No Turning BackLuke 9:57-62Theme: Determinations and distractions.This week’s lessons warn us against the great enemies of discipleship.
LessonEight hundred years before Christ’s day the prophet Elijah was led to enlist Elisha as his fellow worker and successor. He found Elisha plowing, went to him, and threw his mantle over him. Elisha immediately understood that this was Elijah’s way of calling him to service, so he ran after Elijah calling, “Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will come with you.”
Elijah feigned indifference. “Go back,” he said. “What have I done to you?”
Elisha would not be put off. He went back to the field, slaughtered his oxen, burning his plowing equipment to cook the meat, gave the food to his family and neighbors and then set off to be Elijah’s attendant (1 Kings 19:19-21).
Some persons have cited this story as one in which a servant of God did put something before God’s service: the saying of good-bye to one’s parents. They have contrasted it to Jesus’ words in Luke 9: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (v. 62). (The contrast seems apt, because one of the persons about whom Jesus spoke these words wanted to go back and attend to family matters after which, he said, he intended to follow Jesus.) Yet an examination of the two stories shows them to be in perfect accord. In Luke 9 the prior matters about which the would-be disciples were concerned were actually delaying tactics or excuses. In 1 Kings 19 the actions of Elisha were a demonstration that the decision he had made was irreversible.
In Elisha’s case (as in the case of those who are true followers of Jesus) there is no turning back. Not only is the one who looks back unfit for kingdom service, but he is not even a citizen of the kingdom. He does not qualify, now or for eternity.
Christ’s words about starting out as his disciple but then turning back were a response to the excuses raised by would-be disciples, as I said. So it is valuable to look at these excuses for the types of distractions from service that Jesus says are incompatible with following him. There are three. Each illustrates what Jesus elsewhere calls “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things” which choke out the seed of the Word and make the individual spiritually unfruitful (Mark 4:19).
Physical hardships and deprivation are the first distraction. 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 a warning 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.
In spite of surface similarities, what was the difference between the would-be disciples and Elisha?
What must we take into account when counting the cost of following Christ?
Further StudyRead the story of Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21. What personal matters did he attend to before setting out with Elijah? What do his actions indicate about his thinking with regard to commitment to Christ and personal responsibilities?