“Looking Back”



I am standing between two mountains, Mount Ebal to the north and Mount Gerizim to the south. The Jezreel Valley is between them. A few miles away is the ancient City of Samaria. In the middle of this valley is a place called Shechem. It is near the base of Mount Ebal, about one half mile from the town called Sychar. This site is referred to many times in the Bible. Jacob returns to this place from the Promised Land. Joshua gathers the tribes of Israel to read God’s promises of blessings and cursings. It is also near the place where Jesus met the Samaritan woman. During this time, the Jews and the Samaritans did not get along. To put it bluntly, they hated one another. Most Jews walked across the Jordan River on the eastern side, when traveling between Galilee and Jerusalem. They went out of their way to avoid any kind of contact with or presence in Samaria. One day Jesus was traveling from Jerusalem in the south to Galilee in the north. Instead of doing as most Jews did, He went through Samaria. Oh, He knew the dangers and His disciples warned Him to take a different route; yet, He refused to do so. Jesus was always looking for those who needed to hear the Good News about God’s Kingdom, and it was during this trip Jesus taught about what it takes to follow Him. He spoke to His disciples about not looking back. He reminded them of His call to discipleship, even when it required great sacrifice. He encouraged them to love their enemies and to not be judgmental. Oh, the scenery in this area has changed over the years, but the call to discipleship has not.



One of the most important questions we will ever ask ourselves is, who is Jesus? We can get that answer by looking up that name in the dictionary, finding it on the internet, or perhaps by asking our neighbor. And as we receive the answer, we then need to ask ourselves another question, what will I do with Jesus? That answer is not found in the dictionary nor is it found on the internet. It comes from within each of us. We consider what the Bible says about Jesus, we look at others who responded to Him and to His work here on the earth, and then we think about how we need to respond to Him, as well. In our lesson today on “Key to the Kingdom,” we will explore those very things as we look at a familiar story in Matthews’s gospel. After spending a considerable amount of time with Jesus, the disciples were asked a question; Jesus asked “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They gave several answers. He then asks, “What about you?” Jesus wants them to express their own thoughts on what kind of impact He was making on them. We too might be quick to respond to that same question. We might even give the right answer. And yet, as we do, we are to carefully consider what that means for us. We are to think about the difference Jesus makes in our lives, or even if He does. As we open our Bibles and study together, I hope this familiar passage will cause us to consider once again this important question; who is Jesus? I invite you to stay tuned to this station for the next few minutes, as we seek to know more about Jesus and His salvation.



Many years ago I had the opportunity and privilege to work on a farm, and one of my tasks was to drive a tractor while pulling a plow. And as I began that job, I would often times look over my shoulder to see if the plow was going in the right direction; and, of course it was because it was attached to the tractor I was driving. But I realized once I did that my rows became very crooked and not straight at all. But, if I found a position at the other end of the field and drove directly toward that in a straight line, then I knew without a doubt that my rows would be straight. Well, that same principal applies to following Jesus. When we look back to our life without Him we find that our life is a little bit crooked and not in line with His will. It’s not straight, as He want us to follow Him. But if we keep our eyes focused on Jesus and move in a direction toward Him, then we can know without a doubt that our life will be straight and according to His purpose for us. Well, that truth is found in the gospel of Luke chapter 9. Jesus is on His way from Galilee in the north to the City of Jerusalem in the south. The time has come for Him to leave His familiar surroundings, and the people whom He loves and He can associate with and who love Him, and go to a place where He will be rejected by people who don’t love Him. They will reject His claims as being the Son of God, the One who came to represent His Father. And as He makes that journey south He goes to the Land of Samaria. Now, most Jews made every effort to go around Samaria and to avoid any kind of contact with these Samaritan people. Oh, the Jews and the Samaritans did not like each other. In fact the despised or they hated one another. They did not get along at all, and so as Jesus went through Samaria He was basically putting His life on the line. The disciples wanted Him to go around. They wanted Him to cross over the Jordan River and to travel south on the eastern side and then come back over and enter into Jerusalem; and yet, Jesus was unwilling to do that. Perhaps He knew of opportunities that awaited Him in Samaria or even some people with whom He needed to make some contact; so, He traveled through this unsafe area. And as He did, He met three people who had an interest in following Him. We find the exchange between Jesus and those three people here in Luke chapter 9 beginning with verse 57: <As they were walking along the road, a man said to Him, “I will follow you where ever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” He said to another man, “Follow Me.” But He replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one that puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”> Luke introduces us to three people who we might consider to be candidates to follow Jesus. The first one is a volunteer. He comes up to Jesus, raises his hand; he said, “I’m going to follow you,” and he seems eager to do so. But Jesus’ response outlines the struggles that will come with such a decision. He tells him that it would not be easy. He tells him that he would be following a man who has no home, who has been rejected by many people and does not know what will happen from one day to the next. Indeed that is how Jesus lived. He depended upon the mercies of God and the kindness and the goodness of those who traveled with Him and supported His ministry. And no, He did not even have a home in which to live. Well, we are not told of the man's response once he heard that. Perhaps he was in suspense as to what was going to happen. He did not know if this was the right decision for him or not. Oh, perhaps he did follow Jesus all the way to Jerusalem, but our guess is that he probably did not; he decided the cost was too great. Maybe he wanted to play it safe, stay right where he was and to be comfortable in his life. Jesus then invites a second man to follow Him, and he too considers what Jesus says. And yet he offers what seems to be a valid reason for not following Jesus immediately. He says, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father and then I will come follow you.” Well, another way to read that is this: Let me go and serve my father while he is still alive, and after he dies I will bury him, then I will come follow you. Now, perhaps that is true, for in the first century culture it was the duty of a son to stay at home and to work with his family, to work with his father until his father passes away. And then, once he is properly seen about and the family taken care of, then he can move on with his life. Now, in this man’s mind that was the most important thing to do; and, surely Jesus was not expecting him to go against that obligation. Surely he was not expected to turn his back on that time honored tradition. And yet, that is exactly what Jesus was requiring. The more important and immediate need was to go and to announce the arrival of God’s Kingdom, and Jesus invited this man to travel along with Him and to do that very thing. Well, the third man is similar to the first, in that he volunteers to follow Jesus. However, he too, like the second man, places a condition upon doing so. He wants to go back to his family and say goodbye to them before he makes that commitment. Again, that seems to be a legitimate request. Often times before people go on a mission trip or move to another country, today, they go back to their family and they say goodbye and they have a farewell party; and, that’s only natural. But in this first century culture, the idea was the man had to go back to his family and get their permission for him to go away. And with that, no doubt, they would ask a number of questions about whom he would be following and how long he would be gone and what he would be doing. And so, he is asking Jesus if he can first go back and get his family’s approval before following Him. Well, the man is clearly saying “Jesus, I want to follow you but the authority of my father and other family members is higher than your authority and I must have their permission before I take on such an adventure.” Jesus’ response to that man seemed to summarize the response that He had to all three of these would be followers; “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.” Oh, Jesus makes the point very plainly; if you are not committed to following Me, then there is no reason to start the process; if you are not willing to give up everything that keeps you from becoming My disciple and following in My footsteps today then you don’t need to become My follower under those circumstances. Now, the first century task of plowing a field required skill and commitment. It took time to learn and it demanded ones full attention. The guiding of the plow, or the one guiding the plow, also had to keep the oxen in a straight line as they went from one end of the field to the other. And it reminds us, hopefully, of that illustration I used a moment ago, to keep focused on what lay ahead and to keep moving in a straight line or direction. Yes, there was no time to look back. Nothing could divert ones attention from the task at hand. One could not get easily distracted. Plowing a field was quite challenging, it required a great commitment; and, as Jesus spoke those words, no doubt these three would be followers understood them. Three candidates for discipleship are challenged by Jesus. He asks them to put their lives on the line as they become His followers. However, none of them are ready nor are they willing to do so. Oh, they had other things to consider and they were not ready to make such a commitment. You know, in the minds of some, Jesus is being hard on these would be followers. Many people did not follow Him throughout His public ministry, only a hand full of people, and now here were three individuals who expressed some what of an interest in following Jesus. Why not give them some grace and allow them to follow? Well, that is really not the issue at hand at all. Jesus is simply laying out the demands of discipleship. He wants them to know that following Him is not an easy task. It can not be taken lightly. It would require a full commitment, and they needed to know that up front first hand before they embarked upon such an adventure. Still today, the cost of following Jesus is great. It is not about making ones life easier, thinking that if we follow Jesus then all of our problems and burdens and trials of life will just disappear and automatically be gone. No, that often does not happen. It is not about adding something else to our well defined life, thinking that we need to add Jesus to our lives so that we will look just a little bit better in the eyes of other people. And certainly, following Jesus is not something that starts one day and that ends some other day out there in the future. Following Jesus is about signing up for a mission that is not easy; rather, it is difficult and challenging. Following Jesus is about making some hard choices and decisions in life. It revolves around dedicating ones life to the One who dedicated His life to each one of us. It is about dedicating our life to Jesus, who went to the cross and died on our behalf, so that we might have the privilege and the opportunity to be a part of His spiritual and eternal family. Yes, following Jesus is costly. It demands ones full attention in the midst of many worldly distractions, and it is not to be done without giving some considerable attention and consideration to what is expected. Oh, to truly be a follower of Jesus Christ is about making a very important decision, and it is much more than simply stepping up and saying, “Jesus, I want to follow you.” As Jesus traveled through that unfriendly territory in Samaria, we too sometimes travel a road that is unfriendly toward those who seek to follow Jesus. We might meet with all kinds of challenges and obstacles and problems. And if we make that decision, Jesus encourages us to put our hand to that plow and to not look back, but to stay focused on Him. And that might require traveling a rough road with plenty of uncertainty. We might meet with some kind of rejection from our friends and loved ones. It might even require that we make some sacrifices that seem absolutely impossible to make at the time. And yet, those are some things Jesus wanted these three people to consider before they actually became His disciples. Well, Jesus illustrates the cost of following Him with two different examples that are found a few chapters later here in Luke, in chapter 14. I want to read these statements by Jesus, and no doubt we can relate to them. Let’s begin in Luke chapter 14 in verse 27: <“Whoever does not carry their cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the costs to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? And if he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be My disciples.”> The point Jesus makes is obvious, following Him requires careful thought and consideration. It comes a willingness to give up everything that stands in the way of making a full commitment to Jesus Christ the Son of God. Now, before all of that becomes to overwhelming for us to consider, let us realize there is a great reward and blessing in being a follower of Jesus Christ. When we sign up to walk in His footsteps and become His disciple, it is then that God entrust to us all of His spiritual blessings and promises. When we become a Child of God, when we become apart of His spiritual family, as one of His children, God blesses us in ways perhaps that we can not even imagine, according to the spiritual blessings that come to each and everyone that is a child of His. And we enter into a relationship with God that is unlike any other, and it comes when we are a committed disciple of Jesus Christ, His one and only Son. As we take a look at this lesson, I want to offer three observations about what it means for us to follow Jesus and what that might look like in our own lives. First of all, Jesus experienced sorrow, pain and rejection as the Son of Man. Oh, many people did not accept His claims of being God’s Son, nor did they agree to His conditions to being His follower. And yet, Jesus never wavered from doing His Fathers will. Even though He met with opposition and discouragement, He never was deterred from fulfilling the purposes for which God sent Him to this Earth. He kept on loving and forgiving and showing compassion for people. And with that in mind, Jesus asks us to consider some of the challenges we might face once we become His disciple. What are some obstacles that we might encounter and are we willing to trust God enough that He will help us to overcome them. And so, are we willing to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Here’s observation number two; Jesus’ authority is greater than that of all others. Even the demands of our culture today is no equal to Jesus’ demands. He invited three people to follow Him and once He did He gave them the duty of proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He said you have the purpose and responsibility to go and to announce God’s Kingdom to other people. And likewise, when we sign up to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, we have a purpose, we have a role to fulfill and that is to proclaim to others what Jesus has done for us and to invite them to join in as well. And so with that in mind, Jesus asks us to give up anything that would stand in the way of us doing that. So the question is are we willing to do our part in advancing God’s Kingdom upon this Earth? And then here is observation number three: Loyalty to Jesus was and still is to be greater than all other loyalties. That’s hard for us to handle, isn’t it? We try to be loyal people. We are loyal to our spouse and to our families. We’re loyal to our employer and to what we do in this world. We have a number of loyalties, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. And yet Jesus states. “I want to be your first loyalty and priority.” And so, serving and following Jesus is the most important decision any of us will ever make, as it requires a full and complete commitment. And so with that in mind, Jesus asks us to be loyal to Him above all others. And that leads us to our third question: Are we willing to follow Jesus and not look back? Are we willing to put our hand to the plow and keep our eyes focused on Jesus and not look back on our life without Jesus as the authority for our life? Those are some challenging things for us to consider as we count the cost of following Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of the One True God. My prayer today is that we will know the joy of doing so. I pray that we will know the joy of following Jesus and becoming one of His disciples, and understanding that He is guiding us and leading us along some unfriendly and unpopular ways in this world. But yet as we follow Him, He will give us the strength to do so. His presence will always be with us and we can anticipate and look forward to the eternal rewards that He has in store for us as we become a part of God’s family. I would encourage you today to put your hand to the plow and not look back but to know the joy and the blessing of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.



Thank you for being our guest today on “Key to the Kingdom.” As Jesus asked His disciples who He was, He asks us the same question. As we consider our response, let us never forget that He is God’s Son who came to this world to offer salvation and hope to each of us. If you would like to hear or view this message again, please go to our website, keytothekingdom.com. It is available to download in several different formats and requires no cost or obligation. Other lessons are there as well and I encourage you to access any of them that might be of interest. Daily devotional thoughts and short inspiration videos are on the website as well, they offer practical ideas and encouragement for your spiritual growth. Thought questions associated with each lesson provide additional ways to make personal application of God’s Word. By calling the number on the screen you can leave a message and we will be happy to return the call very soon. Weekly posts are made on our Facebook® page and I hope you will like and share them with others. Roku® television and a free phone app will also take you directly to our website. Oh, all of these media options provide easy access to this outreach ministry and I trust you will take advantage of those that might be of interest. Thank you again for taking time to be with us for today’s broadcast. I trust you will join us again next time on this same channel, as we continue to study the Bible on “Key to the Kingdom.”