From the age of around seven I was fascinated by science. I went on to study science and then taught chemistry. I really enjoyed setting things on fire and blowing things up. But since I left teaching at the age of 30, I haven’t really done any serious science at all. Even though I really enjoyed it I gave up science.
At secondary school I was introduced to a strange sport called lacrosse. I played for club and school and university for ten years. But I haven’t played lacrosse for forty years now. I couldn’t fit playing competitive sport at that level into a busy life so with great sadness I gave it up.
At the time I started teaching, computers were just coming into schools. Anybody else remember the Acorn BBC B or the Research Machines 380Z and 480Z? I taught myself how to write computer programs and taught computing at school. Even after I became a minister I kept working with computers for years. I built my own computers from the bits. I still wrote computer programs and advised churches and schools on computing and mended and upgraded computers when they needed it. The books and magazines I took away for holiday reading were about computers and programming. I really enjoyed playing with computers. But now I haven’t written a computer program or taken a computer apart or read a book about computers since before I came to North Springfield. For all practical purposes I have given up doing any serious work with computers.
Most of us will share that kind of experience. For years we have an interest or even do a job which we are passionate about and takes up lots of our time and energy. And then life moves on and we give up that thing and move on to something else. We leave behind the things we have given up.
I became a Christian at the age of sixteen one evening after a church youth group. Which means I have now been a Christian for 47 years. I have not stopped following Jesus since then. I will never give up being a Christian. That is because being a Christian is not something you can just give up. Following Jesus is not some hobby we can just lose interest in and move on to something else. Being a disciple of Jesus is for life. This is what Jesus said.
Luke 9 62 … “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
We can’t just give up following Jesus. That isn’t an option. In the early days of his ministry crowds and crowds of people were following Jesus. They were drawn by his remarkable teaching and his amazing miracles, healing the sick, driving out demons and even bringing dead people back to life. But as time went on, different people began to fall away. It was as Jesus had explained in his Parable of the Sower and the Different Kinds of Soil which we read in Luke 8.
Luke 8 11 ‘This is the meaning of the parable: the seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
So it was that some who had begun to follow Jesus were giving up along the way. Some fell away through times of testing. Others were drawn away from Jesus by life’s worries, riches and pleasures. At the same time, more and more people were put off as Jesus challenged them with the true cost of discipleship. Listen to these words which we read just over a week ago from earlier in Luke 9
Luke 9 23 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
Following Jesus is not just a hobby. It is the whole of our lives. And being a disciple of Jesus, is costly.
Luke 9 23 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Deny himself –
Following Jesus will sometimes mean doing what God wants us to do even if that is the opposite of what we would choose to do. It means saying “no” to self and “yes” to God. Deny himself.
Take up his cross daily –
Setting us free from sin and bringing us salvation cost Jesus his life. And being a disciple of Jesus will be costly. Dying on the cross for us was a choice Jesus made. When we are following Jesus we will need to make choices day by day. Will we do what we want, or will we do what God wants us to do. And some of those choices will involve making a sacrifice. They may be painful choices. But as Martin Luther once said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.” Take up his cross daily – and
Follow me –
Being a Christian is all about following Jesus, being a disciple of Jesus. Learning from him. Doing the things he commands us to. When we feel like it and when we don’t. Trying to become more like Jesus day by day.
“Day by day, may I see you more clearly, love you more dearly and follow you more nearly, Day by day.”
To follow you more nearly. And io love you more dearly. Loving Jesus is a commitment with a beginning but with no end. God never gives up on loving us. We can’t ever give up on loving God. We cannot give up following Jesus.
24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.
This is why following Jesus is so important. If we are trying to save ourselves we will fail. Only Jesus can save us. The legendary Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly once said “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. … I can assure you it is much more important than that.” The truth is that it is following Jesus which really is a matter of life and death. In fact following Jesus is even more important than that!
25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?
Some people chase after money and possessions. Others chase after success or popularity or power. When people do that they are destined to lose themselves. They will forfeit their lives. All the money and possessions in the world are worth nothing compared to knowing Jesus and receiving his gift of life in all its fullness. Discipleship means putting Jesus before wealth or possessions. And when we are following Jesus that cannot be private. It has to be public.
26 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
You can’t be a secret disciple. Either the secret will kill the discipleship or the discipleship will kill the secret. All these sayings make it clear that following Jesus must be our first priority. Jesus demands, and deserves, our complete loyalty, our absolute commitment.
The cost of discipleship is high. Following Jesus is demanding. Which brings us to the few verses which we read on Wednesday and are our passage for today. The story of 3 “wannabe disciples” who in the end turned away from following Jesus when they realised just how much that discipleship would cost them.
Luke 9 57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Some people come to Jesus because they think he will guarantee them an easy life. But they are mistaken. During the three years of his public ministry Jesus the Son of Man lived the life of a wanderer. Jesus and his disciples had no house. They just relied on the hospitality of the villages where they stayed. No security. No comforts of home. Following Jesus in those days meant giving up these things. And for some Christians in some countries even today, following Jesus can mean being rejected by society. Losing their jobs. Thrown out of their homes and families. Even thrown into prison, or murdered for being Christians. If we think following Jesus is a guarantee of a comfortable easy life, think again!
A missionary society wrote to David Livingstone and asked, “Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to know how to send other men to join you.” Livingstone wrote back, “If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
This may sound as though Jesus is being unkind and insensitive. Let the dead bury their own dead! Until we realise one important thing. This man’s father was not dead yet. In those days, as in Jewish families today, the burial happens within 24 hours. If you think about it, in a hot country like Israel, that is sensible and obvious. If this man’s father had just died, the man would not have been listening to Jesus. At that moment he would be arranging the funeral or attending the funeral. He would then be at home with the rest of the extended family for the customary week of mourning. A recently bereaved man would not have been with Jesus. The man’s father was not dead. Not even dying.
Saying “Let me go and bury my father first” was a way of putting off following Jesus to some indefinite unknown date in the future. I’ll follow you when my currently very-much-still-alive father has died. I’ll follow you when I get around to it. I’ll follow you tomorrow, the next day, sometime, never. But following Jesus is more urgent than that. When Jesus calls a man or a woman to follow him we need to make up our minds now, not wait for days or weeks or months or years to decide.
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Our families are important – of course they are! God does not call us to reject our families, or ignore our families. But what Jesus is essentially asking here is, what comes first in our lives? Our families? Or God? Who do we love most? Our families? Or God? When we are disciples of Jesus, Jesus must come first! Following Jesus must be the most important thing in our lives. Denying ourselves. Taking up our cross daily. And following him. Our commitment to following Jesus is not just for a while, but forever. No giving up. No turning back.
The noted theologian Dolly Parton defined perseverance like this. “I never tried quitting and I never quit trying.” And that is what it means to follow Jesus. Being a Christian and being a disciple means we don’t just give up when the going gets hard. That is what Jesus says.
62… “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”