DISCIPLESHIP TAKES A TOLL

warning

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “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. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “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? 29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
31 “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 men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 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. 33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

 

Tim Tebow’s in the news again.   It’s not because he’s praying in public. It’s not because he’s trying to make it in the NFL again. It’s because he wants to make it in baseball.  Yeah, you heard right.  The former Heisman Trophy winner, the former college football national champion, who couldn’t get the job done on Sundays is now all in for a different career.  He hasn’t played in a real baseball game since high school.  He’s hoping some team will give him a shot in the minors.  Most prospects and draft picks are 18, 19, maybe 23; Tim Tebow is 29.  Most ball players and scouts talk about the daily routine and grind. In the minors, that means buses, hotels, eating out, distance from family and friends. They talk about keeping your mechanics of a swing or a throw over the long hall.  If you want to be good you need to know how to handle these things.  Tim Tebow just picked up at bat and got serious this past May after 11 years off.  Most people think he’s in la-la-land. Some think he’s got a shot, but it’s a looooong shot.  It’s going to take unwavering determination and total dedication and devotion.  You could say it is going to really cost him if he wants to make it.

In this Warning series Jesus has been warning us of spiritual dangers.  These warnings help us and encourage us to be ready and alert in faith.  They help us the same way the long list of warnings are motivating Tim Tebow. Warning 1) His Word is not supposed to create a utopia here on earth.  His Word will cause some divisions and those divisions might hit close to home, but the truth will always set us free from sin and bring us the eternal peace and unity. Warning 2) The door to heaven is narrow.  There is only one way to heaven and his name is Jesus.  Believe it or leave it. Warning 3) Be humble in this life.  You can’t puff yourself up with pride because you have nothing to be proud about except Jesus.  His humility saved us so that is how we will be exalted on the Last Day.

Now today is the fourth warning and Jesus wants you to know the toll of discipleship.  Is it like Tim Tebow chasing a lofty dream?  Does it take unwavering determination and the highest effort?  Jesus wants to help us figure that out in this last warning in the series.

We hear that large crowds were following Jesus at this time. We’re still in this same timeframe of less than a year before makes his last entrance into Jerusalem.  And tons of people were interested in Jesus.  Many were following the great teacher and miracle worker.  Many others were intrigued by the popular and polarizing fanatic.  Some were following God’s Messiah, the Savior of the world.

Which category are you in?  Duh! Of course that third group!  I’d sure hope so.  Being in those first two groups doesn’t do much.  It would be like following a political candidate, an athlete, or some motivational religious speaker every day online.  What does that really do for your life, give you something to talk about when you’re out getting coffee?  Jesus wants us to know that following him like that is doing nothing for you.  It’s the same as if you weren’t following him at all.  He doesn’t want us in either one of those groups.

That’s why he turns to the crowds and says, “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.”  Wait a minute!  That doesn’t even sound Christian.  The Bible says love your enemies. How could a follower of Jesus do that?  Well, Jesus is using a hyperbole.  It’s a comparison to draw attention and prove his point that discipleship is not easy.  Jesus is telling us that nothing can compare to him.  The parents, who took care of you and nurtured you, the spouse, who is your supportive rock, the children, whose smiles, hugs, and laughter bring so much joy into your life… love Jesus more than all of them.  Jesus needs to be the first, the supreme, the most important – not just one day a week – every day of your life.

So, if your brother says, “I know God doesn’t approve of the way I live my life, but I’d like you to stop reminding me about it.”  The thought of not sharing God’s law and gospel with him makes your insides turn.  Your child says, “Daddy, Daddy, can I please play soccer. Pretty please.  My friends are playing and it’s going to be so much fun.”  But the league games are Sunday. The thought of sitting on the sidelines watching your kid on the soccer field rather than being in worship with your kid makes you nauseous.  Your spouse says, “I appreciate your willingness to serve and the gifts you are giving to church, but it’s getting a little bit much don’t you think?”  Your response as a disciple of Christ is, “I love you, dear.  I will do anything for you.  But if you ever ask me to choose between Jesus and you, you won’t like my answer.”  That’s how serious Jesus is.  “But my kids need me and my spouse is everything to me.  Jesus, you are right up there with them, but come on! It’s my family.  They are with me every day, all day.”  Jesus doesn’t say, “Well, ok.  You can be a second tier disciple.  You won’t be a Peter, James, or John, but you can still tag along.”  No!  He says, “If you don’t love me more – I’ll even say this very clearly with a metaphoric hyperbole, if you don’t hate them – you cannot be my disciple.  It’s my way or the highway.”

What group are you in?  Are you the follower of the miracle worker?  Jesus provides what you want sometimes and the rest is up to you.  Are you following Jesus like someone on Twitter or Facebook, like a political candidate or an athlete?  He’s popular and you want to know about him so that you can chat with your friends.  Or are you willing to put everyone in a lower position so that Jesus can be #1 all the time?

Discipleship is not easy.  It takes a toll.  The way Jesus sounds, it takes more to be his disciple than it does for Tim Tebow to make it as a baseball player. You need determination like you’ve never had before.  But Jesus isn’t done, yet.  He talks about how you think and feel towards others, but he also has something to say about how your life will be very personally affected. Can you handle this?   “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

And what is this cross?  Do we have to carry a huge chunk of wood around with us wherever we go?  Is a cross some form of punishment because we are sinful?  No.  Simply speaking a cross is something that brings pain and hardship into your life of faith.  Think of Joseph or Job from the Old Testament. Think Paul in the New.  These men weren’t being punished.  They were being trained and tested. This cross is never the same for every disciple.  It’s heavier for some.  It’s last longer for some.  But the purpose of our crosses is to get the focus off of me and directed to Jesus, the only Savior from pain and suffering.

Normally, a cross was for those who deserved death.  Criminals were forced to carry the cross that would kill them.  But Jesus says that his disciple will carry it willingly.  It’s not optional.  This cross of pain and hardship that each disciple has must be carried. If you are not willing, one of those other groups will not work and you can’t slide down a scale of discipleship that is a little less serious.  Jesus simply says you are not his disciple.

Some may go along with the relationship thing.  Yes, we love Jesus above our family.  But when Jesus says that a disciple must face pain and struggle, must make some huge sacrifices… then people start to leave.  Because you can look around and see plenty of people that are not struggling.  You can find plenty of friends and families that are healthier, happier, and more successful.  And that sounds a lot better than being crushed under a heavy load.

And Jesus isn’t done; there’s one more thing.  Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.  Whatever you have that gets in the way of following Jesus, wherever you look to find your worth, it has to be tossed aside, because it cannot compare to Jesus.

And this is not just a one-time thing.  Discipleship is never done.  For Tim Tebow, this newest journey won’t last, just like his college career ended and his NFL career ended, his baseball hopes will end.  But discipleship doesn’t have an end date during your life. Throughout this whole section Jesus is using the present tense.  That means whatever is current, right now in your life.  And that changes from year to year, even from day to day.  Before you had a spouse there was no need to lower that relationship beneath Jesus.  Before you had a career there was no need to put that in its proper place behind Jesus.  And so on.  Every day as a disciple is a day to put relationships in their proper place below Jesus.  Every day you have to take up the struggle.  Every day you have to give up whatever creeps up to take Jesus’ place.  It never ends.  You will never say, “I have carried my cross of sickness, sorrow, emotional pain, or persecutions and now I don’t have to do that anymore. I’m done with my cross.”  Jesus says if you are going to be his disciple, it never stops.  Every day there will be a toll.  Every day will be a battle.

Is it worth it?  That’s kind of the real question here.  Jesus uses two examples to explain that point.  A person wanting to build something great has to plan it out and consider all the costs and the sacrifices so that they can finish the project.  Someone who didn’t think it through and cannot finish the project is laughed at.  A king going to battle against another king considers if he can carry out his plan and come out victorious.  If he can then the battle ensues.  If he cannot he sends up the white flag and negotiates for peace.

A follower listening to Jesus say these kinds of things will inevitably ask, “Is it really worth it?”  I don’t know too many people who look over this section about discipleship and think to themselves, “Sounds great!  Sign me up!”  I mean this is tough.  This is not for the faint-hearted.  Discipleship with Jesus is not going to be easy, ever.  Who is up for this?

But there’s one final thing that jumps out of this section.  It’s not in the words, but you find it in the One speaking the words.  He’s known as Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.  Did you notice how every one of these things is exactly what Jesus has done?  In his earthly life he put his heavenly Father first all the time.  He carried his cross willingly.  He considered the high cost and still followed the plan to the T.  He left everything and everyone behind so that he would be the perfect Savior and substitute for us.

Just think, when he came down from heaven and was born in a barn, God was first.  As he submitted himself to his earthly parents, God was first.  When he was 12 in the temple, God was first.  As he began his ministry by being baptized by John, God was first.  Every day of his ministry carried out the will of God.  At one point Mary and his family showed up where Jesus was wanting to talk with him, but Jesus put God’s work first.  His love for God was always more than his love for his family.  That doesn’t mean he disowned his family or harbored ill will towards them at any time.

And then Jesus was willing to carry his cross.  He didn’t deserve that torture, but he carried it for us.  And when it came time to die, he didn’t back off but he went the whole way, even saying farewell to his earthly mother. Jesus didn’t let anything stop him.  He considered the high cost of your forgiveness. He saw the war with the devil, the world, and each of our sinful natures that only one could fight, and so Jesus went to war and won our victory.

Why did Jesus do it?  You were worth it to him. Jesus loved you and could not bear the thought of you flounder away thinking that your eternity, your salvation in heaven, was based on your discipleship.  It’s not.  Discipleship and salvation are two different things.  Never once in this section does Jesus say that discipleship will save you.  Discipleship can’t save you, because discipleship is all about your crosses and your sacrifices.  If your discipleship saved you then how would you ever know that you had done enough?  How would you ever know if the sacrifices you make would atone for all your sins?  You would go through this life with no peace and no joy.

But your salvation is no dependent on your crosses and your sacrifices.  Your salvation depends on Jesus’ cross and his sacrifice.  He does not let you down.  He didn’t skimp on anything for you.  He made every sacrifice.  He took the full weight of the cross.  He died for your sins and rose to prove that his work defeated all your enemies.  Jesus saves you.

No one can love you more than Christ Jesus. No one can love your spouse, your parents, and your kids more than Christ Jesus.  You know that’s true because as much as you care for them, you could never take away their sins.  You could never give them what Jesus has.

Jesus’ love, his willing sacrifice, is what changes the way we think of discipleship.  Instead of thinking that we have to make all sorts of unfair sacrifices in order to live with Jesus forever, we get to make these sacrifices so that we can understand his love for us more, so that we can have a deeper relationship with our eternal Savior, and so that we can love and serve those around us more.  We get to be disciples even though we could never live up to these requirements because Jesus met every one of them perfectly for us.

Doesn’t that make you want to live for him?  Doesn’t that make discipleship a joy and not a burden?  For Tim Tebow, his journey to the MLB is going to be grueling and it may not even pan out.  It’s going to take a heavy toll on his life.  It’s going to cost him.  And for what?  A few years of maybe making it to the big time and proving that he can hack it as a professional athlete.   But for him it’s worth it.  But you know, there’s something else about Tim Tebow.  He’s a follower of Jesus.  So, he understands that the biggest sacrifice was already made.  Jesus died for his sins….and yours and mine and the sins of the whole world.  He did that so you would never think that you have to earn his love by following him like this.  Jesus paid for you.  He washed you and purified you.  He made you God’s own child.  Now, he says, “Be my disciples.”  And no matter what the cost or the toll, it’s worth it for a Savior who loves you that much.

Amen.

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