Are you fit to follow?

Luke 9:57-62

10 August 2008

Woodley Baptist Church

Evening service


How would you answer the question, "what is a Christian"?

Is a Christian someone who believes certain things? Some would define a Christian as anyone who accepts the Nicene Creed - a statement of belief drawn up in the fourth century that almost all main-stream churches would affirm.

Others would say that what a person believes is not so important as what he does. If you live like a Christian — you try to live a good life, you try to treat others as you would have them treat you — then that is effectively what makes you a Christian.

Or, less common today but still around, is the idea that being born into a certain culture is what makes you a Christian. Since we live in a supposedly Christian country, we are all by default Christian, aren't we?

In the church worldwide, probably the most widespread view is that it is "christening" that makes you Christian. You are born into a Christian family, and baptised as an infant into the church. After that you are to be considered as Christian.

Another very common view is that it is going to church, perhaps even belonging to a church that defines you as a Christian. Are we all Christians here this evening simply by virtue of being here?

There was a time when my definition of a Christian went as follows: "a deluded and weak-minded fool who needs an emotional crutch to get through life." Does anyone agree with that?

Although there are, no doubt, people who bear the name Christian for whom that statement fits, I have now changed that definition. And it was after hearing a talk on this passage in Luke that I changed it.

In this passage, Jesus holds up the Christian life as a life of following. There are three little dialogues summarised here, and each of them revolves around following Jesus. The first man says to Jesus I will follow you wherever you goref. Jesus says to the second man Follow meref. And, again, the third man says I will follow you, Lordref.

If you read through the book of Acts, the story of the early church, you will find that the most common name by which the church was known to outsiders was followers of the Wayref. Christians were known as people who followed something, or somebody: Jesus the Way, the Truth and the Liferef.

So, following Jesus is foundational to what it means to be a Christian. And what it means to follow him is laid out in these three encounters in Luke chapter 9, verses 57-62.

In each of the three encounters Jesus is both teaching and testing. He is teaching what it means to follow him, and he is testing whether we are fit to follow. As ever, in these sayings, Jesus provokes all sorts of questions, but I've summarised them as follows: "will you choose to live my way?" , "will you change your priorities?" and "will you cherish me above all things?"

Will you choose to live my way?

So, encounter 1 in verse 57: will you choose to live my way?

The context to our passage is given by verse 51, a few verse back: As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalemref. So when we meet him in verse 57 walking along the road, we know where he is going. He is on his way to Jerusalem, where he knows full well he will be captured, ridiculed, tortured, humiliated and killed.

Into this context a man says to him I will follow you wherever you go.ref

Have you any idea where I am going?!? You want to come to Jerusalem with me? Do you know what's going to happen there?

Jesus says to this man, Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his headref. It's your choice: but be sure you know what you are choosing.

It's so different from what the world has to offer, isn't it? In my professional life people sometimes try to recruit me to various things, and for some reason they all think the way to do it is to dangle in front of me glittering amounts of money.

In one conversation I had recently, a chap said to me "the only reason you don't appreciate money is because you've never really had a lot of it. Spend some time with me and you'll soon learn to love it" ! My response to him was that, since I already possess the most valuable treasure in the world, his offers of mere money were not particularly tempting. But now I'm straying into point three!

Back in point one: Jesus doesn't offer any wealth or comfort or earthly security. He simply says, if you're coming with me you're going to be rejected by the world. Are you prepared to choose that?

We have to be careful to understand that Jesus is not laying down a rule here. He is not rigidly saying, everyone who follows me must sell their houses and give up their possessions and hit the road.

But he is saying "if you choose to follow me, I might lead you to do that? Would you choose to give it all up for me?"

It's not a hypothetical scenario either. Just a few verses earlier, in verse 53, Jesus was turned away from a Samaritan village when they heard he was going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Around the world today there are thousands of Christians imprisoned or evicted from their homes because of their faith. There are thousands more who have voluntarily given up comfortable lives to spread the word of God.

Are you fit to follow: will you choose to live his way?

Will you change you priorities?

Encounter number 2, verse 59: will you change your priorities?

This time Jesus takes the initiative. He simply says to a man, "Follow me" .

The man's reply is a little difficult to interpret. Lord, first let me go and bury my fatherref

Some people think it means that the man's father was still alive and the chap was saying in an idiomatic way, let me wait until he's died and I've got the inheritance coming to me, then I'll come and follow you. This would have meant an indefinite delay to his following.

Others think it means that the father was dead and the man was going through the elaborate Jewish funeral procedures that could have taken a week or more to complete.

Either understanding, though, means a delay to the affairs of the kingdom of God, so Jesus stresses his urgency with words that sound very harsh. Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.ref

"Change your priorities!" He says. Jesus is pre-occupied not with the dead but with bringing life, and it is a task that is urgent.

Sometimes we see on our televisions the aftermath of a terrible natural disaster, like the pictures from the China earthquake in May that killed tens of thousands of people. Buildings collapsed; bodies everywhere; bloody and wailing people sitting on piles of rubble.

If you arrive at the scene and you are a doctor, able to treat and save the injured, how would you spend your time?

Your priority is the living, the ones you can save. While you are diverted, people are dying. There are plenty of others who can bury the dead, but you have the life-saving drugs and the life-saving skills.

On the surface, the world around us looks largely prosperous and comfortable and secure. But look with spiritual eyes — look with Jesus' eyes — and the picture is very different. We live in a spiritual disaster zone. Tens of thousands are wounded and dying right outside the walls of the church, and we have the hope that can bring them life.

Let the spiritually dead concern themselves with the physically dead, Jesus says. We have a message of life! Go and proclaim the kingdom of God: it's urgent.

Once again, Jesus is not laying down a rule. He is not saying a Christian should never go to his parent's funeral. That would be absurd. But what he is saying to this man is "Change your priorities!" Don't let the business of this world get in the way of urgently proclaiming God's kingdom.

Don't let career, or comfort, or security or family or any of the business of this world get in the way of telling people about Jesus.

The right way to do it is to order your life around Jesus' priorities, kingdom priorities. It is these that should determine where you live, the work you do, whom you marry, what you watch on television, whether you have a television, whether you take a packed lunch to work. I actually stopped taking lunch to work to eat at my desk a few years ago because I found that the best kingdom conversations take place in the canteen. Every part of our lives should revolve around the priority of proclaiming the kingdom of God.

Are you fit to follow: will you change your priorities?

Will you cherish me above all things?

In the third encounter, verse 61, Jesus asks, Will you cherish me above all things?

This time someone says I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family.ref

Once again, Jesus' reply seems harsh, No-one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.ref

On the surface his meaning is clear: Jesus is demanding 100% focus and single-mindedness in his followers. The picture is of a farmer guiding a plough drawn by oxen. Unless he focuses completely on his goal, the furrows will not be straight and he's wasting his time.

What we should understand, though, is that there is a sub-text here. In response to the question, why does Jesus start talking about ploughing? Is it just a handy illustration, or is there something more going on?

What Jesus is doing here is making an allusion to an incident in the Old Testament. His hearers, who knew the Old Testament thoroughly, would have known exactly what he was saying.

Put a finger in Luke 9 and turn with me for a moment to 1 Kings 19:19 [page 361].

So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. "Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye", he said, "and then I will come with you". "Go back", Elijah replied. "What have I done to you"?ref

Elisha asks Elijah the same thing as the man asked Jesus: Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye and then I will come with youref. And Elijah lets him. By responding to the man in terms of ploughing, Jesus is making a connection with this event.

But Jesus didn't let the man go back to say goodbye to his family! What's going on?

In short, what Jesus is saying here is, I am more important, more significant, more special than Elijah. Elijah was the most significant prophet in the whole Old Testament, and the Jews rightly thought very highly of him. If you come back to Luke 9 you can see that Elijah has already been mentioned four times in this chapter: most recently in verse 30 at the transfiguration, and in verse 54, if you look at the footnote, you'll find that the disciples are discussing something Elijah did.

Jesus is saying, you rightly think highly of Elijah: but I am more important. It was OK for Elijah to let Elisha say goodbye to his parents, but now the stakes have been raised. I am more significant than Elijah. I am more more significant than anything or anyone you have dealt with before.

So Jesus demands that his followers cherish him above all else in the world. Jesus is the one for whom and through whom the universe was created. He is the radiance of God's glory. Yet he humbled himself to death on a cross. How can we not cherish him with all our hearts?

If we follow Jesus we must always be looking at where he is leading. If we look away we will go astray. Let us fix our eyes on Jesusref the book of Hebrews says.

In verse 61, the man actually utters a contradiction. I will follow you, Lord, but... ref. If Jesus is Lord, there can be no objections. If we impose our agenda on him, then he is not Lord. Following Jesus is an all-or-nothing commitment.

Are you fit to follow: will you cherish Jesus above all things?


It's a wonder, isn't it, that Jesus ended up with any followers at all.

That he did — that Jesus gathered, and continues to gather, followers on these terms — shows us his infinite worth.

I don't know if you noticed that a few year's ago the cosmetics giant, L'Oreal changed it's advertising slogan from "Because I'm worth it" to "Because you're worth it" . It's a step in the right direction, I guess. But the slogan of Jesus' followers ought to go one step further: "because he's worth it!"

There are thousands of persecuted followers of Jesus in prisons around the world who choose to live for him because they are convinced he is worth it.

There are millions of people who have changed their priorities away from looking after themselves to proclaiming him in challenging parts of the world, because they know he's worth it.

Followers of Jesus are able to choose to live for him and to change their priorities precisely because they have come to cherish him above everything else.

Christians If you are a Christian here this evening, you may be finding all this a bit daunting. This may not be what you thought you were signing up for.

But these are the terms on which Jesus takes all his followers. Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my discipleref, he says. If you want to follow me, be prepared to die with me.

In preparing to preach this passage I've found myself constantly wanting to tone down the challenge of Jesus' words, to find a few grey areas. I know in my sinful heart that I don't measure up well against Jesus' demands.

But I also know that if we will say to God in honesty: yes, I will choose to live your way; yes, I want to change my priorities and proclaim your kingdom; yes, I want to cherish Jesus above all things; then God's Holy Spirit within us will strengthen us and enable us to do these things more. The Spirit will reveal Jesus to us in our Bibles and in our lives, and as we see more and more of his splendour we will inevitably cherish him more, and the rest will follow. He can make us fit to follow.

In a moment we'll pray together, and there will be an opportunity to re-commit ourselves to following Jesus with all that it entails. Please take that opportunity if the Lord is prompting you.

Non-Christians Perhaps you are not a Christian. I wasn't when I first heard this passage preached.

If God is calling you to follow him, then now you know what it means. Now you know what it will cost. It could cost you everything, but it will gain you everything as well.

First, you need to choose, to make a commitment: Jesus, wherever you lead I will follow. If you want to do this, then join in the prayer I'll pray in a moment and make it your own.

Second, you need to change: you are no longer your top priority, Jesus and the kingdom of God is now the priority in your life.

Third, you need to cherish Jesus above anything else. Read the Bible to meet him; treasure his teaching, his life and his death; spend time with his people; tell people about him. These are the things that will make you fit to follow to the end, the glorious end when we shall meet him face to face.


Lord God, most of the time my heart would rather go its own way, and I am sorry. But this evening I want to follow Jesus, and I am asking for your help.

Please help me to choose to follow him wherever he will lead me; I know it could cost me everything. Please help me to change my priorities; as you give me new life I want to give my life for others in proclaiming your kingdom. And please help me to cherish Jesus as the most precious treasure in my life, fixing my eyes on him and him alone.

Lord, I want to be fit for your kingdom. Amen.