My sentiments exactly

Sylvester Stallone

It’s tough to follow Jesus while holding on to things as if our lives depend on them.

It can be very difficult to say goodbye.

Sometime or another, we all have and will experience instances where we have to tell someone, someplace or something farewell. As Ecclesiastes rightly states, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (3:1).

What makes these separations difficult, understandably, is the natural attachment that familiarity can breed after becoming accustomed to the presence of that person, place or thing. Sentiment, then, takes form as these attachments take root in the innermost chambers of our hearts.

In following Christ, however, sentiment can be a real hindrance. The very nature of following Jesus requires that we leave something behind. He makes these requirements painstakingly clear in Luke 9:23-24, “Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.’”

Our plans, sins and, quite frankly, ourselves become things of the past upon responding to Jesus’ call to discipleship. We, effectually, no longer live for ourselves but for him who died and was raised again, having become new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:15, 17).

Even as believers, attachments from our past can sometimes return to challenge our new nature. While I think we do a pretty good job of discussing how aspects of our former lives can be a potential stumbling block, it is the sentiment that believers encounter in their walk of faith that is my interest.

Following Christ is much more than a one-time decision, it is a continual journey. In this journey, however, we are susceptible to becoming complacent or too attached emotionally to our current status as to hinder our forward movement. Essentially, we can have the attitude of, “Just drop me off here Jesus.”

Jesus, though, lets us know that if we’re in then we are in it for the long haul—there are no drop-offs! This commitment is tested in the lives of three men that Jesus encounters in Luke 9:57-62:

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever 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 who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Tough words right?

Jesus brings the notion of commitment right down to where these men live and, consequently, does the same for us in the recounting of these events.

Jesus really challenges our attachments in order to see if we have the proper view of him, as well as the pursuit of his glorious kingdom. Following him could mean abandoning “home” (Luke 9:58), personal obligation (v. 59) or even family (v. 61). This means that we must really trust Jesus, knowing that “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18:29b-30).

Upon second look of Jesus’ words to these men, I did wonder a bit. Joseph was allowed by Pharaoh to bury his father (Genesis 50:1-6) and Elisha bid farewell to his family before following Elijah (1 Kings 19:19-21). Why weren’t these men afforded the same opportunities?

Well, the call to follow Christ is much more demanding and urgent. The nature of this work calls men to a much higher standard than even that of a pagan king or Old Testament prophet. Christ’s message was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17), with the coming of God’s kingdom requiring the immediate and undivided attention of those who pledged to follow him.

Now, there are some rebuttals that one might be able to raise to this discussion:

1)      The three men who Jesus addresses in Luke 9 do not appear to be people who have previously made a pledge to follow him. How can these men be used as a template for those who are already followers of Christ?

2)      Luke 9:51 tells us that “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem,” which could have a lot to do with why he was so dogmatic with these three men about the requirements of following him—he was about to go and die. How does this address the sentiment of believers?

To answer these questions, we turn to a very appropriate passage in Acts 20. Here, the apostle Paul—much after Jesus has been crucified and raised, essentially placing us in the same boat—sets his face resolutely for Jerusalem, returning from another missionary excursion.

Arriving at Miletus, Paul calls for the elders from the church at Ephesus that he may give them his farewell address. He says:

And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. (Acts 20:22-25)

Paul, under the conviction of the Spirit of Christ, sets his sights on Jerusalem in order to fulfill the purpose of God for his life. Included in the call to complete this task, however, was having to leave behind the people to whom he ministered for three years (Acts 20:31).

While Paul’s ministry was nomadic in nature, I do not think we really take the time to stop and consider the difficulties that lie in moving from place to place—namely leaving. In this account between Paul and the Ephesian elders, though, we are afforded a snapshot of the emotion behind departing from a community, one in which he made a great investment:

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship. After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. (Acts 20:36-21:1)

In our journey to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given us, there will certainly be people and places to which we become attached. In no way am I advocating an emotionless faith devoid of attachment; that is neither realistic nor biblical, and certainly this was not the point that Christ was trying to make.

Following Jesus does not mean that we will not develop sentiment, but that we never value the things that we become sentimental toward over the mission of our Lord. Much like Paul, we will experience times when Jesus calls us to move forward for the sake of this mission. There may be many tears and the tension between wanting to stay and knowing it is time to leave may warrant us to “[tear] ourselves away,” but the call of Christ is just the same.

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~ by christianballenger on April 22, 2013.

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