Walking in Jesus' Footsteps
Please read Luke 9:51-62 in your Bible. I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.
Followers follow Jesus’ example.
Have you seen members of the Third United States Infantry Regiment of the United States Army guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery? Every day since July 2, 1937, the Old Guard has stood guard. Pastor Andy Cook wrote about them:
“When a sentinel comes on duty, he walks exactly 21 steps across the tomb, representing the 21-gun salute, the highest honor given to any soldier or foreign dignitary. When he turns, he faces the tomb, and remains in that position for 21 seconds. He turns again and walks 21 steps across the tomb. When he completes the short journey, he stops, turns toward the tomb, and pauses for 21 seconds. The sentinel repeats the process until his shift is over.
“With an average age of only 22, these enlisted men and women prepare for weeks to take a turn at the tomb. Strict training ensures that the guard will be unwavering in duty. The guard’s steps will remain perfect, even when no one is watching.
“If you want to join this group, you'll have to learn a new way to walk.”
That statement really impressed me. The same thing can be said for the Christian faith: anyone who wants to become one of the followers of Jesus can no longer walk in the way our culture approves. We have to learn to walk in Jesus’ steps.
Peter said the same thing in 1 Peter 2:21; TO THIS YOU WERE CALLED, BECAUSE CHRIST SUFFERED FOR YOU, LEAVING YOU AN EXAMPLE, THAT YOU SHOULD FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS. What an image! These words were inspired and written by a man who had literally walked right behind Jesus, putting his feet in the same spots on which the Son of God had left His mark.
Now he turns that personal memory into a picture of discipleship, one that we will examine today. Looking at a pivotal moment in Luke’s account of the life of Jesus, we will see one good & five bad examples of discipleship.
1. Jesus set a good example.
I like the King James Version’s translation of v. 51; it says Jesus STEADFASTLY SET HIS FACE TO GO TO JERUSALEM. This gives us a view of the courage Jesus displayed. He was resolved to do the will of God, to obey His Father.
Courage is not the absence of fear. It is not about the absence of doubt. It is a resolution to do the right thing, period.
Jesus resolved to go to Jerusalem in spite of what He’d suffer before being raised from the dead and later, returning to heaven. The phrase Luke used seems curious, knowing what awaits Jesus when He appeared in Jerusalem that final time. Let’s explain what Luke meant by THE TIME APPROACHED FOR HIM TO BE TAKEN UP TO HEAVEN. This verse puts a good face on it, leapfrogging over His death and Resurrection, going right to the Ascension. In this statement, Jesus showed enormous faith: He looked beyond the trial to the reward.
This choice of words reminds me of Hebrews 12:2 where Jesus’ motive for obedience is explained in this way: FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM HE ENDURED THE CROSS, SCORNING ITS SHAME, AND SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD.
2. James and John set bad examples.
When their patience was tested, they got angry (52-56). At the start of this narrative, Jesus and His disciples were in Bethsaida. That city was north of the Sea of Galilee. Jerusalem was 80 miles away, as the crow flies.
The province of Samaria lay between them. God-fearing Jews would go the long way around to avoid Samaria. It’s a long story, but Samaritans and Jews pretty well hated one another. That’s why Jesus sent MESSENGERS ahead to GET THINGS READY. Jesus’ caution was correct; the Samaritans in this village were not keen to have travelers going to JERUSALEM; they did not WELCOME Jesus and His people. Maybe we can maybe see both sides, but James and John were provoked to anger.
Their reaction betrayed an immature faith. Jesus nicknamed these brothers the SONS OF THUNDER (Mark 3:17), which may be a comment on their short tempers or bluster. Based on personal experience and Jesus’ teaching, they had faith to expect that if Jesus said so, they really could “CALL DOWN FIRE FROM HEAVEN TO DESTROY THEM.”
Jesus did not get stressed or retaliate. As v. 55 says, JESUS TURNED AND REBUKED THEM. After that, they sought hospitality in ANOTHER VILLAGE. James and John had faith, but they wanted to exercise it in an immature way.
One kind of experience that reveals a lot about our character is how we deal with rejection. Sometimes, like James and John, we get mad and we want to “get even.” It’s not right to be so hard-hearted.
Other times we take the opinions of others too seriously, allowing them to wound our tender hearts. In Galatians 1:10 Paul condemned this attitude as “people pleasing” when he wrote, IF I WERE STILL TRYING TO PLEASE MEN, I WOULD NOT BE A SERVANT OF CHRIST.
Followers of Jesus display His character by avoiding these extremes. We’re not to overreact to every perceived slight; neither do we have to be a doormat. Good character is manifest in middle; keep moving forward.
3. Three “wannabe disciples” set bad examples.
Luke grouped these encounters together to show us how seriously Jesus took discipleship. While only two of the three of them volunteered for service, all three wanted to join on their own terms. It’s not that their reasons were bad, but Jesus knew their hearts were insincere, so He confronted them.
“Wannabe #1” I call “The Volunteer” (57-58). This fellow came to Jesus making such a confident-sounding statement. Jesus heard his heart, and discerned the Volunteer hadn’t really thought about what following Jesus would cost him. While Jesus wants His followers to show zeal, have passion for the things of God, no good will come of commitments based on temporary enthusiasms and vain emotion.
“Wannabe #2” is “The Good Son” (59-60). His request sounds very reasonable, which makes Jesus’ reply sound less reasonable, even harsh. One of the teachings of Jesus that makes Evangelicals squirm a bit is when He says that the family of faith is more important than one’s family of origin (Matthew 10:37; 19:19; Luke 14:26). Jesus’ response here is similar. If this “Good Son” lived in our time, we might remind him the windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror; it’s time to move forward.
“Wannabe #3” is “The Family Man” (61-62). On the face of it, the Family Man doesn’t seem to be asking for much. But Jesus recognized an excuse when he heard it and warned this would-be disciple that a divided heart ends in disaster. In James 1:6-7 we read that prayer with a double mind is not going to be answered affirmatively; it is a sign of instability.
Following Jesus isn’t about pleasing yourself or other people; it’s about pleasing Jesus. Following Jesus requires sacrifice. Getting our own way and always being right are among the first things to go. Following Jesus requires discipline: the world and your own human nature will keep getting in the way: don’t let them. Following Jesus requires patience and persistence. If it’s just a hobby, don’t expect God’s blessing. Expect to fail. Following Jesus is motivated by love, even love of self. At its most basic level, we follow Jesus because we want to have life and every other way leads to death.
Followers follow Jesus’ example.
In Hebrews 12:2 Jesus is identified as the AUTHOR of our faith (see also 2:10). In an article entitled “Walking in the Footsteps of Christ,” I read, “The Greek word translated ‘author’ is archegos, and it means ‘the first one in line in a column or file.’”
It is one of those ancient words to which English does no justice. The picture is that of a ruler who has founded a new kingdom. If you President Thomas Jefferson personally lead the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase, you’d call him an archegos.
Hebrews 12:2 exhorts us to FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS, which is natural and necessary when you’re trying to step in the footprints someone else has left for you. We can’t find life on our own; we have to walk in the footprints of Jesus. He’s already walked past death into life and He alone knows the way.