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Luke #55 The Cost of Discipleship

The Cost of Discipleship

Reading: Luke 14:25-35

Introduction: There have been few events, if any, in my lifetime that have reminded our nation of the high cost of a free society like the bombing a few weeks ago in Oklahoma City. The safety that we assume for ourselves is always threatened by those who choose to live beyond the boundaries of order, who do not value human life, who can indiscriminately kill and abuse the liberties that the rest of us treasure. In a totalitarian state, it is unlikely anyone would ever have access to such instruments of destruction.

I was reminded this past week of my experience in Zagreb, Croatia. At the time we were there, a war zone was just 20 miles away, but Joe and I could walk around town day or night totally without fear. Of course, that also has changed. I received a fax this week from Mark and Christine Parker in which he explained of how life has changed since the bombing incidents there in the past three weeks. In the midst of celebrating the fall of Communism, we understand what a heavy price is now being paid in all of the Eastern European countries as they attempt the shift to more democratic forms of government and more open economies. Russia is now a third-world country, economically. I am told that the Mafia is infiltrating the larger Russian cities at an alarming rate.

We understand that Freedom is never really free. There is a price to be paid, and it has never been cheap. We know about paying the price for what we get, don't we? The best things in life are seldom, if ever, free. You pay for what you get. In our culture, and particularly in our own time, we're very cost conscious. We know that nothing that is worthwhile is truly free. Even all of those "free gifts" you receive when you buy something else have hidden costs attached.

All of this leads me to a troublesome point about Christianity. We often hear and use “free gift” terminology when we talk about salvation. And it's biblical terminology: Paul says in Romans 6:23 that "the free gift of God is Eternal Life." In Galatians he writes, "For Freedom Christ has set us Free." To the Ephesians he writes those marvelous words in chapter two, "For by Grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God--not because of works, lest any man should boast." We sometimes sing, “He paid a debt he did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay, I needed someone to wash my sins away. And now I sing a brand new song, amazing grace. Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.”

If salvation is indeed a free gift, then what do we do with passages like the one read to you a few minutes ago? Salvation may be free, but discipleship certainly doesn't sound like it's free. To be a disciple of someone or something implies being a student, a learner, even an imitator of someone else. In this case the call is to be an imitator of Jesus. As we have studied the earlier parts of this chapter we have seen the way in which Jesus called people to change their understandings about themselves and about others. He suggested a new way of finding honor--the most important value in first century culture for determining identity. He challenged those dining with him to choose humility instead of self-exaltation. He challenged them to stop using reciprocity as the criterion for hosting a meal. Rather, they were to invite the shameless of society, thereby giving honor to those without honor. In the parable of the great banquet, we saw that in the end it was the shameless of the world that participated in the heavenly banquet, not those who were first invited. Everyone who had been invited was too busy with family and possessions. They all had other business to attend to.

As we read along now with Luke's audience, Jesus leaves the Pharisees. But as he now speaks to the crowds, we (the readers of this gospel) cannot help remembering the values of honor and shame. We remember who could hear Jesus and who couldn't in the previous stories. The religious leaders of Jesus' day could not hear, they could not learn from Jesus. It was the shameless people--the poor, the blind, the maimed, the lame, the tax collectors and sinners--who were interested in following him. Why? Because he gave them life again!

Following Jesus has its cost. Three times Jesus says, "If anyone does not, he cannot!" That sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? To follow him one must hate all other relationships. I like Matthew's version better. Only in Luke is the wife mentioned. Rather than hate, in Matthew Jesus says you must love him more than the others. But this is Luke, where one must even hate self. In the language Jesus would have spoken this (assuming he was speaking Aramaic), the word “hate” meant to renounce something. For example, the Old Testament records that God hates divorce. On another occasion God hates the people's sacrifices. Hate is not an emotional feeling but a denunciation of a practice. In this case, to hate meant to renounce all other allegiances and loyalties, as seen clearly in Luke 18:29: “There is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” The call is for one's allegiance to Jesus to be greater than any other object of one's affections. Jesus didn't count equality with his father something to be held on to, but emptied himself and became human, for the sake of relationship. If we would be like him, he must be first for us just as we were first for him.

Second, we are called to bear our own cross. In 9:23, Jesus said his disciples must take it up daily. But what does that mean? Buy a necklace, or earrings, or hang one over the mirror in your car? For some, bearing a cross means dealing with a cantankerous spouse. For others it may be a long-term illness or some misfortune in life. The problem with such definitions of cross bearing is that they are all involuntary. The cross for Jesus was a deliberate choice of self-denial unto his own death for the sake of the world. To follow Jesus, how high a price will we choose to pay in denying ourselves for the sake of others?

Third, we are called to renounce all that we have. Personal relationships, self, and possessions are the big three when it comes to determining our identity and our security. In a world in which the one with the most toys wins--in a world that continually begs us to be upwardly mobile, to collect more things, to own, to have, to be conspicuous consumers--Jesus says that whoever does not renounce all that he has cannot be his disciple. Paul recounted all that he had and all that he had been before he knew Jesus as Lord, and he said all of that previous life was garbage compared to knowing Jesus (Philippians 3). Whoever cannot place the Lordship of Jesus ahead of every other relationship, yes, even ahead of his/her own personal rights and identity; whoever cannot deliberately choose this allegiance over all others; whoever cannot walk away from any other personal possession for the sake of imitating Jesus, cannot be a disciple.

How much does it cost to be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, in Nashville, Tennessee in 1995? What kind of commitment is necessary for one to say, "Yes, I am a disciple of Jesus"? Jesus gives two illustrations to suggest how important it is to know what the cost actually is: the house builder and the king going to battle. It is not without significance that as Jesus spoke he was in the process of building and he was a king preparing to engage in war with Satan. He knew the cost of building the church; he knew the cost of winning the war. The cost was his life! What about our cost?

A few years ago I was in Boston and we took one of those trolley car tours of the city. The driver took us by many of the great historic sights of the Boston and also by some of the newer buildings including city hall, which was very elegant. Adjacent was a parking garage that was only half finished. Ramps and stairwells were hanging out in the air going nowhere. Due to cost overruns, the building was unfinished. It had been that way for 10 years. I have the feeling that there are a lot of people like that parking garage when it comes to discipleship--half done because it costs too much. Renouncing it all is just too high a price.

How much does it cost? How much belongs to God, and how much really belongs to you? In his book, “The Spirit of the Disciplines,” Dallas Willard talks about this desire we naively have to be like Jesus in the highlight films (his description of the gospel accounts). These stories we read are just the beginning of all that Jesus said and did while on earth, according to John. These are the highlights. So we then find ourselves trying to be like the Jesus of these stories, forgetting that, in order to have a highlight film, there were also countless days and nights, even years of preparation. There was the discipline of praying all night on many occasions, the hours of study that must of taken place before he ever went to the Temple at age 12. The passage from Hebrews that reminds us, “He learned obedience through what he suffered.” With any human effort--athletic, academic, artistic, you name it--there is no highlight film without disciplined study and rehearsal.

Yet, somehow we expect Christianity to be different. Put in one hour a week and be like Jesus! What is our real definition of commitment? Isn't it true that for most of us, showing up two out of three Sunday mornings is good enough? I mean, who's going to call you down or question your faith as long as you show up once a week most of the time? Or why is it that when the money gets tight, the first thing that loses out in the money crunch is church contribution? God understands, but the visa people don't? If all the money is God's, how can that possibly be the right priority? Let’s all be devoted to prayer by giving thanks at one meal a day this week!

I get real scared when I read these texts in Luke and I consider my own levels of commitment. Yes, salvation is a free gift! We have been saved by grace, not by works. But Jesus is both savior and Lord. Salvation is free; Lordship costs all that we have and all that we are. What in the world are we communicating to God about our allegiance to him and his will for the church? What kind of commitment to God do we have if we have no commitment to the body of Christ that he established? What kind of commitment is it when we are seldom here? What kind of commitment is it when, in the name of family, we use weekends as our getaway time--we set family over against the church? It's okay to not be with the body of believers because you're with family? Never mind the messages unconsciously being fed to the children about the relativity of church services. Never mind because commitment to God has nothing to do with church attendance. Is that right? The collective meeting of the body of Christ takes a backseat to husband, wife, brothers, sisters, children?

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. (14:25-27, 33)

This morning the free gift of salvation is offered to all who are in need of a savior. The call to accept Jesus as both Savior and Lord is also extended to all who are willing pay the price. How will you respond?

Delivered at Brentwood Hills, May 21, 1995 a.m.

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