What does it mean to follow Christ?
That’s what three people found out, as they either approached Jesus or were called by him to be his disciples.
A teacher of the law came up to him first, and said,
Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go. (Matthew 8:19)
This is very interesting to me. Most of the teachers of the law opposed Jesus. But this one, despite the opposition of most of his peers, was nevertheless full of zeal to follow Jesus. Zeal is good. But Jesus warned him,
Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. (Matthew 8:20)
In other words, “I’m not promising an easy life. Following me is not all fun and games. You’re going to be away from home a lot. You may never have a family of your own if you choose this life. Can you handle that?”
Jesus went to another man, and said, “Follow me.” The man replied,
Lord, first let me go and bury my father. (Luke 9:59)
What was the situation here? Most likely, the father wasn’t dead. I strongly doubt that Jesus had walked up to the funeral and said to the man, “Follow me.”
I suppose it’s possible that the father had a terminal illness, but it’s also possible that his father was perfectly healthy, but getting older, and the man simply wanted to wait until his father passed away, whenever that was, before he followed Jesus. Perhaps his father was opposed to Jesus, and if he found out that his son was following Jesus, the man would be disowned.
But Jesus said,
Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God. (60)
In this case, I think Jesus is talking about the spiritually dead burying the spiritually dead. I was reading a book about Japan, and it said that some Japanese don’t become Christians, because they don’t like the idea that their family will go to hell if they don’t believe in Jesus, and that there is no hope for those who have already passed away without Jesus.
But Jesus basically says that you can’t control that. Don’t let the spiritually dead determine your spiritual destiny. Either in terms of your salvation or in doing God’s work. There may be other spiritually dead people that if you would just go out and tell them about Jesus, would be saved. But if you don’t go out because you’re afraid of what your family will say, not only will your family go to hell, but also those you never told.
One last man said to Jesus,
I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family. (Luke 9:61)
But Jesus replied,
No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. (9:62)
I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong in saying good-by to your family. But perhaps Jesus knew there was a deeper problem within this man’s heart. That there was a tie to this man’s family that would hold him back from completely following Jesus. And if we’re constantly looking back at something we left behind, even something as good as family, it can hinder us as we try to follow Jesus. Jesus wants our whole heart, not just a part.
We have no idea how these three men responded. Perhaps the gospel writers meant to do it that way so that you would have to think about your response.
Are you willing to follow Jesus though it may be hard? Are you willing to follow Jesus though your family and those you love won’t. And are you willing to leave behind all that would hinder you from following Jesus?
In short, how will you respond when Jesus says to you, “Follow me?”