Death, Funerals and Following Jesus

This Sunday morning we will be looking at Luke 9:57-62 which are Jesus’ words of warning and correction to those who would follow Him.

Of the three encounters  in this text it is, perhaps, the second that is the most unsettling. For Jesus’ reply, at first glance, is terribly insensitive. He calls someone to “Follow Me” and the man requests that he be allowed to go and bury his father. Jesus responds: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”

Now of this dialogue we may mention a qualifying factor that mitigates the supposed offense. Jesus knew the hearts of men (see Luke 5:22, 6:8). It is apparent that since the answer or statement to each man was different our Lord was aware of the challenge each one needed to hear in order to procure the right response. This also indicates that these commands or instructions are not necessarily to be heeded in every situation (though we would maintain that by way of personal application it is the principle is what matters).

In this case we see that the man has his priorities backwards: First let me bury my father, he says. But Jesus commands loyalty and devotion to God first. (Matthew 22:37-38) Let this man understand that his desire itself is not wrong as it  reflects the heart and goal of the fifth commandment, namely that one honour their father and mother, but rather it is in the wrong order.

Rather he must see his sin in failing to keep God’s law and thus see his need for a Saviour, namely Christ Himself. Following Jesus means recognizing the need for our Lord to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, which has been noted five times now in the ninth chapter (vs. 21-22, 31, 44, 51 & 53). Christ obeyed and died so that those who trust in Him might be saved. This is the wonderful and encouraging good news to our disobedience to the first and greatest commandment.

But there is more. We should also see the foolishness of the gospel as indicated by Jesus words: “let the dead bury their own dead”. If someone has passed on, what can we do for them? According to the modern world we may remember them in our hearts, or if we remember them they are never really dead. But this is just wishful thinking. A funeral is not a celebration of a life but a reminder of death, a mortal enemy. (1 Corinthians 15:26)

R.C.H. Lenski in his commentary on this passage notes:

“the harshness [of Jesus’ words] fades except for the sentimentality of the worldly-minded who are great on odorous flowers and meaningless words for the dead while they blink at the harsh reality of death itself and of that which is worse, spiritual death and damnation.”

(emphasis mine)

So the foolishness of the gospel says that it is better to proclaim the truth of Christ (or in Jesus’ words “preach the kingdom of God”) than deal with or talk about the dead. This is not to say that we may not cherish our loved ones or think about them from time to time. But this is to boldly believe that what ultimately matters is Christ, what matters is His kingdom, and so let the whole earth be silent in their mourning and remembrance of the dead until they worship and glorify Him as the conqueror of death and the grave.

Let us then as believers remember His resurrection and what it has done in our lives: it made us alive! (Romans 6:4; Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 3:1) And those who are alive will testify of the King and His kingdom in all that they say and do.

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