The Cost of Discipleship


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The situation in out text is large crowds are traveling with Jesus. Jesus is popular. This must have pleased the disciples who were prone to focusing on numbers. Now's the time to be positive. Now's the time to speak of the joys, the rewards, the thrill of being a disciple. But what does Jesus do? He speaks about the cost of discipleship and tells them 3 times, "You can't be My disciple." Many thought they could pay the cost of discipleship, but they were wrong because the cost of discipleship is hidden. These first century hicks didn't know about hidden costs. We do, don't we? The actual cost of your mutual fund investments, your life insurance, even your mortgage is hidden sometimes under mountains of paperwork.

We know the actual cost of things is frequently hidden, so Jesus telling us to pause and calculate the cost of being a follower doesn't surprise us. But even we don't know the actual cost of discipleship. No, that cost is hidden behind the words about hating others, carrying a cross, an renouncing possessions. If you think the real cost of following Jesus is hating your parents, then join a cult. The Way International uses these words about hating parents as proof that a teen should act hateful towards their parents to join their cult. If you think the real cost is carrying a cross, then join that guy dragging a cross behind him on the highway. If you think the real cost of discipleship is renouncing your possessions, then join the Catholic church, become a monk or nun, and take the vow of poverty they are required to.

The real cost of discipleship is hidden even in this text. But what is not hidden is the fact that you can't pay it yourself. This is a rather awkward way to say it, but it reflects the Greek text. A key word in this text is the word "yourself." It stands out pointedly in the Greek. If you translate "his own life," "his own cross" and "his own possessions," you get the general idea. The real cost of discipleship has to do with dealing with yourself, you, the things of you. And that tells me that I can never pay the real, actual, total cost of being a follower of Jesus.

The truth of the matter is that I have done real well at hating my father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, but I've never, ever hated literally, "the soul, the life, the self" of me. It's never been a problem for me to say I hate you to anyone else. That's natural to me. But to hate myself? I'm like Narcissus in Greek Mythology who is cursed so he can't take his eyes off of his own reflection in a pool of water. Or if you prefer 70's music I'm the guy in the Carly Simon song who was so vain that when he walked into a room he had one eye in the mirror so he could watch himself gavotte. If I really hated myself, I would be glad when bad things happened to me, when people insulted me, when my plans fail. But I'm not. I moan and groan when anything about me, myself, or I suffers or is frustrated, so much do I love me.

It's the same with cross carrying. I can carry every cross except the one that my self must be nailed to, suffer, and die on. I've carried the cross of sickness, but refused to crucify my own view of my sickness. I've carried the cross of grief, but rejected the comfort the Lord offered me because me, myself, and I were doing fine without Him. I've carried the cross of difficult people, but absolutely refused the idea that I might be partially to blame. No, that would mean me, myself and I going to the cross, and this I cannot bear. I will not bear. That's how far I am from being able to pay the real cost of discipleship.

I can and I have rejected many possessions, but I have never renounced the things that possess me. Jesus literally calls upon us "to renounce all the things of yourself." You, yourself, that's the problem. That's the cost of discipleship. You can follow Jesus if you give up the self. If you turn and say to the self what Peter said of Jesus, "I know not the Man." If you can feel towards yourself like you feel towards your most hated enemy, then come on; you can follow Jesus. If you can be glad to watch yourself suffer and die, ridiculed and rejected on a cross, then come on; you can be a disciple. If you can renounce all the things of yourself, the opinions you hold so dear, the ideas you prize, and your ways that you take pride in, then come on; you can pay the actual cost of discipleship.

And boy how I've tried. I've tried to build the tower of the Christian life before: one to trust in, rely in, find safety in. What Jesus requires is right here in the text and brick by brick I've set out to build the kind of life Jesus would claim only to fail. Time and again I've tried only to fail. Each time I promised to do better only to fail again and feel that much more guilty for breaking yet another promise.

And I've seen the enemy approaching. I've seen sin, death and the devil from afar. They advance on my position with lust, disease, and fears. I see them coming a long way out, and I've tried to meet them. I've been determined to deal with lust by not doing it; determined to deal with death by taking better care of myself; determine to deal with fears by not being afraid. I thought I could meet the unholy three, but I was wrong. I've been overrun every time.

Dear friends, the real cost of discipleship is not payable by me, myself, or I or by you or yourself. The real costs can only be paid by Jesus. As the word "yourself" is a key Law word in this text, Jesus saying, "Come to Me," and "Come after Me" is a key Gospel word. Jesus Himself is the tower of the Lord. Jesus is none other than Jehovah, come to earth in flesh and blood. Psalm 18 says, "Jehovah is my strong tower." Psalm 144 says, "Jehovah is my high Tower and my Deliverer." And Proverbs 18 says, "The name of Jehovah is a strong tower. The righteous run into it and are safe." Stop trying to build your own tower. Stop thinking you could ever do such a big, eternal thing. Jesus is your tower. There is shelter from the endless accusing of the Law in Him. There is shelter from the wrath of God against sin in Him.

Dear friends, Christ is also your king who rode into battle to meet the forces of sin, death and the devil closing in on you. And yes, Christ rode out asking "for terms of peace." What? Christ will make peace with sin, death and the devil? Yes. This phrase "terms of peace" is found another time in Luke's Gospel. After Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, not many days after our text, He looks over Jerusalem and weeps for her saying, "If you had known in this day the terms of peace."

Do you know the terms of peace? The terms of us being at peace, having peace, living in peace was nothing less than Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. He rode out to face sin, death and the devil and to sue for peace on our behalf. But how could this be done? Our sins were ever multiplying under the Law and crying for the righteous judgement of God against sins and sinners. Death had a legal, divine claim on us because we are sinners. God Himself had promised, "The soul that sins shall die." A promise is a promise; God had to keep that promise or God would be exposed as a liar. And spurring on sin and death, demanding their "rights" was no less than the devil who can quote God's Words back to Him faster than any Bible-believing Christian.

Jesus, Jehovah in flesh and blood, to win our peace, placed Himself under all the commands and obligations of the Law, and He made Himself responsible for the sins of the world by taking them on Himself. Though He was the holy God and had no reason to hate Himself, He did in your place. He declared He was the least in the kingdom of God though He was the best. He declared Himself a worm and no man though He was a Man who is God. Rather than shunning the cross on which He Himself would die, Jesus bore that cross, which was really ours, all the way to Calvary where He spread out His arms and died embracing the sins of all the world. Jehovah in flesh and blood had all, deserved all, but He renounced all to claim you and I humbling Himself even to the point of death on a cross.

Dear friends, gaze upon the cross and see what it cost for you to be a disciple, for you to be at peace with God, with others, and even with yourself. It took God the Son living a holy life in flesh and blood under the laws of God you can't keep. It took God in flesh and blood going to the cross and suffering the full and total punishment you the sinner deserves. There on the cross is your tower where neither the Law nor your sins can accuse. There on the cross is your King who rode out to face sin, death and the devil and won peace for you by sacrificing Himself in your place.

The cost of being a disciple has been paid in full; the terms of peace have been paid in full. Quit following Jesus halfheartedly as if you still need to add something, as if something still needs to be done. Not only is it wrong to think of discipleship as something you can pay for, it's just as wrong to think of it as something you can do. No, Jesus "makes disciples" by baptizing and teaching, that is, by forgiving and guiding them. By the waters of Baptism Jesus gave you forgiveness and a new life that wants to follow Him. In Absolution the Lord Jesus by His Word spoken into your ears sends away all the sins of yours that get in the way of being a disciple. And when communing with the Body and Blood of Jesus, Jesus says to you personally not, "You can be my disciple," but, "You are my disciple." And He should know since He paid the full cost of discipleship. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Pentecost XVI (September 16, 2004), Luke 14: 25-33