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51. And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,
52. And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him.
53. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.
54. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?
55. But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
56. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.
57. And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.
58. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
59. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.
60. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.
61. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.
62. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
Last week we did talk about what it was like down in the valley after the time of the great glory of the transfiguration. Some of the disciples were able to see into the divine supernatural glory of God as it shined upon Jesus and transfigured Him. We saw that down in the valley after that great experience was spiritual warfare waiting for them. We saw that after the glory seemed to have passed over there was the ministry of suffering and the announcement that Jesus would suffer and that His kinship, the Messiah-ship would not be like the disciples have pre-figured and thought it would be. We also looked briefly at the problem of selfish unworthy ambitions that were rising up in the hearts of the disciples. These kinds of things had to be contended with as they tried to get ready to follow Jesus into real discipleship ministry. We also saw the problem of being judgmental and exclusive about who is going to work for God and who would be qualified. A lot of problems just cropped up all of a sudden when they got down in the valley beyond the mountain of glory.
Tonight we continue in that same vein of thought to talk about the cost of discipleship, what it really means to follow Jesus. We will see in this gospel as well as all the gospels the tremendous challenge that Jesus faced to begin to turn the focus of the disciples’ attention away from the here and now and their longings for glory and great power to cope with the day-to-day life they needed to live and ministry they needed to perform. A lot of people are suddenly after they first get in touch with God and especially receive a divine call and sort of come down from the mountain of His glory, they are continually overwhelmed when faced with the realities of what it means for a person to deny himself and take up his cross and follow Jesus. These realities sometimes scare some people and sometimes hinder others and they cause, they seem to be too great a price for people to pay in order to follow Jesus and perform the ministry to which He has called them.
I want us to look at three particular things in this passage tonight that have to be reckoned with. They are realities, the kind of costs that have to be paid in order to follow the Lord Jesus. The first one is to have a Christ-like attitude toward people. I don’t know exactly how to say this to make it sound like it should, but I think one of the symptoms of burn-out in ministry and in service to God is shown and revealed when people begin to have the wrong attitude toward other people and fail to see them as Christ saw them.
Some years ago I was overwhelmed when I began to think about how Christ sees this world. With all of its sin, with all of its rebellion, with all of its rejection of the gospel, with all of its attitudes that are prompted by the power of Satan, yet it is the world of people that God so loved. One man has talked a great deal about when you have church-growth eyes and evangelism eyes and missionary eyes, you see the world as God sees the world, through eyes of love and compassion and understanding. This first example really illustrates that to a great extent. Because Jesus now has set His face to go to Jerusalem, it is going to mean suffering. He’s already told them twice that He must go and must suffer many things and it is going to mean suffering and hardship the rest of His earthly journey. Yes, there will be triumphs and victories and miracles and all kinds of things, but He is setting His face with determination to do the will of the Father. That’s what I’m really talking to you about: doing the will of God regardless of the cost that we have to pay in order to do His perfect will. When He determined to go, He sent some disciples on ahead of Him to open up the way in a sense and determine the attitude of people. They went to the Samaritans and the Samaritans rejected Him. We do not quite understand why they rejected Him because His face was toward Jerusalem, but there are a lot of things involved in that. It could have been racial and religious prejudice for one thing. You know the story of John which elaborates that great theme of the racial and spiritual prejudice that was involved in the Samaritan woman and the Samaritans when she spit out at Jesus that He was a Jew. She tried to start arguments with Him over racial and religious subjects, but finally Jesus broke through it all and He showed us with the tremendous attitude and method and way of reaching in to the lives of people who are rejecting and who are bound down with all kinds of prejudice and are hard to open up their lives to receive the gospel. He shows us how to get through all that and get deep in the hearts of people with the Spirit and the Word of God.
So they rejected Jesus. This really filled the disciples with what we will call righteous indignation. It might have been a lot worse than that but I’m trying to be kind. They said, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and consume these people that won’t accept you? Like Elijah did on one occasion?” And He said, He rebuked them. He said, “You don’t know what kind of spirit that’s really working on you. The kind of attitude and spirit that’s working in your life now about these people who reject, it’s the wrong kind of spirit because the Son of Man came not to destroy, but He came to give life and to save men’s lives.” Now that’s the attitude, that’s the key we’re talking about here; the Christ-like attitude in dealing with people to save them, not judge them, not bring down wrath upon them.
I heard of one man who preached for some weeks at a place and he folded up his Bible and said, “Take them, devil. God don’t want them.” Nobody made a move. Nobody responded. It was hard to determine what the outcome of that might very well be. But I want to tell you that it is very easy to become impatient with folks who don’t see the light that we see. It is very easy to become impatient with people who don't open their hearts to the Word and to the truth. As a pastor for 30 years and as a preacher for all these many years, there is something about it that when somebody walks out on a sermon and stomps out when you’re preaching, you can’t help but be touched by it. I remember a young man who walked out one night while I was preaching and that was the last message he ever heard. It was the last time he was in church until they brought him in for his funeral just in a few days, less than a week.
When people reject God, when they reject the Lord, when they keep on turning away and turning to their sin, it is very easy for us to lose patience and lose burden and lose vision and be ready to turn aside to some other place and go to a different village, so to speak. But Jesus said that’s not the way. Just because somebody has rejected today that doesn’t mean that they will reject tomorrow. One of the hard lessons that I learned as a young preacher is you don’t so quickly give up on folks who reject God or who reject the church. I’ve learned that lesson over and over and over again when the lives of great saints of God who held on in faith and in prayer until their loved ones came in. Some of them came in on a late date, but oh thank God they came in because they had continually built a wall of love and a wall of concern and a wall of care around the lives of their loved one. So in doing the will of God, first of all, is to be motivated by the spirit of love for people.
I know there are some people, and we’ve seen it in times past, some people who seek to become great and become superstars in ministry. They love crowds and hate people. They like the crowds to come and give their applause and their money, but when it comes to being with them on a one-to-one basis, and walking with them over rocky roads and walk with them through valleys of sorrow and death and being with them in times of sickness and trouble, they have very little time for anything like that. Jesus is saying here “If you are going to do my work and follow me and be with me, you will need to love people and purpose in your heart to save men’s lives, not destroy, not consume.” Because the enemy of our loved ones and friends, that is his purpose to steal and to kill and to destroy. That is his method. That is his attitude. That is his spirit; to steal, to kill, and to destroy. I think sometimes we need to pray for a fresh, new burden for the lost and a fresh, new burden of love for people who have rejected Christ.
Part of the real cost of discipleship is relating to people, and seeing them through the eyes of compassion and love that Jesus has. We are told so many times in the gospels that He was moved with compassion. I learned something about compassion some time back. I learned that when you are touched with the compassion of the Lord it is heaven’s invitation for you to perform some good and wonderful and glorious work in behalf of somebody. I’ve said that before, but I think it bears repeating, when you’re moved upon with compassion to pray for somebody, it is an open invitation for God to move in a special way or He wouldn’t even touch you with that compassion in the first place. People that we wouldn’t even think of talking to about their soul or trying to win when you are moved with compassion, there is a boldness and a love that constrains and compels, that brings power and brings people in touch with the grace of God. So that is the first cost of this walking and following Jesus in discipleship and ministry, is to have this compassion and this Christ-like attitude toward people, even people who reject the gospel.
In the second place, Jesus has experiences here, three particular experiences with people, that show us – all three experiences show us that there is to be nothing to hinder us from immediate absolute obedience. First of all, one man said “I will follow You, wherever You go, Lord. It does not matter where You go.” He didn’t realize what he was saying. Because Jesus understood the person’s heart, He said “If you’re going to follow me, you’ve got to get ready for something you’ve never done before because the foxes and the animals have dens and places of safety and rest and security. The fowls of the air have their nests. But the Son of Man doesn’t have a house. He has no place, no bed, no place to lay His head that He calls His own.” That first hindrance has to do with a house, possessions, comfort in life. I’ve seen some people make shipwreck because they were going to try to get it all fixed just right before they launched out.
I have some good friends who came to this city to study for the ministry. They got caught up with a house. They are taking care of family. They were making money and have not performed ministry and they’ve suffered divorce. Jesus knew that for this person not having a home, not having a house would keep him from following Jesus. He said to one man, “You follow me.” And he said, “Alright, but let me first go and bury my parents.” He didn’t mean they were dead right then, but what he meant was, let me go and take care of them until they pass away and then I’ll be free. That might take years. Jesus does not want us to postpone obedience to His leading and His will. He knows how to take care of parents who are aged. I want to tell you when they are in His hands, they are in lot better hands than ours anyway. I know sometimes as a young couple, my wife and I left our home in Mississippi and a lot of times we left our parents weeping and we were weeping ourselves. On the other hand, I have known people whose parents got in the way. I knew one young man, I advised, I pled with him and he said, “I’m called to preach.” I told him, “You ought to come on to Cleveland. You ought to come to Lee College and get some Bible training and prepare for the ministry.” His parents stepped in and hindered and said “No, we want you to stay here in the business. We are afraid that you won’t be able to get along well enough.” They were worried about him. That young man went back on God. He became unfaithful, lost his wife, remarried and today he is back with the Lord and preaching the gospel but his influence and his ministry is sorely limited because he didn’t obey the Lord when the Lord said to come on out.
I’m not talking about just answering the call of ministry to preach the gospel. I’m talking about being a disciple of Jesus Christ and allowing things that hinder and get our minds off of following Him and understanding His perfect will and trying to have our own will at the same time. One fellow said “Well, I will follow you, but I want to go and tell my friends good-bye.” Jesus knew what that meant and how long it might take him, and he might be persuaded not to venture out.
And then he brought us this final illustration of not looking back. First, we are to have a Christ-like attitude toward people. Next, we are not to let anything or anybody hinder us from immediately obeying the will of the Father. And then, we are to never look back. I followed a man once in ministry who looked back. He said, “I’ll never pastor another bunch of knot-heads like these.” Now, that’s some way to address the saints of God because I found out there were some of the greatest saints of God that ever lived that he was calling knot-heads. But he would look back and he would look back for material things. He got involved with wanting to make it big and later he came and visited and he bragged about his clothes and the price of his suits and the price of his shoes. But he has never had ministry since. Never look back. Jesus put it this way. He used a plain, simple kind of illustration that I could understand perfectly myself. He said, “No person that puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit or worthy for the kingdom of God.” Now as a country boy raised on a farm who has plowed, I know what that illustration is really saying. Because to look back, you’ve either got to stop the plowing and turn around and take a look, or worse still, try to keep on plowing and looking back, you can really make a mess of things and plow some crooked furrows. Now I’ve done that. I have to admit. I’ve been looking back at something that caught my attention and plow up about a 10’ space of cotton. You don’t want your daddy to be anywhere around when you do something like that. This thing of looking back causes people to mess up. That’s the simple way of putting it. This is what Jesus is saying. You better keep your eyes on what you are doing. You have to keep looking forward. You have to watch where you are going. You have to watch where you are leading and how you are plowing. I’ve graduated finally from mules to tractors, but the same principle applies. You can’t just sit up on a big tractor and look every which way and look back without wreaking havoc all over the field. That’s exactly what happens when some people start looking back and they quit following the Lord Jesus Christ. They mess up and they cause a lot of others to suffer. You know we still grieve over people who have turned back. I don’t have time to talk to you about illustrations from the Scripture and also from real life about the tragedy of looking back like Lot’s wife, who somehow became entangled and get their attention. Listen folks, this thing about living for Christ, and being a witness, and being a disciple, and serving the Lord requires absolute attention to what we are doing and following the One who is leading, keeping our eyes on Him. Oh, hallelujah!
We try to figure too much out. We make baubles, but as long as we keep in sharp focus, spiritual focus what is set before us, and that brings me back to the thought I opened with in conclusion. Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem. It was going to mean suffering and death and He chose that. Nothing would deter Him. Nothing would sidetrack Him. Nothing would turn Him around. Nothing would cause Him, even if His closest disciples tried to rebuke Him and said, “Lord, not you. No, you’re not to die. No, Lord, it’s going to be a different kind of kingdom.” And He would have to say, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Even if it was His own loved ones. John gives us the picture in his gospel of how His own brothers did not believe on Him and made some wild suggestions to Him. But Jesus had His face set. What I think that really means is what the lady said when she stood up and testified and she said, “I’ve got a made up mind that I’m going to heaven.” I think that’s what it means. I think somehow by the grace of God when we can actually set our face. One of the gospels gives the picture of a flint, like a flint, like an arrow that is shot straight toward its mark and nothing will deter it or turn it aside. When you’ve got your heart set, your face set, your mind made up, then nothing turns you aside. That’s discipleship. So following Jesus in discipleship means putting Him and His will as the most important thing in our lives. I’m not sure I can tell you how it feels to be out of God’s will. I feel like my wife and I have prayed earnestly in all our times and that we’ve followed the leading of the Lord and were in His will. But I have known some friends that got out of His will. I had one good friend whose father was one time the pastor of this church. He had a few problems. He was in a great church doing well, but he had some problems and he called the overseer and got an exchange and left. After he loaded up that U-Haul moving truck and started to pull out of that city, he stopped because his tears were blinding him and he couldn’t see how to drive. He got out and leaned across his car and wept like his heart would break. He told me, “Joe, I knew right then I was leaving God’s will.” He never seemed to find it again. He died with some bitterness and some disappointment at a young age with heart trouble. I would hate to be out of God’s will. I don’t quite know how to identify with somebody like that. But oh, let me tell you the most wonderful place in this world, regardless of the circumstances, is to be in the will of God. Not looking back, but going forward in faith following the Lord Jesus Christ.
Most of you in this house tonight have already done that. You’ve almost completed your journey. But even when we get closer and closer to the end, that is the time to keep in sharp focus what lies ahead and the reward that is coming. I’m going to ask you to pray that God would indeed help us to continue to do the perfect will of God in our lives.
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