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The Cost of Discipleship


As many of us are aware, football season is now well underway. If you’ve ever played or even watch a football game, it doesn’t take long to learn that football, though it’s become safer in recent years, can still be, by all accounts, a very dangerous sport.

So much so in fact, that a major supplier of football helmets for the NFL (that’s the National Football League), issues the following warning label on all their helmets and on their website's homepage:

Saying, WARNING …. NO HELMET SYSTEM CAN PREVENT CONCUSSIONS OR ELIMINATE THE RISK OF SERIOUS HEAD OR NECK INJURIES WHILE PLAYING FOOTBALL ... Even more the warning label goes so far to say that "TO AVOID THESE RISKS, DO NOT ENGAGE IN THE SPORT OF FOOTBALL." All that written directly on the helmet required to play football itself.

Now, I’m certainly not helping my case in persuading Callie to let our boys play football some 10-12 years from now, so I kind of hope she’s not watching online this morning?

To be clear, I’m not bashing on football. There’s a reason that football is far and away the most popular sport in America and as someone who played high school football for a time, I know that the game of football comes with incredible joys and incredible thrills. And yet, and yet, it also comes with incredible risk.

And the same is true when it comes to following Jesus. Though it truly is good news, though it comes with overflowing joy, the Bible, and yes, Jesus himself, is unbelievably honest about the risks, about the cost of following Jesus and being his disciple. And before we put on our helmets and step out on to field, if you will, as we consider following Jesus all the more ourselves, we too need to count the cost. All of which is the focus of our scripture today.

This morning, we continue on in our sermon series in the Gospel of Luke, yes, we’ve been at it for 10 months now!, and today’s passage is a fitting complement to our story from last week.

Where last week we studied the Parable of the Great Banquet, where Jesus gave us a picture of what the Kingdom of God is like, where all are invited to attend this great party, and yet only some say yes to invitation.

And if you were to leave things there, you’d have a somewhat incomplete picture of what it means follow Jesus, as though following Jesus is just about an RSVP, showing up and saying yes to a great invitation. Yes, it’s that but it’s more than that. Here we get the second half of the equation, where following Jesus entails utter devotion and total obedience to him in every way.

And as Jesus shares the demands and requirements of following him, he invites us to count the cost, to consider it carefully, using the examples of building a tower or engaging in war. To build a tower, or any building for that matter is costly, it will require time and money and energy, you want to consider it carefully before beginning. To engage in war is dangerous, at risk are the lives of a king’s soldiers, you want to consider it carefully before beginning. To build a tower, to engage in war, to follow Jesus, these are weighty matters, decisions of great consequence that will demand much of us, and so we want to consider them carefully, to weigh both the risks and rewards.

All that said, let’s consider two of Jesus’s requirements for being his disciple and following him:

  1. He must be our most important and treasured relationship

  2. Carry our cross and follow Him

First, in order to be his disciple, Jesus must be for us our most important and treasured relationship.

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.

You can’t miss the incredibly strong language Jesus uses here. Jesus says we must hate, yes hate our own families – father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister. Otherwise, we cannot be his disciple.

Which is a bit confusing and surprising given other commands and verses in scripture. Paul tells husbands to love their wives, the Psalmist declares that children are a gift from the Lord, and yet, Jesus wants us to love our enemies and to hate our families? What in the world do we do with this tension and what might Jesus be trying to drive home here?

Well, almost certainly, Jesus is using a bit of hyperbole to make a crucial point. Where Jesus’s use of the word hate here might best understood as to “love less.”

We must love our families less than we love Jesus. We must love Jesus more than our families. Our first and foremost devotion and allegiance must be to Jesus, rather than our families. In other words, Jesus must be our most important and treasured relationship.

There have been points throughout Luke’s Gospel where Jesus has seen a person’s devotion and allegiance to their family keeps them from being all in in following Him. We even saw an example of this week, where one person couldn’t attend the banquet, his reasoning was, “I just got married, so I can’t come.”

Now, the idea here isn’t that we cannot or should not care for or love or please our families. We absolutely can and should. If fact, near the end of our message today, I’ll share a story about a husband whose love and sacrificial care for his ailing wife was rooted in a deeper love for Christ. Rather, the point is is that our love and devotion towards our families must be an extension of our obedience to Jesus, not at the expense of obedience to Jesus.

That is, Jesus must be our most important and treasured relationship. And so, consider for a moment how are devotion to our families, our desire to please our families can be at odds with faithfully following Jesus.

You might be pressured to take over the family business, to follow in your parents footsteps, to have the same profession as they did, and yet you sense that that’s not the best use of your God given gifts and talents and that Jesus is calling you to live out your faith in your work in a different way. There’s a tension there – will you please your family and not rock the boat or will you follow Jesus’s call for your life? Those two things aren’t always in opposition to each other, but yet they sometimes can be. Or maybe there’s the familial pressures to move closer to your extended family, and yet you sense that the Lord is calling you elsewhere. Once again, similar dynamics at play.

Or in addition, how about this example of where our love and devotion to family can push up against our ability to follow Jesus. Imagine this hypothetical scenario, imagine it’s after our Christmas Eve service, and you’re about to head home, open presents, the kids are all home, you have a great family dinner you’ve been looking forward to all year, and your spouse comes over to you and says, “Hey, so and so, doesn’t have plans tonight, can we invite them over for Christmas dinner?” Friends, is there not a small part of you that thinks to yourself, “No, no, no, no, this is our family time!”

There again we feel this tension. Maybe just maybe, faithfully following Jesus on that night, making him and not your family your most important and treasured relationship, is to say, “Yes, absolutely, we’d love to have so and so over. We’ve got plenty of food.” After all, on Christmas we celebrate Jesus’s birthday, and doesn’t the birthday boy or girl always get to call the shots on their birthday? Like, isn’t that just a rule that we all agree on? : )

Friends, Jesus want to be our most important and treasured relationship, yes, even over and above our very families. He must be our primary devotion, our greatest allegiance, not our families. Otherwise, we cannot be his disciples.

So friends, where is your commitment, your love, your allegiance to your families in fact at odds with your ability to faithfully follow Jesus?

Believe it or not, Jesus’s words here, hard as they might be to hear, are in fact, for our ultimate good. In the same way that playing football comes with not only risks, but rewards, so too it is with following Jesus. Because truth is, we will ultimately be better parents, better spouses, better siblings if we love Jesus more.

For example, I once heard the story about a single woman named Anna. who desperately wanted desperately to have a family someday. She eventually married and contrary to her doctors expectations, was able to have two healthy kids. You think it would be happily ever after after that, and yet, because she had placed all of her hopes and dreams on having a family and had staked all of her identity and self worth in being a mother, her kids were crushed under the weight of her expectations. Her overprotectiveness, fears and anxieties, and her need to control every detail of the children’s lives made her family miserable.

And so, do you see the problem? She loved Jesus too little and her kids too much in relation to Jesus. She made her kids her most important and treasured relationship and her kids were worse for it. And yet, if instead Jesus was indeed greatest treasure, if Jesus was the source of her identity and self worth, they she could simply love her kids for the gift that they are, rather than idolize them.

Friends, do you see how in this way the cost of discipleship, the costs of following Jesus are in fact, good news, good news for our own common good?

Truth is, parents, you will love your children better, if you love Christ more.

Grandparents, you will love you grandchildren better, if you love Christ more.

Spouses, you will love your spouse better, if you love Christ more.

Jesus must be our most important and treasured relationship.

That’s the first requirement for being Jesus’s disciple. Now here’s the second.

We must carry our cross and follow Him

Jesus says these very words exactly immediately after saying that we must hate our father and mother and so on, saying,

“And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Now, this is not the first time Jesus has said this. He’s in fact said this once before, which is as you might imagine, a foreshadowing of his own imminent crucifixion.

And yet, what exactly does it mean for us to carry our own cross in a world where we almost certainly not be literally crucified and martyred ourselves?

Here I think Pastor Greg Ogden’s insights are especially helpful. Where he says,

The phrase “to ‘carry your cross’ would evoke the picture of a criminal forced to carry a cross beam upon which he was to be publicly executed and a criminal picked up his cross only after receiving the death sentence. When a criminal carried his cross through the streets, for all practical purposes he was a dead man. His life has ended. A man on his way to public crucifixion “was compelled to abandon all earthly hopes and ambitions.”

Altogether Ogden says that, “Jesus calls his followers to think of ourselves as already dead, to bury all our earthly hopes and dreams, to bury the plans and agendas we make for ourselves.”

At first glance, that’s not the happiest or most comforting thought imaginable, and yet there’s good news in this too. When we submit ourselves to Jesus, when we let him lead, when we follow his plans for our lives, there’s real life and real joy on the other side.

I’m particularly moved by the story of Brett Harris. Brett, and his twin brother Alex, achieved a lot at a young age. They even published a book before turning 18. The book is titled Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. Encouraging their teenage readers to. Do more than what’s required. Get up early. Step out of your comfort zone. Find a cause. Be better than your culture expects. And do hard things they did. They practiced what they preached. Both going to law school, clerking for Supreme Court justices. Alex continued down this path and continues to have prolific career as an attorney. Brett, however, has been asked to walk a different path altogether.

Where Brett has spent most of his time caring for his ailing wife, Ana, who suffers from Lyme disease. Over the years they have moved multiple times searching for answers – including a long stint camping in the desert to detox from mold. Along with keeping track of doctors appointments and medical options, Brett cooked for her, bathed her, carried her up the stairs, and, during her sickest months, worked with her through the panic attacks induced by the bacterial infection in her brain.

It’s been a hard and painful road for Brett and Ana both. And Brett, knew he had to lay down and set aside for a season all of his career ambitions, all while watching his twin brother, Alex, continue to flourish.

Brett willingly acknowledges that This is not what I wanted my life, my marriage, to be like … I don’t want my wife to have to go through this … I didn’t want to go through this. And yet he says, “this is not an interruption of God’s plan for my life. This is his plan for my life, at least for a season.”

Friends, this is what it looks like to carry our cross. To bury all our earthly hopes and dreams, to bury the plans and agendas we make for ourselves. This is what it looks like to live in radical obedience and joyful submission to Jesus.

Maybe for you it will entail caring for an ailing spouse, a road that I know a number of you have faithfully traveled down before. Maybe it’ll look different altogether, but nevertheless, carry our cross we must.

And I’ll finish with this, Brett Harris says this about following Jesus under difficult circumstances, saying:

“Our willingness to obey God even when it’s hard magnifies the worth of Christ, because in our hard obedience we’re communicating to the world that Jesus is more valuable than comfort, than ease, than staying safe.”

Friends, I cannot say it any better than that, so, I’ll say it again.

“Our willingness to obey God even when it’s hard magnifies the worth of Christ, because in our hard obedience we’re communicating to the world that Jesus is more valuable than comfort, than ease, than staying safe.”

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