Last week we talked about a very bad day Jesus had as he looked around him, three years into his ministry, and realized none of the men with him got it.
We are told in Luke 9 that Jesus set his face like a flint towards Jerusalem. His vision was on the city He would be betrayed, beaten, and killed in. While his ragtag group of disciples were squabbling over who is the greatest among them and trying to turn access to Jesus into an exclusive club (sound familiar?), Jesus’ gaze was on where he needed to go.
At the end of Luke 9, we get three seemingly odd exchanges between people asking to follow Christ and, for one reason or another, turning away.
To the first person, Jesus tells them that following Him will not be easy. If someone is looking for fast fame and a comfortable life, then the “take your cross and follow me” calling is not for them. The second Jesus reminds that life is short and the message important and to not get caught up in distractions and things that seem important but are not. The third Jesus tells to look forward, to be ready for the hard work, and (like He has done) to set their vision solely on what God calls them to.
What struck me about this passage is that Jesus was brutally honest about what it took to follow him. He was not about numbers, being “seeker-friendly,” making his message trendy and acceptable to the masses. Jesus was direct and honest – here is what it means. But He was just as straightforward about what would come if someone was willing to do the hard work and keep their priorities straight.
This passage comes right before Jesus sends out a group of people to go to the towns along His route and spread the word about who He is. It is where the famous, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” quote comes from (see Luke 10:2). Many take this to purely mean telling others about Jesus. What many refuse to do is place the harvest in the context of the warnings Jesus gave at the end of Luke 9.
Following Jesus is not for our riches and glory
When the group returns in Luke 10, Jesus reminds them that their power is not theirs, but a gift from God. They did nothing but be willing vessels for God to work through. On their own, they have no power. It is not about you. It is not about selling millions of books, or having a congregation of 15,000, or being an influencer, being asked to speak to presidents, or having your name known. If what someone is doing does not ultimately point back to a correct version of who God is (if it points to God at all), then it is not being done correctly. The minute it stops being about God and pointing people towards Him, then it has stopped being true and is no longer in line with His teachings
Don’t get stuck on what does not matter.
The second follower in Luke 9 asks to go bury his father. Seems like a worthwhile request. Some suggest that maybe the father had not died, so the man was asking to stay until his father passed. One thing is for sure, either way, the time of mourning would be awhile. I barely understand the Jewish traditions around death and mourning but know enough to know they are far more complex and time-intensive than what Christians do. To read this verse without that context robs us of something. The man is not asking Jesus to attend a service or two tomorrow and then come. He is asking to either wait for his father to die and then do the Jewish ceremonies around his death, or to sit shiva and do the other requirements of Jewish culture around death and then come.
Either way, Jesus tells him to look at what really matters. This can seem like a cruel rebuke. But Jesus is speaking to this man’s heart. With all three he is addressing motivation, not just outward action. What is this man truly focused on? What am I? Am I lost in things that do not matter in the light of eternity, or am I focused on the right things? Am I consumed with people not saying Merry Christmas or am I loving my neighbor? Am I so worried about my rights that I am turning faith into an exclusive club and living by fear? Jesus is saying, “leave others to do what they will, but you put it aside, follow Me, and be a light to others.”
We cannot serve God and something else at the same time. We simply cannot. The Bible tells us we will love one and hate the other. And while we might give plenty of lip service to some version of god, our lives, actions, what we value, and who we esteem will do more to reveal the true state of our hearts than whether we go to church on Sunday.
Be all about God’s business.
The last person simply asks God to go say goodbye to his family. Again, it seems like a simple request. But Jesus is looking at the man’s heart. So, the man goes to say goodbye, and his family turns into a friend, then another, then someone can’t meet till the weekend, and soon the man never leaves his town because there is always someone else to see.
Jesus turns to farming to prove his point. We are not an agricultural people, and modern machinery makes a lot of what would have been second nature to Jesus’ audience foreign to us. Plowing a field was a hard job that requires total attention and a steadfast vision. To take a plow to the dirt and get a straight line was arduous! The ground is uneven and rocky and wants to pull the plow in every direction. If someone is not looking straight ahead with a firm grasp on the plow they will end up with crooked, unusable lines.
So it is with our faith. We must be steadfast, looking ahead, leaving our successes and failures behind us. Like Jesus, we set our face like a flint towards God and walk that pace. Pull your vision up! Stop using His name to get power, stop getting lost in arguments and attachments that do not matter, stop looking behind or to the left or right when God tells us to keep our eyes on Him (see Heb. 12:1-3).
And yet, how many churches will preach this sermon? How many will risk offending someone to speak what is hard? I have attended one church in my life I can say with total certainty was not numbers driven. One church that was truly not about the pastor but about getting those who came more ready to make a positive difference in the world.
The harvest is plentiful because people are hurting and desperate for something that helps them get beyond the pain, hate, fear, hunger, war, etc. of today. The workers are few because so few will take heed of what Jesus did in Luke 9 and that was to tell the truth! A truth that goes against comfort and popularity. A truth that dispels the lies of having it all, or being in control or power. A truth that says we are NOT to create a Christian nation here on earth because ultimately we are citizens of heaven. A truth that says you cannot have God-plus that it is God-only. A truth that says flat out is not about you and you best become okay with that.
Jesus never asked His followers to do what He had not already done. As we look at His truth-filled responses in Luke 9, we hear them from a man who never once sought riches, glory, fame, power, etc. while on earth. A man who did not get lost in what did not matter. A man who was about His Father’s business to the point of self-sacrifice and death.
Jesus came to be our example. If we look at the life He led, who He associated with, who He rebuked, who He esteemed, we have a fully human model of what we are supposed to do. And if the workers would take up the charge and do as Christ did, our churches, our nation, our world would all be better for it.
Header quote (Luke 9:62) taken from The Message version