The 17th Sunday after Pentecost September 19, 2010
541, 409, 423, 370
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”
In Christ Jesus, who graciously supplies all we need to follow Him, dear fellow Christians:
Let’s say you are going to join a health club tomorrow. You have seen all the commercials promising that you can lose weight, gain muscle, and become a “whole new you”—all for $10 a month. You picture what it will be like. You will pay the modest amount, take an easy stroll on the treadmill, try out a few of the other exercise machines, take a warm shower, and get on with your day. For an easy half-hour a week you will be fit and full of energy by Christmas and then you can cancel your membership.
It seems perfect. Perfect, that is, until you sit down with a staff member at the club who totally shatters your view of things. He tells you that there are some things you need to know up front before you start. The real price with towel fees and other charges is going to be $50 a month. He tells you that to see results, you have to plan on spending at least an hour exercising three times a week. In addition to exercise, you will have to change your diet and make other lifestyle adjustments. And this is not just for a few months, but something you will need to keep up continually. The bottom line is: It’s going to cost you! You’re stunned. This is way more than you bargained for. So do get up and walk out the door or do you stay?
That was the situation for the people coming to Jesus. Large crowds flocked to see His miracles and hear the One who was not afraid to stand up to their powerful religious leaders. They enthusiastically talked of joining Him and being His followers. But they also needed a reality check and so right up front Jesus told them, “It’s going to cost you.”
How much does it cost to follow Jesus? The crowds greatly underestimated the price. People tagged along with Jesus thinking that He would inaugurate a wonderful new kingdom in which they would enjoy a life of prosperity and ease. They pictured great earthly advantages at no major inconvenience or cost to them.
That idea still attracts crowds. The pastor of one of the country’s mega-churches stated that one of the reasons for his church’s popularity is that busy professionals can come for the service and remain anonymous. They come for the hour of worship and then go home without any other expectations or obligations placed on them. They want to maximize the time they have for themselves by minimizing the time spent on spiritual matters.
People want to follow the Lord without making any real change in their lives. They see it as a cheap form of insurance: an hour in the pew, a few dollars in the collection plate, maybe give up a couple of bad habits, and they have paid their membership dues to God. Do we ever think like that? Do we budget our time, money, and effort for God with the idea that then we have done our part and we can get back to doing things for ourselves?
What is the true cost of following Jesus? “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” [v.26] What is more precious than family and life? “Hate” them? It sounds so extreme! That is exactly the point Jesus is making. Following Him is extreme. It is not a part-time, low-cost, half-hearted effort. It is putting Him first before anyone or anything else. It is not “hating” a person as such, but truly “hating” anything in a person which would stand in the way of discipleship. David wrote, “You hate all who do wrong” (Psalm 5:5 NIV). We see an example of that when Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross. The Lord angrily responded: “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). He loved Peter, but hated the temptation which Peter put before Him.
If even family is not to come before Christ nothing else should either. The cost of discipleship includes the willingness to sacrifice money, possessions, and the good will of others for Jesus’ sake. As Paul says: “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ…I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8 NIV).
There is even more. Added to the cost is the cross. “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” [v. 27] Are you getting an idea of how expensive it is to follow Jesus? The cross calls to mind Good Friday. Jesus, step-by-agonizing step, dragged His cross along the road to Golgotha, bleeding from the crown of thorns and the flogging. He hung on the cross for hours as an object of scorn, cursed by man and by God for our sins.
Following Jesus means carrying a cross of our own. It is not a payment for sin. Jesus paid our debt in full. Rather, our crosses are the burdens which come because we are believers. It is the sharp knife stab of someone ridiculing you for driving 20 miles or more to attend this little church every Sunday. It is the lonely burden of losing a friend because you won’t condone his sinful lifestyle. It is being passed over for a promotion because you won’t close your eyes to dishonest business practices. It is the condescending smile of unbelief when you speak of your childlike faith in Jesus as Savior. Joining Jesus means being willing to forsake everything else! It costs!
Will you stay or leave? When the crowds heard this many turned away and never looked back. A rich young man sadly left because he was not willing to part with his wealth (Mark 10:17ff). The disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). Paul wrote: “Who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:16 NIV).
Are we? Do we put the Lord first before ourselves and our families? Do we gladly carry our cross and forsake all for Jesus? We don’t. Sometimes so many people and things come before Jesus in our day that we can’t find even a few minutes to spend with Him in His Word. A poor widow woman gave 100% of all she had to the Lord, but we are pretty attached to our money and what it can buy, aren’t we? Forsaking all to follow Jesus just sounds too extreme and unrealistic. We add up the costs, look at what we have, and have to conclude that the project is just too expensive to build and the battle is too costly to fight. It’s going to cost us more than we can pay.
Why does the Lord tell us this? Is He trying to scare people away and discourage us in our efforts to follow Him? Not at all! He shows us the full cost up front, so that we see our inability to pay it. Then He miraculously offers us all we need as a free gift. It would be like looking at a brand new $40,000 car when you are flat broke and having someone else pay the full price in cash and handing you the keys. We need forgiveness for our sinful shortcomings and it’s our free gift in Jesus. We need love to trust and follow Him and He works it in us.
Following Jesus is a daily, long-term way of life. Like constructing a skyscraper, it takes careful planning, work, and time to complete.
Some begin building. They hear the Word and trust Jesus as Savior, but then run out of bricks and mortar. The stress of work, the distractions of pleasure, or the shock of hardships cut them off from the Lord. As a result the building of their lives is never finished.
May that not happen with us. We cannot find what we need in ourselves. We are spiritually bankrupt on our own. Our wisdom and strength cannot provide the answers we need or overcome the challenges facing us. The cost is too great. But then count on Jesus. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10 NIV). He paid all the costs for us. He constructed the perfect life, pleasing to God the Father in every way, so that we are pronounced holy before God.
Jesus now lives in us to give us the strength to keep building our lives on Him. Concerned or confused about where to go and what to do in life? Ask the Lord for wisdom and He will give it to you. Are you afraid? Listen to the Lord’s reassurance: “Fear not, I have redeemed you. You are mine. I will be with you always.”
While building your Christian life count on Jesus for help in fighting every battle. We are woefully outgunned on our own. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV). We were casualties of war before we even took the battlefield. We were conceived and born in sin. But Jesus our Champion fought and conquered, died and rose, so we could have the victory. “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15 NIV). Now we have the full body armor of Christ protecting us.
Seeing what something costs can send us into severe sticker shock. It can leave us hopeless as we wonder how we could ever pay the price. Nothing costs more than following Jesus. The price includes surrendering yourself completely to the Lord’s will. It is not paying a little or even a lot, but all! It is a price which we could never pay. But with Jesus, all things are possible. Count the cost, but then instead of walking away, count on Jesus. He paid the full price of our salvation. He daily supplies all we need to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him. Count on Him, and then the building of your Christian life will one day be finished and the war will be won. Count the cost, but count on Jesus more! Amen.
Take, my soul, thy full salvation;
Rise o’er sin and fear and care;
Joy to find in every station,
Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
What a Father’s smile is thine,
What a Savior died to win thee;
Child of Heaven, shouldst thou repine?
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.