No Turning Back

July 29, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Luke 9:51-62

The Son Of Man Has No Place To Sleep

1. To begin, I will read to you once again verses fifty-seven and fifty-eight. "As the group [with Jesus] proceeded on the way, there was a man who said to Jesus, 'Wherever you go, I will follow you there no matter where.' Jesus said, 'Foxes have holes, birds in the air have nests. But, the son of man has no place to sleep.'," (verses fifty-seven and fifty-eight).

2. He said, "I will follow you no matter where." It was a sincere statement. It is a statement that can't be more plain. The Lord also sincerely turned face to face with the man who was sincerely ready to follow him. Jesus did not offer him an easy invitation. The Lord says, "Foxes have holes, birds in the air have nests. But, the son of man has no place to sleep." That is, the Lord asks him a question, "Even though you say that you will follow [me] no matter where [I go], but do you understand what those words mean?"

3. "No place to sleep" stands for home. The Lord has no place to sleep, he is literally homeless. What is home? It is a place of rest. Jesus had no place of rest on this earth. Jesus himself knew that the best. It comes through clear and plain even in the symbolical events that are written beginning in verse fifty-one.

4. Along the way to Jerusalem, Jesus and his group tried to obtain lodging in a Samaritan village. But, the villagers did not welcome Jesus. Neither Jesus nor his disciples could obtain a place of rest there. So, the disciples got mad. They were mad at being refused by the people. They were mad at not being able to obtain a restful place. "Oh Lord, if it be your will, shall we burn them to destruction by bringing down fire from heaven upon them?" These are the words of James and John. But, the Lord turned around and admonished them. For Jesus being refused, not being able to obtain lodging, or not getting rest was neither anything to get mad about, nor anything surprising to him. He had no place of rest on this earth. The Lord knew that quite well.

5. In fact, you might say that this way of walking for Jesus had already started that way since [his] birth. Everybody knows the scene of Jesus' birth well, which only this gospel recounts. When the Lord was born, he was laid to sleep in a feeding trough (a manger). It isn't a beautiful scene like you see in Christmas pageants. The scripture says, "For, there was no place for them to stay in the inn," (2:7). That's how it was. Jesus started out his life as a person with no place in this world, drawn apart from society.

6. And until the end of his life on this earth, Jesus [stayed] a person who did not have a home to rest in while on this earth. The Gospel According To Luke reports the last words of Jesus on the cross as follows. "Jesus cried out with a loud voice. 'Oh father, I entrust my spirit into your hands.'," (23:46). The words spoken by the Lord were nothing special among the Jews, but the every day words of a bed time prayer. It's kind of like saying to God, "Good night [which in Japanese is literally, 'Rest well']." On the cross the Lord says, "Good night; rest well." The Lord finally obtained a place to sleep. But, it was on a cross. It was [at] that place which was elevated a few centimeters above the earth. That is to say, he did not have a place for rest in any true sense even up to the very end on this earth.

7. In the act of following Jesus, we are to follow this homeless Jesus. It is the act of following a man who never obtained a place of rest on this earth. We are to follow the one who went in the opposite direction of the life of being admired by people, receiving honors from society, obtaining land to dwell peaceably on in this earth, and living a tranquil life. In a certain sense we are required to be mentally prepared for that.

8. However, there is something about that that we must never forget. Jesus certainly did not have a place to rest on this earth. He did not have a place of rest on earth. But, on the other hand, Jesus did always have a place of rest. I could even say that he never lost his place of rest. The one and only place of rest for the Lord was not on this earth but was right there with God the Father. He didn't have a place in this world where people would welcome and receive him, but he was by God the Father, in fellowship with God the Father. Thus, even while on the cross forsaken by all persons, the Lord was at peace and could say, "Oh father, I entrust my spirit into your hands." Even on the cross he could turn to God and say, "Good night; rest well."

9. Following Jesus means that we follow the one who had "a place to rest" in the never changing Father God. We follow Jesus who never lost his place of rest, even in death. We will live by seeking our place of rest in fellowship with the invisible and eternal God. Ultimately, we live in our relationship with the Father, to whom we can also say, "Oh father, I entrust my spirit into your hands." And being under the rule of the father is in a true sense "a place of sleep or rest," that is, we will live by believing that complete deliverance and rest in the kingdom of God is being provided.

10. We are being called to this type of blessed life. The Lord lifts his voice to us, "Follow me." That's what our being gathered here in this place means. However, we have a message that we're supposed to hear in addition to that besides. Let's listen together to what the Lord is saying.

Do Not Turn Back

11. I will read to you beginning with verse fifty-nine. "Then to another person he said, 'Follow me,' but he answered, 'Oh Lord, first, please let me go bury my father.' Jesus said, 'Let those who are dead bury their dead. As for you, go and spread the kingdom of God.'," (verses fifty-nine and sixty).

12. Jesus said to him, "Follow me." That man also seemed to have the resolve to follow the Lord. Then he requested [of the Lord] to "First, please let me go bury my father." His father would soon pass away. We can understand this request of his easily enough. The hard part to understand, instead, is Jesus' statement. The Lord said, "Let those who are dead bury their dead."

13. Of course it isn't in the literal sense. "Those who are dead" most likely refers to those whose eyes are not opened to the kingdom of God, to God's salvation, "those who are dead" in a spiritual sense, in their relationships to God. He says, "Leave the funeral to them."

14. Is that really an unreasonable statement or is it not? If we give careful consideration to this, being objective, to leave the funeral service in the hands of others is not "an absolutely impossible thing to do." It is possible for someone else to act in your stead. On the other hand though, only the person himself [or herself] can respond to the Lord's call of "Follow me." Other persons cannot do the following and the believing for you. Come what may, the individual himself or herself must always take each and every step, which decides the course of one's life. And if that is the way it is when it comes to deliverance, it is all the more so when it comes to our relationship with the eternal God.

15. The Lord said, "Let those who are dead bury their own dead." I think that expression is a bit extreme for sure. But, can it be said that this statement just as it is is enough to overturn our own usually wrong assumptions? [He] is challenging the priorities of life, which we don't even usually doubt. What you think is absolutely important, what you place as top priority, what you think you must get done no matter what, -- is that really important? Is is it more important than what has to do with the fundamental direction of life and what has to do with eternal salvation? We can't really put that off to the side, can we?

16. Following Christ includes being ready to stand with the Lord's words of "Let those who are dead bury their own dead" right before us and rethinking the priorities in our lives with his words in view.

17. Furthermore, let's listen to the words that the Lord had spoken to another person. Please look beginning in verse sixty-one. "Also, another person said, 'Lord, I will follow you. But, first, let me go say farewell to my family.' Jesus said, to him, 'The person who turns back after putting his hand on the plow is not fit for the kingdom of God.'," (verses sixty-one and sixty-two).

18. In fact, a very similar scene can be found in the Old Testament. It is the scene in First Kings chapter nineteen, where Elijah the Prophet calls out Elisha as [his] successor. When Elijah the Prophet meets Elisha who was plowing up a field, he threw to him his overcoat. This was the gesture by which one designated one's successor. It meant, "Follow me. Be my successor and succeed me in my work. Then, Elisha pursued after Elijah and said the following. "Please let me kiss my father and my mother good-bye. After that I will follow you," (First Kings 19:20). At that time, Elijah told him to "Go," and gave him permission to. After that, Elisha slaughtered a cow, cooked it and turned to the people and gave them it to eat. Then, the text says, "After that, he stood, followed Elijah, and served him," (First Kings 19:21).

19. Elisha was given permission to bid farewell to his family. But, the man found in today's passage of scripture was refused in his statement of "First, please let me go say farewell to my family." It's harsh. It's quite harsh. I feel it is. But, the reason Jesus had been so outspoken up to this point was he knew about this man quite well. I don't know how it would be [for] other people. But, "for this man," going to his family, meeting with them face to face, delaying his following the Lord would truly end up turning into his "looking back after putting his hand to the plow." Because he knew that [about him], the Lord had most likely turned his request down.

20. 'The person who turns back after putting his hand on the plow" -- The plow in this case stands for the tool to which one attaches a bull and plows up a field. When one looks back after putting his hands to the plow and the bull starts moving, the rows you've done will be crooked. In other words, you'll get to where you're not going straight, in the direction you're supposed to actually go. To look back just a little may seem like a small thing. But, it is not easy to go back over the ridged rows that ended up crooked.

21. The statement from the Lord of "The person who turns back after putting his hand on the plow is not fit for the kingdom of God," which he gave in reply to the request of "First, please let me go say farewell to my family," does no doubt seem to be an extremely harsh statement. But, that alone, again, is a statement that cuts into our hearts and can cause us to recall what's important. The words of "say farewell to [my] family" may not apply to us here. But even though it may be different for each of us here, there has certainly been times when we must not look back. There are times when we must not procrastinate. There are times when something seemingly as small as this will end up separating us in a big way from the way of following Christ, from the path of faith. In fact, something comes to mind that, even in this congregation here now [some of you] have experienced such a thing. Haven't you?

22. Therefore, all the more reason then, our being called by the Lord with "Follow me," now in this place, again is [his] grace and it is nothing else except grace. We must not turn back again. Going straight ahead, all the while being led by Christ, by aiming for the completion of salvation in the kingdom of God, we want to be walking the path of faith.