Sermon: The Cost of Christianity (Mark 1:14-20)

Text: Mark 1:14-20
Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Last Sunday we heard Jesus call Philip and Nathanael. In today’s Gospel reading he calls four fishermen at the Sea of Galilee — Peter, Andrew, James and John. The astonishing part of this story is that they dropped everything, put their lives on hold, left their dad in the boat, and followed Jesus. They followed Jesus without any idea where it would lead, or what it would cost. This invites the question: Would you leave it all to follow Jesus? Many of the decisions we make in life are economic. Can we afford it? Will it break the bank? Is there enough money? We make important choices in our lives by counting the cost. How much do you think it costs to be a Christian? Of course, being a Christian does cost us some time and money, but so does everything else in life. But how much does it really cost? Can you have forgiveness without repentance? Can you have baptism without church discipline? Can you receive the benefits of communion without confessing your sin? Can you have justification without sanctification? Can you enjoy God’s grace without suffering, the cross, and trial? This morning we’re going to meditate upon the call of Jesus in your own life. How has Jesus called you? How much does it cost to be a Christian?

The Call

You will occasionally hear interpretations of the call of the disciples as though these words applied to us in the very same way as they applied to Peter and Andrew, James and John. If we took those words exactly to heart, we’d all leave our jobs and families and go wandering around like a bunch of itinerant preachers. And that would be a mistake. Every one of the disciples was chosen and called personally by Jesus. Jesus was bodily present with his first disciples. He spoke his word directly to them. But this Jesus died and is risen. However, we believe that God calls each one of us to be his disciples today. How does his call to discipleship reach us today? He doesn’t walks past you in bodily form and call, ‘Follow me.’ Where should you listen for the call of Jesus? Where can you hear Christ? Where can you encounter him?

Martin Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed says it so clearly: 

“I believe that I cannot my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in true faith.”

Small Catechism, Creed, Third Article

We need to remember and take seriously that Jesus Christ is not dead but alive and still speaking to us through the word. If you want to hear his call to discipleship, you need to hear it where Christ himself is present. The preaching and reading of his Word and the Sacraments of the church are where Jesus Christ is present. Listen to the Gospel of the crucified and risen Lord! Here he is, the whole Christ, the very same one who called to the disciples. 

Jesus calls the disciples, and they recognise him as the one who speaks to their lives, the one who has authority over them, who speaks with God’s authority. When we gather to hear his word, we recognise in that word the voice of Christ himself. Through his word, he speaks into our lives and has authority over us. Through his word, Jesus speaks with God’s authority, calling us to faith in him and love for others  The word of Scripture claims our lives to follow him. When we ask where we can hear Jesus’ call to discipleship today, there is no other answer than this: listen to the word that is preached and read; receive the Sacraments. In these you will hear Christ himself, calling you to follow him. You will hear his call!

The Cost

The people who Jesus called to be his disciples were fishermen. Fishermen knew something about catching fish. Jesus calls them to fish for people! There is a little difference between fishing for fish and fishing for people.  Christians are like those fish caught in the net. In your baptism, you were caught in the net of God’s kingdom, caught by a love that will not let you go. Like fish in a net, we didn’t choose to be here, but we’ve been hauled into the boat. The words of Jesus, “follow me” ring in our ears. 

All fish struggle to get out of nets. And rightly so. The net means their death and doom.  When fish are caught, they die. If you are going to follow Jesus, you are going to have to die. Our old Adam always goes with a struggle. It doesn’t want to be netted, it wants to be “free” meaning enslaved to Sin and Self. Yet, look at where Jesus earthly journey led him: it lead him to his death at Calvary. “Follow me,” Jesus said to you in your Baptism. To follow Jesus on his road to Jerusalem rise is literally going to cost you everything you hold dear. Can you afford it? Are you willing to pay that price? You say you want to follow Jesus and be his disciple? Are you willing to pay the cost? There is a part of you that is still entailed in sin, we call it the Old Adam. The old Adam in us hates to die, but it must die, not just once, but every single day. Our Old Adam will get mad at the preacher and tune him out. It will shut our Bibles tight. It will avoid the church. He will deny God. But if you’re going to follow Jesus, you must die. 

Suddenly, this business of being a disciple doesn’t sound like so much fun anymore, does it? It sounds dangerous, deadly even. Following Jesus is costly. Following Jesus is going to cost you a lot more than 10 percent of your income or 90 minutes out of your Sunday brunch time. It means dying – dying to self, dying to your desires, dying to everything that is your life, renouncing literally everything you have and everything you are or think you are. It’ll cost you everything. Your whole life. Everything. All that you have. Repentance is a turning away from sin to righteousness, from self to Christ, from death to life. It is to be turned inside out. Our natural tendency is to be self-oriented, turned inward. Repentance isn’t a pleasant, happy thing. There will be sorrow over your sin, terror of God’s wrath, grief over our death and the loss of our sin. We aren’t going to feel good about ourselves when Jesus’ word “repent” works repentance in us.

Remember, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. Jesus had His cross front and centre in His gaze. That’s where you need to be looking. The way of discipleship is no easy road. Repentance is a costly road of hard and painful choices. Jesus himself went to a cross to die, and anyone who does not bear their own cross and come after Him cannot claim to be one of His disciples. You must die, but Christ must rise, and we must rise in Him.

That’s the big difference between us and fish. We die to live. Let’s remember that our call is not to isolation and relentless misery. Jesus doesn’t just preach “Repent.” No, there was something else along with that repent wasn’t there? “Repent and believe in the gospel” Jesus says (1:15).  Jesus says, “Believe in the gospel.” To believe is to entrust yourself and your whole life to this Christ, to know in your heart that this is your only hope of salvation. Believe in the gospel! Trust in Christ your Savior. Take refuge in him. He will save you. He will save you from your sins. He will save you from death and eternal damnation. He will save you by the power of his resurrection to eternal life, so that you will share in his resurrection on the last day.  So, count the cost of being a Christian. What will it cost you to follow Christ our Lord? Your life. But, in Christ, you will rise to a new life, an eternal life, and that is worth the cost. 

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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