The True Cost of Discipleship
Text: Luke 9:51-62
Proper 8, C
The true cost of discipleship would send many a Christian running away in fear if they were to hear it told them today. But that shouldn't surprise us. No one ever really considers the cost of being a Christian up front. Just look at our Gospel reading and ask, How did each of those men react? Despite their differences all three incidents teach the same lesson: True discipleship under Christ implies a denial of the self and all earthly ties. In other words, we cannot place conditions on our call to be His disciple. We dare not tell Jesus “FIRST I must do this or FIRST I must have that and THEN you may have me.”
Take the first man in our text for example: “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, I will follow you wherever you go. And Jesus said to him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” This fellow doesn't realize that the road Jesus takes us down isn't always bordered with roses. Christians aren't automatically happier, wealthier, or healthier than their pagan neighbours. Indeed, if anything, the cost of following Jesus is a sacrifice of both our comfort and security. The way isn't easy. God wants us to live a life with eternal purposes not just temporal pleasures, heavenly rewards more than earthly wealth or possessions. Spiritual freedom not physical comfort or safety. Do you think this gave the man pause for thought?
And what about the second fellow in our text? “To another he said, Follow me. But he said, Lord, let me first go and bury my father. And Jesus said to him, Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Here we see a man torn by a conflicting sense of duties. Some people tend to get sidetracked by the question of whether or not his father had just died, or he was simply looking for an excuse to put off following Jesus until his father did die. It doesn't really matter, for neither reading changes the facts. Jesus' call to be a disciple rarely fits nicely into the schedule we have laid out for our life! This does not mean we can disrespect our parents, or that we are not allowed to mourn when someone we love dies. What Jesus is saying is that the cost of being His disciple might mean sacrificing even those parts of life which otherwise are worthwhile. In the struggle for true life and death the witness of the Gospel must be heard. It must always come first, for without it people will die in judgment, when forgiveness and faith might have been theirs. How do you think this man reacted to this blunt pronouncement?
Or what about the final man in the story? “Yet another said, I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home. Jesus said to him, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Here is a person with a divided will. He hadn't really made up his mind. Sometimes the call to follow Jesus means that we must be ready to sacrifice even family and friends. Not literally, mind you, but in the sense of leaving behind those who would draw you back from your Saviour. The cost of discipleship means not counting the things we must leave behind, but always looking forward to what is yet to come. Do you think this man could get past the idea of what he was being asked to leave behind, or were his friends and acquaintances just too much fun?
Luke doesn't record the response of any of these three men in his Gospel. It is not so important what they did, but what you the readers will do! Will you heed Jesus’ words? Will you follow Him through hardship, giving up your finely ordered life, to strive for what God has placed ahead of each of us? Will you respond in faith and persevere with your Lord Jesus?
More importantly, why should we do all this? What's to keep us from counting the cost and simply turning away as so many others have done before? After all, nothing we do can do will earn our way into heaven. No cost we can pay will convince God to save us! The answer to that, and the very key to understanding the whole of this passage is found in verse 51. And it shapes everything to come in the next nine chapters of Luke, including Jesus’ frank discussions about discipleship. When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, He set his face to go to Jerusalem. The true cost of discipleship has already been paid by Jesus!
As these men, come to Jesus with their various conditions for accepting His call, Jesus’ face is set unconditionally to go up to Jerusalem so that He might suffer all things, die and rise again. Jesus is the man with not one conflicting duty. He is going to be lifted up on the cross. His entire life has been devoted to dying on the cross for our salvation. Never once has there ever been a different purpose or plan to anything that has happened in His life. Everything He has done has been according to His Father's master plan of salvation. Never once putting conditions on His service. He must die so that we can live. Yet even this, He does willingly.
Jesus is the man with no division of mind or purpose. Even though He is God and all the glories of heaven are rightfully His, He does not look back, He does not count all that He gives up. He resolutely faces the cross and the tomb, because He knows He will be taken up. After He rises from the dead, after the price is paid, after our salvation is secured – then he will be taken back up into heaven to prepare a place for everyone he calls to follow after. He must go where we cannot, so that when He returns we can follow where He leads.
Jesus knows where the path of our life leads even when we don't. We have lots of ideas, lots of dreams, lots of wishes for where it will go, but in the end we have very little control over what might come next. That's the cost of discipleship under Jesus ... but that's fine! Jesus calls us to lay aside all our assumptions and all our conditions and simply follow where He leads. He doesn't promise he will make our life exactly the way we want it to be. Indeed, we may be subjected to the very last thing we ever wanted ... but Jesus does promise that in resolutely setting His face to go to Jerusalem and in being taken up, He has saved us and will lead us through whatever comes next. And if we let him, He will help us do it with determination, resolution, and courage too.