Face Forward – Move forward! Luke 9: 61-62 (Seven Minute Sermon)

Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord. But first let me say goodbye to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and then looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.’

Follow JesusSo, here’s a man who wants to follow Jesus. That’s great! ‘I want to follow Jesus,’ he is saying, but first of all he wants to go back and say goodbye to his family. Now that doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. On the contrary, if one of my family, or even a close friend, just wandered off with a bunch of people without saying goodbye or telling me where they were going I’d be disappointed and very worried about where they had gone. To me, it would be as if they had just disappeared.

At first glance, Jesus’ answer doesn’t look very encouraging. ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and then looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.’

What, we wonder, might that have to do with this man who has just told us that he wants to follow Jesus, but just wants to let his family know where he has gone?
Soldiers marchingHave you ever seen a bunch of soldiers marching? I don’t mean a sort of High School marching band where most people are in step most of the time, but a really smartly turned out group of soldiers, boots shining, perfectly pressed uniforms, in perfect step, arms swaying exactly together. It’s an awesome sight. The weird thing is, they aren’t looking at each other to make sure they’re getting it right. They’re all staring straight ahead, and just somehow keeping in perfect time with one another.

You could say the same about a group of dancers on stage. If they’re looking at each other out of the corner of their eyes we know about it. They look unprofessional and just not quite as good as the dancers who keep their eyes fixed on the back of the auditorium.

I live in the countryside. As I write this, my neighbour is cutting long grass using a tractor. His grass will be stored as hay to feed the cattle during the winter months. I’m definitely not a farmer, but my team do use a small tractor to cut the grass at the centre where I live and work. There’s nothing complicated about cutting the grass, but there’s no doubt that it does look best if you cut it in a straight line. My farmer friend next door explained to me once that whether you’re cutting the grass or ploughing a field you need to fix your eyes on a point in front of you and drive towards it. If you keep your eyes on the one point, you will have a straight line. Take your eyes off that point, you will go off line. If you look behind you, you are lost. Your hands will move slightly on the steering wheel and your line will definitely not be straight.

Nazareth, where Jesus was brought up, was a small village surrounded by countryside. Lots of his work as he was growing up in his fathers business would have been to support farmers – making and mending equipment, most of which would have been made of wood. We know that when he was teaching he walked through fields with his disciples, and he travelled between villages. So Jesus, and the people he met and talked to, even those who lived in towns, knew about the countryside.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever noticed that Jesus was really good at taking something very ordinary, and making a serious point from it. If he wanted to make a comment about the beauty of God’s creation and his care for it, he would use the example of a flower in the field or hedgerow, or a sparrow. The field lilies were all over the place, and sparrows were everywhere. These were things people saw every day, and Jesus even said look how beautiful they are, how well cared for they are. If God cares this much for the flowers and sparrows, how much more does he care for you!

So, Jesus would take the simple things, and use them to show us something important.

oxenIn Jesus time, a plough was something which was pulled behind an animal, usually an oxen. This is a great technique which is still used in much of the world. But whilst the oxen might be pulling the plough, it is steered by the farmer. Everyone listening to Jesus would have seen this kind of ploughing going on around them, and they would know that to get a straight plough line, the farmer needs to be facing forward. If he looks back, the plough would lose direction, and it would also become ineffective. To get it right, the farmer needs to face forward. Concentrate. Fix your eyes on the final goal. Don’t turn back.

Nowdays, if we live in a City or even in a large village, we are less conscious of the agriculture going on around us, which is why it can be helpful to think of the marching soldiers, or the dancers on the stage. The idea is similar. If you don’t face forward and focus, you will be less effective in what you are doing.

So, Jesus uses a simple demonstration from an everyday agricultural scene to show the importance of not looking back, or even taking your eyes off the target. But what has all this got to do with a man who wants to follow Jesus, but just wants to pop back and let his family know where he is going.

It’s quite simple really, but hugely important.

If you’re following Jesus, then you should expect to move forward (that’s sort of implied by the word ‘following’). I don’t think Jesus is saying ‘If you go back and say goodbye to your family you can’t be in my gang!’, rather he’s saying that if you follow me, expect to move forwards. Actually, I think he’s saying that’s what I expect of you. And if you want to move forwards most effectively, fix your eyes on the goal and keep moving towards it. Don’t allow your gaze to be drawn back to your former life, or any other alternative attractions which might present themselves to you, because if you take your eyes off the prize, you will lose direction. You will go astray.  Don’t be deflected by the attractions of the world, which can sometimes, in the earthly moment, seem more attractive that the goal of our eternal life with Jesus.

The Apostle Paul, who lived around the same time as Jesus, talks about living our lives as if we are in a race. He tells us that to run the race most effectively, to fix our eyes on the prize.

Again and again, Scripture emphasises the importance of our relationship with Jesus.

Set your hand to the plough. Face forward. Fix your eyes one where you are going with Jesus. Owning the best phone or tablet, the best shoes, the best car. Being with the most attractive girl or boy, living in the best apartment, taking the greatest risks with alcohol or drugs. These things can seem attractive, and can sometimes seem more attractive than following Jesus.

If you are doing it right, following Jesus is incredible. It can be exciting. It can be fun. It can be a white knuckle roller coaster ride. That’s if you’re being really committed, and doing all that you can to really follow Jesus in every corner of your life. Jesus says, don’t be deflected from your purpose. Don’t turn aside. Don’t look back. Because that is how to be effective in the Kingdom of God.

I don’t think for one moment that Jesus was refusing to let the man follow him, and I don’t think he would want the man to lose touch with his family. I think this is about saying to him, and to me, and to you – ‘If you’re following me, do it whole heartedly. Fix your eyes on me, and don’t let the short term joys and thrills of the world draw you away and spoil your relationship with me.’

Never forget that the real joy in life, is not in the things of this world. It is in Jesus.

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