As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village. 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.” (Luke 9:51-62)
My wife and I once visited Rome. There was so much history—history connected with the early Christian Church. We saw the chains—supposedly—that held the apostle Peter before he was crucified. We also saw the chains that held the apostle Paul before he was beheaded. We saw the Roman coliseum where Christians were forced to fight to the death against wild animals. And the catacombs—underground tombs where persecuted Christians secretly worshiped God. It was eye-opening: Chains, prisons, tombs… Life was not easy for Christians in the 1st century! Those early Christians were “all in” when it came to their faith. Many believed in Jesus to their deaths.
Isn’t it great we don’t have to face that today? At least, we certainly don’t expect those dangers in our lives, do we? No chains or prisons or torture… Today we’re installing our new church councilmen. What if we handed them a chain? Or a prison sentence? We’d have less candidates! Far from hiding in tombs, we have apartments and houses and churches. Good jobs. Cabins on the lake. Peace and safety. In fact, that’s what we’ve come to expect, isn’t it? We can believe in Jesus and have comfortable lives too! Isn’t it great Jesus doesn’t expect sacrifices from us today?
Or does he? You want to follow Jesus. That’s why you’re here! So compare your expectations with what Jesus says about following him. A man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Sounds great, right! But Jesus could see into the man’s heart. His heart must have been like our hearts. He must have been expecting an easy road following Jesus. So Jesus told him the truth: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Animals had homes. Jesus and his followers didn’t. You want to pull Jesus aside and say, “Jesus, if you say things like that, people aren’t going to want to follow you!” But Jesus tells the truth!
We expect to be safe. We expect to feel at home in life. But here’s the first surprise: That’s not what a Christian should expect! Think of Jesus. Jesus was rejected in his hometown of Nazareth. The people tried to throw him off a cliff. Last week, we heard how Jesus was rejected even after driving a demon out of a man. The people pleaded with him to leave! Today we see him rejected in Samaria: “The people there did not welcome him.” He was rejected in Jerusalem and crucified. “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” This world wasn’t Jesus’ home. Is it ours? Don’t get too comfortable! Still ready to follow Jesus?
That was just the first guy! Jesus said to another man, “Follow me.” He replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Sounds reasonable, right? When the timing was right, he was going to follow Jesus. Someday. But what did Jesus say? “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Let the spiritually dead people worry about the physically dead people. You: Go and spread the Word! Sounds a little harsh, right? Because we do the same thing. There’s always an excuse. Always a someday. “Jesus, I’ll follow you when we have kids.” “When work slows down.” “Someday, Jesus, I’ll follow you. Don’t worry!” We expect Jesus to say, “Okay. Whenever…” But he doesn’t. Jesus says, “No! It’s urgent. Not someday. Now!”
Is it starting to sink in that following Jesus means something different than we expect? A third man thought he got it. “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Didn’t he hear how it went for the first two guys? He thought his request made sense. “My family comes first, right?” But Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” No looking back! Ever tried mowing your lawn looking backward? How’d it look? How about riding your bike looking backward? Good luck!
Because here’s the reality in life: You can only focus on one thing. Try it. If you focus your eyes on me, can you see the baptism font, the pulpit, the window… Sure, you can see them. But can you focus on them? No! You can only focus on one thing. So what’s your life focused on? Jesus knows! According to Jesus, this is what his followers should expect. 1) This earth is not my home. I better not get comfortable. 2) Nothing is more important than my faith in Jesus. That means making difficult decisions about priorities. 3) My eyes are focused on one thing—Jesus. Forget your expectations. This is what it means to follow Jesus: A Christian is “all in!”
So are you? Or which of these three would-be followers are you like? What does your life right now say to Jesus? “I’ll follow you, just let me focus on my job for a while.” “I’ll follow, just leave me the summer at the lake.” “I’ll follow, just don’t ask for my money.” And for sure no chains or prisons or tombs. All in? I think of a pastor who told me about a member who went off to college. When he came home one Sunday for church, the pastor asked him, “Is it hard to be a Christian on a college campus?” He said, “Don’t worry. It’s going great. Nobody even knows I’m a Christian!” If following Jesus seems easy, have closely have I been following Jesus?
Here’s an illustration that’s stuck with me: The difference between just being involved and being committed is the difference between bacon and eggs. Understand? With the eggs, the chicken is just involved. With the bacon, the pig is committed. All in! Got it? When it comes to following Jesus, are you a chicken or a pig? Involved or committed? Jesus doesn’t just want eggs. He wants you. All of you. Following him. All the time. With no Plan B. Until death. Like those ancient believers with the chains and prisons and tombs. All in! That kind of commitment sounds strange today, doesn’t it? We say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Who does that?
Elisha did. The great prophet Elijah needed a successor. God chose Elisha. When Elijah called him, Elisha was plowing with 12 yoke of oxen. That’s a lot of oxen—like having a garage full of cars. Elisha was rich! But when Elijah called Elisha to follow God, did you hear what Elisha did? “He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant” (1 Kings 19:21). Talk about burning bridges, right? “Elisha, what if it doesn’t work out? What if you change your mind?” For Elisha, there was no plan B. “I’m all in!” Who does that?
Jesus’ disciples did. Peter and Andrew were fishing when Jesus said, “Follow me.” Know what they did? “They pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11). Later, Jesus saw Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. Jesus called him, “Follow me.” What did Matthew do? He “got up, left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:27-28). Peter once said to Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you” (Luke 18:28). For once Jesus didn’t correct him. It was true. Those disciples were all in! They gave up everything for Jesus. Who does that?
Paul did. You heard our second lesson. Listen again. “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep…” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). You want to cut Paul off—“Okay, you win! But why? Why did you put up with so much just to follow Jesus?”
In that same letter—2 Corinthians—Paul explains. “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). “For Christ’s love compels us…” Paul knew that there was someone else who was “all in.” Who was it? Jesus. Jesus “died for all, that whose who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
Just look at how our lesson begins: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Jesus knew what was going to happen in Jerusalem. He was going to suffer and die for us. So what did he do? He “resolutely set out.” That’s our Savior. That’s Jesus. All in! All in to save us! On the way to Jerusalem, the Samaritans refused to welcome Jesus. So James and John told Jesus to call down fire from heaven to destroy them for their sins. But Jesus said, “No. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to suffer for their sins!”
Jesus never asks for more of us than he has already given to us. Jesus didn’t just go around homeless on earth. He left his home in heaven—for you! He put his eyes on you and me and never looked back. Not until he had made it to Jerusalem, and died on the cross, and rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. So that our salvation and our forgiveness are complete. Jesus was all in! He was all in for you. How could Paul and Peter and Matthew and Elisha and so many other Christians face so much hardship for Jesus? “Christ love compels us.” Jesus is all in!
So are you a chicken or a pig? That’s what Jesus asks today. Is it getting harder to be a Christian in the U.S.? Maybe. But that’s what we should expect! Church historians say that the healthiest time for the Christian Church was in the first century when Christians were persecuted. Maybe it would be a blessing for our faith to be persecuted more! Talk this week at your house: What’s our real home? It isn’t this city or place. It’s heaven! Examine your life this week at your house. What’s really important? What’s making you say “someday” to Jesus? Ask yourself this week, “What’s my life focused on?” You can only focus on one thing! Are you all in for Jesus?
The Christian author C.S. Lewis wrote: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance, the only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” In other words, if you understand and believe who Jesus is, he will be the most important thing in your life. If you don’t believe in Jesus, he will mean nothing to you. The one thing Jesus can’t be is moderately important. Got it? Just remember what you mean to Jesus. Every church in Rome had one more symbol even more impressive than the chains of Peter. Know what it was? We have one in our church too: A cross. When you look at Jesus’ cross, you can know without a doubt that Jesus was all in for you. Jesus was the pig and not the chicken—understood the right way! He didn’t hold anything back. He gave himself for you. He was all in! So whom are you going to follow?