Jesus had spent many months out of the limelight, teaching His disciples and journeying around the countryside. But the time had come for the great festival, and the Jewish families all over Israel were preparing to go to Jerusalem. As the family of Christ was making their plans, Jesus’ brothers told Him He should go down to Judea and perform His great miracles in the great city. “‘No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since You are doing these things, show Yourself to the world.’”
Jesus’ brothers were trying to offer their brother good advice, but it was the wisdom of this world. They probably thought that when the true Messiah was revealed, it would be in Jerusalem. If Jesus wanted to make a name for Himself, He needed to go there and show off His power.
But the ways of this world are not the ways of God. Jesus wasn’t after the kind of position His brothers were talking about. Jesus was committed to obeying His Father. He said, “‘The time for Me has not yet come. For you, any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify that what it does is evil. You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for Me, the right time has not yet come.’”
The brothers of Christ expected Jesus to go to Jerusalem and become the hero of the nation. Jesus understood that one day He would go to Jerusalem, but He would not be given a position of power or status when He got there. He would be put to death. His Father had a very specific, appointed time for when that was going to happen.
As His brothers made their way south to Jerusalem, Jesus stayed behind in Galilee. Then He made His way to Jerusalem in secret. He would show up later than expected. It was a great way to throw off any plans His enemies had to harass Him.
Meanwhile, at the Feast, the Jews in Jerusalem were all looking for Him. They were waiting for Him to show, asking each other in whispers, wondering where He could be. The crowds didn’t know what to think. Many said that Jesus was from God. Others were convinced that He deceived the people. Nobody wanted to talk about it too loudly in case the Jewish leaders heard. They had great power, and they were cracking down on the entire population about this Jesus. There was punishment for showing allegiance to the rebellious preacher from Galilee.
Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem, knowing that the time was drawing near when He would leave this earth and ascend into Heaven. He sent messengers before Him to prepare the way. They went into Samaria to make arrangements for Jesus. The road through Samaria was one the rest of the Jews would not take. The Samaritan people were only part Jewish because their ancestors had mixed with Gentiles. They had also made up their own, strange form of the Jewish religion that did not agree with the Old Testament. They worshipped God at their own mountain and claimed it was the true place of God’s holy presence. The Jews of Jesus’ time refused to even walk through their territory.
Jesus broke through these barriers when He spoke to the woman at the well, but not every Samaritan had accepted Him. And now, because Jesus was on the way to the Temple in Jerusalem, the Samaritans were insulted by His presence. When Jesus arrived at one of their villages, the people refused to provide Him with a place to stay.
When James and John heard this, they got really mad. “‘Lord,’” they said, “’do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’” But Jesus rebuked them, and they went to another village instead.
As Jesus went along the road with His disciples, a man came to Him and said, “‘I will follow you wherever you go. Jesus said to him, “‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’”
This was true. Jesus literally didn’t have a place to lay His head that night. But Jesus was also presenting this man with a challenge. The life of Christ was not easy. It would not be easy for His true disciples, either. Was this man truly ready to accept a lack of security and safety in this world for the sake of following the Messiah? Life in Christ is the only true security there is, He is the only solid Rock a life can be built on. Did this man truly desire to follow Jesus with radical trust?
Jesus said to someone else, “‘Follow me,’” but the man asked if he could go bury his father first. Jesus told him, “‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’”
Does that sound harsh to you? Why wouldn’t Jesus give the man time to go bury his own father? Well, because his father wasn’t dead yet! The man wasn’t asking to go to his father’s funeral. He was asking to go back to his family and fulfill his duty as a son. It would take years and years! This man’s family did not believe in Jesus, and they would not release this man from his family obligations to follow the Messiah. But Jesus had called him and given him the unimaginably great honor of being a herald of the Kingdom! This disciple would have to choose. Would his first loyalty be to his family, who were choosing death and rebellion against the Son of God, or would he choose obedience to the Lord? The Bible doesn’t give us an answer. It leaves the question open. Perhaps it leaves it open because it is a question all of us have to answer.
Another man came to Jesus and said, “‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.’” But Jesus told him, “‘No man who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.’”
These short stories are powerful, and they tell us a lot about what Christ requires for those who wish to be His disciples. They are extremely challenging, and they are meant to provoke us to ask questions of ourselves. Are we willing to leave everything for Jesus? To give up the comfort of our own bed, financial security, and all the things of this world that make us feel safe, protected, or powerful? Are we willing to put our families in God’s hands and make Him our first, most important priority? Are we willing to release every other commitment to God and take whatever path He chooses to send us on?
Jesus may seem really demanding, but if you think about it, that is exactly how it should be. He is God, the mighty Lord of the universe, the High King of Heaven. He had the breathtaking, powerful humility that allowed Him to come in the form of a Man, but we shouldn’t let that confuse us about His true position of supreme worth. He is worthy of it all. And when we give it all to Him, we find, we can trust Him with all of the things we gave up to follow Him. He is faithful.
Jesus does not require anything from His disciples that He wasn’t willing to do Himself. In this story, He was preparing to surrender His life to God by dying on a cross. Utter faith in God’s plan was required of the Son of God. That is also the necessary requirement of a disciple. It is the faith that prepares one to be made worthy of the Kingdom. Are you up for it?