How would you respond to someone who says, ‘Christianity is simply a crutch for the weak?’ I think it’s a ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
‘Yes, I agree with you that Christianity is a crutch for the weak. It is forgiveness for the guilty; it is wholeness for the broken; it is hope for the despairing; it is purpose for the aimless; it is life for the dead; and, it is acceptance for the alienated. But then the Bible says that the whole world is guilty, broken, hopeless, lacking purpose, spiritually dead, and needing to be restored to God. The difference between people is not that some are weak and others are not. It is rather that some accept their spiritual need, while others are too proud or ignorant to acknowledge it.’
On the other hand we might reply: ‘No, Christianity is not a crutch for the weak. It is a life of challenge. Which is easier: to be one of the crowd or to put up your hand and say “I belong to Christ”? Is it easy to tell a world that they stand condemned before God and that their only hope is Jesus? Wouldn’t it be simpler to live for status and possessions, rather than seeking to please God in the everyday of life? Isn’t it hard to be labelled a “fundamentalist” when you explain that Jesus says that he is the only way to God? Christianity is not simply a crutch for the weak, for many look at the cost of following Christ and walk away because they believe that he asks too much of them.’
Maybe you grew up in a home where it was easy to drift into Christian faith, but you have never considered what is involved in following Jesus as an adult. Maybe you come along to church because you like the sense of community, but you are now beginning to think about what it means to be a Christian. Maybe you were passionate about your faith years ago, but your faith has become stagnant and lukewarm. This morning I am asking you to count the cost of a full blooded relationship with Christ.
This morning’s passage begins by telling us that large crowds were travelling with Jesus but he knew that many had a merely superficial interest in him. Perhaps they hoped that he would be a political messiah who would restore their nation’s fortunes. They wanted him on their terms to fulfil their agenda. So he challenges them to think about the cost of being one of his people. That's a cost all of us must consider!
We are to love Jesus more than we love everyone else (26)
Jesus’ first challenge sounds shocking. “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.” What are we to make of these words?
Well he is using a Hebrew way of speaking that compares two things by contrasting them. In other words he is saying, ‘your love for me is to be so real that by comparison it makes your love for your family merely look like hatred.’ In Matthew the same principle is put like this: ‘anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ (Matthew 10:37).
Incidentally the more we love Jesus the better we will love people. People who make it their first priority to love Christ find that his love makes them more gentle, kind and patient. His love overflows through them. The irony is that if you want to love people more you should make it you goal to love Christ more than them.
But sometimes loving Christ first brings pain to our relationships. Like the young adult who feels the call to overseas missions and goes despite the fact that her parents would rather she stayed at home. Like the family who have less money at home because loving Jesus involves being honest with their tax return. Like every Christian teen who knows those times when loving Christ first means they can't always run with the crowd. In many countries becoming a Christian results in rejection from family and friends. Even in Ireland you may find that some of your friends can't tolerate it when you are true to your faith.
Be ambitious in love (27)
If you saw someone in first-century Palestine, being escorted by Roman soldiers, with the beam of a cross over their shoulders you would have no doubts about what was taking place. That person is going to their death. Crucifixion was a humiliating way to die. The crowd where stunned when they heard Jesus' next challenge. 'And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.' The German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book ‘The Cost of Discipleship’, “When Christ calls a person he bids him or her, die”.
Sometimes we see someone with an illness or a difficult relationship and exclaim, ‘well, that is the cross they have to bear.’ This is not how Jesus uses the term. Our cross is not something that we have to put up with because of the circumstances of life. Our cross is what we take up because we follow Christ. It is the self-denial that Jesus commands from each of his people. Self-denial is hard because our world tends to centre on self. Jesus confronts our selfishness, self-absorbtion, self-centredness, self-importance, self-righteousness, self-exaltation, self-promotion, and self-gratification.
Taking up our cross is an affront to our selfish-ambitions. Ambition is not necessarily wrong—it is simply the desire to succeed. But these ambitions should be shaped by the pleasure we find in Christ. Our ambition should be to enjoy him more. The more we enjoy him the more we will live for his glory. Augustine had a point when he declared, in the fourth century, "Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is beloved.' Be ambitious in love!
Count the cost (28-33)
Then Jesus tells the crowd two parables. A farmer things about building a tower and a king things about going to war. Both do the maths. Both sit down first and count the cost. In the same way we are to count the cost. We have to ask ourselves whether life in Christ is worth everything to us. Are you willing to count everything as nothing so that you can enter the exhilaration of full-blooded discipleship?
If you want to blend in with the crowd then Jesus isn’t for you. If you don’t want to move outside your comfort zone then stay away from Christ. If you would rather not have a cause to die for then don’t listen to the gospel. Many set out with good intentions but don't understand the life to which Jesus calls us. They got the maths wrong. They did not realise it would be difficult. Their passion fades. They end up with the lukewarm-ness that Jesus despises.
The test of whether we are taking these words seriously will be seen in the day to day of our life. The Christian writer Oswald Chambers wrote that ‘drudgery is the touchstone of Christian character’. He explained, ‘It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God; but we have not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things, to be holy in the mean streets, among mean people, and this is not learned in five minutes.’
This passage is not simply about heading off to be a missionary amongst some unreached tribe. This is about how we live with our family. This is about how we approach our work. This is about how we use our money. This is about how we deal with discouragement. This is about how we relate to people who have let us down. This is about how we treat people in this church.
Conclusion: The cost of saying ‘no’!
When Jesus invites us to follow him he bids us to come and die. I wonder if many of that crowd turned around and went home after Christ spoke these words. Do you think the cost of following of Jesus is too high? What about the cost of not following Jesus?
In Christ alone is forgiveness of sin—do we want to hold on to our guilt? In Christ alone is the way to the Father—do we want to remain apart from the one who invites us to know him as ‘Abba’? In Christ alone is fullness of life—don’t we want a purpose worth dying for? In Christ alone is the promise of the new heaven and new earth—do we want to spend eternity separated from his goodness and love?
Be clear that accepting the grace, mercy, love and life of God is worth more than anything else in life. Be clear that the one who calls us can keep us faithful to the end. Be clear that it is only in full-blooded relationship with him we will find our peace and joy!
“When Christ calls a person he bids him or her, die.” But it is only as we embrace this death that we truly live.