Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the farmer’s chicken who proposed to the cow that they make the farmer breakfast. The cow cheerfully responded: “I’m in! What will we give him?” The chicken replied, “I’ll supply the eggs, and you supply the meat.”
The cow’s countenance dimmed as she realized the ramifications of the initial invitation. She sadly replied to the chicken, “For you that’s devotion, but for me it means total sacrifice.” And she walked away.
This barnyard fable serves as a meaningful introduction for us to plumb the depths of Jesus Christ’s exhortation of “Follow Me” (John 10:27 John 10:27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
American King James Version×). It leads us to a series of conversations Jesus had with three potential disciples. They too were seemingly prepared to respond to an invitation but, like the cow, were stopped in their tracks when confronted with the full measure of what discipleship entails.
We find this series of conversations in the Gospel of Luke at an important juncture in Christ’s earthly ministry. Luke 9:51 Luke 9:51And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,
American King James Version×describes how “He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” His time was now short. He desired total commitment from those surrounding Him for the remainder of His earthly journey. It would be better to have few with staying power than a large entourage of conflicted individuals who would flinch at the first sign of distress.
Jesus here makes it very clear that being His disciple will cost you—you! And, it will cost every part of you.
Excuses for declining the greatest invitation
Luke records: “Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, ‘Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him. ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’ ” (Luke 9:57-58 Luke 9:57-58 57 And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said to him, Lord, I will follow you wherever you go.
58 And Jesus said to him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has not where to lay his head.
American King James Version×).
As was His manner, Jesus was being brutally honest regarding the man’s future if He heeded the call of “Follow Me.” The would-be-follower would have to hand over his future to Christ in uncharted territory known but to God. The call was that moment. The invitation was there. But we never hear of the man again in the Gospels.
Jesus then invited another potential disciple by saying, “Follow Me.” But this man responded, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59-60 Luke 9:59-60 59 And he said to another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.
60 Jesus said to him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go you and preach the kingdom of God.
American King James Version×). This statement might seem to be an extremely uncaring response in light of Jesus’ generous and kindly nature. What’s going on here?
The general understanding regarding this statement is that the man is telling Jesus: “It’s simply not a convenient time. I have an aging father. When he’s dead and buried, I’ll find you then.”
Jesus’ blunt response is meant to clarify a vital point—that now is the moment of decision. The time of your personal calling and for responding to it is now, not tomorrow. So far we have two would-be disciples —one consumed with fear of the future and the other preoccupied with the present.
But there’s one more potential disciple and one more dimension of life to consider. Luke 9:61 Luke 9:61And another also said, Lord, I will follow you; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.
American King James Version×states: “And another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house’ ”—that is, to paraphrase, “I’m not quite ready. This just isn’t the time to move forward with you. I have to take care of some old business and acquaintances before I can follow You.”
But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62 Luke 9:62And Jesus said to him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
American King James Version×, New International Version). This appears to be a reference to what was then a well-known biblical example of discipleship—that of Elisha leaving behind his own life of plowing to follow Elijah. Elisha did quickly say goodbye to his parents but then slaughtered his oxen and burned his plow to cook the meat to give to others—and then set off to follow Elijah (1 Kings 19:19-21 1 Kings 19:19-21 19 So he departed there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle on him. 20 And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, Let me, I pray you, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you. And he said to him, Go back again: for what have I done to you? 21 And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave to the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered to him.
American King James Version×).
The reference to looking back could also be an allusion to the fate of Lot’s wife, who spurned God’s invitation to physical deliverance by looking back on what she was told to leave behind (Genesis 19:15-17 Genesis 19:15-17 15 And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take your wife, and your two daughters, which are here; lest you be consumed in the iniquity of the city.
16 And while he lingered, the men laid hold on his hand, and on the hand of his wife, and on the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful to him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.
17 And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for your life; look not behind you, neither stay you in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.
American King James Version×, Genesis 19:26 Genesis 19:26But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
American King James Version×).
In any case, Christ’s statement was designed to jolt the man from considering revisiting his past when Christ was offering him a future in His eternal Kingdom.
What personal lessons, then, can we draw from the fictional barnyard story and the real-life interaction between Jesus and seemingly sincere wannabe followers? Let’s focus on two specific points.
Putting skin in the game—all of it
First, Christianity isn’t simply about half- measures on our part, but total sacrifice of every part of our being. It’s “putting our skin in the game,” as the expression goes (think of the cow) and having faith that God will supply our needs. It’s about giving up the past and giving over to God our entire life (not just the convenient parts), and saying it’s all Yours—every chapter and season of my whole life right now and into the future.
Some of us may be holding on to some parts of our lives while thinking we’re being honest with God and ourselves. Some of us may have let go of our past through repentance but are unsteady in the face of new and continual challenges in life and are wary of stepping into a future fully given over to someone else—even God.
Jesus Christ said, “Follow Me.” We must follow the perfect example He set for us. Discipleship in biblical times was not merely a matter transferring “head knowledge” from instructor to student. Rather, the disciple was to emulate his master and teacher in every aspect of life until he became just like the master. In the same way we must become just like our Master, Jesus Christ.
Consider, then, how Christ fully “put his skin in the game” when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14 John 1:14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
American King James Version×). Such determined sacrifice of giving up everything is defined in Philippians 2:5-10 Philippians 2:5-10 5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. 9 Why God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
American King James Version×:
“Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name” (New Living Translation, 1996).
Our Heavenly Father and Christ wanted to give us something special— the gift of eternal life. That gift of life would cost the One known as the Word His life. He would not walk away but would fulfill His words that He would “lay down His life for the sheep” (John 10:15 John 10:15As the Father knows me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
American King James Version×).
Let’s fully comprehend: Being a disciple of Christ at its core is “giving ourselves away” in faith that God will place into our lives what we need to prepare us for His eternal Kingdom. Total sacrifice is not optional. It’s a requirement. Following Christ must come before everything else in life. That is the cost of discipleship—the cost we are to count before committing to it (Luke 14:25-33 Luke 14:25-33 25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said to them,
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
29 Lest haply, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sits not down first, and consults whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that comes against him with twenty thousand?
32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an ambassador, and desires conditions of peace.
33 So likewise, whoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be my disciple.
American King James Version×).
Let’s remember that total sacrifice is the bottom line of following such a Master. We can have sustained confidence in Jesus because He never asks anything of us that He has not already done Himself. He emptied Himself of divine glory and might to set an example of letting go of our past. If we are unable to let go, we can find ourselves stymied by present weights or petrified about a future we don’t plan for ourselves.
Ongoing sacrifice on our part
Second, Christianity is responding to the ongoing call to follow Christ after being set apart for discipleship. Please understand: Becoming a disciple isn’t an event, but a neverending lifetime experience. It doesn’t just happen. Over time we are tutored and molded—lesson-by-lesson and person-by-person.
Sometimes we might say, “Lord, please, no more lessons!” But God knows what He’s doing each step of the way. Unlike those mentioned in the Gospels who weren’t prepared to respond, we must remain open, available and willing to participate in Christ’s ongoing discipling of us in the workshop of life.
Why? It’s noteworthy that the risen Christ states in Revelation 3:20 Revelation 3:20Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
American King James Version×: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” Let’s grasp the big point here. He’s speaking to His Church (the ekklesia —those already “called out,” as the Greek word literally means). Yet He continues to knock at the door of our hearts in His own time and purposes with an ongoing invitation to become like Him.
It doesn’t always come at convenient moments or times of full understanding. God pointedly makes clear in Isaiah 55:8 Isaiah 55:8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, said the LORD.
American King James Version×, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.”
So let’s be forewarned and prepared that discipleship will cost you—you! Yet the cost of rejecting Christ and the way of life He offers is much higher in the end.
To help make this point, let’s consider a story told about a missionary of India in the early 20th century, Sadhu Sundar Singh. It’s said that Singh and a companion were traveling through a Himalayan mountain pass when they came across a body lying in the snow. Singh wished to stop and help the man, but his companion refused, saying, “We shall lose our lives if we burden ourselves with him.”
Yet Singh, according to the story, wouldn’t think of leaving the man to die. As his companion bade him farewell, Singh lifted the poor traveler on his back. With great exertion, he bore the man onward, but gradually the heat from Singh’s body began to warm up the poor frozen fellow, and he revived. Soon both were walking together side by side. Later, catching up with Singh’s former companion, they found him—frozen by the cold.
Some have questioned the truth of this story, and we can’t know for sure if it really happened. But it nonetheless conveys an important lesson.
Singh in this story was willing to lose his life on behalf of another and in the process found it, while his callous companion sought to preserve his life but lost it. This story illustrates the words of Christ in Matthew 10:39 Matthew 10:39He that finds his life shall lose it: and he that loses his life for my sake shall find it.
American King James Version×“He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” Of course, ultimate finding of life comes in the future Kingdom of God.
And the story further tells us that 1) we must readily accept the invitation to think beyond the moment, and that 2) we must put skin in the game with no thought of gaining for ourselves in this life.
So what part of your life have you not handed over to God? Being paralyzed by our past, stuck in the present or stymied by what may happen in the future hinders our ability to be ready for Christ’s call of “Follow Me.” He can persistently knock, but we alone have to be willing to open the door to “present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1 Romans 12:1I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
American King James Version×).
Perhaps it’s time to recount the cost. Remember that the cost is high—it is everything. And discipleship will cost you— you! But remember when counting that Jesus never said it would be easy—but He did promise that it would be worth it!