At the end of Luke 9, we’re told about a man Jesus called to be a disciple. He said, “Follow me” (9:59). But the man hesitated, saying “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (5:59). It may seem like a reasonable response to us. But not to Jesus. He responded to the man saying, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (9:60).
To be clear, Jesus wasn’t anti-family. Elsewhere he excoriates some of the Pharisees who used serving God as an excuse for not honoring their parents (Matt 15:1-9). So, what’s going on here? First, we need to understand this in light of the burying process of his day. Sometimes the burial process could take up to a year as the body would be anointed and then put into a tomb, left to decay. Afterward, the bones would be collected and put into a ossuary box and laid aside in a family tomb. Moreover, in Jesus’ day, if the father was sick to the point of death, the son wouldn’t even be talking with Jesus. It was expected that he stay at his father’s side up to the moment of death.
What does all of this tell us? The death of this man’s father wasn’t immanent. Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead” because he knew the heart of this man. Jesus saw his unwillingness to follow in obedience. Why was he so unwillingly to obey? It could have been any number of things. But it really came down to one thing: safety. There was safety in life as usual. There was safety in staying close to family. There was safety in not following Jesus.
Yet Jesus is calling this man to sacrifice safety for the sake the kingdom. He is calling him to leave behind those dead to the spiritual things of God in order to proclaim the good news of the kingdom. This is important for us to think about: Jesus never call us to give things up just to give things up. Jesus never calls us to sacrifice simply to have us sacrifice. There is a purpose in his calling. Specifically, we are called to make sacrifices in order that we might proclaim the kingdom of God. After all, what could be more urgent than proclaiming the kingdom? Is there anything that should never be sacrificed in order that men and women might experience the saving grace of a holy God? The answer is nothing. Nothing is more important than bringing the only message of salvation to sinners desperately in need of forgiveness from a holy God. The reconciling power of Christ’s death and resurrection can only come to those who hear and believe.
Yet, is that what we believe? Thinking back over the last 2000 years, apparently no. Listen to this reality-check from Dr. David Sills: “Coca-Cola was invented in 1896 and now the logo and product is known by 94% of the world’s pop. 2,000 yrs ago Jesus gave us the Great Commission but the Gospel is still not accessible to about half the world’s peoples. We can do it in 117 yrs for profit, but in 2,000 yrs we haven’t done so for the glory of God and obedience to Christ’s command.”1 Think about this: over 6,000 people groups—people with those ethno-linguistic identity—that are completely unreached. Sometimes we’re tempted to look at lost people down the road and say ‘Well, we’re an unreached city. There’s lost people here.’ But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re here. A church is here. Lots of churches are here in the city. We’re talking about people who have little to no access to the gospel. People that have to travel for hours or to a completely different country to hear about Jesus. Are we willing sacrifice for them to hear of Christ? Are we will willing to sacrifice all that is safe in our life?
You know it’s more than just the unreached as well. There’s also those that have been raked over by missionaries but left without real belief. How does that happen? It’s hard to say. Perhaps the missionaries didn’t bring a gospel message that was faithful to the message of the Bible. Perhaps they just left too early. Either way, the same missionary I just cited—David Sills—runs a ministry for going back to places where missionaries have been but the church is now a mess. With the urgency of the unreached people some may think this is foolish. But consider that Sills gets questions like this from pastors: “If I eat the flesh of another man will I get his sins too?” Others will tell him that since they have no Bible telling him that they just preach on Sunday whatever they dream about on Saturday night. Or that shaman witchcraft is okay in the church as long as it’s used for good and not evil. Clearly, there is work left to do in these areas.
When it’s all said and done, we’re looking at 4.5 billion people in the world without Christ and on their way to an eternal hell.2 There’s safety in remaining ignorant of these facts. There is safety in excuse after excuse of why we can’t go to the nations or even speak a word for Christ here to our neighbors. There is safety in just staying home and having a nice church and some close friends. But that’s not what we’re called to. We’re called to sacrifice. We’re called to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. Maybe that means sacrificing your money, your ego, your time, your preferences, your traditions, your plans, or your family. It may even mean sacrificing your love life.
This Christmas, like every other Christmas, our church will be collecting for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for world missions. Who was Lottie Moon?3 Well, among many other things, she was almost the wife of Crawford Toy. Toy, once pastor of Charlottesville Baptist Church in Virginia, was an up and coming theologian who became a professor of Old Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He ended up teaching at a women’s institute where he met Lottie Moon. The two fell in love and were engaged to be married. But there was a problem. Moon felt the call of missions and Toy felt the call of liberal theology. He denied the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. Despite her deep affection for Toy, Moon simply couldn’t reconcile his deficient view of the Bible. So in 1873, Moon gave up what would be her only chance at marriage. Stop and think about what it would have been like for a woman in her day. She sacrificed safety and security for the sake of the gospel among the people of China. Having obeyed the Great Commission, Moon died on the mission field, a faithful servant of God. Having been forced out of Southern, Toy died a Unitarian professor at Harvard, denying the deity of Christ, believing religion was merely a product of human belief.
The risen Christ has commanded that his disciples make disciples. And there is much work left before that calling is complete. So, how are we going to respond? Will we cling to safety or embrace an attitude of sacrifice for the salvation of the nations. Will we heed Jesus’ words and leave the dead to bury their own dead so that we can go and proclaim the kingdom of God?