Pastor Craig Carter
It’s fairly common for us to embark on an undertaking without fully understanding what is going to be involved.
For example, some of us once envisioned ourselves as star athletes only to discover that it required two gut-wrenching workouts a day. Others of us sought the glamorous military lifestyle pictured in TV commercials, then found that it’s “not just an adventure, it’s a job … and a difficult one at that!” Still others of us decided to pursue a college education and were astonished when we realized we would actually have to study … on the weekends, no less.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know what is involved before signing on?
Jesus didn’t want to keep His would-be disciples in the dark so He let them know exactly what they were getting themselves into if they chose to follow Him.
First, He informed them, speaking of Himself: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22 NIV)
And then Jesus told His would-be disciples that a similar fate awaited them: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 NLT)
To follow Jesus requires us to see ourselves as the Apostle Paul did when he wrote to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20a NIV)
A short time later, Christ revealed what is involved in following Him – the sacrifices we’ll have to make and the “crosses” we’ll have to bear.
According to Luke 9:53, Jesus “was on the way to Jerusalem,” where the suffering, rejection, and death He predicted would occur. Along the way, He met several individuals whom He engaged in conversation. On three separate occasions, the word, follow, was used. Jesus was describing what is required of His followers.
Being crucified with Christ and following Jesus requires…
1) Personal Sacrifice
As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57-58 NLT)
Notice the commitment level of this would-be disciple: “I will follow you wherever…” Instead of affirming the man’s enthusiasm, Jesus set the record straight and let him know in no uncertain terms what “wherever” may entail.
Perhaps this fellow thought the life of a disciple was going to be one of leisure and royal treatment. But Jesus informed Him that even the King Himself had no place to call home.
Being Christ’s disciple is not necessarily an easy undertaking or a glitzy lifestyle. After all, even Jesus didn’t have a place to call home in His own homeland. The implication for His followers is that personal sacrifice will be required of us as well … we may encounter loneliness, humiliation, and difficult conditions.
Eugene Peterson, in the Message translation, puts it this way: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.” (Luke 9:58 MSG)
Being crucified with Christ requires us to go where we’re called to go and do what we’re instructed to do – even at the price of great hardship and loss of all we hold dear.
Following Jesus isn’t so much about what we’re going to get out of it as it is about what we’re going to have to give up because of it. And make no mistake about it, it may involve a whole more than just giving up chocolate or desserts for Lent. When we sign up for the Jesus team, it’s going to cost us something.
2) Pressing Urgency
He said to another person, “Come, follow me.” The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-60 NLT)
This is a rather strange request with two possible meanings. On the surface it appears that the man needed to attend the funeral of his recently departed father. But if this was the case, why wasn’t he with the corpse at the present time as was required by Jewish law? Perhaps more likely, the man’s father was not even deceased yet. He may have been saying, “Let me care for my aging father until he dies. Then after I have buried him, I will be free of my family obligations and I’ll be able to come and follow you.”
In either case, the potential disciple was seeking a temporary delay due to a family matter. But Jesus contended this postponement was not possible or appropriate for His followers. While the Lord’s reply appears a bit harsh, He was trying to make a point about the urgent nature of the Christian faith.
The Message translation reads like this: “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”
Put another way, “Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead, but let the spiritually alive bring life to the living before it’s too late for them.” In other words, folks who are insensitive to the claims of Christ can take care of mundane, everyday situations, but true disciples are to be consumed with Kingdom matters that take precedence over all other worldly concerns.
Jesus is speaking about the pressing urgency of following Him and doing His business. Nothing is more important than helping the dying find the source of eternal life … and this priority cannot be delayed.
In contrast, we have a tendency to put the things of God off until a later, more convenient, time. We say to ourselves: “Once I get through crunch time at work … or baseball season is over … or this semester is finished, I’ll help with the food pantry,” “After the kids move out, I’ll go on a short-term mission trip,” “When I retire, I’ll volunteer to visit in the nursing home,” or “As soon as I pay off my student loans, I’ll start to tithe.”
No, you won’t! You’ll have some other excuse when that time comes.” Jesus says, “Following me requires you to do it now! Don’t wait!”
3) Prioritized Living
Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.” But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62 NLT)
Here’s another willing follower of Jesus who had one condition (“I will follow you, but”). Sound familiar?
“Sure, I’d love to do that, Jesus, but ____ …” [you fill in the blank]
We want to follow Jesus except we want to set the terms (i.e. when it’s convenient, when it fits our schedule, when we’ve taken care of what we want to do). This particular person’s request certainly seems reasonable and even had a noteworthy precedent in the Jewish tradition.
When the prophet Elijah chose his successor, he found the young man named Elisha plowing in a field. Before leaving, Elisha expressed a desire to say goodbye to his mom and dad. Elijah, the powerful man of God, had no objection and allowed Elisha to do. But now Jesus suggests His business is more important than even Elijah’s so the Lord informs the man his request is denied.
Also, like the story of Elisha’s call, Jesus’ reply contains a reference to plowing. He may have been conjuring up the memory of a proverb from their agrarian society: “You can’t plow a straight furrow looking backward.”
Thought of another way … you can’t stay in your lane gawking while you drive.
In Jesus’ analogy, the farmer is the would-be disciple whose mind is still partly on the life he left to follow Jesus. But being Christ’s disciple requires that we give the Lord our undivided attention and complete allegiance. He must be our absolute highest priority in life. Christ and His work take a backseat to no one or no thing.
These three situations all involve well-intentioned individuals who did not realize the nature of the demands of following Jesus. Notice that Christ did not say there was anything inherently wrong with things like ambition, family responsibilities, or other relationships. It’s just that they must not get in the way of doing the Lord’s bidding and following Him.
As it is with much of life, the choice is not between good and bad, it’s between good and best. As the old hymn suggests, “Give of your best to the Master…”
So when you and I decide to follow Jesus, there is no room for delay, compromise, or half-heartedness. We must take up our cross and on it, crucify excuses of any and every kind that prevent us from responding to the call of God on our lives and devoting ourselves fully to Christ.
When I attended the Air Force Academy, as freshmen, we were allowed to respond to upperclassmen in only seven ways: Yes, sir (ma’am). No, sir. Sir, I do not know. Sir, I do not understand. Sir, may I ask a question? Sir, may I make a statement? NO EXCUSE, SIR. That last one was the answer to every “why” question.
I don’t know how many of those apply to the Christian life and our relationship with the Lord, but I’d suggest the last one is quite appropriate.
“Why won’t you give up _____ for my sake?” “No excuse, Lord!”
“Why don’t you share the gospel with your friends?” “No excuse, Lord!”
“Why aren’t you making prayer a priority?” “No excuse, Lord!”
While we are all required to make sacrifices for the sake of Christ, what must be crucified may be different for different people. Jesus always addressed people at their particular point of need and placed unique demands on His would-be followers. Christ told Nicodemus that he must be born again, He instructed the rich young ruler to go and sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, He called brothers, Peter and Andrew, to come, follow, and fish for people.
I once heard pastor and author, Charles Stanley, say that if we want to make Jesus Lord we must ask ourselves the question: “Is there anything I’d be unwilling to give up if God asked me to?”
Let me put it another way that I heard in an unlikely place – the movie, Heat. In that 1995 film, Robert DeNiro plays a career criminal and bank robber. The motto he lived by was this: “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”
So I ask you, is there anything you’d be unwilling to give up if God asked you to? Are you attached to anything you’re not willing to walk out on and leave behind in order to follow Jesus and His call on your life? Is anything or anyone keeping you from loving God wholeheartedly?
It may be personal ambitions, hopes and dreams, possessions, a good job, hobbies, friends, or even family ties. We call them essentials to be cherished, but God calls them excuses to be crucified.
And let’s remember what we said earlier in this series: We don’t crucify ourselves or get to choose what is to be placed on the cross. Instead, we give ourselves (all that we are and all that we have) to God. We place it all on the altar and then God decides what must go and what He wants us to keep.
So what are you withholding from the Lord?
What oftentimes seem like good reasons to us are actually poor excuses to God.
“I’ll start tithing once I pay off my student loans.” To tithe anyway is personal sacrifice.
“I’d witness to my brother, but I don’t know what to say.” To witness anyway, means you understand the pressing urgency at hand.
“I’ll go on a mission trip once the kids get a little older.” To do so anyway, means you have prioritized your living.
We forget why we’re being crucified with Christ…
It’s not simply to sacrifice for sacrifice sake or that it’s noble to deny ourselves. Death is the pathway to life, crucifixion leads to resurrection, the cross precedes the empty tomb, and Good Friday comes before Easter. If you and I want to experience the abundant and eternal life Christ offers, we must be crucified with Him.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20a NIV)
And let me know point out that, unlike it was for Christ, it’s not a once and for all crucifixion for us. We must “take up our cross daily.”
Are there some excuses you’ve been using that are preventing you from following Jesus? What needs to be crucified with Christ? Today let’s put our excuses where they belong, driven into the cross of Christ and left hanging there, through trust and obedience.
Do you believe that Jesus has your best interests at heart? Then listen to His voice, crucify all excuses, and trust and obey wherever and however He leads.