“Jesus replied, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:51-62)
Jesus never hid his scars to win a disciple, nor lured anyone into following him by promising an immediate jackpot of blessings. On the contrary, he was forthright in declaring that to follow him would cost a person dearly. Jesus told his disciples that if to carry out his Father’s will was going to end up costing him not less than everything, it would cost them dearly too.
Thus, no sooner did he announce that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected…and killed,” than he also gave his hearers clear—and bracingly stark—advance notice about what would happen if they chose to follow him. He said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8.34-37).
Commenting on this passage, John Calvin said: “But it behooves the godly mind to climb still higher, to the height to which Christ calls his disciples: that each must bear his own cross. For whomever the Lord has adopted and deemed worthy of his fellowship ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil. It is the Heavenly Father’s will thus to exercise them so as to put his own children to a definite test. Beginning with Christ, his first-born, he follows this plan with all his children.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and death testify that Calvin’s claim is true. As a result of his decision to obey Jesus, rather than to fall in step and march along with the sinister cadence of Nazism, on a grim April 9 morning in 1945, Bonhoeffer was hanged by his evil captors. His awful death opened everyone’s eyes to see the truth of what their ears had earlier heard him say: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die…. Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life.”
To follow Jesus, then—to obey him without self-protecting reserve or rebellious backtalk—demands being willing to walk with Jesus toward Calvary. For that reason, directly after Jesus had resolutely set his face to make his way toward Jerusalem (cf Luke 9.51)—a choice he knew would cost him his life—he then, as it were, turned his face toward his disciples and called them to decide.
He asked each: “What about you? Are you willing to go along with me, or not?” If they chose to accompany him, they too must be unswervingly resolute, as he was. He reminded them: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and turns back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9.62)
Lent is a season for followers of Jesus to look honestly and deeply within. It gives them 40 days prayerfully to expand their tiny minds and to warm their chilly hearts to become ready to receive the immense gift of Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary—for them!—and of his rising again on Easter—for them!
Lent bids each one honestly to ask: “Am I committed to Someone bigger than I? Do I belong to the One whose will is more important than my own? Have I pledged to surrender myself to my Lord who chose to set his face toward Jerusalem and to endure mockery, torture, shame and death for me?”
For followers of Jesus, walking with him toward Jerusalem is more than some mere act of going to a geographical location on a Middle Eastern map. More important—by far—the act stands as a symbol of being willing to choose to follow the Savior and Lord, come what may and no matter the cost.
To be sure, at times disciples slip in their resolve and allegiance as they make their way with him. Their courage falters; their knees grow weak; their feet stumble. But they know, too, that fixing their eyes on him and beholding his strong, resolute face, they can regain strength to get on their feet again, dust themselves off, and keep following on.
For his followers know that their Savior and Lord has promised to be with them. Training their eyes on him, they see and hear their Lord’s reassuring words: “I will be with you always. Those who endure to the end will be saved.”
“If Jesus be God and died for me, there is no sacrifice too great for me to make for him.”
(CT Studd, 19th century British missionary to Africa)
“Wherever I have seen the print of [Jesus my Master’s] shoe in the earth, there have I coveted to set my foot too.”
(John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress)
"Lord God, You know my heart and what I hold dear. May nothing ever be more important to me than following You."