Recently, at Calvary Worship Center’s L.E.D. ministry, I’ve been teaching on the upside-down Kingdom of God. In Luke 9:24, we read, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it”. That idea is pretty radical. Many of us, who’ve been in the church for a while, have heard that so many times… we don’t really ‘get’ just how radical that is. Losing life = Saving life. Once again I realize that God’s ways of thinking are kinda upside-down from mine. And it’s that kind of radical, upside-down thinking that we see all throughout the Bible. I was reading, yet another wonderful passage of Scripture that describes living upside-down…
Luke 9:57-62 – “Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”“
This passage is not for the wimpy-at-heart. I will tell you right up front, that these verses prove that Jesus is hard-core! We have three guys that approach Him, that want to be a part of His team, that want to become “followers”. Jesus’ responses, however, aren’t exactly rolling a red carpet out for these fellas. Jesus makes it tough. To be a disciple of His, one would truly have to be radical.
Luke 9:57-58 – “Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
To the first man, Jesus’ advice was, “Before you can follow Me, you have to count the cost.” No one can ever say that this guy was convinced to follow Jesus under false pretenses. Jesus basically tells him, “even the wild animals have a place to call home, but Me… and those that follow Me… have to be willing to do without certain luxuries… certain material possessions.” Jesus didn’t exactly live “high-on-the-hog” while He was here on this planet. He lived pretty simple… and poverty seems to be part of the curse that He bore. Not that all of us are supposed to be poor, however, if the Lord were to call us to follow Him… and up and leave all of our material possessions behind… could we do it? Are we so tied down by “stuff”… that we couldn’t follow Jesus if He were walking into a mission field, because of our inability to carry all of our stuff with us?
Are we those that can “lose” with our stuff? Can we actually live in the year 2015 and not be completely consumed with “things” and material possessions?
It might be that we have hurt the Church very seriously by trying to tell people that becoming a Christian, or belonging to His Church, isn’t that big of a deal; perhaps we’d be better to tell them that it actually makes all the difference in the world. We might have fewer people; but those we had would be radically and totally pledged and committed to Jesus Christ.
By the way… we don’t know if this first guy actually followed Jesus or not. I like to think that he did.
Luke 9:59-60 – “Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”“
Jesus’ words to the second man sound pretty harsh, but in reality they’re not. This verse has been greatly misunderstood by some who teach that Jesus was forbidding this young man to attend the funeral of his dad, and thus, we should have nothing to do with funerals and paying tribute to those that have passed on. However, that is a pretty horrific interpretation and understanding of this passage. Don’t think that this would-be disciple is traveling around with Jesus, while his father’s corpse is waiting at home, stinking in the sun. In other words… The father is not dead yet! If he had been, the son would have been at home, sitting shiv’ah (a Hebrew term I’ve explained in past blogs). The son wishes to go home, live in comfort with his father UNTIL his death (which might not happen for many years), collect his inheritance and then, at his leisure, become a disciple.
Gang, when it comes to discipleship, truly being a follower of Jesus – human affection takes second place to His will. When a conflict arises between human affections and Christ, Jesus claims the first place. Don’t misunderstand me; Jesus’ will and human affection may not always conflict… it’s just that when they do, God’s Kingdom comes first – Always.
A few years ago I had to say ‘goodbye’ to my two oldest sons, as they headed out of state to be a part of a wonderful ministry called REV5. I was broken hearted. I can’t even begin to explain the sorrow I went through. At the time, my wife was very sick, and my sons had become like best friends to me. To pack them up and watch them drive away was, honestly, one of the saddest moments of my life. However, I knew that my boys had heard from God and that they were ‘called’ to join this ministry. With that knowledge, even though I was sad and hurting, came a wonderful peace that passed all my understanding. (Now my boys are on staff with this ministry, and I’ve moved within a mile of it… so God rocks!)
The point that Jesus is making is that in everything there is a crucial moment; if that moment is missed the thing most likely will never be done at all. This man in the story had stirrings in his heart to get out of his spiritually dead surroundings. If he missed the moment, he would never get out. There are psychologists that tell us that every time we have a feeling to do something good, if we don’t act on that feeling immediately; the less likely we are to act on it each time. The emotion becomes a substitute for the action. For example – sometimes we get the feeling that we should write someone a letter, or send them a card, perhaps they suffered a death in the family, perhaps they did something great that we want to say congratulations for, perhaps we just want to tell them how much they mean to us. Unless we do it the moment we think of it, if we put it off until tomorrow, it will in all likelihood never be written at all. So… It’s Jesus’ advice that we must act at once when our hearts are stirred within us.
A Christian… a Christ follower… is a person who has died to self and is totally okay with living their lives with God’s plans and purposes in mind… not their own. Their agenda is thrown out the window, for the sake of obediently following God’s plan for their life.
Luke 9:61-62 “And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”“
The third man, much like the second, wishes to put off radically following Jesus until he can go home and properly say “good-bye” to his family. He didn’t sense any urgency or the importance of Jesus’ mission. He was half-hearted in his thinking, and that is what Jesus addresses. Jesus doesn’t desire for His followers to do stuff half way, or half-heartedly. Jesus’ words to the third man state a truth which no one can deny: No farmer who’s worked a plow and ever ploughed a straight furrow did so by looking over his shoulder behind him. He must keep his eyes and attention on what lies ahead… not what lies behind.
There are some whose hearts are in the past. Too many of us try to steer our lives by looking back. We look back and blame our crookedness on our bad home life, environment, circumstances, abuse, parents, teachers, church, or society, rather than forgetting those things and pressing forward.
The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14, “Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”
Go forward. Jesus said don’t look back. I used to live on 3 acres of land, and I had to mow it all at least once a week. I grew to hate it. The one thing that would make it sort of fun, would be to try and mow the grass in different and fun designs! I’d visit the ballpark and see the awesome ways their grounds-keepers mowed the grass in cool patterns and thought, ‘Hey, I could do that!” Well… it’s not that easy. Just to make a straight line across three acres is REALLY tough! The trick, I found, was to focus on a single object at the far end of the field, like a tree, and just keep my eyes fixed on that tree as I rode my riding lawn-mower. Pretty soon I’d arrive at the tree and do a U-Turn to mow the next line. Sure enough, I had mowed a perfectly straight path! It’s when I took my eyes off the immovable object at the end, and looked elsewhere… or behind me to see how I was doing… was when I got all out-of-whack!
Ecclesiastes 1:15a declares, “What is crooked cannot be straightened”.
Listen, not all excuses are lame. The man in this passage legitimately has a family that he wants to go home to and say “good-bye” to. However, the point is that Jesus saw that as simply something that was in this guy’s line-of-sight, that kept him from radically following Him. It was an excuse.
The truth is, some of us have some pretty good excuses. If you were to hear the stories represented by those who sit next to you/behind you/in front of you in church each week, you’d probably be blown away. There’s folks in that room that have had some horrific things happen in their pasts. Others are, literally, living through those incredibly hard times right at this moment!
But the simple truth is: Jesus will always challenge the excuses of those whose commitment is weak. The one who loses his life for Jesus’ sake will find it.
Think of all the excuses people put out today:
“I can’t believe in Jesus, because I’m Jewish” – but all the early believers were Jewish, as well as many since.
“I’ll have to give up too much” – yeah, but look at all that you have to gain.
“I’ll lose my friends” or “My family will think I’m a nut-job!” – Check out Jesus’ response to stuff like that in Mark 10:29-30 – “I assure you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house, brothers or sisters, mother or father, children, or fields because of Me and the gospel, who will not receive 100 times more, now at this time—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and eternal life in the age to come”.
To all the excuses we have, the Bible has answers, but there is no guarantee people will accept them. Jesus is for those that readily admit that without Christ, we are nothing… and can do nothing.
Yes, Jesus’ Kingdom is upside-down. The first are last, and the last first. The weak are strong, and the strong are weak. He chose to hang with the rejects and those who are usually pushed to the margins of life. We save our lives by losing them. We live by dying to self. It’s crazy. It’s weird. It’s upside-down. But those who are willing to live in God’s UPSIDE-DOWN Kingdom… find LIFE.
Gang, the cost of discipleship is high. It demands all we have to give, for sure. However, it brings with it a promise of LIFE… and LIFE more abundant – a better LIFE, because it includes Jesus, this One Who loves us to death… His death.
May you and I be those that are willing to “lose” our stuff, “lose” our agenda, and even “lose” our excuses… in order to gain eternal LIFE, now and in the age to come.