Following Jesus is Costly (especially as he heads to Jerusalem)
Intro: Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Pastor Matt Johnson and we are currently looking at DISCIPLESHIP in Luke’s gospel. The section of Luke we are currently in – is particularly concerned with what it means to be a follower of Jesus. So far Jesus has told us – disciples need to take up their cross. Disciples shouldn’t argue over who is the greatest and today a disciple should actually follow Jesus wherever he leads…
Well, today I want to talk about the cost of being a disciple. Recently, my son Ethan has been considering buying a car. He’s been looking at cars around $2500-3500 dollars and he kind of thought the cost of the car was the price he would pay for it. But when he factored inregistration, maintenance, green slip and insurance he discovered the cost was nearly double. He worked out that – he would be paying about $2500 every year just to have the car. This is the cost of car ownership. Regardless of whether you buy a car or your given a car – it will cost you about $2,500 a year – just to have the car.
So what is the cost of being a Christian? This is a question many western, evangelical Christians now fail to comprehend. As evangelicals we know that Christianity is all about God’s grace. When we come to Jesus – salvation is God’s free gift to everyone who believes. So at one level Christianity costs you NOTHING. All you have to do is believe. But what is the cost of believing? For many of us in the Christianized west – the cost of believing is also – almost zero. From about the 1950’s to the year 2000 – becoming a Christian or being a Christian was socially acceptable. It was easy to be a Christian.
The famous pastor – Dietrich Bonheoffer faced the same problem in Germany in the 1930’s. In Germany nearly everybody went to church on Sunday. They were cultural Christians. But as Nazism started to take off – Bonhoeffer realised those who said they had Christian faith, didn’t really have Christian faith.
The church was so comfortable and so instep with the spirit of the age – that no one wanted to challenge the Nazi party as it started to do some really bad stuff.
So Bonheoffer wrote a book called “The Cost of Discipleship.” (Slide 1). In this book he attacks the notion of cheap grace and comfortable Christianity. He writes (ENTER). He also says (ENTER). Bonhoeffer wrote this for his students because he could see that being a Christian was about to become a whole lot more costly. If people were really going to follow Jesus (and love their Jewish neighbour) they would need to take a stand against Hitler. Bonhoeffer had no doubt Jesus would have condemned Hitler. But sadly, most churches did not. Most Christians were not willing to accept the cost of being faithful to Jesus.
Tragically for the last 30, 40, 50 years ‘CHEAP GRACE’ is the main gospel we have heard in many western evangelical, pentecostal and liberal churches. It is what PAUL WASHER and FRANCIS CHAN are now condemning in the evangelicalism of America. But it is here in Australia too. Although it is true that becoming a Christian will cost you nothing. It is equally true that being a Christian should cost you everything – if you really follow Jesus.
Point 1: Following Jesus will Cost you Everything, but not following Jesus will cost you More.
Show: Lk.9:51-53 (READ)
Explain: Well as you can see Jesus is now heading for Jerusalem. Jesus is going to Jerusalem, so he can die on the cross – about the same time all the lambs are being killed for Passover. Jesus dying in Jerusalem at Passover is loaded with spiritual significance and meaning.
Now if you’re new to Christianity – there are two questions you need to answer. 1) “Who is Jesus?” and 2) “Why did Jesus suffer and die in Jerusalem?” Theseare the two most important questions in Christianity. Now Peter kind of answered the first question 2 weeks ago. (Slide 2; Lk.9:20) That’s the answer to the first question. Jesus is God’s Son in human form coming to save us. But this brings us to the next question; if Jesus is the Messiah – why does he die? The answer that we’ll unpack over the coming weeks is that Jesus dies in Jerusalem to save us.
There is a penalty that comes from sinning against God. Just as dealing meth-amphetamine will land you in prison. Just as domestic violence will bring you a two-year Apprehended Violence Order, so sinning against God leads to death. That’s the consequence of sin. But Jesus accepted the punishment for our sin when he died on the cross. Jesus basically put up his hand and said – “God, I accept responsibility for all their drug dealing, violence, greed, foolishness, lying and cheating etc etc. Whatever their sin deserves – give it to me – so that my followers can be spared.” Jesus did this because he loves us. The Father accepted this because He loves us.
The good news is that if we believe Jesus died for us and we ask for forgiveness – God brings us back into his family. At one level its that easy. If you truly believe Jesus died for your sins and you ask for forgiveness you are a Christian. It’s all of God’s grace. But with that gift – comes a cost. There is a real cost that comes with acknowledging Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
Now in the story we’ve just read – the Samaritans don’t want to follow Jesus to Jerusalem. You can see this in verse 53 (Slide 3 -READ). The Samaritans don’t welcome Jesus because he is headed for Jerusalem. The reality is Jesus will often lead us away from places we don’t want to leave and lead us towards places we don’t want to go…
If you look at this map (Slide 4) – on the screen, you’ll see most of Jesus’ ministry has taken place in the north (ENTER). Galilee was the poor Jewish area. But Jesus is now heading to Jerusalem in the south (ENTER). The route Jesus most probably took was a bit like this (ENTER). He would have come down the west side of the sea of Galilee, through the top of Samaria, then crossed over to the eastern side of the Jordan before coming back up to Jerusalem (through Jericho). This was the safest and most common route between Galilee and Jerusalem. So in the story today – Jesus is most probably in northern Samaria – about here (ENTER). The problem is the Samaritans are half Jews, rather than full Jews. The Samaritans thought the full Jews were a bunch of self-righteous, arrogant so and so’s. And the Jews thought the Samaritans were a bunch hill-billys, who had corrupted pure Judaism. So there was a lot of prejudice (on both sides). But the Bible promised that one day the Messiah would save not only the Jews, but also the lost tribes of Israel. The lost tribes of Israel were the Samaritans. So, Jesus cares about the Jews, but he also cares about the Samaritans.
But when Jesus goes to the Samaritans we are told the Samaritans don’t welcome him because he is headed to Jerusalem. This was a particular bone of contention between Jews and Samaritans. The Jews believed all true worship of God happened in Jerusalem, but (if I can have the map again) the Samaritans worshiped God on Mt Gerizim (ENTER). They said true worship happened here… So by heading to Jerusalem – Jesus is kind of saying Gods purposes are fulfilled in Jerusalem and not Mt Gerizim. Jesus is kind of saying the Jews are right and the Samaritans are wrong.
Now perhaps there is a little bit of Samaritan – anti-Semitism going on in this story. Perhaps there is still a little bit of anti-Semitism going on in the Christian church today. But whether we like it or not God used the Jews (and a particular Jew named Jesus) to save the world. God didn’t use the Samaritans to save the world. God didn’t use Anglo-Saxons to save the world or indigenous Australians or Chinese people. God saved the world through a Jewish Messiah. And following Jesus to Jerusalem or on mission or in your marriage means to some extent leaving behind some of the things we have been taught to believe as Samaritans, or Anglo’s or Aboriginal Australians. Following Jesus as a disciple often means leaving behind things we’ve been taught. And that can be costly.
Apply: What do you think would have happened to a Samaritan man or woman who followed Jesus to Jerusalem? How do you think their family would have treated them? (PAUSE) Of course, negatively. The Samaritan who suddenly followed Jesus would have been seen as a sell-out. The same as a Jew or Muslim or Hindu who converts to Christianity today. Rejected by family and community. This is a cost we must process. As Jesus calls us to follow him – he is calling us to leave behind the errors, mistakes and blind spots of our upbringing, culture and peer group. For many homosexuals, many Aboriginal’s and middle-easterners – the choice to follow Jesus (and accept the sacrifice he made) comes at a steep cost. But we need to remember the cost of not following Jesus will ultimately be far worse.
We see James and John wanting to call down fire from heaven. This is an allusion to the final judgment. The disciples know that what the town deserves for rejecting Jesus is eternal damnation. Let’s smite them Lord. But Jesus rebukes the disciples because it’s not yet time for the final judgment. Its time now for people to weigh the cost of following Jesus and weigh the cost of not following Jesus – and hopefully make a wise decision. What is it going to cost you to follow Jesus? And, what is it going to cost you – if you don’t follow Jesus? On the back of this story Jesus tells “would be followers” 3 things about following him.
Point 2: Following Jesus does not equal Earthly Comfort
Show: Lk.9:57-58 (READ -Slide 7)
Explain: Notice this man is pretending to be better than the Samaritans. The Samaritans didn’t want to follow Jesus because he was going up to Jerusalem. But this man now claims that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes – whether it be Jerusalem, Rome or the gates of hell. I’ll follow you Jesus wherever you go.
Now truth is this should be a disciple’s response to Jesus. If Jesus really is God in the flesh and Jesus really does love us enough to die for us – then it means he is all knowing and he is all loving and we should say in our hearts; “Jesus I’ll follow you wherever you lead me.” If Jesus leads us to become a mssionary in Africa – we should be willing to go there. If Jesus leads us to forgive our parents (for some horrendous sin they committed) we should be willing to go there. Of course, we always need to double check with the Bible and other Christians that it is Jesus leading us to do something and not just our emotions or our carnal desires. Often Christians claim they are following Jesus – when its obvious to everyone else that they are just following the lust of their eyes, the desires of the flesh and the pride of life. Part of being a disciple isactually following Jesus wherever he leads. If we really believe Jesus is our Saviour and Lord then we should be willing to follow Jesus wherever he takes us. But Jesus warns this man – not too fast. Do you know what that means…
Illustrate: There is a man in our church who did Christianity Explored some time ago and I believe he does understand Jesus’ death for his sins. I think to some extent he even believes the Christian message is true. But he also knows that becoming a Christian is going to mean some really, really big changes in his life and worldview. So instead of just praying the sinners prayer and calling himself a Christian – he has told me – he wants to be confident of his commitment – before he takes that step. He doesn’t want to say he’ll do something and then not do it because it’s too hard.
Apply: Jesus kind of says the same thing. Look at what he says to this man in verse 58 (Slide 7 – again). Now there is one of two points Jesus is making here. First, Jesus could be saying; “Don’t come follow me thinking I’m going to bring you earthly comfort. Foxes build homes in the ground and birds build homes in the trees – but Jesus is not about building a comfortable life. In fact, Jesus doesn’t even have home.” So Jesus words are different to the prosperity gospel because Jesus is saying “Don’t follow me for earthly comfort.” In some sense that is what Jesus is saying, but it may be a little more nuanced.
Jesus may also be saying – that following him means we will forever be pilgrims in this world, until we arrive in heaven. As followers of Jesus we will never really have a place in this world that we can call home. Following Jesus means Samaria will not be home. Following Jesus means Sydney won’t be home. In fact, no where (this side of heaven) will really be home. That’s hard because we all want a place to call home. A place we feel safe. A place where we are accepted. A place where we can put down roots and set ourselves up for life. But Jesus is saying; “No. Like Israel in the desert, we will forever be nomads and restless wanderers in this world – until we cross the spiritual Jordan and enter heaven.” This is probably the more nuanced truth. What Jesus is challenging is not only earthly comfort, but security, acceptance and a sense of belonging. We will not have these things in this world. Like pilgrims passing through a foreign land – we will forever be eyed by the world with a bit of suspicion and distrust. We will not really fit in the anglo community, or the aboriginal community or the homosexual community anymore. The only place we will have a sense of security, acceptance and belonging will be in the church and in heaven. Jesus tells would be followers count this cost…
Point 3: Following Jesus means a New Supreme Loyalty
Show: Lk.9:59-60 (READ)
Explain: In this world – one of the supreme goods is honoring our father and mother. The old saying “blood is thicker than water” means that the family bond is supposedly the most important bond we have in this world. So this man says to Jesus, “Sure I’ll come follow you, Jesus. Just let me first bury my dead father.” Of course, he expects Jesus to understand and even support the idea of blood being thicker than water – because Judaism is pro-family. What’s more, it’s a situation of death and grief and the need to show your final respects is high. But Jesus (in what is perhaps hyperbole) challenges the underlying belief that the most important thing in life – is family.
Now don’t get me wrong the family bond is very, very important. There is lots in the Bible to support honoring mother and father. There is lots in the Bible to suggest that the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” must begin in the home. The Bible says that the Christian who fails to provide for their relatives (and especially their own family) has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. So don’t get me wrong, family is very important.
But should family always come first or is there a higher loyalty once we become Christians. In many cultures “family” itself can become an idol we worship. Family always comes first. But the fifth command to honor our father and mother is set within the confines of the first command “I am the Lord your God… you shall have no other gods before me.” So if God wants us to do something AND yet mum and dad want me to do something different – who comes first. God or mum and dad?
Apply: What Jesus is saying is that when we become Christians we’re going to discover that quite often our family wants us to one thing, but Jesus wants us to do another thing. In this case Jesus tells the man to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Now whether Jesus is actually forbidding the man from burying his dad – I doubt it. But Jesus is making an important point.
As Christians the most important thing (in everything) is sharing the good news that God’s Kingdom is coming. This world is passing away. But peoplecan be saved if they believe in Jesus and follow Jesus. This is the most important thing we can do with our lives. Of all the priorities we have and all the pressures pushing upon our time – Jesus is saying that first loyalty is sharing the gospel. Jesus put the proclammation of God’s kingdom above everything else – became a man and sacrificed his life so that we could be saved. Jesus’ own life (and even the way he at times treated his mother and family) showed that his first loyalty was the gospel. Nothing could get in the way of the proclammation of the gospel. But is this how we view the world? Is this how we prioritize our time, our money and resources? Or is blood, money, popularity more important to you than people being saved eternally from hell.
Now I’m not saying this is easy. The familial bond is meant to be strong and even to some extent sacred. But our bond with Jesus and our bonbd with God is meant to be even stronger. It hurt my parents, Paul and Sue, when I moved my family to the Pilbara for four years. We had just had Ethan and Sienna. They were Paul and Sue’s first grandchildren. But we packed up our bags and moved 4000km away (to one of the most remote communities in Australia) for the sake of the gospel. Now thankfully, Paul and Sue never complained. They knew we were doing this for Jesus. But what if Paul or Sue were not Christians. What if they opposed the move and made the often claimed datum – family must come first. A faithful Christian would need to say; “No. Jesus comes first. The gospel comes first.” Putting Jesus and the gospel before family, can be costly and yet that is what Jesus expects of his disciples.
Point 4: Following Jesus involves 100% Commitment to God’s Kingdom
Show: Lk.9:61-62 (READ).
Explain: Well again, we see an appeal to the old loyalty of “blood being thicker than water…” But the point here is not so much loyalty, as longing. Jesus is saying that once we start following him – there is no turning back. Following Jesus means leaving the old world behind.
Illustrate: There was a man named Sadhu Sundhar Singh who was born in India in 1889. His parents were devout Hindu’s. But they sent him to a Christian school so that he could learn English. But as a teenager he felt torn between Hinduism and Christianity. So he cried out to God one night – asking for help to discern what was real truth. That night – God revealed to him that the truth was Jesus Christ. So he made a decision and converted to Christianity. Subsequently, his father publicly rejected him and then his brother tried to poison him – to remove this shame from the family. Singh went on to become an Indian missionary and wrote a song that was used – many years later – in all the Billy Graham crusades (Slide 10).
Apply: Sadly, once we become Christians there are many things that get us to turn back to the priorities and loyalties of the world. Sometimes – it’s family. Sometimes – it’s wealth. Sometimes – its simply a desire to be accepted by the people of the world. Things that draw us – out of Christianity and back into the world. I suspect we all have something of the world – that we still cherish and wish we could still have in the Christian life. But once we start following Jesus – we need to let go of the things of the world. There is a wonderful analogy to what jesus is saying here in the Bible. When the prophet Elijah called Elisha to come follow him – Elisha was a farmer. That’s what he was used to doing. But Elijah called Elisha to be a prophet – so to ensure he never went back to farming – Elisha killed his oxen and burnt his plow – so that he couldn’t go back to his old way of life. And I suspect – it would be profoundly helpful to Christendom – if a few more Christians these days killed their oxen and burnt their plows. What keeps pulling you back to the world, so that you don’t have undivided loyalty to Jesus? What is hindering you from pressing on deeper and deeper into the Christian faith? What is your oxen and what is your plow and what would you need to do to kill and burn those things?
Friends, today is a very challenging word. Because, just like the Samaritans we don’t really want to follow Jesus to Jerusalem. We want to have comfort and make our homes in this world. We are easily swayed to the idea of blood being the most important thing and we prefer to live with one foot in this world and one foot in the world to come, rather than be sold out only for the world to come. Of course, none of us can do this properly because we are sinners. I reckon I probably fail at point 1, 2 and 3 – every single day.
That’s why I am so thankful that Jesus died for me and that I am saved by God grace, not by being a perfect disciple. But as Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught his students – there is no such thing as cheap grace. Grace is costly. It cost Jesus his life and following Jesus will cost us to. You will never follow Jesus perfectly and thinking you can is stupidity. But there will be points in your life where God will test your loyalty – is your real home heaven or earth? Are you a pilgrim or a settler? Does God and Jesus come first, or does family come first in all your decisions? And when pressed will you kill your oxen and burn your plow OR are you trying to live with one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. Following Jesus is costly. But not following Jesus will be even more costly? Eternity is a long time. And when we eventually see God face to face and He wipes every tear from our eyes andthere is no more mourning, sickness or death because the old order of things has passed away we will recognise in an instant the cost was worth it. The cost was not insignificant. But the cost is worth it. There is no such thing as cheap grace. No such thing as comfortable Christianity. But nonetheless, Jesus is worth it and the cost is worth it – especially in light of eternity (and all that Jesus offers).
The last line in Sadhu Sundar Singh’s song is this; (Slide 11). Jesus will not lie to you. Following him is hard and at times costly. But most things worth doing usually are. (Let me pray).