“I Pledge Partial Allegiance”
Is Jesus saying that all of his followers must be homeless, all of His followers must not attend their own father’s funerals, and all of His followers must be careless about their obligations? We must be careful with a story like this; NOT to take a SPECIFIC instruction given to one person and turn it into a GENERAL command for all believers. The Lord’s commands here were specific to these men. These were their personal “obstacles” to full obedience. While these specific commands may apply to some of us here today, it is a mistake to interpret this story to mean that all believers should be homeless, never attend funerals, and neglect their responsibilities. AND YET -- there is a GENERAL principle driving these SPECIFIC examples: following Jesus takes wholehearted devotion.
The real question is this: is He both Savior and Lord? Is He both your friend and your leader? Most people just want a savior. They want to be loved and to be coddled, to be taken care of and protected -- for those people, Jesus is some sort of spiritual bodyguard. It is easy to say “yes” to salvation and unconditional love. Who wouldn’t want to say yes to being loved? What is hard is to surrender unconditionally to the lordship of Jesus Christ, which is what He says is the true cost for anyone who would follow Him.
Let me give an example. Imagine you, Jane Doe, make a new friend and they invite you over for dinner. You arrive at their house and they say, “I am very happy to see Jane, but I want nothing to do with Doe. Jane can come into my house and have dinner; Doe must go away and never come back.” Well, that wouldn’t work! You’re both Jane and Doe. The two are inseparable. And the same is true for Jesus Christ. He is both Savior and Lord. You can’t have Him as savior if you will not also have him as Lord.
I’ve been teaching my kids about the two complementary values of privilege and responsibility. They must go hand in hand, or life will become a disaster. My kids enjoy the privilege of being part of our family: a roof over their heads, three square meals a day, love and acceptance — and these privileges cost them nothing, they are given without condition simply because they are our children. But these wonderful kids also enjoy the responsibility that comes with that privilege: chores must be done, yard work needs to be attended to, and grades must be kept up. My sons have been breaking their backs this week doing yard work, for example. More privilege should require more responsibility. And more responsibility should come with more privilege. If you lean too far one way or the other, you capsize the boat, and bring your life to ruin. Too much privilege with not enough responsibility spoils a child. And too much responsibility with not enough privilege breeds resentment and rebellion. In our home, both are necessary.
The same is true of discipleship. The privilege of being called a child of God, of unmerited favor, of grace — of knowing Jesus as Savior — is given to anyone who believes, without condition. But that privilege comes with expectation — that we will respond to God's kindness in kind, that we will accept the responsibility that comes with being His children, that we will stand up for the fatherless, that we will protect the widows, that we will do justly, show mercy to everyone, and walk humbly with our God. The privilege of calling Jesus Savior goes hand in hand with the responsibility of making Him Lord.
Three Would-Be Disciples
The three potential disciples in today’s scripture wanted Jesus as Savior, but we do not find out if they wanted him as Lord. Like many people today, they are inclined to follow Jesus, but we don’t really know if they are determined.
And so Jesus, as always, leads them to an all or nothing choice. He makes it plain for them. He knows for each one what obstacle is getting in their way, and He challenges them to give those things up. He asks each one in a very pointed way whether He is merely Savior, or both Savior and Lord? With each scene, He is cutting right to the chase, questioning this very thing -- “Am I truly Lord? Is the kingdom first in your life, or do other concerns veto My will? Will you follow me no matter where I lead? Will you follow me no matter who you must leave behind? Will you follow me no matter what you must unplug from?”
“the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (v 58)
The first would-be disciple’s obstacle was his comfort: and Jesus goes after it like a surgeon with a knife. The man says, “I will follow you wherever,” but Jesus knows His heart. He says, “I have no ‘where’ at all — how about there? You say you will follow me wherever, but will you follow me to nowhere? I get it — you want to follow me to Jerusalem, the Holy City. But how about the the valley of the shadow of death? Will you follow me there? You’ll follow me into the city where you have everything you need, but what about across the burning desert where things are sketchy? You’ll follow me in air conditioned palaces, but how about in prison and in chains and on the cross of suffering and shame? Will you follow me there?”
It is easy for us to follow Jesus on the mountaintops, but very difficult to follow Him in the valleys. Many people invite Jesus into their lives as Savior on the mountaintops, and that really is good news. The Holy Spirit certainly uses those memorable camps and retreats to reach us. Indeed, every mountaintop belongs to God. But so does every valley. God also uses car wrecks, catastrophes — and even death— to draw us to Him. And it seems to me that those who come to know Him as Savior in the valley have an easier time calling Him Lord there too. Not many welcome Him as Lord when the going gets tough and the road gets long. Very few will have the courage to call Him Lord when it means we have to leave behind the things that bring us comfort.
Will you follow no matter where He leads ...including the hard places, the rough places, the valleys — and the nowheres?
“Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” (v 60)
The second man, according to tradition, went on to become Philip the Evangelist. Isn’t that wonderful? It means there’s hope for you and me! Now, his obstacle to the Lordship of Jesus was his seemingly honorable devotion to family. But we need to take a closer look to understand what was really going on here.
As strange as it may sound to our English speaking ears, in middle eastern cultures it is a figure of speech to speak of the process of tending to an aging parent in these terms: “I must bury my father.” It may be a very dramatic way to say, “My dad is getting up there in age, and I want to see what he’s going to leave me in his will when he finally buys his black pajamas,” but that’s essentially what it meant. “I must bury my father first” meant “I’m not going to risk my inheritance for You, Jesus.” Most scholars believe that this man’s father was not dead, but just getting on in years. It could have been weeks, months, or even years away, but the second man didn’t have a literal funeral as an excuse. The real bug was introduced in that one little word he spoke, “first” — “first” let me do my family stuff. He just wanted to put family first and Jesus second, or third, or fourteenth. For him, family came first, which means that his family was his lord above God. And we know that nothing, not even family, must come between us and God.
Now, I don’t want to you to think for a split second that Jesus encourages us to mistreat our families or to be irresponsible toward those we are supposed to care for. Please don’t misunderstand Jesus here to think that you have a license to neglect those who depend on you if you make the decision to follow Him as Lord. In fact, the apostle Paul says, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5.8)
So what is the real issue here for the second would-be disciple? Simply this -- if Jesus is Lord, then he comes first -- even before family. When you follow Jesus, your family will be a priority -- just not first priority. And in this man’s case, it means a cut had to be made -- would family come between Him and God?
This is not uncommon -- for many, when they hear the call of Christ to follow, there are relationships that must be severed because they do more harm than good. There are people we must cut ourselves off from because they will cause us to stumble and fall. Don’t fall for the devil’s old trick of thinking your their messiah, either. You know what I mean --- “ I need to hang out with my drunk buddies because I’m there to witness to them. How else will they hear about Jesus?” That is foolishness and pride. Who do you think you are, their messiah? That’s God’s job last time I checked. And He doesn’t need you to get His work done. God doesn’t need you to rescue the people in your old life. He has plenty of agents you know nothing about. God hasn’t forgotten your old buddies. But let Him deal with that. You just do what he has shown you. They don’t need YOU, they need HIM. What Jesus really wants is to be Lord. For you to follow Him -- no matter who you have to leave behind ...including your family.
“No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (v 62)
Finally, the third would-be disciple is distracted from the Lordship of Christ by the connections he has to the world he must to leave behind. Like a man with a really long extension cord plugged in back at home … He wants to follow Jesus, but he doesn’t want to unplug from the things of this world . He has business to take care of back home, bills to pay, plants to water, grass to cut. Obligations. But there is one obligation that overrides them all -- the obligation to trust and obey, for there’s no other way. Is Jesus the Lord of what’s behind you, as well as Lord of what lies ahead? Is the Master of the universe calling you to cut the umbilical cord, to untie the apron strings and stop standing on the broken rungs of your past? Will Jesus be Lord -- no matter what you have to unplug from ...including everything that belongs behind you?
Give Me An Undivided Heart
“Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” (Psalm 86.11)
You know, this is a hard word. But the encouraging thing about these three vignettes is this: we don’t know how each man responded. It’s an open question. And so it is for you and me. When Jesus asks the hard question of us, to follow no matter where He leads, no matter who we have to leave behind, and no matter what we must unplug from, we have an opportunity to do the right thing -- to take Him as both Savior AND Lord.
So allow me to be blunt and ask you directly: is Jesus your Savior? I hope so! That’s a very easy question to answer in the affirmative. If you want to be loved like you’ve never been loved before, it’s a no-brainer — welcome Jesus into your life as Savior and you will discover a friend who is like no other on earth!
Now, let me be blunt again: is Jesus also your Lord? Ah. That is the harder question, but the better one.
You see, each of us has a heart that is easily divided. You may be inclined to call Him Savior, but not determined to call Him Lord. What your heavenly friend wants more than anything else is your undivided attention, your undivided love, and your undivided heart. After all, He is undivided in His affection for you.
Will you be wholehearted today? Will you lay down the myths of comfort, family and duty for the concrete reality of God’s love? The Master is calling you -- can you hear it? He meets you at the crossroads and says, “Follow me.” What will our answer be?