Posts Tagged ‘Following Jesus’

Counting the Cost

In this sermon, I explore the difficult teaching of Jesus regarding the cost of discipleship. Salvation from sin is free by the grace of God…but discipleship of Jesus does cost you something. 

Hear the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/counting-the-cost-9-8-13

And here is the text file of the sermon. As usual, disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember them somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen
Guilty pleasures. We all have them don’t we.  Be honest, you know you do. Most of the time, I think they are pretty innocent, but a guilty pleasure is something that can really rope you in. One of mine, and yes I do have several…is puzzles. Another is ice cream, but that’s neither here nor there.
I love puzzles, and not any one kind…but a lot of different kinds. And there are a ton of different types of puzzles aren’t there? Think about it. There are table top puzzles ranging from innocent little 10 piecers for small children up to 5 or 10,000 piece monstrosities that can take weeks or months to complete.  There are number puzzles like soduko. Mental puzzles like crosswords. Many different video games involve puzzles…some simple and as any gamer can tell you, some huge intricate and almost most impossible.
While I do some of these more than others, I do love a good puzzle and the challenge that comes along with it. Most recently I’ve gotten hooked on a specific puzzle game. It’s an app available for free on smart phones and you can play it through Facebook as well. Perhaps you’ve heard of it, or like me, have gotten utterly and completely addicted to it.  Candy Crush. (pause)  Anyone else out there want to fess up?  You know you love it.
Like any good puzzle, it’s rewarding…and its also wildly irritating. The first few levels are easy. They always are. That’s how they hook you.  But then as time goes on, the levels get more and more difficult. Candy Crush isn’t the only game of this nature. There are countless titles with the same sort of premise. Angry Birds is another popular example.
If you’ve ever played this sort of game you know how it works. You’re given a puzzle and by swapping different candy pieces around, you gradually work through the puzzle to beat the level. But as the levels get harder…and trust me…they get harder…there are times when it feels like you will never beat it. You try over and over again…sometimes getting it down to a single piece left to clear and then you run out of moves…or your run out of lives and you have to ask for help. Candy Crush is a social game after all…but as you make attempt after attempt…and achieve nothing but failure after failure…you feel like your head is going to explode and you cry out in anguish. “TRY AS I MIGHT…I AM NEVER GOING TO BEAT THIS LEVEL!!!!”
But then…every once in a while…the pieces all fall together…given enough time…given enough effort…it all comes together and you emerge…triumphant…at least until you try the next level.
In a lot of ways, that’s a good life lesson isn’t it? Keep trying. Don’t lose hope. Persevere. Eventually, everything comes together. YOU CAN DO IT!
But does that attitude…that never say die…keep on pushing through attitude really apply to everything?  (pause)
That’s the question that’s been rattling around in my head this week as I’ve pondered on today’s scripture lesson…it’s a bit of a doosy this week isn’t it? Jesus…our Savior and Lord…God himself in human form…seems to be a bit of buzzkill this week doesn’t he?
Here’s the scene. Jesus is traveling around the countryside. He’s been gradually making his way towards Jerusalem for a while now. Luke’s gospel makes a pretty big deal in about chapter 9 when Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem…and we all know what’s going to happen in Jerusalem don’t we? We know where this story is headed…the eventual betrayal at the hands of his own disciple…his arrest…his trial…his crucifixion. (pause)
In today’s story…we’re about half way there. We’re getting there…but Jesus still has about 6 more chapters to walk through before he makes it to the city…but as we see at the beginning today…he’s already making waves.  Like any good public figure…he’s developed a following…and we see that large crowds are following him around.
Perhaps it comes as no great shock. Look at some of the stuff that he’s pulled off so far…countless healings of the sick and lame…the feeding of the 5000….he’s cast out demons…he’s even managed to bring a couple of people back from the dead.  No wonder he’s got giant crowds traipsing along behind him. Wouldn’t you be interested to see what this guy…this Jesus guy…is gonna do next?
That seems to be the case with this giant crowd…this mixed bag of people. Who knows what different types of people were there but we can assume that it involved all different sorts. Poor, rich…Jews, Gentiles…religious leaders, roman officials…at different times in Luke’s Gospel we hear about all of these people and other’s as well.  Certainly, Jesus attracted all kinds of people to follow him wherever he went.
But today…Jesus seems like he wants to thin the crowds out a little bit…and he makes some pretty shocking statements…three of them that seem to cover different situations…but all three with the same apparent result.
Whoever comes to me and does not hate their families…cannot be my disciple. (Pause)  Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me…cannot be my disciple. (pause) Whoever does not give up all your possessions…cannot be my disciple. (pause)
Can you imagine? Jesus himself…this pillar of love and acceptance…this man who welcomes sinners and cripples…this man who teaches about the love of God for all humanity…this amazing man that everyone wants a piece of…denying people…how can that be? (pause) Its shocking isn’t it? Jesus denying people.
Or is he? (pause)
Is Jesus denying anyone from following him?  Or is he simply issuing a realistic warning?  A warning about the TRUE cost…of discipleship? The TRUE cost…of being a believer…the TRUE cost of following Christ. (pause)
Perhaps you hear me say the word cost…and it makes you a little uncomfortable.  Cost? I thought that Christianity was free…I thought that our salvation from sin and death is a free gift…only by the grace of God…so what’s this cost that you’re talking about?
Well, that’s a good question…because on one hand you’d be right to pose it. It is true that we are saved from our sinful nature…rescued from the power of sin and death only by the grace of God. It is a free gift…offered freely to each and every one of us through Jesus death on the cross.
But discipleship still comes with a cost. Anyone how does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even life itself…cannot be my disciple.  (pause) Has Jesus ever come between you and someone you care about? Think about it…think back over your life as a believer…has someone ever opposed you…or have you butted heads with someone…disagreed over your behavior or your attitude or your opinion because it has been shaped by Christ?
Believe me, it happens…and sometimes those we care about most in the world…hinder us to following Christ…but he asks us to put them aside. Can we really do that or will we deny him? (pause)
Discipleship comes with a cost.  Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me…cannot be my disciple. (pause) In Jesus day, crucifixion was common…painfully common…and the sight of some condemned criminal, carrying their own cross to the place of their execution happened all the time…but times have changed right? We don’t see that sort of thing…so what does this mean for us today?
Well, crucifixion was a civil punishment…handed out by the government…So is Jesus telling us that we can expect legal troubles simply for being a believer? Maybe so…perhaps this is a difficult thing to understand today. After all, we live in a country where we can express religious freedom…and following Christ isn’t illegal…but unfortunately that’s not the case everywhere…and in countless places around the globe believers are arrested, imprisoned, and still today, killed for their beliefs…are we ready to do that…to endure that? Or will we deny him? (pause)
If you do not give up your possessions…everything that you have…even your very life…you cannot be my disciple. (pause) This one is pretty obvious…Jesus is asking us to give up everything…EVERYTHING. Our material possessions…our homes…our health…our families…our lives…everything becomes secondary to following Christ. Can we do that? Are we willing to sacrifice absolutely everything to follow this man?  Or will we deny him? (pause)
I have found myself wondering this week, how the people in the crowd…that mixed batch of people from every walk of life…responded when they heard this.  Had they counted the cost…the true cost of discipleship?  Or were they just following him around, hoping to be receive some miracle?
It kinda makes you wonder how many people left…and how if there were any crowds left by the time they made it to Jerusalem, Jesus’ final destination…and actually, we can answer that question…A careful look at the original language in the story of the Triumphal Entry shows us that only a select handful of people…those that were familiar with Jesus, were still with him. This is very likely limited to the 12 disciples and a few select others that remained by his side.
And so now we ask ourselves…have we counted the cost…are we willing to sacrifice everything for Christ? Are we really willing to do that? Family…liberty…possessions…Everything? I don’t know about you…but that seems pretty daunting…in fact…as I sit here thinking about it…it seems downright impossible…impossible to deny all of that…all the time…for Christ.
And when we think about that, perhaps it comes as no great shock that the crowds abandoned him. Perhaps its no great shock that the multitudes were pared down a select few…the disciples and a couple extra people. (pause)
But it doesn’t stop there…because the disciples…his closest friends…individuals that Jesus considered closer than his own mother and brothers…they left him too…But what if we go even farther than that…what if we take it down to the leader…what about Peter…you remember him…the chief disciple…when we read between the lines we know he was really the head guy of Jesus’ crew right?  Think about Jesus’ own words. You will be called Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. 
Peter…the first pope for crying out loud…at least he made the hard choice right? Of course…Peter even said it. “Lord I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” (pause) Peter expresses faith…at least he thinks he does…but how does Jesus respond? (pause) “Peter, the rooster will not crow this day until you have denied me three times”
And we all know that its true…Peter denies Christ three times…3 times he turns his back on Christ…Peter himself…the greatest of the disciples…even he can’t do it.
So what are we supposed to do? Is there anything we can do? Can we truly pay the cost of being a disciple of Christ? Can we work out that puzzle…if we try hard enough…give it enough effort…if we’re just patient enough, will all the pieces fall into place?
Well, no. It would seem that its impossible for us…and you know what…it is. Even Jesus says so…when we cry out Lord this is impossible? Who can be saved? Jesus replies “What is impossible for mortals…is possible…for God.”
But rest assured…when God does the impossible in your life…you will be changed…the old you will be no more…and with that new reality…a reality freed from the powers of sin and death comes difficulties…and sometimes those difficult times mean sacrifice on our part…and sacrifice is never easy. I won’t give you false hope that it is.
So know this…if you’re gonna be a disciple of Christ then you better want it…and you’ve got to want it bad…because while salvation is free, it does come with a cost…
And I can’t stand up here today and tell you what that cost is going to be…because God leads us all down a different path…and God asks different things of all of us…and we all face different opposition but I will tell you this…its gonna happen. Ready or not…following Christ will cost you…but rest assured that one day…one glorious day…Jesus will be standing before you…and he will look you in the eye…wrap you in his arms that were once stretched out over a cross for you…and he will say to you… today, you will be with me in paradise. Amen

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