When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “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.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
It's interesting to note that John answered Jesus. So what is he answering? Jesus has just reprimanded the apostles for their debate over which of them was greatest. John reminds me of my two children. When either of them is in trouble, inevitably the words “But he/she...” will be spoken in an effort to divert my attention. Daily I must remind them to focus on their own behavior.
John either misses Jesus' point or out of shame wants to put the focus on someone else he feels is behaving badly. Jesus tells him not to worry about those who are “on their team". Of course, we are warned in many other scriptures to watch for false teachers and wolves in sheep's clothing. Jesus taught that on the day of judgment many will say “Lord, Lord! We cast out demons in your name!” Jesus will tell them to depart, since he knew them not. But for the most part it is not our job to argue over whether or not other people are “true believers”. If they believe sound doctrine, even if we have our differences and they do “not follow with us” on everything, we need to let it go and make sure our own spiritual houses are in order.
It is not surprising that a Samaritan village would turn Jesus away. He was a Jewish prophet on his way to his holy city. We cannot underestimate the centuries of hatred and mistrust between these two groups. James and John, the “sons of thunder”, respond unsurprisingly, “Let's consume the city and everyone in it with fire from heaven! No really! We don't mind.” Jesus rebukes them, somehow managing to not roll his eyes. His message of universal love and forgiveness will not seek in until later, but when you read John's letters you realize that the power of the Holy Spirit transformed John from a Son of Thunder into the Apostle of love.
There are many who purport to follow Jesus as he goes, but he knows their hearts. To the three in this story, he points out the one thing holding each back. Jesus had set his face to Jerusalem, and only those willing to follow a road of suffering need join his band of followers. The road through Jerusalem would require sacrifices. So he tests and teaches his followers - where is your treasure; where is your heart; to what do you cling?
The first man clings to home and the Son of Man had none. His adult life was a nomadic one. The second clung to family responsibilities. He claimed he would follow Jesus after the death and burial of his father. But Jesus called his followers to leave everyone behind that was not also following. The third just wanted to go say goodbye to everyone. But Jesus tells him that no one who sets his face to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. This may sound harsh to us. When we choose to follow Christ, we must do it wholeheartedly. We must not simply seek to flee the coming wrath. We must be willing to leave everything for him. If you look back you'll start plowing a crooked furrow. The next thing you know, you've run into a big rock or fallen into the creek. Keep plowing! Don't fret over the work you've done, the seeds you've sown, and the ground you've covered. Press on towards the goal God has set before you, no matter the cost.
In other words, the point of all these tough words as Jesus interacts with different people is not to create laws that all disciples or all missionaries have to keep: Thou shalt give all your money! Thou shalt give half your money! Thou shalt go without a bed! Thou shalt go without a funeral for your dad! The point is that Jesus knows everyone’s idol. Jesus knows perfectly what is competing in your heart with affection for him. He looks everyone of us in the face this morning and sees right to our heart.
Let him do that for you now. Don’t take offense. He does this to win us for himself. "Follow me!" is the goal. Being with Jesus is the goal. It won’t be easy. But it will be good. There will be joy even if there is continual sorrow (2 Corinthians 6:10 – "sorrowful but always rejoicing"). Because he will be with us. - John Piper