Over the past few weeks we’ve been hearing the call of Jesus. Some of us have heard that call for the first time. Some of us are still thinking through the implications of responding to that call. Some of us are reckoning that we have just started. Some of us have counted ourselves as followers of Jesus for quite some time. All of us need to ask ourselves tonight whether we have really understood what we are on about. We have to confront the cost of being a true disciple of Jesus Christ. So my title is simply ‘The Cost’. And we’ll be looking at Luke 14.25-35.
Around the world the pressures on believers only seem to be growing. Here are some examples of new stories from the papers over just the last couple of weeks.
“Muslim converts to face the death penalty in Iran.”
“Forced conversion action call from Pakistan Church. The Church of Pakistan has called for government action to halt the kidnapping and forced conversion of Christian girls.”
“Outcry as US Bishop is deposed.”
“Anti-Christian carnage spreads. The Bishop of Amritsar in the Church of North India has told how his family was forced to flee and feared for their lives, as the persecution of Christians by Hindu extremists in the country continues.”
The cost of following Christ in this country at this stage in our history is not usually paid in blood – but it is real. We have to face up to it. That is what Jesus is forcing us to do in this passage in Luke’s Gospel. Do turn to that in the Bibles. Luke 14.25-35 is on p 1048. I want to divide up the passage into three sections so that we can understand it clearly. And I have a heading for each section. So firstly, ‘One Face In The Crowd’. That’s verse 25. Secondly; ‘Two Sides Of The Same Coin’– verses 26-27. And thirdly, ‘Three Parables To Press The Point Home’, in verses 28-35.
First, ONE FACE IN THE CROWD
Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: …
What he says we will come to in a minute but the effect of what he says is to isolate every single individual in the crowd and bring them face to face with himself. And it is as if he says to each one: “Why are you here? What are you really after? Do you know where we are going? Can you handle it?” Because he’s not interested in crowds so much as individuals. He’s speaking to each one. He’s speaking to you. “Why are you here?”
I don’t know if you’ve every experienced a match at St James’ Park. It’s a while since I’ve been – in fact I think it was during Kevin’s first spell as manager, at the time when the club was on a long upward trajectory. Yes, there was such a time. Admittedly it didn’t last long, but it happened. I remember the first time I was in the thick of that ear-splitting roar of tens of thousands of voices when a home goal was scored. Spine-tingling. Times have changed.
Jesus knows all about huge cheering crowds and unlike me he is not impressed. He knows how quickly the cheer turns to abuse. He knows that crowds can disperse as quickly as they gather. Back then, to my consternation, Vivienne used to accuse me of being a fair-weather fan of Newcastle United. “Would I be as enthusiastic if they were falling like a stone down through the divisions?” I can now tell you that she had a point. I admit it. I am a fair-weather fan. The only other time I had supported a team seriously was when I took up Arsenal as they were on the point of winning the double right back in the early seventies.
As Christ looks around at the sea of faces following him he picks out you. And what does he see? Three weeks ago we were learning from Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, and thinking about those with Fair-weather Faith. What does Jesus see when he picks out your face in the crowd? Some one who will stick with him as he journeys towards Jerusalem and the cross? Or someone who will decide that it’s not quite as good as it used to be. Not really worth it any longer. Getting a bit demanding. A bit dangerous. Time to ease to the back of the crowd and slide away unnoticed. A fair-weather follower. But you can’t go unnoticed by Jesus. He’s watching because you matter to him. He cares. But he’s looking for the real thing. The ones who will never walk away whatever the cost. So everyone who claims to follow Jesus undergoes a test of the reality of their discipleship.
This brings me to my second heading.
Secondly, TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN
And here in verses 26-27 are the terms of the test that Christ applies to our lives to see if we are for real:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
There are two sides of the same coin that is the cost of following Jesus.
Verse 26 is one side of the coin and it really describes what a disciple must be ready to lay down. Family. And life itself. In other words not just sin. Not just what we know to be shameful – though such things must most certainly be renounced and discarded. But the very best that life has to offer.
Of course Jesus doesn’t mean literally that we should hate our families. His command is that we should love our enemies – how much more our families! What he means is this: When it comes to sorting out what comes first, the priority of Christ must be absolute. The disciple of Jesus has one Lord and only one. Parents, spouse, children, brothers and sisters – not one of those must be allowed to become a rival king in our lives, chipping away at the rule of Christ the King over us. If they do, that is idolatry. If they do, then we are on the road to spiritual disaster – until they are dethroned and Jesus sets the course again.
That is not Jesus being tyrannical. A tyrant is an absolute ruler who has no right to rule and who rules in his own self-interest. In other words the opposite of Jesus. He is the only one who has the right to rule. And he orders our lives not only with our best interests at heart. He also knows what is best for those we love. He loves them far more than we ever will.
Disciples must be ready to lay down the very best they have. Even life itself. And the irony is that everything we cling to we end up losing. A woman died alone at the the age of 71. The coroner’s report was tragic: ‘Cause of death: Malnutruition.’ Before she died she used to beg for food from her neighbours. What clothes she had came from the Salvation Army. Apparently a penniless, pitiful, forgotten widow. But not so. Those investigating her death discovered a huge stash of stocks and shares and cash. She was a millionaire but she died of starvation because she would not part with anything. Not even to feed herself. Jesus said:
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it”(Luke 9.24).
And that is the other side of the coin of the cost of discipleship. Verse 27 again:
“anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”.
One side of the coin is what the disciple must be ready to lay down. The other side is what the disciple must be ready to take up. His cross. And the journey with Jesus, following him.
The disciple’s cross is the cross of Jesus. That is to say it is the sacrifice that love makes in obedience to the Father’s will – even to death when necessary.
Helen Roseveare was a medical missionary in the Congo in the 50’s and 60’s. There was a threat of civil war but she did not want to abandon those she was serving and who she had grown to love so she stayed. The war started and she along with others was caught up in it as a hostage for several months. Later she described her captors. I quote:
They were brutal and drunken. They cursed and swore, they struck and kicked, they used the butt-end of rifles and rubber truncheons. We were roughly taken, thrown in prisons, humiliated, threatened. We were driven 40 miles north to be shot – but God intervened and we were driven home again… We were 4 weeks under house arrest… [Then] under close guard, in prison conditions… [Then] the group I was with was taken…, but after travelling only 75 miles, we were put off at a house in the jungle – nineteen defenceless women and children surrounded by some 75 men, soldiers and others, all filled with hatred and evil intentions towards us. Food was scarce; water almost unprocurable. Danger was imminent; fear was in the very air we breathed. Wickedness surrounded us on all sides; it seemed inevitable that we should be killed.
In the end they were rescued by mercenaries and lived to tell the tale. But what is more remarkable than the suffering they went through was the response to it all that Helen Roseveare discovered within herself. She says:
In my heart was an amazing peace, a realisation that I was being highly privileged to be identified with Christ in a new way, in the way of the Cross.
And she says:
At such times [of suffering] I recalled again all [Jesus Christ] had suffered for me on the cross of Calvary; now it was my privilege to share His suffering for those I was trying to reach. He was made sin for me; how closely was I willing to be identified with him? With them? Was I prepared to face the cost?
The motto of her mission organisation was a saying of its founder, C.T.Studd – the same C.T.Studd that Ian spoke about a couple of weeks ago. He gave up a privileged family background, a small fortune, and his position as a star England test-cricketer to preach the gospel in China first, and then later in Africa. The motto was this:
If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.
Helen Roseveare says:
This was my firm belief… It was deeply burnt into my heart… and I prayed God that I might be found worthy.
Is it your firm belief that Jesus Christ is God and died for you? If it is, then do you also believe that no sacrifice can possibly be too great for you to make for him? And if you do believe it, is it mere theory – or is daily lifestyle? Maybe we say to ourselves, “I’ve laid that down, I’ve given this, I’ve taken that up. That is enough. Thus far and no further. I have reached the limit of the sacrifice I’m prepared to make.” But if we have grasped the grace of Christ in such a limited way that we put a cap on the our response, then, says Jesus, “You haven’t really grasped it at all. You cannot be my disciple.”
Maybe, though, you don’t say “Enough is enough”. Maybe your reaction to seeing the sacrifice demanded of the followers of Christ is different. Maybe you say to yourself: “I know that no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him. How can I deny that? But what Jesus asks is too much not because he doesn’t deserve it but because I haven’t got what it takes. It’s too expensive. I can’t afford it. It’s beyond my means. I am weak and cowardly. I don’t have it in me to be like Helen Roseveare. I’m just not up to it.”
What do these verses say in reaction to that? They say, “Do you want to be a disciple or not?” A plea of incompetence and cowardice does not get us off the hook. But Jesus hammers the lesson in with three illustrations. This then is my final heading.
Thirdly, THREE PARABLES TO PRESS THE POINT HOME
The first parable is in verses 28-30: The Building of a Tower.
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish’.
This is not about a project like building some tower like Grey’s Monument. What is the project for us? It is living the self-sacrificial life of a disciple of Christ. Question: Do you have the resources in yourself to finish what you have begun? Answer: No! We cannot do it ourselves. If we attempt to, we will fall flat on our faces. And the non-Christian world around us will rub its hands with glee and say, “I knew it was just a silly phase they were going through. There’s nothing in it after all.” Right enough there is nothing in us that will keep us going. So we must draw on the limitless resources of the Master Life Builder. He promises to give us all we need to finish the job. Philippians 4.19:
… my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
The second parable is in verses 31-33: The Fighting of a War.
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand me to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.”
Question: Are you strong enough? Now that is a question that can be applied in two quite different directions. Firstly, are you strong enough to resist the call of Christ to follow him? Answer: No! Once Jesus lays hold of your life he cannot be resisted. You can’t not follow him. That was the experience of C.S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia books, when he was converted after years of atheism. He wrote:
In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God… perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.
You can’t fight God. He’s bigger than you are.
Then there’s a second way of applying this question: “Are you strong enough?” Do we have the strength to withstand the pressures that would crush the Christian faith and life out of us? Those forces are immense. With without extraordinary strength we will not survive them. And again the answer is “No!” We do not have that kind of strength. But Christ is our shield. We can advance behind his protecting power like infantry behind a tank. In 2 Corinthians 12.9 God says:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
And in Philippians 4.13 the apostle Paul says:
I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
We are far too weak to go it alone, but he is invincibly strong.
The third parable is in verses 34-35: The Useless Salt.
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap; it is thrown out.”
Question: When you claim to be a follower of Jesus, are you for real? An external show of Christianity will not last. You cannot pretend to be a disciple any more than mint-choc-chip ice cream can be passed off as granite. You might persuade a short-sighted observer who you keep at a distance from the real you – but when the heat is on, you will melt away.
When it comes to confronting the cost of discipleship, we cannot do it ourselves. We cannot fight God and win. And we cannot con our way into the Kingdom.
That is why Jesus concludes his teaching in the way he does. The end of verse 35:
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
The true disciple is one whose ears have been opened by God to hear the call of Jesus in such a way that it cannot be dislodged. And for such a person, for all the struggles, no cost is too high.
The Bible Society has a Bible bookshop in Gaza City. It used to be managed by a young Palestinian Christian named Rami Ayyad. It catered for a Christian population of 3000 in a city of 1.4 million Muslims.
Just after Easter last year a bomb was thrown into it. The shop front was shattered, the contents were wrecked, books littered the floor, torn and charred. As Rami and his faithful helpers bravely worked away inside trying to restore some semblance of order so that they could reopen for business, they heard the noise of a demonstration in the street. Anxiously they looked out and there they saw over 200 locals marching up and down outside the shop – young and old, mainly Muslim – protesting at what had been done to a Christian team they valued and had come to trust. It was enormously heartening for Rami, and the bookshop reopened.
A few months later – a year ago tomorrow – as Rami was locking up his shop for the week-end, he was kidnapped and taken away. He was able to telephone his wife and assured her he would be back home soon, but the next day on Sunday morning his body was found covered in blood and with multiple stab-wounds. He left behind a pregnant wife and two young children. A 24 year old Christian name Issa who came to pay his respects at Ayyad's home said:
“He paid his life for his faith, for his dignity, and the dignity of the Bible and Jesus Christ.”
Jesus laid his life down and died to rescue us. Are you ready to place your life on the line for him? He probably won’t call you to martyrdom. He is more likely to ask us for mundance sacrifice day after day. But if Jesus Christ be God and died for us, then no sacrifice can be too great for us to make for him.
Lord Jesus, thank you for giving everything for us. Thank you for calling us to follow you. Prevent us, Lord, from being merely fair-weather followers. Make us in to the real thing. Amen.