Following Jesus’ does not come naturally. It is not that we are opposed to the idea or we do not desire life with Him. There are many good reasons to follow this man from Nazareth, but we still have trouble. A sermon on this text offers the preacher an opportunity to reflect on what it means to follow the One who was “taken up” (ἀναλήμψεως, v. 51) for us all.
Commentaries point out how this text marks a turning point in Luke’s Gospel. Prior to these verses, Jesus has been teaching and restoring in Galilee. He had been accumulating followers for good reason. Now He turns toward Jerusalem, a journey which Luke takes almost ten chapters to describe. During this time confrontations escalate, and those following Jesus are forced to take a closer look at what it means to follow Him.
The trouble starts right off the bat with James and John. They are too eager to burn down the Samaritans who would not receive Jesus. Contrast this with Jesus’ prayer for those who crucified Him in Luke 23:24 and His subtler affirmation of a Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37. Then come the three unnamed disciples. They are too reluctant to put Jesus ahead of everything else. Again, contrast this with Jesus’ unflinching obedience to the Father in Luke 22:42 and His expectation for His followers do the same in Luke 12:22-31 14:26-27. No wonder Jesus winds up all alone. He does what we cannot, and frankly, do not want to do.
How might you preach a sermon on this text?
Whether your hearers are lifelong church-goers or recent converts, following Jesus is not a casual pastime. It is not simply one more thing we do. All Christians need this reminder from time to time—including preachers. Which is why I would suggest you begin preparing for this sermon with some self-reflection on the trouble you have following Jesus. Like the three unnamed people in verses 57-62, what conditions do you put on following Jesus? Or perhaps you identify more directly with James and John (after all, many preachers and their families have left loved ones to follow Jesus into ministry). What do you think about those who have not received—or even outright reject—Jesus? Jesus prayed for those who crucified Him rather than calling down fire or a legion of angels (Matthew 26:53). The Disciples’ eagerness to destroy those who reject Jesus is far from our Savior’s heart, but sometimes close to our thoughts about those who attack our faith.
After some honest self-reflection, you might consider the conditions your hearers are tempted to put on following Jesus. What might they say if they were among the three unnamed disciples in verses 57-62? You know their idols. Candidates include financial security, intellectual certainty, social progress, physical health, or congregational stability. You might invite them to finish this sentence during the sermon: “Jesus, I am happy to follow you, as long as…” Then give them enough time to name their own idols.
To this point I have said a lot about our trouble following Jesus. To be sure, you could continue for quite a while on this theme. But preaching the Good News requires preaching good news. What promise might you proclaim from this text? It would center in Jesus, of course. Jesus continues to invite people today to, “Follow me” (verse 59). Even to those who misunderstand Him and His mission—people like you and me and your hearers—He continues to extend this gracious invitation grounded in His unconditional promise. “Follow me to Jerusalem,” He says, where He remained faithful even to the point of death for us all. “Follow me through death into eternal life,” He says, where He showed His lordship over all His (and our) enemies. “Follow me through sin and despair and fear and hatred and misplaced priorities to new life in My Spirit here and now,” He says, inviting us to an abundant life of discipleship.
What is the result of these promises? By God’s gracious will as He works faith in these promises, hearers will set aside conditions for following Jesus. They will grow in their fear, love, and trust in God above all things, which will lead them to love their enemies instead of seeking to destroy them. Only God can work such a change, of course. But you will proclaim God’s promises. When these things take place, God Himself has done it.