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Admiring Jesus or Following Jesus?

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 8:19–22; Luke 9:57–62

Jesus Christ is Lord. If we fail to follow Him, it is not because He has given us no reason to do so but simply because we place our own desires ahead of Him. Three would-be disciples with typical excuses demonstrate this sad truth.


One author back in the 1800s put it well, noting that Jesus Christ never asked for admirers; He wanted followers.[1] It is possible to admire Jesus without truly following Him.

In our Wisdom Journey, we arrive at Luke 9, where three conversations take place between Jesus and three admirers.[2] They are going to give Jesus what I would consider three of the most common excuses for refusing to follow Him.

The first excuse sounds like this: “I will follow the Lord, but not for nothing!” In other words, “I’ll follow Jesus if He gives me what I want in return.”

Here in Luke 9:57, we read, “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’” Matthew’s Gospel tells us that this man is a scribe—a scholar. He has been studying the Scriptures for years—he has a graduate degree in Old Testament law hanging on the wall in his study.

This man evidently thinks Jesus just might be the Messiah. And if Jesus is indeed the Messiah, this scribe assumes Jesus will overthrow Roman tyranny; He will usher in economic prosperity; He will bring in the kingdom of God; and He will give His favorite students the best positions in the kingdom.[3] And as far as he is concerned, he is one of the most likely candidates for an important position in that coming kingdom.

Now what is interesting is that Jesus does not flatly turn him down, but He does tell him the truth. We read in verse 58, “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.’” In essence, He’s saying, “Foxes and birds might have it better off than you, if you follow me. You might not even have a shade tree out back where you can prop your feet up and rest for a while.”

We are not told how this man responds. Maybe Luke left it open-ended because God’s Spirit wants us to slip into this man’s shoes, so to speak and ask ourselves what we would do if following Jesus did not seem to be paying off. Would we follow Him anyway?

Then the Lord encounters another man with another common excuse to not follow Jesus Christ. Essentially, it is this: “I will follow the Lord, but not right now!”

Here is the interaction in verses 59-60:

To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Now it sounds like Jesus is telling this man to skip his dad’s funeral and get on with preaching the gospel. But the text does not say his father has actually died. “Let me bury my father” was a Near Eastern figure of speech. It meant to take care of the family business until the father died. This is an easy excuse to stall for time.[4]

His reply to Jesus actually reveals this man’s priorities in life. “Let me first take care of business. Let me first get my inheritance. Let me first get some financial security. Then, I’ll follow you, Lord, but not right now.”

Maybe you are working overtime to climb some corporate ladder or move into that new house or spend your weekends in the hobbies and activities that you think you have earned. Your priorities in life have nothing to do with the Lord. In fact, becoming a follower of Christ will get in the way. So, you would rather wait and get serious about Jesus sometime later.

Now the point Jesus makes here is not so much about attending funerals, taking care of inheritance issues, or tending to your career or business. Jesus is addressing this very common excuse to postpone following Him: “Lord, I have other priorities; I can’t follow you right now! Check back with me later.”

So, here are the excuses, paraphrased: “Lord, I’ll follow you, if you give me what I want.” “Lord, I’ll follow you, but not right now.”

The third common excuse appears in the third encounter. This person is basically going to respond by saying, “Lord, I will follow You, but not entirely!”

Here it is in verse 61: “Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’” Jesus’ response at first seems disconnected: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (verse 62).

In that day, the plow was nothing more than a piece of wood with a handle at one end and a metal tip at the other end. It demanded constant attention.[5] The Greek language tells us this man is not glancing back every now and then while he is plowing; he is actually looking back constantly. Indeed, he never looks forward.[6]

Looking back is actually longing to be back there.[7] And that is at the heart of this man’s excuse. “Sure, I’ll follow you Lord, but not entirely. My heart is not really with you—it’s back there where I used to live.”

In other words, this person is not really interested in a new life with Christ. He really wants to keep his old life, like it used to be.

So here are the common excuses—and believe me, they are as popular today as they were back in the days of Christ:

  • “Lord, I’ll follow you, but only if you give me what I want.”
  • “Lord, I’ll follow you later, not right now.”
  • “Lord, I’ll follow you partially, just don’t take control of everything in my life.”

What does it mean to follow Christ? I am reminded of the biography of a young man by the name of William Borden. Back in 1904 he was the heir to the Borden Dairy estate. For his high school graduation present, his parents gave him a sight-seeing trip around the world. During that trip he wrote home declaring that God was moving his heart toward the mission field. At the same time, he wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No reserves.”

Most people thought his missionary burden would fade away once he returned home. But instead, his desire to take the gospel to the unreached world only intensified. By the time Borden was a senior at Yale University, 85 percent of the student body there was attending a Bible study he started in his freshman year. After graduating from Yale, and with business prospects pouring in, Borden kept to his vision for world missions. He wrote two more words in the back of his Bible: “No retreats.”

Borden turned down every lucrative position offered him and enrolled in seminary. After completing his studies, he traveled to Egypt to learn Arabic in preparation for ministry among the Muslims of China. But he never made it to China. While in Egypt, he contracted spinal meningitis, and within a few weeks, William Borden died at the age of twenty-five.

Newspapers headlined the news of Yale’s most famous graduate. Reporters and business leaders would write about the tragic waste of such a promising life. Just prior to falling ill, however, William had turned in his Bible, back to where he had earlier written those statements of commitment, and he wrote two more words that were discovered after his death. Beneath the words “No reserves” and “No retreats,” he had written the words, “No regrets.”[8]

Beloved, when you answer the call of God to give Him control of your life—living for Him wherever He appoints you—you are making a choice to live a life of no regrets.

[1] Soren Kierkegaard, “Followers, Not Admirers,” in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Plough Publishing, 2003), 55-60.

[2] The parallel account in Matthew 8:19-22 mentions just two of these conversations.

[3] Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Luke (Zondervan, 2012), 255.

[4] Ibid., 215-16.

[5] J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Zondervan, 1981), 272, citing William F. Arndt.

[8] See Stephen Davey, Philippians, Expository Commentary on the New Testament (Charity House, 2019), 263-64.

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