As the Lord Jesus has begun His journey to Jerusalem and has set His face like flint to achieve His crucifixion there, He has also been spelling out the cost of following Him to those who would be His disciples. For following Jesus has a cost, then and now, and the would-be disciple needs to carefully count that cost.
In Like 9:57-62 we meet three men who think they want to follow Jesus. The first seems to be willing to do anything. “I will follow You wherever You go (57).” But the Lord is not so impressed with the man’s enthusiasm and eagerness. Instead of embracing the new disciple, Jesus issues a test that is implied in His words, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head (58).” It is as if Jesus is saying, ”Are you sure you want to follow Me? For you must realize that My followers are not going to have an easy path. If you think that you will find glory in following Me in this life, you are mistaken. I do not even have the benefit of a place to call home; how much less will My disciples be at home in this world. Instead of a palace and position, I offer you a humble cross. You must understand what it means to follow Me before you enlist. Consider these things before you rush to follow Me.”
Jesus next commands a potential disciple to follow Him (59), but instead of obeying, the man asks permission to go bury his father. While this may seem like an innocent request, the cultural context indicates that the man actually was stalling and looking to delay any commitment to Jesus until his father died. So Jesus Christ has called the man into His service and the man has refused to follow, waiting until he gets his inheritance. His treasure and his hopes and dreams are firmly grounded in this life and on this earth, and he doesn’t want much to do with preaching the good news or in healing sick people. He has no hunger for heaven and no desire to see Jesus glorified.
Jesus’ reply to the man is immediate and direct: “Allow the dead to bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God (60).” The disciple of Jesus is called to a life of obedience committed to the proclaiming of the kingdom of God and being a witness for Jesus. “Set your mind on the things above, not the things that are on earth (Colossians 3:2).” Things that were gain are counted as loss (Phil. 3:7). The disciple is called to forsake all for the sake of following Christ, and the Lord has no patience with those who value earthly treasures above the true riches of the kingdom of God. Let the dead bury their own dead, but let the true disciple abandon all for Jesus’ glory.
The third person seems to make a similar excuse the second man, but there is a subtle difference. “I will follow You, Lord, but first permit me to say goodbye to those at home (61).” Again, this seems like a reasonable request, but Jesus replies to him with words that point out the high cost of following Him. Jesus measures not only the words, but also the attitude of the heart. Where do your loyalties lie? If you have been truly called by the Lord, then your life is no longer your own (1 Cor. 6:20) and you are to obey the Lord.
Jesus again highlights the cost: “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (62).” There is no option to look back, because if you look back it indicates that you are not fully committed. Lot’s wife looked back to Sodom and the LORD judged her on the spot (Gen. 19:26; Luke 17:32). Just so, the disciple who looks back has revealed a lack of commitment. Of course, we must understand what our Lord means when He says, “looking back.” He does not mean that the true disciple never remembers his past and never looks back to people he knew and to things that he did before he was a follower of Jesus. Rather, Jesus is talking about looking back with a fondness that tempts a return to the past situation. If you have come to Christ, the past is gone and there is no return. (2 Cor. 5:17) If you have come to Christ, the gaze is fervently forward to press on toward the goal for the prize (Phil. 3:13), and there must be no looking back with longing for the former things. The ease and luxury of the past will dull the effort and the discomfort of pressing forward. The pleasurable sins and lusts of the past will lure you away from righteousness and the call to suffer and bear your cross. Looking back is not helpful, and our Lord warns that this can reveal that you are not fit for the kingdom of God.
This passage, then, is about the cost of following Jesus. The disciple is to endure hardship and suffering and to accept that are part of bearing a cross daily (9:23). The disciple has entered that relationship with Christ that makes all other human relationships inferior. Jesus will be preeminent or He will not be your Lord at all. Jesus will allow no rivals. If you love others more than you love Jesus, you are not a disciple. If you love earthly treasure more than you love Jesus, you are probably among the dead. If you claim to follow Jesus, but long for the former days and look back to them, you are not fit for the Kingdom. Rather, let all true disciples “leave our nets” forever behind and steadfastly fix our eyes on Jesus and let us endure whatever suffering and hardship the Lord has prepared for us with joy as we proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.
SDG rmb 9/10/2017