Count the costs of following Christ
Luke 14:25-33 | Pastor Ryan Cortright
I’d like to think that every sermon has something to say to every Christian. At the same time, I want to speak today especially to those of us who have been Christians are whole lives. You were raised in a Christian home. You grew up going to church. While you’ve had ups and downs in your faith, there has never been a time when, if asked if you were a Christian, you would have said, “No, I’m no Christian.” If this describes you, first of all, thank God that you have received your Christian faith as a heritage. But realize that your experience is very different from many Christians who live in places where few grew up in the faith. If you come to faith as an adult the cost of following Jesus is more apparent. If you were baptized as an infant, it’s a pretty safe bet that your parents are Christians. But if come to faith later in life, there’s a chance that your decision to be baptized will divide you from your parents and cut you off from your former life. You follow Christ knowing it will cost you.
It is a great blessing if you’ve never known a time when you didn’t believe in Jesus, but the challenge may be that you haven’t stopped to consider the costs in the same way a new Christian must.
Of course, in Jesus’ day, there weren’t any lifelong Christians. There were faithful Jewish believers who grew up going to the synagogue and learning about the promised Messiah who would bring deliverance. When they met Jesus and saw how he healed the sick and fed the thousands they were hopeful he was the one. They were excited. They were eager to follow him. They liked the idea of Jesus… kind of like people like the idea of dieting and exercise. But when you have to settle for a salad when what you crave is a burger; and when you have to go to the gym when you’d rather sit on the couch, diet and exercise isn’t so exciting. Jesus was no slick salesman; telling you all the things you want to hear and hiding all the hard things in the fine print. He didn’t want those who in the crowds to be ignorant of what it might cost them to follow Jesus; that is, to be Christians.
Today’s reading is one of those sections of the gospels that would surprise people if they were only familiar with comforting things Jesus said. Things like: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”…those kinds of things. Hate your father. Hate your daughter, your son. Hate your own life. These are hard things; the kinds of things that cause people to go to their pastor and say: “Pastor, tell me why Jesus isn’t saying what it sounds like he is saying.”
We know Jesus isn’t literally telling us to hate our moms and dads because that would contradict God’s clear command to love our neighbor as ourselves. The 4th Commandment tells children to honor their father and their mother. When Jesus said, “hate” he was using a Hebrew expression to make a point. It would be like saying that if you love the Packers, in some sense you “hate” their opponent because you want them to lose.
Jesus is saying that following him requires whole-hearted, undivided devotion. If your parents would oppose your faith in Jesus, you must hate them in the sense that you will not allow them to stop you from following Christ. If your children wander from the faith, you must hate them in the sense that you don’t allow their opposition to Jesus to influence you. If you find a part of yourself unwilling to trust Jesus, you need to hate that part of yourself so that you say “no” to you and “yes” to Jesus.
Why did Jesus pick on parents and siblings and children? I think that if you asked 10 people, “What is most important to you in all the world?” I’d guess that 9 out of 10 would say, “My family.” In other words, the greatest competition Jesus has for our full devotion to him would be our devotion to our families. We love our parents, but Jesus says we must love him more. We love our children. But Jesus says we must love him more. We love our own lives. But Jesus says we must love him more.
To be sure, much of the time there is no reason that loving our families would compromise our love for Jesus. But if it would come to that, you have to be ready to turn from those we love most in this world so that we can follow Jesus. This is the cost. And it is a heavy one. That’s why Jesus says, “You must be ready to carry your cross and follow me.” A Christian’s cross is the burden we bear for saying “no” to something in this world in order to say “yes” to Jesus.
What if following Jesus would cost you your life? You know that there have been times and places where this scenario was more than a faint possibility. You may be familiar with stories of Christian martyrs who died for their faith. One of the most famous was a bishop named Polycarp who lived in the 2nd century. He was arrested at the age of 86. The Roman official pleaded with Polycarp to renounce Christ so that he would not be forced to put an old-man to death. Polycarp said: “Eighty-six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?” He hated his own life so that he might love Jesus. In the end they took his life but he gained eternal life.
My guess is that you’ve never woken up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night afraid that the next day you might be put on trial and possibly put to death because you are a Christian. We have lived in a time and place where it’s been relatively easy to be a Christian. But there is a downside. Is it possible that we have been lulled into the false idea that following Christ will never cost us? That it will never be painful? That the only crosses we carry are on a chain that hangs around our necks and not the painful cross of sacrifice and loss in this world for the sake of Christ?
I don’t want to be pessimistic and frighten you about a return to a time when Christians are arrested and put on trial because of Christ. But it is safe to say that we should expect that the cost of following Christ will become more and more apparent as our world slips further from Christ.
What does Jesus want us to do today? He wants us to count the cost. Especially if your faith is old news, something that’s always been a part of who you are; he wants you to sit down today and calculate what it may cost you to follow Christ. That was the point of his two examples. A person building a house better get a cost estimate and figure out the financing before he begins to have his basement dug. Otherwise, the neighbors might wonder if he was building a house or a swimming pool when the job grinds to a halt because of a lack of funds. A king going to war needs to have an accurate idea of whether his army can face off against the enemy’s forces so he knows whether to push into battle or seek peace. The last thing he wants is to see his army retreating in chaos because he didn’t do the math.
In each of these examples Jesus said that what is necessary is to first sit down and then calculate and consider what it will cost. Sit down. That’s what each of the men did first. I’ve never noticed that little detail until this week… that we should sit down implies that this is takes time and thoughtfulness. You don’t guesstimate the cost of building a home. You sit down and carefully calculate. You don’t eyeball the size the opposing army and compare it to your own. You sit down with the intelligence data and carefully consider how a battle might play out.
If you have been a Christian your whole life it’s easy to put your faith on cruise control. Jesus tells you today to sit down. Shut off the TV. Turn off your smartphone. Get rid of distractions and carefully consider. Are you ready to hate anything or anyone in this world for the sake of Christ? Are you ready to give your whole self into service to Christ? Are you ready to lose everything in this life for him?
And while you’re sitting to count these costs, go ahead and count what it cost Jesus to redeem you as his own. You realize that when Jesus turned to these crowds and told them to sit down and count the costs of following him, he was on his way to Jerusalem. He had already counted the cost of saving this world. He knew it would mean his death in our place. He knew it would cost him being abandoned by his heavenly Father. Why did he do it? Because he loved you over his own life. He saw your soul as more valuable than escaping the suffering that it would take to rescue you. His resurrection stands as the proof that God has also does some math and found your sins forgiven in Jesus.
To lose Jesus, then, is to lose everything. Any gain in this life that comes at the cost of your faith is a fool’s bargain. To have Jesus is to have everything: life, forgiveness, peace, joy. This is true whether you’ve been a Christian your whole life or not. Sit down and count the costs. Then get up and follow him. Amen.