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God’s Word for You

Luke 9:59-62 the plow of the gospel

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, June 8, 2018

59 He said to another man, “Follow me!” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Matthew tells us that this man was a disciple (Matthew 8:21). Different traditions suggest that it was perhaps Philip or Thomas who said this. If this were the case, then this scene (these two verses) would have come from a much earlier time, when Jesus was first calling the Twelve (Mark 3:14-19). Another more likely possibility is that this man was not one of the Twelve but was from the larger group we think of as “the seventy” (or seventy-two, Luke 10:1, just four verses away). Knowing that the man’s father had died, Jesus invited him: “Follow me!” The present tense of Jesus’ imperative (᾽Ακολούθει μοι) could even be translated, “Keep following me.” That is to say, Jesus was heading off the man’s instinct to go and take care of his father. According to the Law of Moses, burying one’s father was very important. Only the High Priest was excused from a parent’s funeral (Leviticus 21:11; Numbers 6:7). But attending would make the disciple ceremonially unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11). In Matthew’ Gospel, Jesus and his followers embarked onto a ship immediately after this answer was given. Where would this disciple look for the Lord in a week? He would be separated from him for a long time.

Jesus’ answer understands that the man’s family are not believers. They can look to the burial; the disciple should stay with the Lord. The details that needed to be taken care of—settling the estate, taking care of any outstanding debts, providing for his family (especially his mother and sisters) and other things—Jesus says, could be seen to by someone else.

Of the three men involved with these questions about following Jesus, this second man is the one who most likely stayed with Jesus. We don’t know about the other two, but all three scenes tell us that following Christ permanently is not a choice to be made lightly.

61 Another man also said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say good-bye to my family at home.” 62 Jesus told him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks behind him is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Matthew doesn’t mention this third man. In the Old Testament, the young Elisha made this same request when he was called by Elijah (1 Kings 19:20). Elisha was called; this man was offering to follow Jesus without being called.

Jesus’ answer is simple, striking, and clear. You can’t plow a straight furrow by looking behind. Once you’ve grabbed the plow (the Greek verb is more forceful than just “setting your hand” on something) you need to set your eyes on what’s ahead. Jesus’ words here even speak to the issue, sometimes debated even today, of setting ministry goals. There are some who think that a minister or a church should never set goals but should simply be faithful. But one can be faithful and still set goals. For example, Paul made missionary plans to go to Spain (Romans 15:24) and even to visit Rome while on the way there (Romans 15:28). So while it would be wrong to say, “I will convert twenty people to Christianity this year,” it would not be wrong at all to say, “I want to share the gospel with twenty people who have never heard about Jesus this summer.” Nor would it be wrong to keep yourself accountable for what you’ve done in the past: “I wanted to read the whole New Testament last year, but I only got through Hebrews.” Not only is that a good goal, but it establishes a benchmark for what’s possible in the future, so that you won’t set unreasonable goals for yourself.

God wants us to be faithful, and he wants us to show our love for him with what we say and do. What he doesn’t want are workers in his kingdom who don’t want to be doing the work of the church. If someone is going to offer himself for the ministry but constantly tries to do something else, then the ministry isn’t for him, and the plow of the gospel should be let go.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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