No Turning BackLuke 9:57-62Theme: Determinations and distractions.This week’s lessons warn us against the great enemies of discipleship.
LessonIn his classic treatment of The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes a careful analysis of Luke 9:57-62, in which he examines each of the excuses. He spends the most time on the third since it is most critical. When Elisha went back to burn his farm equipment and kill his oxen, it was to make that break clean and irreversible. He was a true disciple. In this case, it was the opposite. The man was clinging to old relationships and life patterns. Bonhoeffer wrote,
The first step, which follows the call, cuts the disciple off from his previous existence. The call to follow at once produces a new situation. To stay in the old situation makes discipleship impossible. Levi must leave the receipt of customs and Peter his nets in order to follow Jesus…. The only right and proper way is quite literally to go with Jesus. The call to follow implies that there is only one way of believing on Jesus Christ, and this is by leaving all and going with the incarnate Son of God.1
Disobedience is really looking to something in the world, and if we look back, we are not fit to be Christ’s disciples. Those who look back want to go back. Jesus will take no one on those conditions.
When Jesus said of these individuals, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God,” he was not just making a statement, of course. He was giving a warning. It is this warning that we must now consider.
I turn here to another warning of Christ that must be taken with his words from Luke 9. This warning is found eight chapters farther on in Luke’s Gospel in a section dealing with Christ’s second coming and the danger of being caught unprepared on that occasion. Jesus says, “Remember Lot’s wife!” (Luke 17:32). This woman, the wife of the Old Testament patriarch Lot, the nephew of Abraham, is the classic biblical example of one who did not press on in discipleship but rather looked back and perished. She had been living in Sodom with her husband. She had been visited by angels and had been warned (along with her husband) to flee from Sodom, which was to be destroyed. She left at the angels’ insistence. But on the way to the mountains she looked back in disobedience to the angels’ strict command and was turned into a pillar of salt. Jesus said, “Remember” this woman. Remember her advantages, her disobedience, and her frightful end.
We will never appreciate the force of this warning unless we realize that Lot’s wife was a spiritually privileged individual. To begin with, she had a saved man for her husband. True, Lot was far from being a model disciple himself. He chose the cities of the plain with their seductive pleasures rather than the mountain country occupied by Abraham, and he paid for it. Nevertheless, Peter calls him “a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives” of the lawless (2 Pet. 2:7). Lot’s wife had the advantage of this saved husband, yet perished in spite of it. Lot’s wife also had the advantage of a godly man’s friendship in Abraham to whom she was related by marriage. Abraham’s faith would have been no secret to her. His knowledge of the true God would have been communicated to all who were members of his household, which Lot and his wife had been for many years. She would have participated in Abraham’s worship of the true God. She would have seen evidence of God’s power in delivering her and the others who had been taken captive by Kedorlaomer and the other kings who had overthrown Sodom on an earlier occasion. Indeed, Lot’s wife had even received the advantage of a special angelic visitation when the angels came to Sodom to warn her family. She was one of that small group of four whom the angels helped escape.
In that day not one person in many hundreds of thousands had such spiritual advantages. Yet, in spite of her advantages, Lot’s wife turned back on the way and was judged for it.
1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966), pp. 66-67. Original German edition 1937.
Based on today’s lesson, what radical requirement is necessary for following Christ?
Why are those with more spiritual advantages held more accountable?