Stephen Caswell © 2001
Discipleship - How We Finish The Race
By 7 p.m. on October 20, 1968, at the Mexico City Olympics Stadium, it was beginning to darken. It had cooled down as well. The last of the Olympic marathon runners were being assisted away to first-aid stations. Over an hour earlier, Mamo Waldi of Ethiopia had charged across the finish line, winning the 26-mile, 385-yard race looking as strong and as vigorous as when he'd started. As the last few thousand spectators began preparing to leave, they heard police sirens and whistles through the gate entering the stadium. The attention turned to that gate. A sole figure, wearing the colors of Tanzania, came limping into the stadium. His name was John Steven Aquari. He was the last man to finish the marathon in 1968.
His leg was bandaged, bloody. He had taken a bad fall early in the race. Now, it was all he could do to limp his way around the track. The crowd stood and applauded as he completed that last lap. When he finally crossed the finish line, one man dared ask the question all were wondering. You are badly injured. Why didn't you quit? Why didn't you give up? Aquari, with quiet dignity said, My country did not send me seven thousand miles to start this race. My country sent me to finish. So too, God didn't send us to start this race. He didn't just send you to begin a noble task or a noble relationship. God sent you both to start and to finish.
As I said this morning salvation is a gift of God, but discipleship will cost us everything. Our salvation is only the beginning of the Christian race, it is discipleship that takes us to the end. Discipleship is the second purpose God has given to the Church. Jesus commanded the apostles to make disciples of all nations. A disciple is a learner, or follower of Jesus Christ. This morning we saw how disciples of Christ are willing to count the cost. Tonight I want to continue the same theme. We will see three men that Jesus called to be His disciples. We will see their response. I call them, Today Man, Tomorrow Man & Yesterday Man.
Firstly, Today Man
Luke 9:57 Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.
a. The Offer
This conversation took place as Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem. Some people decided to join Jesus and His disciples. One man came and promised to follow the Lord wherever He went. At first glance this seems to be a strong commitment that he was making to Christ. After all He was willing to go anywhere that Jesus went. The word follow ajkolouqew means to follow as a disciple. He even addressed Jesus as Lord. This revealed that He knew Christ was worthy of his service. Most churches would jump at such an offer from someone. They would sign them up for membership and get them involved straight way. But Jesus didn't.
Although this man is very keen to follow Christ immediately, Jesus response indicates that he was acting rashly. He was too hasty and inconsiderate. He hadn't sat down and counted the cost first.
Luke 14:28-30 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it — lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build and was not able to finish.
b. The Objection
Luke 9:58 And Jesus said to him, Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.
How did Jesus respond to this man's offer? Jesus responded with an objection. The Lord knew his heart. He knew that he hadn't thought this through properly. He knew that this man wasn't prepared to count the cost of being a disciple. Jesus told him that being a disciple was not an easy life. Christ had no home or possessions. Jesus lived in absolute poverty and required His disciples to live the same way. Unfortunately this man was accustomed to living a comfortable life. Matthew gives us further details.
Matthew 8:19-20 Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go. And Jesus said to him, Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. He was a scribe and scribes lived very comfortably. So Jesus told this scribe that hardship and suffering lay ahead of anyone who followed Him. In fact Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem where He would be put to death. A disciple must first deny Himself, take up His cross and then follow Christ. This meant forsaking all the comforts of life and embracing hardship and poverty. Luke 14:33 says: So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. Service and sacrifice go together.
Two Kinds Of Grace -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace ... is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
c. The Outcome
What was the outcome? By the lack of response we know that he went his own way. This Scribe was prepared to follow Christ as long as he was comfortable. He loved the pleasures of the world more than pleasing God. Today Man lived for the comforts of today not the rewards of the future. He wouldn't deny himself the pleasures of this world. He didn't follow Christ to Jerusalem. He wasn't prepared to count the cost of being a disciple.
Ready For Either
Ready for Either is the significant legend that under spans the seal of the Baptist Missionary Union, which presents an ox standing with a plow on one side, and an altar on the other.
Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior? Are you following Him wherever He leads? Or do you have certain conditions that need to be met? Do you expect to live comfortably? Are you willing to serve the Lord even if it means not having a big home and possessions? Jesus asks His disciples to count the cost. Are you prepared to do this?
Secondly, Tomorrow Man
Luke 9:59a Then He said to another, Follow Me.
a. The Call
Here Jesus calls another man to be His disciple. The words follow me ajkolouqew are a command to be obeyed. Jesus was calling him into His service. What an honor for him to receive. But Jesus has given the same command to us today, Christian follow me. How have you responded? How did Tomorrow Man respond?
b. The Condition
Luke 9:59b But he said, Lord, let me first go and bury my father.
This man didn't reject Christ's call. He only asked to take care of family matters first. I have an aged father at home, who cannot live long, and will need me while he does live; Let me go and attend on him until he is dead, and I have performed my last office of love to him, and then I will do any thing. That seems reasonable, doesn't it? Tomorrow Man was willing to serve God later; but not now. He had family responsibilities that needed his attention. He wanted to please his aged father first. Perhaps he was expecting to receive an inheritance. But how long would it be before his father died? One year, five years, ten years. No one knew for sure. And even after his father died there might be further responsibilities to be fulfilled. This man didn't know what the future held. Jesus called Him to follow Him today. Tomorrow Man didn't know the future. How did Jesus respond to him? With a second command:
c. The Command
Luke 9:60 Jesus said to him, Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.
Jesus commanded him to let the dead bury the dead. Wasn't Christ being cold and unfeeling? No He wasn't! By saying this Jesus highlighted the most important thing to do. People who were spiritually dead could bury his father. He had a more important task to perform, to preach the kingdom of God. The Gospel is too important to be neglected for family responsibilities. Jesus emphasized the importance of God's kingdom over every other responsibility. There were others who could bury the dead. Jesus wanted this man to serve Him today, not tomorrow. Tomorrow might never come. And even if it did, there would be other obligations to tie him down. We can always find an excuse to put off serving God till tomorrow. God wants us to serve Him today, not tomorrow. No excuses must be admitted against a present obedience to the call of Christ. He calls us to follow Him today!!
You may have watched ants stream in single file from their nest to the food source. Some will be going to pick up their load whilst others are returning with their loads. The whole process is very well organized, very precise. Have you ever asked yourself how these ants became so organized in their task? The reason is that ants are very good followers. They simply follow the ant in front of them to the food supply and back. Because of this they travel in a straight line and never waste energy on unnecessary side tours. They give Christians a good example to follow. If we would be disciples of Christ we must follow Him completely. Disciples of Christ mustn't be distracted by anything else along the way.
Many people today make the same promises to God. When life settles down a bit Lord, then I will serve You. They are just too busy with family obligations or work. Or perhaps they have built a new home and have lots to do. I think they really intend to make good on their promise. But usually it never happens. Life just gets busier, or they become sick or too tired. So they break their promise to God. Have you promised to follow God in the past? Have you kept your promise? Are you giving this excuse to God right now? Are you too busy with family or work or some other thing to serve God today? However, God doesn't want our tomorrow's, He wants our today. Tomorrow isn't ours to promise, we can only give what we have and that's today.
Thirdly, Yesterday Man
Luke 9:61 And another also said, Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.
a. The Offer
This man was prepared to serve Christ but first he desired to say good-bye to his family and friends. This seems like a reasonable request, doesn't it? Elisha asked the same thing of Elijah and was allowed to go. But this request revealed Yesterday Man's heart was in the past. Firstly, it shows that His love for family and friends was greater than his love for Christ. Because, no sooner had he promised to follow than he wants to take a break. Secondly, to go home and celebrate would give an opportunity for his friends to change his mind about following Jesus. No doubt they would beg and pray that he wouldn't leave them. Yesterday Man placed himself in a position where he could compromise his calling.
b. The Objection
Luke 9:62 But Jesus said to him, No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
How did Jesus respond to this man's request? Christ rejected it. Why? Elijah had allowed Elisha to do this very thing when Elisha was plowing. Jesus’ words underscore the fact that His message of the kingdom of God was more important than anything else — even family members.
The message and the Messiah cannot wait. Jesus’ message was more important than Elijah’s message and demanded total allegiance. This is because the call to preach the Gospel is the greatest thing that someone can do. It is more important than the message that even the prophets preached. Elijah allowed Elisha to say good-bye to his family, but Christ would not allow this man to. Perhaps Jesus knew Yesterday Man would change his mind once he got home. So Jesus told him that if kept looking back to the past and all that he was giving up he wasn't fit for the kingdom of God. What did Jesus mean by this? He meant that anyone whose mind was consumed with his family and friends would be useless in God's work. God's servants must pay attention to the work at hand. They cannot keep looking back. Unfortunately, Yesterday Man was totally focused on his family.
Don't Look Back
The story is told of a man teaching his nephew how to plow a straight furrow in a field. I remember well my uncle, many years ago teaching me how to plow straight. I watched him start the field. He would first plow a back furrow in the middle of the field. If this back furrow were straight, all the other furrows would be the same. And then came the time for me to try. I had seen him make a furrow as straight as an arrow, and he told me the secret.
He said, Don't look at the furrow you are plowing. Keep your head up. Never look back to see how you are doing - look straight ahead. Then, when he had put the plow point in at one end of the field, he gave me the reigns and said, I'll stand at the other end and you keep your eye on me and plow straight toward me. Don't look down, don't look back - just keep your eyes on me. This is the secret of the victorious Christian life. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.
How have you responded to Christ's call to follow Him? Have you made excuses because of your family? Are you living in the past? Are you looking back at what you will have to give up to serve Christ? Are you allowing your family relationships to take priority over your relationship with Christ? Or are you following the Lord with complete devotion?
Needle And Thread
A native of the Congo prayed like this: Dear Lord, You be the needle and I will be the thread. You go first, and I will follow wherever You may lead me.
If we want to follow Christ we must be prepared to count the cost. Jesus Christ must have first place in our lives. He must have precedence over our family, our possessions and our ambitions. But the benefits for following Christ far outweigh the cost.
Matthew 19:27-29 Then Peter answered and said to Him, See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have? So Jesus said to them, Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.
Tonight we have seen the responses of three men to follow Christ.
Firstly, Today Man
Today Man was very keen to follow Christ. But Jesus knew that he hadn't counted the cost. After Jesus told him the cost of discipleship, he quit. Jesus knew that he enjoyed the comforts of life too much to be His disciple. Are you prepared to count the cost? Will you determine to store up for yourselves treasure in heaven? Are you willing to live a modest life so that you can have more time for Christ? Will give up your possessions to follow Jesus?
Secondly, Tomorrow Man
Tomorrow Man was prepared to serve God later. He had pressing family obligations at the moment. But later on he was prepared to follow Christ. But Jesus calls us to follow Him today. We don't know what lies ahead. In fact if we aren't prepared to serve God today then we probably won't tomorrow. How have you responded to Christ's call to serve Him today? Have you made the excuse that you are too busy right now? Are you using the excuse of family obligations? God doesn't want out tomorrow's. In fact they are not ours to give. Jesus calls us to follow Him today. The call is urgent. How will you respond?
Thirdly, Yesterday Man
Yesterday Man offered to follow Christ but wanted to say good-bye to his family first. His heart was not really committed to Christ. Jesus said to this man that He was not fit for the kingdom of God. Why? Because He was distracted. He couldn't serve God properly while his thoughts were elsewhere. Do you have complete devotion for the Lord? Or are you looking back to your home? Will you put the past behind you and the family ties there and concentrate on serving Christ? Jesus calls us to follow Him, how will you respond?
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.