they are not willing to suffer for the cause of Christ. There is a tradeoff for all of this. Ironically, and very tragically, people who want to save their lives end up losing them. The word lose here suggests a total forfeit. What we lose in seeking our own salvation is absolutely everything, even our very lives. What Jesus means by this is not so much our physical lives, but our spiritual lives – not just now, but forever. By contrast, whoever loses his life in Christ will save it. Jesus is speaking about something more than being willing to lose our lives; He is speaking about actually giving our lives for Him. God has not given us our lives to keep for ourselves, but to give away for Him. People who follow Jesus and take up the cross of discipleship end up saving their lives. This is true in the present because they save their lives from being wasted. Rather than squandering themselves for earthly gain, they spend themselves for the glory of God, which is the only way to avoid leading a meaningless existence. Then in the life to come they will gain an even greater prize: everlasting joy in the presence of God. The tradeoff of discipleship forces us to make some serious choices. Will we follow Jesus, or go our own way? Will we take up our cross, or leave it behind? Will we keep our lives for ourselves, or give them away for Jesus? The decisions we make determine our destiny. The emphatic statement in verse 26 places the losing and saving of our souls in the context of the final judgment. Jesus knew that one day He would judge the world. He was looking beyond His cross to the crown that He will receive on the last day. He will come again in all His glory – His own glory and the glory of His Father, with all the heavenly angels. On that day He will judge every person who ever lived. He will render the final verdict that will determine our eternal destiny. Some He will welcome into the joy of His Father’s heaven; others He will condemn to the fires of hell. Who will suffer this great loss? Those who are ashamed of Jesus Christ, and of His words, and who therefore refuse to deny themselves and take up the cross of discipleship. This is a sobering warning, because there are times when we too are tempted to be ashamed of Christ. We hesitate to let people know that we are Christians. We are too timid to speak a word in His defense, or take a stand on a moral issue. We are afraid to read our Bibles or pray in public. If we are so ashamed of Jesus, will He be ashamed of us?

 

Reject All Excuses:  Luke 9:57-62.

 

[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, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."  [59]  To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."  [60]  And Jesus said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."  [61]  Yet another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home."  [62]  Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  [ESV]

 

[57-62]  Luke 9 ends with three brief encounters that Jesus had with three would-be disciples on the road to Jerusalem. Each of these encounters teaches us something about what it means to follow Jesus. In fact, follow is the key word in this section, occurring in verses 57, 59 and 61. All three of these people had every intention of following Jesus. Yet when we learn more about them, we have to wonder whether they really had what it took to follow Jesus all the way to Jerusalem, which leads us to ask whether we ourselves are ready to follow Jesus all the way. The first encounter teaches us that if we want to follow Jesus, we have to be willing to give up everything, even the comforts of home. Here in verse 57 was someone who knew something about the demands of discipleship. He understood that following Jesus meant going wherever He went. Without raising any questions or making any conditions, this man volunteered to go anywhere and everywhere with Jesus. Yet for all his confidence, the man really had not counted the cost of discipleship. Before we say that we are ready and able to follow Jesus, we need to know where He is going, and what hardships we are likely to face along the way. Jesus never denied the more difficult aspects of discipleship, but always announced them in advance. He never presented the Christian life as a life of ease, but always of sacrifice. So Jesus answered the first would-be disciple with the words of verse 58. This means that we must never allow earthly things to get in the way of true discipleship. The next encounter [59-60] dealt not with the comforts of home, but with the claims of family. Rather than being too quick to promise, like the first would-be disciple, this man was too slow to perform. Here was someone else who wanted to follow Jesus, but first he wanted to negotiate the terms of his discipleship. The word first is important because it shows where the man’s priorities were. He wanted to honor a commitment to his family before he began to follow Jesus. Here it helps to know the cultural background. On a first reading, most people assume that this conversation took place sometime between the death of the man’s father and his proper burial. But in all likelihood, his father was not yet dead. In those days Jewish people buried their dead within twenty-four hours, and family members sat with the body of the deceased until it was laid to rest. If the father had died already, his son would not have been talking with Jesus at all, but sitting at home with his family in mourning. What, then, was the nature of this request? When the man asked for permission to bury his father, he was asking Jesus to let him care for his father during his declining years, until finally he died. Here the man had a strong claim. Honoring our parents is one of the Ten Commandments, and caring for them in old age is one of the best ways we can ever honor them. But Jesus discerned that this man was using his family situation as an excuse for delaying his discipleship. What hinders us from following Christ is not always something sinful; sometimes it is something good in itself that nevertheless gets in the way of what God really wants us to do. It was in this context that a third person spoke to Jesus on the Jerusalem road: I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home. In all likelihood, this man had heard what Jesus said about the dead burying the dead. He did not want to do that. He did not feel the need to wait around for the rest of his father’s life before he started to follow Jesus. He was willing to go much sooner. But first – there is that word again – he wanted at least enough time to go and say good-bye. Once again, this may seem like a reasonable request. As a matter of common courtesy, surely it was appropriate for this man to go back home and say farewell to his family. There was even a good biblical precedent for this. When Elisha answered God’s call to leave the family farm and follow the prophet Elijah, he was granted permission to kiss his father and mother good-bye [1 Kings 19:20]. Elisha went home, burned his plow, slaughtered his oxen, and held a farewell feast for his family and friends. Jesus may well have had that incident from Elisha’s life in mind, because He said: No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. When Jesus talked about putting one’s hand to the plow, He was saying that the normal courtesies of family affection must give way to the overriding demands of the kingdom of God. The proverb He used to make this point came from the fields, where the best way to plow a straight furrow is to keep looking ahead at some fixed point in the distance. When Elisha went back home to say good-bye, he made a definitive break with his old way of life. Once Elisha burned his plow and slaughtered his oxen, he was done with farming forever. But apparently if the man that Jesus met went back home, he would be tempted to stay. Something else was first in his heart, and knowing this, Jesus told him not to go back, even for a moment, but to follow Him right away. Like a soldier going off to battle, this man needed to do his duty without delay. Sometimes we wrestle with the same temptation. We want to wait a little longer before embarking on our journey with Jesus, or before setting off on a new pathway in our pilgrimage. Once we start, we are tempted to look back at everything we used to love. If we keep second-guessing our decision for Christ, or looking back fondly on our old affections, or even worse, going back to the places where we used to sin, then we will never get anywhere with Jesus. If we want to be His disciples, we need to follow Him without any further delay.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         Why did Jesus command His disciples to tell no one that He was the Messiah? Why did He start telling His disciples about His crucifixion and resurrection immediately after Peter’s confession?

 

2.         What does it mean to deny … take up … follow? Why did Jesus emphasize these three things to His disciples?

 

3.         What does Jesus mean in verse 24 when He talks about how we can truly save our lives? Why is this called the tradeoff of Christian discipleship?

 

4.         What does Jesus intend for us to learn from the three encounters found in 9:57-62? What is Jesus teaching us about the true meaning of following Him?

 

References:

Luke, Darrell Bock, ECNT, Baker.

Luke, Walter Liefeld, EBC, Zondervan.

Luke, Philip Ryken, REC, P&R Publishing.