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Luke 9.57–62 NIV
“As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.””
We are three weeks into to our CULTIVATE series. We began with Cultivating Life, last week Pastor Steve talked about Cultivating Faith, and today we’ll examine Cultivating Goals.
As followers of Christ, we care about what God cares about. Therefore, the goals of God are also the goals of His people. We should never wonder what it is that we should be doing because we should be engaged in the activities of God’s kingdom.
Our text this morning is found in Luke chapter 9. This chapter is important to Luke’s Gospel because its a pivot point in the life and ministry of Jesus. He is turning His face toward Jerusalem, the place where He will both meet death and defeat it. This is Jesus’ goal, to redeem and save His people, all to the glory of God.
In chapter 9, the disciples are empowered by Jesus to do mighty things, giving the world a taste of what the Kingdom of God is really like. The sick are healed, demons are cast out, and the Gospel is proclaimed everywhere they go. Each step of faith they take is one step closer to accomplishing God’s goal of bringing salvation and wholeness to a broken world.
All the while, Jesus makes it even more clear as to why He’s come and what is expected of those who would believe and serve Him. Today’s passage speaks of three opportunities to follow Jesus and be a part of His goals, and in each instance there are distinct characteristics that make following Jesus possible.
The first person says he wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus tells him that if you do, there is no real place to call home. The second person is invited by Jesus to follow but the man says he wants to get some affairs in order (the burial of his father) before he comes and follows. The third person says he wants to follow but asks for a chance to run home and say goodbye to everyone.
So let’s break these three encounters down with summary words. The aim today is to cultivate perspective, priority, and focus.
The first man lacks perspective, which is why Jesus responds the way He does. The man doesn’t understand that following Jesus goes way beyond a 9–5 job. There is no coming home at the end of the day and picking back up tomorrow. Following Jesus is a ’round-the-clock commitment. Jesus’ home is where ever God is working. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working… Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (5:17, 19).
For us, home is a place to escape, a place to turn-things-off. But for Jesus, home is wherever God is and whatever God is doing. If you follow Jesus, you will find rest in God and you will find work and purpose in God. This is a different perspective than the world. The world compartmentalizes. But for the follower of Jesus, God is in everything—our rest and our work. Cultivating perspective means inviting God into all of life—into every person, place, and thing.
The second person is invited by Jesus to follow Him, but the man says that he needs to go and bury his father. This man lacks priority. Now I know this sounds harsh but here’s some context. There are two possibilities here. First, it was customary to exercise the option to re-bury the bones of the deceased into an ossuary. This means that the man’s business would be tied up in making arrangements and returning to fulfill the requirement. In Jesus’ day, the burial of one’s parents, especially for the eldest son, was the most noble way to honor them.
The second possibility is that he was asking for a delay because his father was not dead yet. A man who had the time to follow a rabbi around and then be invited into a learning experience by him was not in a rush to fulfill the long process of Hebrew burial rights, meaning his father was dying instead of dead. Either way, the man was asking for a delay.
What is at stake here is whether or not the man was willing to put all else aside in order to follow Jesus. The proclamation of the kingdom of God is the goal and it must be a priority. The meaning behind Jesus’ response is a pun of sorts. He is saying, “Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead.” I love this commentary from the ESV Study Bible, and it will best make the point: “Jesus insists that following him must take precedence over every other relationship and obligation. This does not imply that Jesus’ followers can never care for their family obligations, but when they do, it must be out of obedience to Jesus, not instead of obedience to Jesus. In this man’s case, Jesus was clearly not his highest commitment.” And there it is, “Jesus was…not his highest commitment.” God is to be our highest priority and to cultivate that goal we must put God first, above all else.
And the third person lacked focus. We’re tempted to think that looking back after having grabbed hold of a responsibility is merely a lack of commitment and fidelity. That was surely the case in Genesis, when Lot’s wife looked back to the city of Sodom, after God said not to, and she turned into a pillar of salt. But this is different.
The prophet Elijah in the Old Testament allowed his disciple, Elisha, the chance to go home and say goodbye, exercising the rights of leaving ones homestead (1 Kings 19). In this example, someone who takes hold of a plough must look straight ahead. But if you look back, you won’t be able to plough straight. Looking away from the plough and their row is dangerous to the operator and devastating to ground and eventually the plants that will be cultivated.
We must have a singular focus on God. If we do not, our distractions, whatever they are, will undo the work God has called us into.
Cultivating goals is huge. I hope you can see how perspective, priority, and focus play a key road in achieving God’s goals for His kingdom. Re-read this text today and throughout the week and pray to the Lord, asking Him for perspective, priority, and focus.