Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you ever seen something that looked good on the surface but came with a cost? Perhaps you’ve watched one of those advertisements for medicine. They usually follow the same format. The commercial alternates shots of flowered meadows, senior citizens, and doctors, all while saying generally positive things about nothing in particular and mentioning the name of the medicine. The commercial then spends the rest of the time speeding through a massive list of potential side effects. We’re often struck that the side effects sound worse than the problem the medicine is supposed to cure. We’re all familiar with the fine print in a contract. “Terms and conditions may apply. See cashier for details.” We sometimes talk about doing a cost-benefit analysis. You figure out if something is worth the cost.
Today in our Gospel reading, Jesus wants three men to understand that following him will cost them. This passage should challenge us. It tells us that Christianity is not just about getting a free ticket to heaven. Following Jesus is not going to make you feel good about yourself. Have you ever thought about doing a cost-benefit analysis of Jesus? God’s grace and forgiveness are free, but following Jesus will cost you. Is it worth it? What does following Jesus cost?
I. It’s going to cost your comfort (vv. 57-58)
On the road toward Jerusalem, three would-be disciples put in their disciple application with Jesus. It wasn’t unusual for people to step up and approach a rabbi seeking to be one of his disciples. All three have a little hitch that holds them back and keeps their commitment from being whole-hearted.
“I will follow you wherever you go,” one says. Does he know where Jesus is going and realize the trajectory? Jesus has his eyes fixed on Jerusalem, is he following the resolute gaze? Jesus tells him that his road has no comfortable rest stops, no comfy pillows under his head at night. At least the foxes and birds have homes to go to, but the Son of Man, God’s anointed One, the Messiah, has no place to lay His head. “You want to follow me, Jesus is saying, “prepare to be uncomfortable, Prepare for those sleepless nights on hard ground, cold and destitute. Prepare to join the homeless.”
Following Jesus is no guarantee of security or comfort. Jesus has nothing to offer those who think material blessings and safety is more important than him. Jesus challenges the person to be aware of the sacrifices involved in being his disciple. Christ did not come to lead us into riches and mansions in this life. Indeed, it could mean the opposite. Deprivation. If we follow him, we may sometimes have to give up home and the comforts of home. But your heavenly Father will take care of you. He knows your needs, the basic necessities of life. He clothes the lilies of the field and feeds the birds of the air. Are you not of more value than they? And you have riches much greater waiting for you in heaven. You have a home waiting for you that will far exceed anything you can imagine.
Will you follow him? If Jesus has nowhere to lay his head, Christians should be prepared to give up house and home. What about your home, your furniture, the security you enjoy, your comforts in the climate-controlled year-round perfect atmosphere, your roach-free, mouse-free, ant-free, totally automated kitchen, and your new surround-sound home entertainment centre? Jesus says, Follow me. Am I worth more than these? Jesus or comfort, you pick which is more valuable.
II. It must have first place (vv. 59-60)
Another says, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” It was the honourable thing to do. The right and responsible thing. The compassionate thing. In Jewish circles, it was the sacred and godly thing to do. But this Jesus, with His face fixed on Jerusalem, seems to have no compassion for a son who only wants to bury his father when he dies. This guy wants to delay, to put it off. His father hasn’t died yet, and he has other priorities he wants to put before Jesus. So Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own. You go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yes, that’s right. Let the spiritually dead bury their own.
When Jesus calls you, this is not something to put off for a more convenient time. Today if you hear his voice, harden not your heart. My friends, the Christian life cannot be a part-time, once-in-a-while, off-and-on commitment. It is a life-changing shift in direction, a shift in priorities where our own human needs and wants become subservient to Christ’s call to follow him. Christians have the most essential calling and responsibility: proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. That is, to tell others about Jesus.
Whom do you cherish more: Spiritually dead relatives or the giver of life, Jesus Christ? The point is, who has first place, Christ or family? If you follow Jesus Christ, then he is absolute, and all other allegiances are relative. Following Jesus is not merely another commitment which we add to the long list of our other obligations. Following Jesus is the commitment, the only one that matters. Following him requires that we reorder our lives from the bottom up. He must be the first place in your life. Do you want Christ above all? Do you want to follow him more than anything? He must take priority.
III. It asks for your whole heart (vv. 61-62)
A third person says, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my house.” A simple goodbye. What could be so wrong with that? Maybe a little going away party. A cake or something. Jesus says, “No one who takes up the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Any farmer will tell you that you can’t plough straight looking over your shoulder. You can’t plough ahead while you are pining for the past. Looking back means longing for the past. It means that the man was not really sure Jesus is worth following, especially to Jerusalem. We cannot half-heartedly follow Jesus.
“Follow me”, Jesus says. Tough words? You bet they are! Jesus means serious business, and His words are urgent, hard, and demanding. His claim on the Christian is radical. It’s all or nothing. No halfway disciples. There are no compromises here. Jesus rejects half-hearted followers. Jesus isn’t growing the church here, is he? The message is hard to accept. The message is that Christ should completely mould every decision in life. To follow Jesus, we must be willing to leave the world and everything behind. There is an example of this attitude in our Old Testament reading. Elisha doesn’t just give up farming to become a prophet. He slaughters the oxen he had been ploughing with and roasts them over a fire made from their yoke for his farewell banquet. He makes a complete break from his past.
To follow Jesus is to die. It’s about you, dying and rising. It’s about denying yourself and confessing Christ. It’s about crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” We are actually to take the flesh, our wilful and wayward self, and deny what we want. This is repentance: turning our back on the old life of selfishness and sin. Following Jesus means renouncing what God says is wrong. Then we are to walk by the Spirit. We are to follow what God says is right. We reject one path to follow another. We turn from what is evil to do what is good. Jesus is asking us to get off the fence. We are to follow Jesus, not just sit back and do nothing.
The “cost” side of our cost-benefit analysis has a lot on it. In fact, it has everything on it. What’s the benefit? Why should we follow him if it’s going to cost us so much? The cost is not something we pay to purchase our way into heaven. The cost we pay, and the sacrifices we make, are all out of gratitude. Jesus has already purchased our salvation at the cost of his own life. Consider verse 51 for a second. Where is Jesus going? He’s going to Jerusalem. He’s going to be betrayed, suffer, and die.
Jesus goes to Jerusalem and suffers death for you, for your salvation. When it says “he set his face”, it means he is determined. Nothing is going to stop him from saving you. By going to Jerusalem, Jesus accomplishes everything you need: Forgiveness for your sins. Cleansing and righteousness to stand before God, in good standing. You have a new family in the Holy Christian Church. Jesus is worth more than anything else. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. The one who is from everlasting to everlasting. Born of a virgin as the Holy One of God. Perfect in life. Triumphant over sin, death, hell, and all the demons you will ever meet. This Jesus says to you, “Follow me. I am going to prepare a place for you with God. Follow me. I will be with you to the close of the age. I will never leave you or forsake you.” Following Jesus means following him to the cross. But that’s the best place to be because it’s where sins are forgiven. It’s the place that leads to resurrection. It’s where you learn to rely on God’s promises, and God always makes good on his promises. And he will deliver you. Honestly, following Jesus in faith is the only way to go. It’s worth any cost because getting Jesus is worth more than anything else.
May, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.