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THE WAY OF DISCIPLES

Luke 9:51-9:62
Key Verse: 9:60

Thank God for helping us to study about true greatness. We remember Jesus’ words, “He who is least among you all—he is the greatest.” May we learn of Jesus, serving one soul in his name and growing in his humility and broadminded clarity. From 9:51 to 19:27 is known as “The Perean Ministry.” Also known by some scholars as “Jesus’ travel records by Luke,” The Perean Ministry includes Luke’s central section (9:51-18:14) which has been considered one of the most precious parts of Scripture. In today’s passage we can think about the way of disciples.

Look at verse 51. “As the time approached for Jesus to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Here we sense Jesus’ resolution and solemnness in going to Jerusalem to die on the cross. The road to Jerusalem was his obedience to God. However, he was rejected by the people in a Samaritan village as he had been rejected even by his own people. The disciples James and John could not tolerate this and said, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” They seemed to be full of zeal and loyalty to Jesus and confidence in their faith to call fire down from heaven. But, in their words is revealed a destroying spirit toward those who rejected Jesus. So Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. For we recall what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Plain, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:27-28).

The sequent passage is about the cases of three aspirants to follow Jesus. Among these, the first two cases are also written in Matthew’s gospel and put in the early part of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, right before Jesus’ calming the storm in the Sea of Galilee. But Luke placed the passage here in t connection with Jesus’ heading for Jerusalem, in the last part of Jesus’ life on earth. So this arrangement is topical, not chronological. But let's study this passage, heeding Luke's intentional arrangement. Let’s think about Jesus’ responses to the three cases, each of which teaches us the way of his disciples.

First, the life of the Son of Man (57-58). Look at verse 57. “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’” What a decision! This decision should be the attitude of all Christians. God wants us to follow Jesus, even to the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed to obey the will of God, and even to Golgotha, where he was crucified.

In Matthew’s gospel it is written, “When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go’” (Mt 8:18-19). According to Matthew, this man who said, “I will follow you wherever you go” was a teacher of the law, and he called Jesus ‘Teacher.’ Most probably, he had heard Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount either directly or from others who had heard it, and he was one of those who were amazed by Jesus' teaching. Then he perhaps thought that he had found a wonderful teacher who was different from all the other teachers he had experienced, and he wanted to follow Jesus throughout his life. Yet, we don’t know exactly the motive of his following Jesus.

How did Jesus reply? Look at verse 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.’” Certainly, Jesus perceived his mind and heart and gave him a clear answer. Jesus could have answered, “You made the right decision. You will be a great teacher after me.” Jesus did not say anything about his teaching. Rather, he spoke of his own life as the Son of Man.

The residential situation of the life of the Son of Man was worse than that of animals such as foxes and birds of the air. At the time of his birth, he had no place to be laid in human residences, so he was laid in a manger in the stable of an animal. When we think of his public life, there is no record of his regular dwelling. According to the gospel accounts, he once slept in the stern of a boat. Another time, at night he slept in the house of Simon Peter after healing many in that town until late in the evening. He spent many nights praying on a mountain. When he died, he did not even have his own burial site. So, a man named Joseph of Arimathea offered his tomb for Jesus. This was Jesus' human condition in his practical life. He had no human security at all. He had security only in God. He trusted in God the Father and the Father in heaven took care of his life perfectly, just as it is promised, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

The teacher of the law probably wanted to follow Jesus, that by obtaining great knowledge from Jesus, he might get honour and glory of the world and so secure his life in this world. If that was the case, it would have been better for him to reconsider following Jesus before he might regret his decision. Many people follow Jesus for various reasons, including for a successful and secured life in this world. Some people want to study the Bible just to accumulate their Bible knowledge, without any concern for the practical implications. They have no mind even to obey one word of God in their real life. Such people have to reconsider the purpose of their Bible study. Those who do not have a right motive in following Jesus cannot follow him to the end, in spite of their noble desires. God does not want us to be dropouts in the school of Jesus. So, each one must have a clear and right motive in following Jesus.

On one occasion, two disciples of John the Baptist were following Jesus. Jesus turned around and asked them, “What do you want?” They said, “Where are you staying?” Then Jesus replied, “Come and you will see.” They had a right motive and a clear purpose in following Jesus. That was to know who Jesus is, even staying with him where he was. Because of their right motive and desire they could follow Jesus to the end. We learn from Apostle Paul who said in Philippians 3:7-10, “…whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…I want to know Christ…” In his deep consideration, the purpose of following Jesus was to gain Christ and know him constantly. May we have the same life purpose and goal in following Jesus.

Second, priority on proclaiming the kingdom of God (59-60). Look at verse 59. “He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’” This time, Jesus took initiative and called another man, saying, “Follow me.” Probably, he was wavering between his two desires: to follow Jesus and not to follow Jesus. Jesus wanted to help him positively and challenged him by the command, “Follow me.” The man did not reject Jesus’ calling. But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” It was likely that in his procrastination, he was making an excuse not to follow Jesus.

In Israel, giving an honourable burial to the dead was considered a duty and kindness that ranked higher than any other service requiring attention. And in Genesis, Isaac and Ishmael buried Abraham (25:9), Esau and Jacob, Isaac (35:29), and Joseph and his brothers, Jacob (50:13). According to the rabbis, providing a decent burial for one’s dear one took precedence over almost everything else, including attending religious services, studying the law, etc. So the man’s request seemed quite reasonable.

But how did Jesus respond to him? Look at verse 60. “Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’” Jesus’ response was shocking to all the Jews at that time. Humanly speaking, Jesus’ words are hard to hear. Did Jesus ignore family responsibility? Not at all. Here, keeping or not keeping family responsibility is not the point. It is very important that we should try to understand the words of the Bible from God’s viewpoint, because ultimately the author of the Bible is God. This is a clear case where we must keep this in mind. On one hand, by saying, “Let the dead bury their own dead,” Jesus was challenging him radically in order that he might overcome his excuses and procrastination and really decide to follow Jesus. For this was the last chance for him to encounter Jesus, as Jesus was heading for Jerusalem and his life was nearing its end. On the other hand, Jesus was also helping him know the spiritual reality. According to the Bible, death came as a result of man’s sin. All men are destined to die. Death is the end of life. After that all the dead face judgment. Then what’s the meaning of burying the dead? Realistically speaking, it means nothing. Burying cannot change the destiny of the dead at all. Burial can be only the final expression of one’s affection for the dead whom he or she loved. Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” For to Jesus there are two kinds of the dead: the dead who had already died, and the dead who, while physically living, are cut off from God, the source of life, and thus have no spiritual life. Since the life of the living dead cannot do any meaningful work in God’s sight, and the destiny of the already died dead cannot be changed, it will be more realistic for the living dead to bury their own dead. This is hard to say but we cannot deny this reality of the spiritual realm.

As there are two kinds of the dead, there are two kinds of the living: the living who are alive only physically, and the living who are alive both physically and spiritually. According to Jesus, the living who are only physically alive are the same as the living dead. The living dead cannot do any work that is valuable in God’s sight, but the both physically and spiritually living should invest their lives doing the very work of making the living dead alive in spirit, which is the work of God. Ecclesiastes 9:4 says, “Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better than a dead lion!” True. The living dead has still hope to be made alive and be saved. Jesus said in John 5:24-25, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” In Ezekiel there is a story about dry bones. God led the prophet Ezekiel to a valley full of bones and showed him a great many bones that were very dry. Then he asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” The prophet said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” Then the LORD said to him, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!” When Ezekiel prophesied as he was commanded, the bones came to life and became a vast army standing on their feet (Eze 37:1-10). Since Jesus came, dry bones coming to life is a reality and real hope. Jesus came to this world to speak the word of God so that the living dead might hear the word of God, the word of life, and live. In other words, the purpose of Jesus’ coming was to proclaim the kingdom of God. This is what we have been studying in Luke’s gospel. He said in 4:43, “…I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And in 8:1 “Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God". And he sent out his disciples to preach the kingdom of God (9:2).

Now when Jesus said to the man, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God,” he was inviting the man to a truly significant and valuable work, the work of making the dead alive by proclaiming the kingdom of God. This is also an urgent work because the living dead will be the dead in body too in but a matter of time. According to the Scriptures, particularly in the New Testament, today is the day of salvation (Lk 2:11; 4:21; 19:9; 2 Cor 6:2; Heb 4:7) and today is the day of proclaiming the kingdom of God. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to any human being. And youth is not the time of enjoying life but the time to make a decision to follow Jesus and to prepare for the work of proclaiming the kingdom of God to make the dead alive.

The work of making the dead alive must have priority over all other human activities. Even in the matter of holding or attending a funeral ceremony, those who follow Jesus should have the priority of proclaiming the kingdom of God to make the dead alive and be saved. This is the reason Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” This is the reason Jesus said to his disciples as he talked about the signs of the end of the age, “The gospel must first be preached to all nations” (Mk 13:10).

In this part Jesus wants us to distinguish between the living dead and the already died dead, to differentiate work of the called, that is the life-giving work, from the work of the dead in this world of death, and to make a sincere decision to follow Jesus and invest our lives in the work of life.

Third, fit for service in the kingdom of God (61-62). Look at verse 61. “Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.’” This man made a decision to follow Jesus but seemed, at the last moment, to be caught by his sentimentalism.

At this, what did Jesus say? In verse 62, Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand back to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” We believe that Jesus knew the man best and gave him the most proper words. Following Jesus is a spiritual battle. There is a battle between God and Satan in the person who wants to follow Jesus. When one has made a decision to follow Jesus, still Satan can work to hold him back even through the last bit of human affection. If one has decided to follow Jesus, he should go straight forward without looking back and so not giving the devil a foothold. We remember Mary, who decided to obey the will of God to be the mother of Jesus, saying, “May it be to me as you have said” (Lk 1:38). After this determination, she did not stay in her place alone. She got ready and hurried to visit Elizabeth in order to receive her spiritual counselling, thus not giving the devil a chance to attack her and hold her back (Lk 1:38-56). There is a story about St. Augustine. When Augustine repented of his sin and became a new person in Christ Jesus, he decided to devote his life to Jesus--surely Satan was not happy about this. Strangely, Augustine then met his former girlfriend on the street, who approached him, purring, “Hey, Gus.” At this Augustine turned around and ran away without looking back. In this way he overcame Satan’s crafty scheme and won a spiritual victory and became an eminent man of God in Christian history. Jesus wants those who have been called to follow Jesus to know the spiritual reality.

Sadly there are those who look back and ruin their lives. Lot began his life of faith together with Abraham. But after going down to Egypt during the famine, he was affected by the civilization of Egyptian culture. While Abraham repented of his life of compromise in Egypt, Lot kept the influence and was overcome by it and bore terrible fruits in his life. At the time of God’s mercy of rescuing Lot’s family from Sodom, which was about to be destroyed, the angel warned them not to look back at the burning city of Sodom. But his wife looked back and became a pillar of salt. So Jesus said in Luke 17:32, “Remember Lot’s wife!” meaning “don’t follow her example.” In his personal remark in 2 Timothy, Apostle Paul was so pained when he thought of those who loved the world and left (4:10).

Look at verse 62 again. “Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’” Service in the kingdom of God is different from service in the kingdom of this world. Service in the kingdom of God demands a single mindedness and faithful heart. Double mindedness and a divided and unfaithful heart become the target of the evil one. God wants the followers of Jesus to be faithful from first to last.

May we follow Jesus, focusing on him, proclaiming the kingdom of God with priority and doing the service in the kingdom of God with a faithful heart.

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