Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"THE COST OF FOLLOWING JESUS CHRIST IS HIGH"
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
We call ourselves Christians, followers of Jesus Christ. Most of us have been that for years, yes, since childhood. So we take following Christ for granted.
What, though, congregation, is the cost of following Jesus Christ? In fact, is there a price?
Weíd like to think there is no price, that the cost of following Christ is manageable. But weíve got that wrong, brothers and sisters. In the passage before us this morning the Lord impresses upon us that the cost of following Jesus is high, very high. Not, though, too high.
THE COST OF FOLLOWING JESUS CHRIST IS HIGH.
1. The three conversations in our passage
2. The lessons of these conversations for us.
1. The three conversations in our passage
The portion of Scripture to which we may listen this morning is composed of three short conversations. In each of the three, Jesus responds to individuals who have some thoughts about following Him. In each of His responses, Jesus gives these would-be disciples cold showers.
a. The first man approached Jesus full of enthusiasm. "Lord," he pledges, "I will follow you wherever you go." Here, clearly, was one in Israel who had been impressed by all that Jesus had said and done in the course of His ministry. Heíd listened carefully to the words spoken by this Rabbi from Nazareth, had considered the miracles done by the Lord, and was now convinced that Jesus was the Christ; "I will follow you wherever you go."
From the Gospel according to Matthew, we learn that this particular man was not just a somebody; this man was a scribe. He had, in other words, belonged to the Opposition, to those calcified leaders of the day who saw their position endangered by Jesus of Nazareth. This man chose, chose against his own party, chose in favor of the hated Jesus of Nazareth. O sweet moment this must have been for Jesus; one of His enemies deserts ranks and admits that Jesus is the Christ, is willing to follow! On top of that, this scribe was a man of talent. He, after all, (being a scribe) had studied theology, knew his Bible. Beyond a doubt, then, here was a recruit that could serve Jesus well as disciple and eventual apostle.
But Jesusí response to the offer of this scribe is anything but enthusiastic. Said Jesus to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." The point of the Savior is clear: you want to follow Me? You wish to profess faith in Me, are willing to state that I am the Christ, desire to go wherever I may go? Then know, my brother, what you are doing! Animals and birds can find a place to rest, can get away from danger and relax, can bed themselves down and enjoy life. But I? I have nothing. I have no place to rest, no place to relax, no chair I can call My own, no bed upon which I can stretch myself out in peace. You would want to follow wherever I go? Know for certain that the cost is high; youíll have no place to rest either, no place to relax. If you come with Me, youíll share My restlessness and poverty. And is that something you really want to do? Youíre really willing to sacrifice security, to deny yourself any and all luxury, to share the homelessness of the Son of Man?!
That, brothers and sisters, is Jesus reply. And truly, itís a response we donít really expect. What we expect is enthusiasm, an eager embrace of the scribeís decision. To see a covenant child commit himself to the Lord; itís precisely what we long for! But Jesus isnít enthusiastic. Instead, He puts the man off.
It gives us something to think about. Concerning ourselves we say: we want to be followers of Jesus, thatís why we want to profess faith in Him, thatís why we have professed faith in Him, thatís why we offer ourselves for service to Him Ė be it in our families or in the church or in the work place. "Weíll follow You, Lord," we say, "wherever You lead". But what means this word from Jesus to the scribe now? Does Jesus not greet our desire with enthusiasm either? Would He put us off too by telling us that we shall end up having no home, shall be worse off than foxes and birds? Is that really the cost of discipleship? And if it is, am I willing to pay that priced?
b. A second individual approaches Jesus. This one, however, does not volunteer to follow Jesus; the Lord instead recruits this one. "Follow Me," the Lord says to him. This man receives the invitation to be a disciple of the Lord, an invitation to share the homelessness and the restlessness of the Master.
This second individual is willing. OK, he says, I will follow, I will be your disciple, I will profess faith in Jesus of Nazareth, will give up my livelihood, my job and follow You. But, he adds, "let me first go and bury my father."
Now, whether the father was already dead, or was yet on his death-bed so as to require some attention and help, we donít know. However that may have been, the request of this man appears legitimate enough. Certainly a son has the duty to look after his father and show that last respect of an honorable burial. On top of that, he didnít volunteer to be a disciple, and there was a reason why he didnít; he knew he had obligations to his father. Hence his request: let me first bury my father.
But see, Jesus wonít give him leave! Said Jesus, "Let the dead bury their own dead." In other words: leave your father behind for others to tend, donít you care for him in his dying day or bother yourself with his funeral, you just come, follow Me, be My disciple, proclaim the kingdom of God.
True be said, brothers and sisters, Jesusí response strikes us as callous, unfeeling. One isnít to care for oneís dying father, is to let him be, isnít to bother with a funeral? Is that the allegiance and gratitude God wants children to show to parents? What kind of a Rabbi is this; no one would want to follow Him anymore!
Concerning ourselves we say: we wish to be followers of Jesus, thatís why we want to profess faith in Him, have professed the faith, give ourselves for service in His kingdom. ĎWeíll follow You, Lord, wherever you lead.í But what means this word from Jesus to the second man now? Are we told that we too are to close the door on our parents in their old age, are to let others care for them and bury them? Is that really the cost of discipleship? And if it is, am I willing to pay that priced?
c. What of that third would-be follower? This one apparently hasnít a father to care for; this would-be follower doesnít mind leaving home, following the Lord, proclaiming the kingdom. "Lord," says he in echo to the first would-be follower, "I will follow you." Iíll give up the comforts of table and bed, Iím willing to leave my folks alone to look after themselves. But, Lord, Iíd like to go and say good-bye first.
And again we say: His is an understandable request. If we are called to serve the Lord somewhere away from family and home, we too would rather not dash off straightaway without bidding farewell to loved ones. On top of that, this third would-be follower has the example of Elisha to follow. For we read in Scripture that when Elijah called him from behind his oxen to follow, Elisha received permission to go and say farewell to his folk. So why shouldnít this man?
But the Lord wonít have this either. "No one," says Jesus, "having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." You wish, my friend, to follow Me? You are willing to leave bed and family in order to proclaim the kingdom of God? You want to go wherever I go, belong to Me? If youíve made up your mind to do that, friend, donít go back to the family to say good-bye; just let them be. I want whole-hearted followers, followers that have no interests beyond Me. Forget your family, your parents, your wife, your children, ignore them and simply follow Me forthwith.
Concerning ourselves we say: we wish to be followers of Jesus, thatís why we want to profess faith in Him, why we have professed the faith, why we give ourselves for service in His kingdom. "Weíll follow You, Lord, wherever You lead." But what are we to make of this word from Jesus to the third would-be follower? Are we told that any decision to profess faith in Jesus Christ implies such commitment to Jesus that we are to ignore family and home, are to follow without even so much as a good-bye?! Is that really the cost of discipleship? And if it is, am I willing to pay that price??
Brothers and sisters, all of it gives us so much food for thought. Is this indeed what following Jesus is all about?! Am I to have no home, to ignore dying parents, to write off my family as if it doesnít exist? Surely, surely, thatís not the cost I have to pay to follow Jesus! And if thatís the cost, I donít dare to profess faith in Jesus ChristÖ. If thatís the cost, I have second thoughts about my profession of faithÖ, second thoughts about being willing to serve in some function in Godís kingdomÖ. For we treasure our beds, our hearts bleed for our aging parents, we value our families....
But such, beloved, is what Jesus said to these three would-be followers. And the Lord included these verses in His holy Word so that we might know that there is in fact a high cost involved in following Jesus.
2. The lessons of these conversations for us
What, then, is that cost for us today? Is the lesson of our text this that we are to have no home, are to ignore dying parents, are to break off all family bonds?
The answer to that, brothers and sisters, is both Yes and No. No, in that those who profess faith in Jesus Christ are not instructed to make a point of giving up their beds, their parents, their family bonds. At the same time, the answer is Yes in that those who wish to follow Jesus must be willing to give up beds, parents, family bonds in their zeal to follow Jesus.
In order to come to grips with this double answer, we shall do well to look at the context in which these conversations between Jesus and His would-be followers take place. As it is, Jesus has come to the turning point of His earthly ministry. For well over two years He has been laboring in Israel, preaching the gospel, healing the sick. Now Jesus has come to that point in His earthly ministry when He must go to the cross. So it that Jesus has said to His disciples in 9:22 that "the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed." That this was the future to which Jesus was headed was confirmed by what the Lord God said to Him on the Mt of Transfiguration; we read in 9:31 that Moses and Elijah were sent from heaven to speak with Jesus about "His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem" Ė and thatís a reference to His approaching sufferings and death on the cross. This is further repeated by the Lord to His disciples in vs 44: "Let these words sink down into your ears; for the Son of man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men." So it was that Jesus did what is recorded in vs 51: "when the time had come for Him to be received up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem."
Things, in other words, were coming to a head. For a couple of years Jesus had proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom, had announced Satanís defeat and Godís triumph. But now the real battle was imminent, now the archenemy had to be confronted, now Christ had to atone for sin, had to bind the evil one. In a word, the kingdom was coming now, or never. So things became urgent: where do you stand in relation to the kingdom? Do you align yourself with Christ or with Satan? The battle is around the corner; will you be on this side or on that side?
Yes, congregation, for Jesus time was short. In the days of our text Satan prowled around like a roaring lion, seeking to destroy Jesus, seeking to convince Him that there was no place for Him on earth, and not in heaven either. I read in vs 52 that Jesus entered "a village of the Samaritans," but "they did not receive Him" (vs 53). Here is rejection, devilish hostility grows, but there is no time to spend there anymore; now is the time to keep on the move, to speak to as many people as possible of the kingdom of God. For Jesus, now is not the time to have a bed, a place to lay down His tired head. Now is the time to work extra hard. The forces of Satan are being mobilized; already the Son of man is being rejected. Peace for Jesus Christ? An easy life? Not at all, and definitely not at this point in the history of salvation!
a. And would that scribe now come and with great enthusiasm voice his intention to follow Jesus wherever He would go? Jesus, O scribe, is on His way to the cross, and you really donít want to follow Him there, do you?! Would you be willing to keep pushing on, telling one and all of the coming kingdom and the victory that is to be, willing to do that without the comforts of a home and a bed? Are you willing to be victimized by Satan, have the evil one attack you by means of derision and rejection by men? When the Christ is arrested, will you indeed stick by Him, accompany Him even into the residence of the high priest and the mocking chambers of the soldiers? Count the cost, O Scribe, realize what it takes to be a follower of this Jesus!
b. Here, congregation, we also have the reason why Jesus answers the second would-be follower as He does; "Let the dead bury their own dead." Now, Jesus insists, there is work to do. The moment of confrontation is around the corner, and for that reason leave the mundane behind, now is not the time to worry about the dying and the dead, now is rather the time to catch a sense of the urgency of the moment and then go, proclaim the kingdom of God, preach that gospel of the acceptable year of the Lord, do it before the Son of man is rejected, is nailed to the cross. Thereís a time to bury, my friend, and thereís a time to preach, and given where things are at it is now the time to preach that word urgently, convincing, rebuking, exhorting.
c. So also "the third would-be follower. That same sense of urgency dictates that there is not time to go and say goodbye to the loved ones at home. You want to follow Me, follow Me even as My road leads to confrontation with the evil one? Good and well, but do not now come with a half-hearted commitment, a commitment that allows for commitments to others to be considered more important. If you want to follow Me, you must get caught up in the spirit of the kingdom, you must catch that sense of where things are at in the kingdom of heaven, and you must throw yourself totally and completely into that work without looking to the right or to the left.
These three would-be followers were told to give up bed, parents, homes. We understand now why they had to do so; Jesus was standing in the shadow of the cross, a sense of urgency faced the Lord and His disciplines.
What then of us? We realize that we live in a different time. Christ is not now standing in the shadow of the cross. As such, those who profess the faith or offer themselves for tasks in Godís kingdom are not called upon to give up their beds, their parents, their family bonds in pursuit of Jesus Christ. We all may enjoy our beds.
Does that make following Jesus easy today? No, brothers and sisters, it does not. It is true that we do not follow Jesus in the same charged atmosphere as was evident in Luke 9. But that does not mean that the New Testament saint enjoys clear sailing in his service of Jesus Christ. For Satan is still doing battle, and the believers of the third millennium are still soldiers on duty. Soldiers may enjoy their bed, may even enjoy their parents and their commitment to family bonds. But soldiers may not cling to their beds, may not at every occasion insist that burying a father is their obligation, may not demand to say goodbye at home before they leave the barracks for battle. For soldiers must be ready to fight, at any time, at any cost. They have a priority higher than beds and fathers and family bonds.
It may very well be that the moment comes when the Lord God calls one or all of us to duty so that we cannot first bury a father, cannot care for ailing parents. Today it is no different than it was in the days of Luke 9; all who would follow Jesus must be willing to give up all things for the sake of Christís kingdom. As Jesus said in Luke 14: "If any one comes to Me and does not hate His own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple" (14;26). In the kingdom of God there is but one possible priority, and that is Jesus Christ; anything and everything else must be set aside, even to the point - if necessary- of hating what is commonly most loved in life. Nothing, nothing, be it bed or boat, car or career, fun or friends, may be more important to us than Jesus Christ; everything we must be willing to set aside in order to follow Him.
What is the cost of following Jesus today? The cost, dear congregation, is that we stand before Jesus Christ ready for service, ready to do whatever He might ask from us Ė without anything else receiving a higher priority. What He asks from us today? No, we donít have to move out of our houses today because of an urgent crisis in His kingdom. But we certainly have to be willing to move out of our houses if needs in Godís kingdom require it. Things are not so today that we have to give up our boats and children and computers because funds are desperately needed or persecution tears us from our families. But we certainly need to be willing to give up all to follow Christ. And make no mistake: things can change quickly so that tomorrow we do have to give up particular luxuries to finance desperate needs in Godís kingdom. And things can change quickly so that next year we have to farewell the family because circumstances in Godís kingdom demands it.
But itís not just a question of being willing to give up things today for eventual needs in Godís kingdom. Satan knows that his time is short and therefore attacks the church of God with great fury. Under attack is you and the children entrusted to your care. So what will you do? Sit on your couch in front of your TV? Give your children liberties to do what they will? Leave the defense of the church to others, just assume things will go OK in your family? No, beloved, here we have to sacrifice our free time, here we need to conquer our desire to unwind, here we need to deny ourselves. We donít live today in the same crisis as that of Luke 9, but urgency there certainly is today. Christ comes back at any moment, and Satan would destroy the church before that great and terrible day of the Lord. His attack is on you! Thatís why we cannot be focused on the demands and the pleasures of this life. The cost of discipleship is high; "whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple" (Lu 14:33).
But know this too, beloved: the cost is not too high! If there arose in the minds of those three would-be followers of Jesus any question as to whether the cost of following might be too high, those questions now have a very clear answer. For Christ has since gone to the cross, has since given up all things - including both His glory in heaven as well as His bed and His comforts on earth- in order to do that one central task of His life; He gave Himself as a sacrifice to God. In the process He had nothing left to His name - even His own Father rejected Him- and He did that so that we might be reconciled to God, might have life, might inherit everything. For such is the promise we have; because Christ satisfied for sin and reconciled us to God, God has now become our Father. And that Father always grants us enough, enough to follow Christ further as His kingdom comes in perfection.
Is the cost too high? Should we be advised to forget professing the faith, advised to renounce our pledge of years ago, encouraged to decline service in Godís kingdom since the price is too high? We know better. The cost of discipleship is high, O yes; whoever would follow Christ must give up everything. But thatís OK, for the only way to be filled with Christ is to be empty ourselves. Amen.