As they were going along the road, someone said to [Jesus], “I will follow You wherever You go.” 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.” To another He said, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow You, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
A few years ago I read about a place called “Eden by the Sea.” A Lutheran pastor and his wife started a ministry in which they invite pastors and their families to come to Hawaii for a time of rest and relaxation. They have some very fine accommodations near Waikiki beach with canoes, surfboards, and snorkeling gear. They even serve a romantic candlelight dinner.
When I suggested to Aimee that this might be a nice place to go for our 25th anniversary, she said she’d have to think about it and get back to me.
No, that’s not true. She was very receptive. She thought it sounded like a wonderful way to celebrate 25 years of marriage. She’s always wanted to go to Hawaii. So, I contacted Lynda Mueller and made reservations. We had two years to save money and plan. And twelve years ago this July, we headed on a journey to Hawaii for a wonderful second honeymoon!
But what if I would have made this proposal to Aimee? “Aimee, I’ve made up my mind, no matter what you say I’m not going to change it. I’m going on a journey. I want you to come along with me. I can’t give you very many details, so you’re just going to have to trust me.
“What I can tell you is that the journey’s not going to be easy. You can expect many hardships and sacrifices. We’ll have to walk or hitchhike. I haven’t saved up any money, so we’ll just have to rely on the generosity of the people that we meet along the way. I’m sure that somebody will let us stay with them.
“By the way, you’re going to have to leave everyone else behind—our kids and grandkids, our family, friends and co-workers. You may never see them again. And since we need to get going right now, there really isn’t any time for us to say good-by. You should also know that a lot of people won’t be happy having us around. Some will even threaten us with bodily harm. I won’t fight back, and I know for a fact that they’ll put me to death. But I’m going anyway. You can’t change my mind.” Do you think she would be going with me?
What about you? Are you ready for such a journey? It would have to be a fantastic destination to be worth it all, wouldn’t it?
But that’s very much the kind of proposal that Jesus lays before those who would be His disciples in our text as He sets His face to go to Jerusalem.
The phrase, “He set His face” sounds strange to modern ears, but it alludes to Jesus’ prophetic role. For God to “set His face” against a person, city, or region is for God to show His wrath. The opposite is for God to “make His face shine on you and be gracious to you” (Numbers 6:25). But here Jesus “set His face” to go to Jerusalem, not to show wrath or mercy to Jerusalem, but to face and overcome all temptation and opposition that would turn Him aside from traveling to the cross.
In Ezekiel, we are told that God made the prophet’s forehead as hard as flint so he could endure the hostility of rebellious Israel (3:8-9). In Isaiah, the Suffering Servant says: “I offered my back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting. Because the Lord Yahweh helps Me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set My face like flint, and I know that I will not be put to shame” (50:5-7).
Jesus, the Suffering Servant, “set His face to go to Jerusalem.” He is resolutely determined to go to the cross, fully aware of the torture and humiliation involved. He trusts in eventual vindication by the Father (Isaiah 50:8-9), and He knows that the cross is the only way to obtain salvation for humanity.
To reach Jerusalem, Jesus proposes to journey through Samaria, but the messengers whom He sends ahead of Him get a hostile reception. James and John ask Jesus if they can “tell fire to come down from heaven to consume them.” Clearly, they do not understand Jesus’ mission as the Messiah. He Himself will “be baptized” with the fire of heavenly wrath (Luke 12:49-50). His mission as Messiah is one of mercy and compassion, not of condemnation (John 3:17). Punishment of those who reject the Gospel will come at Judgment Day. Rather than lash out, Jesus simply moves on to a different village.
Along the way Jesus is met by some who wish to join Him. The first comes as a volunteer promising to “follow You wherever You go.” It is a bold promise, but Jesus dampens his zeal by warning him that he doesn’t know what he is asking. That is the meaning of Jesus’ answer: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Jesus wants this man to count the cost of following Him. The path may look appealing as the crowds sing Jesus’ praises. But like enthusiastic troops marching off to war on a sunny day with bands blaring and crowds cheering, Jesus’ followers will soon find the cheers turning to the big guns of enemy opposition and the sunshine replaced by cold rain and muddy battlefields.
The Son of Man, while destined for glory, must first take the lonely route of suffering and rejection, culminating at the dead end of a despised cross. He calls His disciples to follow Him on the road of service and self-sacrifice. The way of discipleship always means putting the kingdom first, last, and all the time, and letting God attend to the rest.
Did this man follow Jesus? We are not told.
What about you? If you had been in that man’s position, what would you have done? Are you ready for the journey with Jesus?
The second man is asked by Jesus to follow Him. While the first man was over-ready and had to be cautioned, this man wants to delay and join Jesus later. “Lord, let me first go and bury my father,” he says.
Jesus’ answer is puzzling, and purposely so: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.” At Jesus’ time, the Jews considered burial a religious rite which took precedence over everything, even reading God’s Word. But Jesus is saying that the Gospel is so important, it takes precedence over all family ties and worldly cares.
So, do you think this man stayed with Jesus? Would you have stayed if you had been in his shoes? Are you ready for the journey with Jesus?
The third would-be disciple, like the first, thinks that following Christ means that he must make the offer on his own initiative, as if it were a career he had mapped out for himself. There is, however, a difference between the first would-be disciple and the third, for the third is bold enough to stipulate his own terms: “Let me first say farewell to those at my home.”
Jesus’ answer shows the futility of the man’s offer: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” It makes little difference to what part of the worldly life the heart looks back with longing and is unable to tear itself away, the effect is always the same: not fit for the kingdom.
Do you think this man followed Jesus after hearing His Word? What would you have done in his place? Are you ready for the journey with Jesus?
These are hard sayings. They dare not be interpreted in isolation from the rest of Scripture. In these statements Jesus is obviously making a strong statement to get across the point He want to make for all who would follow Him: you will need to be ready to make sacrifices. To be a disciple of Jesus means to be ready to reorder the priorities of this earthly life. The way of new life requires staying on the hard road of pilgrimage that leads to the cross, through death, and finally to resurrection. It calls for an unhesitating departure from ties to the old life, even ties to family. The family that matters, says Jesus, is the family of God.
Luke does not record the responses of the three would-be disciples in this text, suggesting that more important than the question of whether they heeded Jesus’ words is your response. Are you ready for the journey with Jesus?
An honest examination of our own discipleship will show that we often have failed. At various times, we have been just like the three would-be disciples. We have eagerly volunteered for service but have failed to count the cost. We have made excuses for not being able to follow Jesus when and where He wants us.
I personally can relate best to the third man, the one who wanted to be Jesus’ disciple, but only on his terms. It was January 1, 1995. I was planning for the coming year as a Lutheran Brotherhood representative. But I felt the tug to go into the pastoral ministry. On that day, I prayed two prayers: “Lord, I really enjoy my career with Lutheran Brotherhood, but if you want me to go to the seminary, let me know. If you have to, make me miserable enough to know that I should move on.” I also gave God another option: “Lord, if you’ll only come through with $12,000 so we have a little financial cushion, then I’ll go to the seminary.”
Neither one of these is a proper prayer. As disciples of Christ, we are in no position to bargain with the Lord. God is under no obligation to keep such an agreement. I might also add a word of warning here: you should always be careful what you pray for. You might get it!
From that day on, my life got miserable. The business that had been going along well suddenly dried up. We barely had enough money coming in to pay the bills. But God does have a sense of humor. After I finally committed to going to the seminary, He provided for our family very well. Less than a week after we put our house up for sale it was sold. And guess how much money I earned the last month I sold insurance? You’re right! $12,000. I dare say, more than I’ll ever make in one month for the rest of my life.
It’s a good thing our journey of discipleship doesn’t depend on our faithfulness but on Christ’s. He already completed the trip for us. He “set His face” and went to Jerusalem, never once looking back. He died on the cross in our place, exchanging His perfect obedience and righteousness for our sin and disobedience. He rose again from the dead, and because He rose, we know that while suffering and the grave are still steps in our journey, they are not the end of the journey. In Christ we have been given the gift of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.
We follow Jesus in faith by His grace. Discipleship is not our work; it is Christ’s work in us. He calls us through His Word and Sacrament. In Baptism He makes us His own and baptizes us into His death and resurrection. He makes us His disciples and calls us to journey with Him to the cross.
In Holy Absolution, He grants us remission of all of our sins. By His Holy Spirit, He increases in us true knowledge of Him and of His will and true obedience to His Word, to the end that by His grace we may come to everlasting life. In His Holy Supper, Christ gives us pardon and peace, and strengthens us in service to Him as He feeds us His very body and blood.
Through each of these means of grace, Christ calls you to follow Him on the journey of discipleship. He equips you for the journey and promises you Paradise as your eternal destination.
Are you ready for the journey with Jesus? You most certainly are! Jesus gives you everything you need. For His sake, you are forgiven of all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.