Theme: The First Two Difficulties
This week’s lessons press the importance that it is not enough to merely show an initial interest in following Christ; one must persevere in obedience to the very end.
Scripture: Luke 9:57-62
1. Physical hardships and deprivation. The first of these three individuals (like the third) volunteered to follow Christ. He said, “I will follow you wherever you go” (Luke 9:57). There are many who have heard Christ or have heard about Him, often persuasively, but who have never gotten as far as this man got in his offer to follow Jesus. Many hear the gospel and are indifferent to it. Many are moved by Christ’s call but never quite come to the place of starting after Him.
Not so with this individual. He had heard Jesus teach, knew who He was, and was impressed by His person and message. He wanted to follow Him. But although he was sincere and was obviously moving in the right direction, he was a prime example of one who had not counted the cost of discipleship. He had not reckoned on the physical hardships and deprivation. So Jesus, who knows the heart, checked him saying, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (v. 58). The story does not tell us what happened to this man. But since Jesus wraps up the three incidents by warnings for those who might turn back from following Him, we are right to suppose that this first individual did not pursue discipleship further. He was ready for a kingdom, but not a cross. He wanted direction, but not at the cost of deprivation.
He was like many would-be disciples today! If a preacher comes promising a solution to life’s problems—“this world and heaven too”—they are ready to sign on with Jesus. But speak of hardships and physical deprivations, and their enthusiasm withers. Such “followers” do not follow Jesus to the end, and so they are not saved.
2. Temporary but more pressing obligations. The second individual in Luke 9 did not volunteer to follow Jesus. He was called by Him (v. 59). But he asked for delay, saying, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus responded, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (v. 60).
At first glance this seems harsh of Jesus; indeed, each of these calls is absolute and stringent. But the situation is probably not what it at first sounds like to us. We think of the man’s father as having already died, and of Jesus forbidding the prospective disciple even to attend the funeral. In light of Jewish culture of the time it is unlikely that this was involved. If the man’s father had died, he would most properly have been at home already, mourning. Since he was not, it is probable that his father was merely old and that he was telling Jesus that he would follow Him after his father died and this prior phase of his life was thereby ended. It might be years before his father died, but he would stay home for that duration. Jesus would not accept discipleship on these terms but demanded instead that the man come after Him right then and not delay his obedience to the call.
In the case of the first individual we have an example of one who failed to count the cost. In this second case we have one who was not willing to “hate” father and mother, husband or wife, children, brothers and sisters for Jesus’ sake. Again, although the text does not say so specifically, we must assume that this person was unwilling to follow Jesus on His terms and so perished eternally.
Procrastination is a great enemy of discipleship. The one who procrastinates has heard Jesus’ call and has acknowledged the necessity of obeying it. But other obligations press forward in his or her mind and crowd obedience out. The individual does not intend to delay forever. “Just let me attend to this small thing first,” he pleads. But the delay of an hour becomes a day’s delay. A day becomes a week, a week a year, and at last a lifetime has passed without any genuine response to Christ’s call.
What are some examples of physical hardship and deprivation Christians experience because of their commitment to Christ?
What are some reasons people have for wanting to delay their discipleship? What does this reveal about their beliefs concerning such doctrines as God and Scripture?
Reflection: What are some ways in which you have suffered, or are suffering, hardship for the gospel?
Application: Look for statements or promises Jesus gives to those who truly belong to him and so persevere to the end.