So the first man to encounter Jesus in the story is someone I call a bandwagon fan. A bandwagon fan is someone who jumps onto a cause after watching others do it first. They typically have little knowledge of whatever cause or team they support and their enthusiasm is generally based on their team our cause doing well. They gain something from being a fan without any of the pain. In our story this fan of Jesus comes out of nowhere and says to him, “I will go wherever you go.” He is a big fan. He’s heard about Jesus. Perhaps he has seen miracles, or heard him debate the religious leaders of the day. He has seen the crowd and has decided it would be to his benefit to join Jesus. He doesn't introduce himself. He doesn’t ask what Jesus requires of him or what will be expected of him or what it will cost. Instead he simply walks over and announces his commitment. Surely this would have excited you or I, but not Jesus. What’s Jesus’ response? He’s cryptic. He says, “foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One has no place to lay his head.” Jesus is saying. You want to follow me? I don't even have a bed. I can’t promise you an easy life. I can’t promise your disease will be healed. I can’t promise you money or a house or a car. I’m not Oprah. In fact the only thing I can give you is true life, but its going to cost you yours. Jesus knew that if the man didn’t understand the cost and tried to follow him he would fail and when he failed he would be bitter and might never try and follow Jesus again. .
Bitterness comes as a result of being let down. It is anger at not getting what we thought we were promised. Many of us struggle with bitterness because we feel like God has let us down. We feel that God hasn’t lived up to his end of the deal. We feel this way because we misunderstand what it means to follow Jesus, just like this man did. We think that if we follow Jesus he will make our lives easier, or if I follow Christ he will fix my marriage, or if I follow Christ he will magically take away my addiction, or if I try and follow Christ he will heal my broken heart, or if I follow Christ I will never feel lonely again, or if I follow Christ God will give me a child, or if I follow Christ I will get a job. This belief is prominent in our culture and in almost every other religion on the planet. If I’m good, good things will happen to me, if I’m bad, bad things will happen to me. I am here to tell you today that this is simply not true. Jesus lived a perfect life and yet died an unjust death. Let me repeat that. Jesus lived a perfect life and yet died an unjust death. He obeyed and it cost him his life.
Following Jesus doesn’t guarantee an easy life. This is what Jesus warned the bandwagon fan.
How does the bandwagon fan respond? Luke doesn’t tell us. He leaves us hanging. Why? I will get to that later. Instead he brings another person onto the scene, someone I call a skeptic. I will explain why in a moment…READ Luke 9:59-60.
So Jesus is walking along and approaches a man. We aren’t told anything about this man. He might have been following Jesus for a week or months. Perhaps he had observed him heal a person or two or heard him speak and teach. He was curious about him but hadn’t made up his mind, thinking maybe he was just another preacher who was popular with the crowds for a while but would soon disappear again. Suddenly, Jesus engages him. He looks at him, not wasting time introducing himself, and asks or rather commands him, “follow me!” Taken aback but realizing he isn’t ready to commit to following Jesus he blurts out “Lord, first let me go bury my father.” To which Jesus responds, “let the dead bury their own dead.” What is going on here? Jesus sounds very insensitive. What could be more important than burying one’s father? According to Jewish custom at the time when someone died their body was placed inside a tomb. Immediately the family of the deceased began a time of mourning for their father. This time of mourning would last for up to year as they let the body rot. After this, the family would come and gather the bones of the person and place them in a box along with the bones of previously deceased ancestors. The box would then be left in the tomb. Apparently the man’s father had died sometime within the last year. At the present time the person was waiting for the second burial where his father’s bones would join his ancestors. So what the man was asking for was time…
I call this man the Skeptic because a Skeptic always wants more time. A Skeptic wants more data before they make a decision. A Skeptic fears being committed to something that is wrong. A Skeptic thinks the safe choice is to be uncommitted. Skepticism is prevalent today for many reasons, one of which is the access we have to information. According to the British newspaper the Telegraph everyday the average person is exposed to the equivalent information of 174 newspapers. This exposure to information and viewpoints keeps many people skeptical. How can I know that my viewpoint is correct if so many people have different viewpoints than I do? We are also skeptical because we have been let down by people and don’t want to trust anyone who claims to have authority. What is Jesus’ response? Choose! Make a choice! Commit! Let the dead who are already in the tomb with your father bury him. If you put this off now, who knows if you will ever be able to escape the cycle of skepticism. The skeptic didn’t need more time, he needed the courage to choose or as Paul Tillich said, the courage to be.
It is important to notice that Jesus seeks out the skeptic. God is a seeking God. He has an affinity for people who challenge and wrestle with him. The first book of the Bible, Genesis tells the story of Jacob. Jacob, literally wrestled with God. Turn in your Bibles to Genesis 32:22. (READ Gen. 32:22-30)
God is not scared of skepticism. In fact . He is not scared of wrestling with us. In this story we see God coming down to wrestle with Jacob. Not only that he lets Jacob win!! Asking Questions doesn’t keep us from God, requiring answers to every question before we follow him does. We as humans must follow Jesus even though we have unanswered questions. We must commit with our lives even as our minds recognize the difficulties of faith.
The beautiful promise from Jesus in the story is that Jesus had a special plan for the skeptic if he chose to commit. Look again at verse 60… “but you Go and spread the good news of God’s kingdom” God uses thoughtful people. Unlike the first man whose ignorance kept him from understanding Jesus, the skeptic understood it all to well. Because of that Jesus knew that he would be able to help spread the good news of the kingdom. If you are the type of person who thinks deeply about things… If you secretly wonder if the gospel is to good to be true… If you find it hard to pray… If you find it hard to believe… then I have good news for you, God wants to use you to spread the good news that through Christ God reconciled the world to himself not counting our sins against us. You have a gift and God wants to use it.
So what does the skeptic choose to do? Luke doesn't tell us. Instead he introduces a third person, someone I call the deal-maker.
The first two people in the story were unprepared for their encounter with Jesus. The first had not thought about the cost. The 2nd knew the cost and wanted more time to consider before making a decision. A third person comes on the scene… someone who understood what it cost but wanted to see if he could pay a little less. I call him the deal-maker. In the text he initiates the conversation with Jesus. Perhaps he had overheard Jesus’ conversation with first two people and had thought to himself… maybe I could get a better deal than these two guys could. Look at verse 61… he says. 61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” What does he mean by that? For those of you who don’t know, a plow is used to break up the soil in a field. It makes the trench into which the seed buried. It is vital that the rows be kept straight because if crops are planted to close together the yield from them will be greatly reduced. The trick to keeping it straight is looking forward much like mowing your lawn or painting strips on a baseball field. Once you look back you start going crooked. Jesus’s response is given in verse 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus challenges the man to fully commit to following him. The man only wanted to surrender part of himself to Jesus, but Jesus needed all of him.
To follow Christ means we die to ourselves and allow Christ to live in and through us… It requires total commitment. After high school I traveled to Germany to attend a small Bible School. The school was part of a series of schools founded by a British major named Ian Thomas after World War II. Major Thomas had come to faith and after war he wanted to train the young people who had gotten out of the military. At the core or our curriculum was this idea of the crucified life. In one of Major Thomas books, the Saving Life of Christ he says this…
“The Lord Jesus Christ has a claim on the use of your body. He expects to use your whole being, your complete you. As you give yourself to Him by living under the control and power of the Holy Spirit, He will give Himself to you through His eternal “Spirit of life.” (Rom. 8: 2) In this way, all your activity as a human being on earth may be His activity in and through you. If you will follow this Spirit-controlled way of life, every step you take, every word you speak, everything you do, everything you are, may be an expression of the life of Jesus Christ through your mortal body. If it is of Him and through Him and to Him, where do you come in? You do not! That is just where you go out! That is what Paul meant when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal. 2: 20) “For to me, to live is Christ.” (Phil. 1: 21)”
But how do we do that? How do we surrender every part of our lives to the transforming work of Christ? Do we need to say a prayer, read our bibles, go to church? There is no formula. Each of us must make a commitment on a moment by moment basis to live in reliance on God’s power as demonstrated through the resurrection of Christ.
So what happened to these three people? How did they respond to their encounters with Jesus? We don’t know. Luke doesn’t tell us. We don't know if the fan left once he heard he might not have a bed. We don't know if the skeptic left once he was forced to choose. We don’t know if the deal-maker left after he was given the terms. Luke doesn’t give his audience closure. What we do know is that by the end of Luke’s narrative everyone abandoned Jesus, these three included. Jesus died alone… But what we also know is where these men failed, Christ succeeded. He faced the same temptations of each of these men faced and overcame them in order to save us through his obedient death and resurrection. Heb 4:15 tells us that Jesus was tempted in everyway we were and yet was without sin. We see this illustrated in this story.
Just like the first person in the story, in his Humanness Jesus came to understand what his obedience to God was going to cost him and yet continued onto to Jerusalem, to his death. We see in his temptation that he rejected the easy path. Satan himself comes to Christ and offers him literally the World if he will bow to Satan. He was offered the easy path and he rejected it and received death instead. Scripture also tells us that Christ himself questioned God. He faced his own skepticism. In the garden before he was arrested and killed he begs his Father, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” (Matthew 26:39). Matthew records this. Jesus wrestled with the goodness of God’s plan and yet he obeyed even though he didn’t fully understand how it was going to all work out. Finally in scripture we see that Jesus was tempted to forego the cross due to the duty he felt to his family. Jesus felt the call to be devoted to other things, to not fully submit his will to his fathers will and yet he did so.
Jesus was the only one who could walk this particular road to Jerusalem. He walked on fully aware that it would cost him more than any person could ever pay but trusting that if he did this it would bring God’s kingdom, his reign, over those three people and billions of others who would come after them. Empowering them to follow his example and complete their journey from death to resurrection.
Today then let us reflect on our shortcomings but also on the wonderful message of God’s grace that has come to us through Christ. He did what we could never do so that we would never have to count on ourselves to do it. Amen…