Do You Have the Guts to Follow Jesus? (On the Way to the Cross - Part 9) Back to all sermons

Date: November 17, 2013

Speaker: Micah Mercer

Series: On the Way to the Cross

Category: Cross

Scripture: Luke 9:51–9:62

Synopsis: Jesus was committed to accomplishing God’s purpose for his life no matter what cost or pain was involved. He walked toward Jerusalem and the cross looking ahead to the glory of returning to His Father's side. Following Jesus means imitating his commitment to doing the Father's will. This requires guts - a single minded commitment to fulfilling God's purpose for your life. It won't be easy, but there is great joy and glory beyond the trial.

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Do you have the guts to follow Jesus? Luke 9:51-62

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village.

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."

Finally on the 9th part of our series, we have come to the passage that really inspired me to look at the gospel of look in this way. Jesus knew from the beginning that the cross would be the culmination of his earthly ministry. In today’s passage, we find the turning point in which Jesus actually starts journeying toward Jerusalem where he knows he will suffer and die. It is in this context that I want to challenge you with a question, “Do you have the guts to follow Jesus?”

Illus. - Army "Intestinal Fortitude" or guts is not so much about bravery, but a single minded commitment to accomplish the mission. When I was in basic training, there was one part of the course that we all dreaded from the beginning. Something that we had all heard horrifying stories about. A task that our drill sergeants all said we would need some intestinal fortitude to complete. That thing was the gas chamber. Before we went, I remember looking in awe at the class ahead of us who had already been through it. It was probably our imagination, but they looked tougher somehow.

For that part of the course, we had to put on our protective mask and walk into a small room that was saturated with crowd suppression gas. While inside, we were required to remove the mask, breath tear gas, call out our name, rank, and service number before putting the mask back on. All while our skin, eyes, nose, and lungs were burning from the gas. The guy behind me panicked and started screaming.

The burning sensation of the gas is so intense, the desire to run away so strong that it takes a concentrated effort to even think about anything else. I did my best to say my name rank and service number through fits of coughing. I don’t think what came out was understandable. The guts in this situation had little to do with bravery, and a lot to do with single-minded focus on the mission. This hurts, but I’ve got to do what’s required of me.

In our passage today, we are told that:

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

The word in the original text for ‘taken up’ is used several times in the NT and always in the context of Jesus ascension into heaven. So we are told that Jesus, in expectation of returning to His Father, firmly decided and began journeying to Jerusalem. There was something glorious and wonderful that Jesus was looking forward to, but to get there his journey would lead through death on the cross.

The sense of the phrase ‘set his face’ shows us that Jesus was totally committed to accomplishing God’s purpose for his life no matter what cost or pain was involved. That is what’s called guts. Following Jesus means imitating his commitment to doing the Father's will. Following Jesus requires guts - a single minded commitment to fulfilling God's purpose for your life.

Transition: In verses 57-62 we find three people interacting with Jesus on this topic of following him and Jesus responding in the context of single-minded commitment. Note that we are not told what each of these people did afterward. In all three cases we are left hanging with the question, “What did they do next?” I think this is intentional. This is supposed to make us stop and consider what would I do? How would I answer Jesus?

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." 

Fox holes and bird nests are places of relative safety and comfort for foxes and birds. Foxes dig holes in the ground where they can retreat from predators and rest in safety. Birds build their nests high in trees to prevent access by most other animals. Jesus used them as an example to show what he does not offer. These things have places where they can go to be safe and comfortable, Jesus did not. The point was that following Jesus would not be safe or comfortable.

Point 1: Following Jesus requires that you count the cost.

In that light, we see this person passionately say I will follow you wherever you go and Jesus respond basically saying, “Are you sure? It won’t be easy.”

Connect: I wonder if this has a direct application in the way that we present Christ to potential believers. I suspect that what most of us do when someone comes to us and says they want to follow Jesus is we jump right to the believer’s prayer. I’ve been there too, but the more I read and think about what Jesus said and did in the gospel, the more I am inclined to answer, “Are you sure about this? Have you really thought it through?”

Very recently a man named Peter Hitchens said something on an Australian talk show that I found quite profound.“The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and rose from the dead and that is the most dangerous idea you will ever encounter because it alters the whole of human behavior and all our responsibilities.”

The decision to follow Jesus is not something that can be taken lightly. This decision requires that you wholeheartedly believe something that will radically change every aspect of your life. It is a decision that will make many things significantly more difficult for you. Following Jesus will likely require you to give up both safety and comfort.

When we share the gospel with people, we need to be real in it. There is a great temptation to try leading people to Christ under false pretenses. By false pretenses I mean promising them health, happiness, and comfortable living; Avoiding the hard truths. By doing so, we only set them up for failure. We need to proclaim the blessings of the gospel together with the sacrifices that must be made for the gospel so that people can count the cost before they decide. That is just what we see Jesus doing in our passage today.

"Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

What will you decide?

Point 2: If you are ever going to follow Jesus, you need to do it now.

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."

This time it was Jesus who called a man to follow him, but the man gave the seemingly good excuse that he needed to bury his father. Now there is an interesting thing to note here in terms of culture. Listen to this story from William Barclay:

“An English official in the East tells of a very brilliant young Arab who was offered a scholarship to Oxford or Cambridge. His answer was, “I will take it after I have buried my father.” At the time his father was not much more than forty years of age.”

It would not be much of a stretch for us to assume that this was the same situation as the man Jesus spoke with. That is, his father likely was not dead yet or even in poor health. The man simply felt that his responsibility to stay with his father until he died, though it may be many years, was of greater importance than following Jesus now. In other words, he used his father as an excuse to put off following Jesus indefinitely.

Jesus brought the man in this story to a point of decision by saying “let the dead bury their own dead.” It sounds harsh and it is harsh, but I think Jesus said it to express the urgency of deciding to follow him. It’s not a decision that can be put off. Should that man wait how many years for his father to die before he follows Jesus and starts proclaiming the gospel? The truth is his father and everyone else were already dead apart from Christ! How could he best serve his father but by following Jesus and proclaiming the gospel? Then perhaps his father might hear, believe, and be brought to life in Jesus.

Perhaps the problem of this man, like many people today, is that he didn’t really feel the urgency of following Jesus. Sadly, I can’t count how many times I have spoken with people who say things to the effect of, “I’ll really start following Jesus after I get married, or after I’ve had this one experience, when I need to start being an example to my kids, or after I’ve passed this issue that I can’t see how to deal with in a Christian way.” I always answer simply by saying, “Will you really?” The problem is, if you put something off, even just until tomorrow, you likely won’t do it at all.

Will you wait until family obligations are all fulfilled; until the right time; until tomorrow; until you’ve had that one last sinful experience? Or will you commit to wholeheartedly following Jesus right now? If you don’t do it now, you probably never will.

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."

Point 3: Following Jesus requires you to not look back.

This time, we find a person who basically wants to have things both ways. He wanted to follow Jesus, but was unwilling to make the sacrifices that following Jesus requires. Jesus responded with a metaphor of a ploughman who looks behind him. If we think about the way a plough works, we can understand what Jesus was getting at. A plough is a very simply tool that is used to dig straight lines in soil for planting. It can only move in the forward direction, not backwards or sideways, only forward. To look behind oneself while operating a plough is to ignore the only direction the plough is designed to move.

The connection is that following Jesus is also a forward moving endeavor. There is no looking back once you begin because one of the basic principles of following Jesus is that you die to yourself to be made alive in him. That means your goals, ambitions, plans, desires, etc. are sacrificed and replaced by the goals, plans, and desires of Jesus. We can’t have it both ways. Jesus essentially told the man, “Follow me or go home. No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Think about this for a moment in the context of our theme. Jesus was on his way to be tortured and executed for our salvation. How can we look at his commitment to the Father and his sacrifice on our behalf and still come away double-minded and complacent? I hope not because Jesus does not accept this. Jesus does not accept luke-warm. Look at what Jesus said to a church in Revelation 3 “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

How are we tempted to look back from the plow? I think this happens when we fall victim to the lie that our lives before following Jesus and the things we had then were better, more pleasurable, more satisfying than what we have and look forward to in Jesus. We are tempted to look back at the ‘good old days’ when we were free to do what we wanted. That is an artifact of our old sinful nature that needs to be put to death so we can follow Jesus single-mindedly. The truth is that true freedom and satisfaction comes in fulfilling the purpose of God for our life that He created us for. We must not look back.

Heavy talk. Jesus requires such radical devotion to him that we dare not follow without carefully considering if he is worth the cost. He demands such radical resolve that the decision must be now or never. He demands such radical commitment that to look back is to be unfit for his kingdom. Amidst all this heavy talk, I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few words about the other side of following Jesus.

In the Army we had a saying, "no guts, no glory." The basic idea of the saying was that in order to experience rewards and acclaim, you need to endure the hardship involved in accomplishing the mission.

Remember that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem when the time came near for him to be taken up. He was going to accomplish his mission on the cross with the expectation of resurrecting and ascending back to his rightful place at the Father’s right hand in heaven. There was glory beyond the cross. We are commanded to take up our cross and follow Jesus, but there is glory beyond that for us too.

Look at 1 Peter 5:10

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Jesus never said that following him would be easy. On the contrary, he promised it would be tough, but we have called us to eternal glory in Christ! Let’s look back at our three points from this perspective.

First, we need to count the cost of following Jesus. When I was in primary school, we did an experiment with a cat. We put a bowl with a small amount of cat food next to a bowl with a lot of cat food. Naturally the cat went toward the bowl with more food in it. The problem we have when we try to count the cost of following Jesus is that we think we are looking at the big bowl in this world when we are actually looking at the small bowl. We need to learn to compare rightly. What we look forward to in Jesus is eternal glory with Jesus that nothing in this world can compare to! There is hardly a cost to count from that perspective.

The second point was that we need to decide now if we will follow Jesus. Again, a decision requires that you compare at least two options. Sometimes it can be hard to make up your mind when there are two similar possibilities. In the case of deciding to follow Jesus though, the decision is heavily unbalanced. There is glory forever after a little trouble in this life or short term pleasures in this life followed by death. What possible reason could there be to delay? Especially when a delayed decision often leads to no decision at all.

The final point was that following Jesus requires us to not look back. My question is in the light of being called to eternal glory in Christ, why would we ever look back? True enjoyment and satisfaction come only through fulfilling our created purpose and looking forward to glory in Christ.

Do you see how this works? It is not really possible for us to have this single minded commitment to following Jesus without first being convinced of eternal glory. We can’t drum this up on our own. Instead, God gives us the guts to follow Jesus by convincing us of the surpassing glory of knowing him and being with him forever.