Religion Magazine

It is Hard to Follow Jesus. Luke 9.51-62

By Malcolmdrogers

Luke 9:51-62

We are called to follow Jesus
But that is not easy.
Jesus went to the cross, and if we follow Jesus we will have to walk the way of the cross, before we come to the resurrection.
We are told in Luke 9.51 that Jesus set his face to Jerusalem
Earlier in Luke 9, when Jesus is transfigured, he spoke with Moses and Elijah about ‘his departure, his Exodus’, which will happen in Jerusalem
And now – and this is a turning point in Luke’s gospel - he sets his face to Jerusalem. He set his face – it is a great phrase – it is about being single minded, focussed and determined - to go to Jerusalem where he knows that he will be crucified.
It is hard to follow Jesus
It is hard when there is rejection.
The disciples go to the Samaritan village, and they are rejected.
We are told it is because Jesus was headed to Jerusalem, which – for the Samaritans – was the loathed capital of the people who were their enemies.
But that was only the first taste of rejection for Christ’s sake for the disciples.
In time, they became a hated persecuted minority. They were shamed and humiliated, arrested, beaten, tortured and executed.
And Jesus warns them it will happen.
He says that if people reject him, then they will reject those who bear his name.
Paul writes in 2 Timothy, that if we wish to live a godly life, we will be persecuted.
There will be misunderstanding and rejection.
We will be accused of naivety, incredulity, of both preaching pie-in-the-sky and of being too political. Jesus was accused of being both too worldly (they accused him of eating and drinking with sinners) and too other worldly.
We will be accused of being life denying; of both consorting with sinners and of being judgemental and intolerant.
We will be accused of both betrayal of family and homeland, and of complicity with the ruling authorities.
Why? Because we are living for a Kingdom that is so radically different from the kingdoms of this world, with values that are so radically different, that the followers of Jesus cannot be pinned down by the labels of this world.
It is hard to walk the path of non-resistance
Only at the beginning of this chapter, Jesus has sent the 12 apostles out to preach the kingdom and to heal. He has told them to take nothing, to live in naked dependency on God. And he tells them that when they are rejected, they are to wipe the dust of that village off their sandals and to move on to the next place.

But it seems that by the end of the chapter James and John have forgotten that!
Because they went out in complete dependence on God they have seen astonishing things happen. They see the power of God. People are healed, demons are cast out.
And they start to get full of themselves. They forget their dependency on God and think that it is their power
And so, when James and John come to the Samaritan village – and they are rejected – they think: ‘How can they treat Jesus like this. How can they treat us like this’. We’ll show them that they should not mess with us. We’ll call down fire from heaven.
I mean full marks to James and John for their faith. Probably they were thinking of Elijah who calls down fire on his opponents in the Old Testament. And they thought, ‘We can do that’.
But Jesus rebukes them.
You see this is not the way to follow a Messiah who has set his face to go to Jerusalem to be crucified.
This is not the way to follow Jesus who was silent before his accusers, and who went like a lamb to the slaughter.
This is not the way of following Jesus who told his disciples that if they slap you on one cheek, you offer the other; that if they take your shirt you offer them your jacket aswell. That if they force you to walk one mile, you choose to walk another with them.
And it is not the way to follow Jesus who has told them that if they are rejected, they are to wipe the dust of that village, that community, off their feet and simply move on.
It is hard to follow Jesus because obedience is costly
Jesus calls one man, ‘Follow me’
It was the same call that he had made to Peter and Andrew earlier in the gospel. We are told that they immediately left their nets and followed him.
But this man does not.
He puts ups a rather reasonable request, ‘Let me go and bury my father’
And Jesus reply is surprising. ‘Let the dead bury their own dead. You go and preach the Kingdom of God’
Again, we do not know what the man is specifically asking: let me go and stay at home until my father has died, or let me go and do all the rites that I need to do because my father has died. After all, doing what is right with our dead is one of societies most sacred rituals, and woe betide the person who does not do what they should do.
Now Jesus command here is not a general command to all of us, but a specific command to a specific man on a specific occasion.
But if we have made the decision to follow Jesus, and he commands something of us, then we need to do it, even if it goes against every expectation of society.
And we need to trust him and we need to obey him.
And we see this again in Jesus’ response to the the other person who says, ‘I will follow you, but let me first say farewell to those at my home’.
And again, Jesus challenges. ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’.
Actually Jesus does not say ‘No’
We read the story of Elijah calling Elisha.
Elisha too asks to go back to say farewell to his family. Elijah doesn’t stop him
But notice what Elisha does when he goes home. He slaughters his oxen and he burns his plow. He is completely turning his back on his old life. Now all he can do is to follow Elijah
The idea is that the plougher has to look forward where he is going if he is to go in a straight line. If he looks back to see where he has come from, he will end up going all over the place.
The point is that following Jesus is not about where we come from (our human home), but where we are going to (the Kingdom of God, our heavenly home).
It is very hard to follow Jesus.
It is hard to face rejection, to turn our back on revenge, to be obedient when it goes against everything that people expect of us, and to let go of the past and look to the future.
Jesus makes that clear to the person who comes to him and says: ‘I will follow you wherever you go’
Really? Says Jesus
Are you prepared to be homeless? The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
Are you prepared to be crucified?
We talk about the need to make a decision to follow Christ. And that is true.
We need to make the decision to start on the journey to follow Jesus. As they say, ‘the longest journey starts with a single step’.
But notice that that journey – for these people in Luke 9 - begins not with a great declaration of their intention to follow Jesus wherever he goes – but with the recognition of the love of God, of the call of God, along with the recognition of my own sinfulness, of my complete inability to follow Jesus.
The church marks the beginning of a journey with Jesus, whether consciously made or made for us by our parents, with baptism.
In baptism – especially immersion baptism – the idea is that as you go into the water, you die to yourself: to your achievements and successes and your abilities - even to your ability to follow Jesus.
Only then can you begin to become alive to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit, and his power to help us follow him.
Peter, the great apostle, made a public declaration of faith. ‘I will never let you down. I will give my life for you’.
Jesus replies: ‘I don’t think so. Before the cock crows three times you will have denied me’.
I’ve spoken before of one moment in my experience when in a moment of spiritual fervour I prayed, ‘God I will do anything for you’
And back came the thought – so sharp and so clear and so challenging that it had to be of God: ‘Who are you to do anything for me?’
Some of you will be confirmed in a few days’ time.
You are publicly confirming the decision that you have made to put your trust in Jesus, to follow Jesus.
But you will see that in the service we do not ask you to say that you will follow Jesus wherever he goes. Nor do we ask you to say that you will do anything for him.
We simply ask you,
‘Do you repent of your sins (and that includes self-reliance), do you reject the devil and his lies, do you renounce evil?’
And then we ask, ‘Do you turn to Christ – as your Saviour, your Lord and your friend and brother?’
And later in the commission we do not ask you if you will never sin.
Rather we ask whether you will ‘persevere in resisting evil’ (‘set your face’ against evil) but we also add and ‘whenever -note that whenever - you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?’
I have heard many people say, ‘I want to be a Christian, but I can’t because I know that I will never be able to keep it up’.
That is very honest, and it is true. You will not be able to keep it up. But the problem is that you are, like this man in v57, thinking that you need to put your trust in your own decision to follow Jesus, in your own commitment to him
But nobody is asking you do that. Nobody is asking you to never sin or to be the perfect follower of Jesus.
The decision we make is the decision to hear his call to us today, to come to him, to put our trust in him, and in his strength to begin the journey.
We are asking you – and as we ask you, we ask ourselves – whether, in his strength, even though you know that there will be rejection and hardship and costly obedience, you will set your face to follow him and to trust him.

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