Still another said, "I will follow you, LORD; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family."
Jesus replied, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
Luke 9:61-62 NIV
The man in this scripture initiates this conversation and volunteers to follow Jesus. But before Jesus can even speak, the man raises an issue: abrupt separation from his family. He wanted to go and say goodbye to his family before he followed Jesus.
Elisha made a similar request to Elijah when he first entered his service and Elijah granted the request. Jesus does not. The request, in His mind, is out of line. Elisha and Elijah’s story was different. Elisha did not volunteer to be Elijah’s right hand man. However, this man did, so Jesus makes the point that “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus is telling the man that by volunteering He has put his hand to the plow, and he’s now looking back. No one can plow a straight line while looking in the other direction. Jesus knew that the man would always be preoccupied, looking back at his family. He would always be reverse-focused; his attention would be compromised, and his path forward would never be straight.
He had a focus issue. His focus would always have competition. His attachments would cause his plowing to be curved, not straight. People around him would be confused. He would say, “I love Jesus!” but when people look at the field behind him, they would see zig-zagged with distractions and detours.
Our attention, too, can compromise our intentions. Our attachments can cause us to plow fields that are too bent and curved to reap any reward. We are loyal to the wrong things. We may feel obligated to stay connected to things and people that prevent us from staying focused on the straight line that Jesus has set for us.
We have to know, if Jesus let us go home and share a meal with our family, would we return like Elisha or disappear like this man?
But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,' declares the LORD, 'because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no one cares.'
Jeremiah 30:17 NIV
Healing is a matter of time, but it is also a matter of opportunity. This is an adequate description of Israel during this season of her pilgrimage with God. The nation has endured long and arduous captivity and this captivity was being used to purge the nation of open rebellion to God. God could have chosen other ways of discipline, but in His wisdom, He decided that this was the best way: captivity in Babylon.
When captivity had done its complete work in Israel, the nation was left desiring the spiritual covenant that they had once enjoyed with God. God then sent Jeremiah to announce a turn for the better.
The best part of God’s promise is that He will give the Israelites healing of all that they have been through. God wants the Israelites to enjoy their freedom from captivity but not at the expense of them being free yet still internally broken. God doesn’t want them changed yet broken.
Living in captivity is painful, but so is living free but in captivity to brokenness. However, God’s promise to us is that He will restore health to us and heal us. We cannot accept God’s change but not accept His healing. We need to let what we have been through change and mature us, but we also need to let Him heal us so that we can manage that change well.
The good news is that God knows how much we need to be healed. He makes it a promise, offering it before we even ask. God is offering to us not just success and progress. He is offering us healing. He wants us to be healed so much that God makes us whole by the passion of His own desire. He is offering what we aren’t even asking for.
God offers to change our predicament by lifting our oppression. He offers to change our position by taking us back home and restoring us. He also wants to change us so that after we’ve gone through something, we don’t pull our strength from our pain. God wants to heal us so that we don’t walk with skewed, blurred vision. He does this for us because he who the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36).
Isaiah’s prophecies are for both his present context and the future. These involve the coming of Jesus Christ to free God’s people from oppression. King Ahaz, the king who received this prophecy, trusted his human allies and refused to put his trust in God, even as his enemies were sitting on his doorstep.
However, God is patient and kind. Despite Ahaz’s doubts, God told Ahaz to ask for a sign to prove how powerful and faithful God is. Surprisingly, Ahaz rejected the offer. He suggested that asking for a sign would be offensive to God. So, God calls him a fool and tells him that He will give him a sign anyway.
There will be a boy, born to a virgin in Bethlehem. His obedience to God, rejection of sin, and willing sacrifice of His life will save humanity and restore the world to divine intentionality.
This prophecy and what we celebrate as Christmas are about the same thing: What do we do with God’s big invitations in our lives? God’s big invitation to Ahaz was to ask for a sign, and it is the same in our lives. He is asking us to ask Him for a confirmation.
Jesus has come, and He is patiently waiting for us to accept Him. God’s grace and mercy are so deep that God will answer our rejection with other opportunities. He looks beyond our faults and caters to our needs. He does all of this because He knows that sooner or later we will taste and see that the Lord is good.
This is why we ought to love God. God never lets our limitations be His ceiling. He meets us where we are and gives us more opportunity and provision than we have ever asked for. God has always stood one step further than we thought was our last step. He pushes us so that we might achieve what He has in store for us.
Our struggles in life are because God loves us so much that He wants to sharpen us. He is always trying to teach us to walk by faith so that we can ultimately stand in His presence. God wants us to be able to enjoy the fullness of our blessing. It may not make sense in the moment, but God’s love for us is so wide and deep that He is always working for our good.
Jesus challenged the disciples when they attempted to dismiss the crowd that had excitedly followed Jesus all day long. The disciples were concerned about the practicalities: How would the crowd get home when it gets dark? Does the crowd plan to eat? So, the disciples suggested that Jesus should send the crowd away. The disciples didn’t want to accept any responsibility for these people.
Jesus then gave the disciples a strong lesson. He told the disciples that they would not be sending anyone away. Then, He pushes the disciples by telling them, “You give them something to eat.” Jesus is telling them that He will not send people away to search for a solution to their problems because He is that solution.
The disciples failed to understand the importance of care and connection, so Jesus had the disciples work the ministry that day.
Discerning a need is a calling for us, just like it was for the disciples, to stop being an observer. Spiritual growth fosters discernment in us and that discernment allows us to see need. When we see need in the lives around us, we are the first solution to that need. What we cannot do is walk with the Lord and dismiss our ability to help fulfill those needs.
Walking with Him is about more than proximity to holiness. It is accepting that we can only be observers for so long before we are required to channel what God has given to us as a benefit to someone else. If He saved us, He wants to use us.
Being part of a church is about more than just learning and worship. Church isn’t like the supermarket. It’s not a place where we go to get our teaching and worship and check out. It’s not like a football game where we are just observers. God saved us to be partners in kingdom expansion.
Every believer should be engaged in ministry. We should all be in a receiving ministry, like worship and bible study. We should all sing our worship whether we can sing or not because it isn’t just for us; it teaches those around us. We should also be in a service ministry: something that uses what God has handed to us so that we can pass it on to someone else.
We cannot be a part of God’s church and just receive. We can’t just come to worship and call ourselves mature disciples. God has to work through us so that we can be a benefit to others. That is why Jesus told the disciples, “You give them something to eat.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 NIV
As the saying goes, we can live several weeks without food. We can go several days without water. We can go several minutes without oxygen. Without hope you can live but a second. It makes sense, then, as the Apostle Paul is ending his letter to the Romans, he ends his letter with something he knows that they can’t live without.
But the strength in Paul’s benediction is the power of trust in God. For every one of us, we are tightly secured and fortressed by the God of hope. Paul hopes to convey to the Romans and to us that God is a God who inspires hope. He imparts hope to His children and can be counted on to fulfill what remains to be accomplished in our lives.
We can be in the midst of chaos and still be full of joy and this is what Paul means when he says “May the hope of God fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.” God is not intimidated by our human challenges. He can prepare a table in the presence of our enemies and in the midst of our circumstances.
We live every day with favorable expectations. Our tribulations are real, but they cannot crush the plans that God has for us. We cannot feel so defeated or become so exhausted that God’s work will be minimized in our lives. We never have to accept what seems to have gone wrong as God’s will.
Hope is to know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. When we serve God, we should hope big. We can’t come to a big God and come with small plans. When we partner with God, we can come full to the brim with hope. We have to expand our plans until God can stand us in front of Pharaoh and we can say, “God said let my people go!”
As Christians, we know that no matter how haywire life becomes, we still have hope. Hope in God will never disappoint. Our hope in Jesus gives us permission to walk in the field of the unseen. It is the reason that we live in the present but with the future always at hand. We’re not walking around with blinders on, we’re just walking in the not yet.
We know how big our foe is. We know how hard we fight against him. But our mindset isn’t what is important. What is important is how strong our hope is. If our hope is stable, our weeping today gives way to joy in the morning.