Summary: God needs committed Christians who will make a difference in the world for our generation. Not just believers, but real followers, disciples who put our faith first and live by it.
Blessed Are the Committed
Luke 9: 51, 57-62
A British warship was docked at a port in the West Indies as a fierce storm was approaching. The wind picked up and powerful waves came sweeping into the harbor. There were five other ships of different nationalities also docked there, but only the British captain weighed anchor and sailed out to sea and into the teeth of the storm. He returned two days later, his ship battered but still intact. He discovered, however, that the other five vessels had either sunk or were smashed to pieces. Playing it safe, it turned out, was the most dangerous thing they could have done. Only the ship that dared to face the storm survived.
Jesus is pivoting from his ministry in Galilee, the remote northern province of Israel, to Jerusalem, the center of its religious life and political power. He’s been drawing large crowds among the people of Galilee’s many small farming villages, while in fairly safe territory. Yes, there were still scribes and Pharisees questioning and resisting his ministry, but he wasn’t considered an imminent threat to ‘the powers that be’ while still at a distance.
So, this is a turning point, leaving “the safe harbor.” He knew the time had come to do battle with the most powerful members of Israel’s religious class, very aware of what it would cost him: more conflict and fiercer opposition. He was also aware that the Roman government was keeping a wary eye on him as a political threat. Still, he “set his face like flint” (Isaiah 50:7) towards Jerusalem.
We can sense his courage and determination here. He’s like an Allied soldier on D-Day storming the beach, intent on only one thing: accomplishing the mission. In their case, it meant the liberation of Europe from the evils of Nazi oppression. But the stakes of Jesus’ mission are even greater: victory over the dark spiritual forces holding the human race in bondage to sin and death.
This pivotal moment, when Jesus turned his face towards the coming spiritual battle, is immediately followed in Luke’s gospel by a series of encounters with his followers, all sharing the theme of courage and commitment.
In the first encounter, when a man told Jesus as they were walking along the road, “I’ll follow you wherever you go,” Jesus reminded him of the kind of commitment that would require: “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus wanted him to know that real sacrifice is part of the commitment of discipleship. His apostles and others--many of them women--had already made the sacrifice to become homeless, too, but it required paying a very real cost.
Our sacrifices can take various forms, in today’s world. It might require taking a moral stand such as Billy Graham’s insistence that his Crusades be integrated, even in the Jim Crow south. That took moral courage, and it cost him considerable support at the time. Or in other cases, it could mean refusing to cut corners, or to lie at work, even knowing that it could cost your job. Or facing rejection because of bearing witness to your faith. There will always be a price to pay for following Jesus. We need to expect it, and to decide which is more important: our worldly comforts and security, or honoring God.
In the 1925 U.S Open, the legendary golfer Bobby Jones was getting set to hit an iron shot out of the rough when he felt his club move the ball, almost imperceptibly. No one else could have seen it, but Jones called a one-stroke penalty on himself, which ultimately cost him the title. When spectators later praised him for his sportsmanship, he famously replied, “You might as well praise a man for not robbing banks.” His moral boundaries were crystal clear. We should have that same unambiguous commitment to the cause of righteousness, whatever the cost.
In the second exchange, when responding to Jesus' invitation to follow him, a man answered, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
This answer sounds heartless without understanding the cultural context (and by the way, it’s a good example of why everyone should have a study bible). It was the custom in Jewish culture at that time to bury the dead within 24 hours. So, the man was really saying, “I’ll follow you later, only after my father has died.” .
Jesus was making the point that if the man missed the opportunity to act on his faith, he might never do so. He’s impressing upon him a sense of urgency to live out his convictions.