Eight letters – two words – the singular call of Jesus Christ to us all is a simple one: Follow me. What that following actually means, the price required to accomplish it – now that is another story entirely.
Luke 9 ends with a unique story of Jesus’ interaction with a few would-be followers. As he and the disciples traveled from one village to another, a man approached the group and volunteered for service. “Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.” Instead of a “come along and let’s have a good time!” response – Jesus pretty abruptly said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”
To another Jesus issued the invitation, “Follow me.” This time, the unexpected answer came from the would-be recruit: “Let me go first go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.”
Then there was another volunteer, “Lord, I will follow thee…only let me go say goodbye to the people who are at home at my house.” To him, Jesus said, “No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Eugene Peterson, in The Message, conveyed Luke’s story this way:
On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.
Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”
Jesus said to another, “Follow me.”
He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.”
Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”
Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.”
Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”
These men wanted to be a part of Jesus’ kingdom. We don’t know the final chapter of any of their stories. We do know that with each of them Jesus shared a key to spiritual fitness. Just as the human body requires food, water, rest, and exercise – there are certain daily requirements for spiritual fitness.
To the first one when he said, “Foxes have holes…birds have nests…” He was making clear that there are no guarantees of physical comfort in following Him. Cross-carrying can be back-breaking and heart-rending. You cannot be Kingdom-minded if your mind is set on self-preservation. The commitment to follow Jesus is a commitment to forsake the comfortable in favor of the Comforter.
To the second he said, “Let the dead bury the dead” – but went on to say, “Go thou and preach the kingdom of God.” The message here is not the seemingly heartless command of “Let the dead bury the dead” but the importance of preaching the kingdom. It’s an instruction to not spend your time and energy on things that cannot be changed.
To the third He shared the importance of the future and power of a forgiven past. Fitness for the kingdom comes by putting your hand to the plough – and going to work in the harvest field of God.
In the writings of Paul to Timothy we find first the instruction to “Fight the good fight of faith…” Then, as Paul’s life was nearing its end, he summarized his days by saying, “I have found a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith…” Take the gh out of fight and you have fit. Take the “a” and “h” out of faith and it is fit – And only the fit finish.
Jesus’ reference, according to Luke, was to a man having placed his hand – not his heart – to the plough. Sometimes sheer determination makes us hold on to the plough when our heart isn’t there. Hold on! Before you finish the course – your heart will always follow your hand. Just stay fit!