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Recognising there is a cost
Last Sunday evening we were thinking about the value of following Jesus and the price that came with it.
And we’re picking up that theme again this morning as we think about some really challenging words from Jesus.
Jesus was on his last journey into Jerusalem (Lk 9:51) where he was going to suffer and die on a cross.
Lots of people were travelling with Jesus and he suddenly turns to them and makes it clear what is involved in really following him, of committing themselves to him, not just “being along for the ride”.
It’s the difference between being a spectator and a player; the difference between someone who does the work and someone who sits back and comments / criticises.
And he talks to them about what they need to be prepared to do in order to be recognised as one of his disciples, one of his followers.
And the language he uses isn’t the sort of language we hear from political leaders as they seek to encourage people to join them in their mission, it is very different and makes clear that he expects a lot of them.
He says that they need to be prepared to do two things:
Carrying a cross
And they each carry a real challenge - and it would be much easier to ignore them but we can’t if we want to understand what Jesus is looking for in those of us who claim to follow him, if we want to enter fully into the wonderful life he wants us to experience.
Jesus seems to want to make sure that what he says is totally clear and he doesn’t leave much room to avoid what he is saying.
He refers to parents, wives (he would have been primarily speaking to men but it applies to husbands as well), siblings and children.
And he adds in our own selves as well.
What does he mean when he calls on his followers to hate these people who would ordinarily be the closest to them?
How can that be right, how does it fit in with others things we find in the Bible?
I was reflecting on these words in August when our eldest son, Richard, was staying with us with his wife Emma and their two children Abi and Daniel.
And I was thinking about the love I have for Jo, for our two boys and their wives, for our grandchildren.
I thought about the time Jo and I invested in the boys as they were growing up, the money we spent on them, what we gave of ourselves - because they were our children, because we loved them.
And I thought about the love we have for our grandchildren now.
How was I supposed to reconcile these feelings I have for my family - which I am convinced are right - and these challenging words of Jesus?
And when I think more widely about what the Bible says, we find that family is God’s idea, he calls on husbands and wives to love each other.
In the ten commandments, he calls on people to honour their parents (Ex 20:12) Jesus likewise calls on people to honour their parents (Matt 15:3-9).
So what is Jesus saying, what does he mean?
Jesus was living in a world where allegiance to family was vitally important, family bonds came first and it is this he was challenging.
He wasn’t really calling on people to hate other family members but he was challenging them to put him first.
And his hearers would have understood that this is what he meant.
They would have been familiar with God speaking about “hating Esua”
And he wasn’t saying that he actually hated Esau but that he had preferred Jacob over him.
When Moses was speaking about the tribe of Levi - and their role as priests - he said:
And the priest wasn’t being commended for ignoring his family but for putting God first.
Matthew - when he reports these words of Jesus - uses slightly softer language which makes this point
Going back to thinking about my grandchildren for a moment.
When we were driving back to Tamworth after meeting our first grandchild for the first time I was very much aware of a deep love for her - someone I had just met, someone who was now part of our family.
It wasn’t that I loved other members of my family less but that I had found some extra love for someone else.
It is right for us to love families - and to commit to them in all sorts of ways - but here Jesus is calling for our love for him to be greater than this.
Not that we don't love our families but that all the commitment and energy and thought we put into them is exceeded by our commitment and energy and thoughts for Jesus.
Is this our understanding of being a follower of Jesus?
Are we prepared to live this way?
Carrying a cross
And then Jesus goes on to speak about something else he expects of his followers - to carry a cross.
We sometimes talk about “crosses we need to carry” - referring to some of the problems and challenges of life.
But in the context in which Jesus lived it meant something very specific.
If you saw someone carrying a cross you knew what their - very short- future held.
They were a convicted criminal, they had been condemned to death and they were carrying the cross on which they would be executed.
Any plans they had made for the future would now never be fulfilled, any provision they had made for retirement would go to someone else.
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem where he would be tried, he would be convicted, he would be condemned to death, he would carry his cross through the streets of Jerusalem, he would be placed upon this cross and would die upon it.
And he is calling for people to identify themselves with him, to be prepared to suffer as he suffered in the work of God’s kingdom.
The apostle Paul had learnt what this meant as he contemplated his own journey to Jerusalem and the imprisonment and hardship he faced there - and these things meant nothing to him in the light of following Jesus.
He was prepared to put Jesus first, he was prepared to carry his cross, he was prepared to do anything Jesus asked of him.
Are we willing to put Jesus first - while not ignoring our other responsibilities; are we prepared to suffer for him as he suffered for us; or are we just going to stay as one of the crowd who followed Jesus from a safe distance with very little cost?
It is when we realise something of the cost in really following Jesus that some of us can decide it is just too hard, too difficult.
Counting the cost
And Jesus seems to recognise this when he goes on to speak about a couple of examples - that of building a tower or going to war.
If we want to put an extension on a house, if we want to build a new building, we would generally think about how much it is going to cost before we start the building process.
When we were building our first church building in Earley we were very careful to not commit to it until we were confident that we would be able to raise the funds.
Doing anything different would have seemed foolish and could have caused a lot of criticism and ridicule if we had got it wrong.
Most of us don’t get involved in decisions about going to war - but I think we can understand the point Jesus is making.
If someone realises that a vastly superior army is going to attack his country, he might choose to negotiate terms of surrender instead of engaging in a costly war that he knows he can’t win.
In both cases, Jesus talks about the person “sitting down” to think about what they should do.
It carries the idea of careful thought, of weighing up options, of coming to a well-reasoned decision.
This is not a “gut reaction” but something that has been arrived at after weighing up all the options.
What will it cost, what will they gain?
And Jesus introduces these stories in the middle of talking about what is involved in being a disciple to encourage people to think carefully about whether they are prepared to sign up after having counted the cost:
of putting him first - even before our own desires
of being prepared to suffer for him - even if we might prefer a quiet life
Giving up everything
And then, in case anyone has missed it, Jesus lays out a third condition for being a disciple.
He has already spoken about putting him first, about being prepared to suffer - now he goes on to speak about being prepared to give up everything we have (Lk 14:33).
What Jesus was calling for would not have been easy in his day - and it certainly isn’t easy in ours, and so many of us don’t even think about how Jesus is calling us to live, and if we did we might well say no.
Our society tells us - in many ways - that we, and what we want, is the most important thing.
Our interests, our well-being, our happiness is important and we need to work to get what we want and protect it once we have it.
When we are ridiculed or criticised we are hurt and we can just end up seeking the quiet life.
We are encouraged to hang on to what we have, recognising that “charity begins at home”.
This is how most people in our country live, how our society encourages us to live.
And it is totally different to what Jesus calls for from his followers:
A willingness to put him first
A willingness to suffer for him
A willingness to give up everything for him
Why on earth would people be prepared to sign up for this?
Why would people stay with Jesus once they knew what he was demanding of them?
There was a time when many of those following Jesus found he was asking more of them than they were prepared to give and so they left him and went home.
Jesus asked his inner circle whether they were going to go away as well and Peter, replying on their behalf, said these powerful words
Peter realised what Jesus offered was so much more than he was asking from them and so was committed to staying and following.
Are we prepared to carry on doing this, or to start doing it for the first time, or to start doing it again after a long break?
Leon Morris - who wrote a commentary about Luke - sums it up like this:
Jesus is not, of course, discouraging discipleship.
He is warning against an illconsidered, fainthearted attachment in order that those who follow him may know the real thing.
He wants them to count the cost and reckon all lost for his sake so that they can enter the exhilaration of full-blooded discipleship
Are we part of the crowd; are we half-hearted in following Jesus; or are we prepared to submit everything to him and follow wherever he leads, wherever he sends us and to fully enter into everything he has for us?
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