Sermon series: Questions Jesus Asked
Imagine a pastor having three church members respond to a challenging sermon about serving Christ and volunteer to work in the nursery, teach a junior high Sunday School class, and clean up after Wednesday dinners. The volunteers are respected church members and are successful in their vocations. The three volunteers are morally pure and appear not to have any flaws that would disqualify them from serving. They are the kind of volunteers that the nominating team has been praying for as they begin a new church year. Most believe the decision by these volunteers to "step up to the plate" is an answer to prayer, but the pastor tells each one, "We don't need volunteers like you because you are not fit for service!"
While it may be difficult for us to imagine a pastor telling his members that they are not fit for serving in the kingdom, Jesus did just that to three unnamed prospective disciples. Three men offered to follow Jesus, but he told them, "No." Well, Jesus didn't actually say, "No," but He challenged their commitment to His cause. Then, He offered a stinging rebuke, "He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God."
Before looking at the specific reasons the prospective disciples gave for not following Christ, we should consider some of the characteristics of The Savior's call.
I. It is universal
These men are not identified by name, but they receive the same call as the original 12 disciples. Following Christ is not a country club where you pay different fees depending on the level of your membership. You can join a club and pay a higher price for unlimited golf compared to a cheaper price for weekday golf. You may choose the tennis and pool options.
Following Christ is not a retirement package where you can increase giving as you get older. Some retirement plans allow you to invest or withdraw a greater percentage as you increase in age. Jesus does not offer a call to follow Him 50 percent of the time until you are 40 years-old, increasing your service to 60 percent during your 60s, and finally giving 100 percent when you are 70 and older. Jesus extends on universal call to "Follow me!" It is the same call today as it was to the Peter, James, and John. It is a call to love God with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength.
II. It is volitional
The words "Follow me," are not a command; they are the greatest invitation your will ever receive. Jesus invites us to join Him on incredible journey of advancing His kingdom. He does not coerce us to follow Him, nor does He deceive us into following Him. You must willingly choose to embrace His rightful reign as the King of Kings or reject His offer to be Lord of your life. The Bible contains numerous sad stories of those who rejected Christ and what He offered.
III. It is general
I am using the term general like the basic core classes a college student would take before taking specific classes in his declared major. Whether a student is majoring in premed or engineering, he must take an English or History class. The general or core classes open doors to more defined areas of study.
The call to follow Christ is a general call. You decide to follow without knowing all the details about what you will do or where you will go. As you give God your whole heart, you will experience more specific leading with defined areas of service. The general characteristic of Christ's call allows you develop your unique gifts for His glory.
Following Christ is not a "cookie cutter faith" where everybody looks and acts the same. Rather the Savior's call opens doors for you to fulfill the purpose for which God placed you on this earth.
IV. It is directional
This call is general, but it is also very specific as to the direction a disciple is going. The writer of Hebrews described Jesus as the "author of our faith," which means Jesus is the initiator and director of the call. While the geography of the call may lead to many different places, Jesus is the one who is leading the way. He goes before us, provides our needs, and promises to never leave us. Wherever He leads, whatever the task, our job is to keep our eyes focused on Christ, obeying Him, honoring Him, and following Him.
V. Shared challenges
In this text, we are introduced to three excuses, which are really challenges or obstacles that we all face when considering the call to follow Christ. These three challenges are not an exhaustive list, but they would certainly make the list of top ten reasons why people reject the call to follow Christ.
Jesus said the Son of Man has no place to lay His head, and those who follow him may have a difficult time finding a pillow as well. Additional insight is provided in Matthew's Gospel, where he identifies the first prospect as a Pharisee, who enjoyed the privileges of being a respected leader in the community. Because of Israel's social, political, and religious culture were so intertwined, Pharisees were like Senators in the U.S. congress. They enjoyed prestige and benefits of living at the highest level of the social structure.
The challenge Jesus presents is not one of danger compared to safety. Rather, He challenges His followers to forsake the comforts and identity of the world for the opportunity to follow Christ. Do you derive your security and identity from your worldly possessions, position in the market place, or popularity in society? Or, do your find your identity and security as a follower of Christ?
Are you willing to say as the apostle Paul, "I am a fool for Christ!"? Paul declared that he considered the things of the world as garbage compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. Today many people find their security is things like education, athletic prowess, material possessions, business success, significant relationships, and the list goes on and on. Why give up all those comforts of the world to follow Christ who offers none of those securities?
Another prospect said he needed to bury his father. Most commentators agree that the man's father had not yet died, so he was really asking for an opportunity to follow Jesus at a later date. He wanted to follow Jesus, but he did not want to do it today.
The Bible contains several warnings about the urgency of obeying God now. Jesus told a parable about a rich man who chose to build bigger barns instead of honoring God because he did not know that God's judgment was coming upon him tonight (Lk. 16). Jesus said we must work during the day because night is coming when no one can work (Jn. 9:4). The Bible says, "Boast not in tomorrow because a man knows not what a day may bring forth" (Pvbs. 27:1).
Dear friend, don't take the call of God for granted. Don't deceive yourself that you will obey later. Don't believe the enemy's lie that you can wait. The call to follow Christ is an urgent call.
The third prospect requested to follow, but he wanted to return to his family for a final visit. Jesus issues what seems like a harsh rebuke telling the man that he is not fit for service in the kingdom.
We must recognize that Jesus' statement is not some isolated or obscure challenge. Throughout biblical history, followers of God have been challenged to serve the Lord with a focused intensity. When God led the nation of Israel, He placed a fire behind them, so they would not go back. When they crossed the Red Sea, God caused the waters to close drowning the Egyptians and preventing Israel from going backward. God told Joshua not to depart to the right or left, but he was to say focused on carefully following the call of God. Jesus used the word picture of taking up a cross to illustrate the tenacity He expects of His followers. Paul described the Christian faith as a fight.
When we accept the call to follow Christ we must never look back and never give up. Take up your cross, fight the good fight, stay the course, and never let go of the plow!
The sad reality is that many saints have let go. They have decided that other things are more interesting or important. Perhaps they have grown tired. Maybe a trial has knocked the wind out of their sail, but most have just drifted from tenacity into complacency. The say like this prospective disciple, "I want to follow, but I want to do something else right now."
What would happen if you told your boss, "I want a job, but I don't want to work really hard. I just want to do the bare minimum to get by?" How much playing time would a player get if he said, "Coach I want to play on Friday nights, but I can only practice two days a week because I like to go fishing on Tuesdays and Thursdays?" We would never accept poor commitment on our jobs or football team, but too many saints offer their own selfish conditions and excuses to Christ every day. It is time to repent and take hold of the plow and never let go.
When Julius Caesar landed on the shores of Britain during the first century with legions of Roman soldiers, he took a bold and decisive step to ensure commitment from his men. He ordered them to march to the Cliffs of Dover where they could see every ship, which they had used to cross the English Channel, engulfed in flames. Caesar had burned the ships eliminating the possibility of retreat. With a new sense of urgency and tenacity Caesar and his army conquered Britain.
What is keeping you from following Christ today? Stop making excuses. Burn whatever ships are keeping you looking back instead of plowing forward for the glory of God.