Have you ever started renovating a house, armed with zeal, grand plans and an impressive bank balance, only to realize months later that you’ve got neither a roof over your head nor funds to complete it? Unlike commercial contracts, there are no provisos or hidden costs in becoming a disciple of Jesus. Nor are there amendments, fine print and addendums attached. Unlike the White Witch of Narnia with her box of turkish delight, Jesus doesn’t entice or manipulate us to follow Him with fake promises of power, prestige or pleasure. Instead, he presents us with the whole deal up front and the preamble states that discipleship involves suffering and dying. He assures us that it won’t be easy.
Discipleship is a way of life, not a program or stage in the Christian life. No matter what our age or generation, the goal of being a Christian is always to follow Jesus as our greatest Treasure. It is to be with Him, to trust and learn from Him as Deliverer, Teacher and Friend to the end. But if Jesus himself is our great reward, He is also the suffering Servant-King who demands surrender of our whole heart in undiluted, unswerving devotion. All other allegiances are secondary. Jesus’s terms remain the same for disciples today, even if we don’t literally risk our lives to proclaim the gospel or attend church on Sunday. Today we will look at two ways we must accept Christ’s call to die and to live with him, a call that will bring suffering but much more joy. Our text is Luke 14:25-33:
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
Dying to my comfort
It’s always been costly and uncomfortable to pursue the person and mission of Jesus, who carried his own cross and paid everything to purchase us as His own. We walk in Christ’s steps, and his path led to suffering in Jerusalem before rising in triumph from the tomb. The earliest disciples literally gave everything they had to follow Jesus– their possessions, community and lives. It’s still the same for many of our Christian brothers and sisters across the world today. (Click for sermon on the cost of discipleship)
But the danger for us living in a country where freedom of worship and association are protected is that we may be lulled into thinking that there is no cost to discipleship. Our modern individualist culture makes us believe that Church is somewhere we go to feel good about ourselves. At times we may feel guilty about our comfortable middle-class life and wonder whether we’re giving up anything for the sake of Christ. We may be asking ourselves, “What cross is Jesus calling me to bear?” The Bible narrative shows us that not every disciple follows Jesus in exactly the same way, but every disciple must die to whatever competes for our devotion to Christ and his gospel. We must crucify our idols, so that we are freed to become Christ’s disciples who make disciples. My greatest idol is comfort.
After forty years I’m still learning that my greatest joy comes when my heart is undivided and Jesus is in first place, before and above every other attachment, purpose or comfort. Before and above my home, my security, my money, my family, my holiday, my schedule and my convenience. Ironically, the greater the apparent cost to my comfort, the more intense the joy of following in Jesus’s steps, even when the path is hard or tiring. Conversely, I’m most dissatisfied and restless when I’m living like salt that’s lost its saltiness, insipid and wavering in my loyalty to Jesus (Luke 14:34).
Jesus knows that we’re a lot like Gollum, the swamp dweller who holds onto his Precious and will not let it go! There’s no sadder person than a disciple who is desperately clasping and grasping onto the treasures that detain us. The Lord knows the idols of our hearts and insists that we shatter them into a million tiny pieces. The irony is that the moment we die to our comforts and cling to Him, we are at last free to enjoy the friendship, wisdom, joy and peace that only Jesus can give. Christ told the rich young ruler that eternal treasures in heaven would cost him all his possessions: “Sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me (Matt 19:21)”. Jesus insists that we die to our comforts too, to make Him our ultimate Treasure.
Dying to my ego
The deadliest enemy of every disciple is selfish pride, which must be crucified daily if we want to pursue the person and mission of Jesus. Following Jesus always happens in the context of each other rather than me, myself and I.
Independence must die to make way for inter-dependence and love.
John Piper, now 74 years old, is one of the most godly and respected Christian pastors of our time. Yet, he is honest enough to admit to four effects of selfishness which he is taking steps to slay in his own life. These emotional responses resonated with me:
“Anger: the strong emotional opposition to the obstacle in my way. I tighten up and want to strike out verbally.
Self pity: a desire that others feel my woundedness and admire me for my being mistreated, and move to show me some sympathy.
Quickness to blame: a reflex to attribute to others the cause of my frustrating situation. Others can feel it in a tone of voice, a look on the face, a sideways query, or an outright accusation.
Sullenness: a sinking discouragement, moodiness, hopelessness, unresponsiveness and withdrawn emotional deadness.
Of course, the effect on marriage is that my wife feels blamed and disapproved of rather than cherished and cared for. Tender emotions shrivel. Hope is depleted. Strength to carry on in the hardships of ministry wanes.” (Why I love the Apostle Paul, John Piper).
Through months of frank self-assessment, Piper realized that if Christ’s death had cancelled his greatest sins, the Spirit of Christ would also empower him to break the grip of selfishness in his life. He repented of his passive attitude to his selfishness and actively set about killing, not coddling these cancelled sins. Piper’s confession is an encouragement to us all to crucify the subtle effects of ego and selfish pride in our lives. Only then will we be freed to live with such integrity and joy that we will help others take one step closer to Jesus.
Bearing my cross
Jesus never hid the costs and benefits of discipleship. He warned his original disciples that even though they would be reviled, persecuted and falsely accused on account of Him, they would still be blessed (Matt 5:10-11). The cost of being Christ’s disciple has always meant death to everything we once held dear and life in the person and mission of Jesus. It could mean a complete upheaval from our job, family and comfort. Or it could entail subtle forms of hostility, exclusion and ridicule. Even in a constitutional democracy like ours, there is always a cost to following Jesus and becoming a disciple who makes disciples. Taking up our cross is not just for the martyr or dedicated Christian in ‘full time’ ministry, but for every Christian who has accepted the invitation to God’s wonderful kingdom banquet (Luke 14:15-24).
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).
Lord Jesus, thank you for inviting me to participate in your death, resurrection and gospel mission. I know that I did not seek you, but you pursued me and bought my salvation and adoption into your family. Thank you for giving me a new heart and spirit to transform me into your disciple, so that I in turn may disciple others. Lord, help me to follow you so closely that I am always ignited by your Spirit, truth, love, power and mission. Show me where my heart is divided and bring me to the place where I count my comforts, possessions and even my life as nothing compared to the joy of knowing you and helping others take one step closer to you. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.