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At Christmas season we often recount the first journey of Jesus, how his parents, Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, the place where he was to be born. They went out according to the will of God, but found no place to lay their head.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is a pilgrim. He starts out in the outback and makes his way to Jerusalem. Luke 1:3 – not chronological order, but geographical order. We looked last week at how Luke structures his two books Luke, Galilee of the Gentiles to Jerusalem; Acts, Jerusalem to the Gentiles. Much of the book is Jesus’ long journey – pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The book moves. The Christian life has been called a journey. We are all, as we go through this life walking with Jesus. In the book of Luke, that journey is literal. Along the way we meet three would-be disciples who wish to walk with Jesus.
The Person Who Desires a Destination
The first would-be disciple sounds great. Jesus, I’ll follow you wherever you go! What conviction! What dedication! Give this guy a blue ribbon or a badge to put on his chest! “I’ll follow you anywhere, Jesus! By the way, where are we going? What’s that? You don’t got anyplace? You’re homeless?” It may be shocking for some of you to hear me call Jesus a homeless man. But that’s what he’s telling this would be disciple. You’ll follow me anywhere? Well, I’ve already given up settling down anywhere in this world and I am walking to the cross. The only place I’m going to lay my head is in the grave. You want to go with me there?
This man’s idea of discipleship assumed that Jesus would lead him to a place where he could settle. Here’s the problem with Jesus – he never let’s us settle. It’s hard to be homeless. On that pilgrimage that I told you about – I was homeless. I didn’t have any place to stay. I would enter into a town, look for a church and try to talk my way (in Japanese) to staying on the floor of the church. A couple of times I couldn’t find a place to stay and I walked all night. It was cold and wet and I was miserable.
Some of us have been settling in our faith. We’ve found our spouse, found our career, found a nice place to live, found an acceptable level of faith and are content to just stay where we are at rather than pressing on with Jesus. Some of us are no more spiritually mature, no more close to the Lord than we were two years ago, and some of us have even moved backward. Think of where God has brought you on your journey. The only rest is heaven’s rest. To walk with a homeless man requires trust. It requires that we believe that he’ll guide us to find a place to rest from night to night.
The Person Who is Tied Up With Worldly Business
The second person Jesus calls makes what seems like a very reasonable request: Jesus – I’ve got to put on my father’s funeral. What could be a better excuse not to start the path of discipleship? Even if this man were in the military, he would be flown home. Some prisons will often even let prisoners out to attend to such matters. What if this was the #1 son who has his filial duty to his parents? Couldn’t Jesus have just told him, “You know, this is where were going on to, do what you have to do and catch up with us when you can?” Why is Jesus so strict here with this man?
I think the key is found both in the context and in the answer Jesus gives. Jesus is set on a mission and is looking for laborers in that mission. Immediately after this passage, Jesus sends the 70 workers out. Jesus tells the man – “as for you, you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Jesus has a mission selected for this man and this mission is not going to wait for him.
Look carefully at that first part of Jesus’ answer to the man: “Let the dead bury their own dead.” What Jesus is saying is this, “Why waste your life doing what a non-Christian could do.” Christian, you’ve got a call on your life. You’ve been marked by God. Why waste your life doing what any non-Christian could do. Make sure that whatever you do, you are doing it as a follower of Christ. Don’t waste your life doing what the crowd is doing, God has so much more for you.
Now this is not to say that you are unspiritual if you attend your parents funeral! What it means is, if there is a conflict between your worldly business and your ability to follow Jesus, follow Jesus every time!
This requires us to understand and commit to Christ’s mission rather than our own. What is the mission statement of your life? Could a non-believer have the same statement?
The Person Who Lives in the Past
Again, this seems like a reasonable request. Can I just go and say bye to my parents? The second guy, maybe the funeral may hold him up for a couple of days, but Jesus, won’t you let this guy just take a few minutes and say goodbye?
Jesus’ answer reveals a lot about why this disciple was rejected. It’s not the couple of minutes that would have been wasted, it was the attitude of the heart of this disciple that was always going to be looking back, looking at his past life and wondering what might have been if he’d just stayed behind. Jesus cannot move that disciple forward because the disciple will always be walking backward. They will always be bringing up the good ole days (which weren’t really that good). I’ve got a friend who always says, “The past and the present do not determine your future.”
Following Jesus is a freeing faith that looks ahead not in fear but in expectation
Doesn’t Jesus Want Anybody to Follow Him?
Jesus’ harshness toward these three would be disciples almost seems guaranteed to drive people away from following him. If these three disciples were in our church, the first would be teaching Sunday school, the second would be praise for doing
his filial duty and the third would be held up to our youth as an example of one who is always polite to his elders. But Jesus would take none of them. Why? Because he knew the way he was going. He knew that to follow him would demand the type of commitment that trusted his leading, that was looking to accomplish his mission and that looked always straight ahead. If we are not able to trust his leading, if we are uncommitted to accomplishing his mission and if we are ceaselessly looking back, there is no way we are going to make it.