Our readings from the Gospel of Luke for the past few weeks have provoked some fantastic discussions. Each week, whether in Bible studies or office visits, there have been any number of questions posed about what Jesus has been teaching His disciples and us. Most of the questions center around “Do you think He was serious when He said this?”
To take us back over our readings leading up to this week, Jesus has been asked to wait for a variety of reasons by prospective disciples or He has simply been denied. “Teacher, let me follow you,” are the essentials of the first man. To him, Jesus responds that He has no place to lay His head. “Do you want such a life?” The second man wants to follow Jesus, but he needs to bury his father. Jesus, seemingly heartless, says “Let the dead bury the dead.” As we talked, it is not that burying the dead is bad—indeed, Scripture commands us to bury our dead. It is simply a question of priorities. God has walked among them. Their first allegiance should be to love the Lord with everything and above all else. The third man asks to say goodbye to his family. And Jesus tells us that anyone who looks back is not fit for the Kingdom or its work. Again, what is so bad about saying goodbye? Nothing. But compared to the opportunity to follow God, nothing else should matter. This week, Jesus teaches the crowd that if we do not hate members of our own family and do not give up everything we own, we cannot follow Him. No doubt many of us found this teaching as hard as those who walked with and followed Jesus. Some could not get past the command to hate; others could not imagine giving up everything. And do we really need to carry an instrument of death and suffering around? Certainly, Jesus needs to meet with some public relations firms to get a better message out because nobody is gonna buy what He is selling: you might be homeless, leave your dead behind, do not take time even to say goodbye, hate your family, carry an instrument of death and suffering, and come, follow Me. What in the world was He thinking?
Far better than we ever seem to grasp, Jesus understood that a decision to follow Him involved a tremendous shift in one’s world focus and it involves a tremendous cost. At least He gives us fair warning. Before we meet Him, each one of us is the focus of us. What is good for me? What can I do for me? What I need is . . . What I want is . . .. After we encounter Him, however, His Will, His heart, His mercy becomes the focus of our lives. What is He calling me to do? Whom is He asking me to service? How can I bring honor and glory to Him?--Questions such as these ought to become our focus. And when questions such as these are not at the front of our lives, we are more like all those who rejected Jesus than those who chose to follow Him. Think I am exaggerating?
Consider the Apostles. They left behind the family business (dropped their nets) to follow them. We know Peter had a mother-in-law, but he sure spent more time away from family than with. How many times do they grumble that they have given away everything to follow Him only to have that sacrifice acknowledged and to have Him reaffirm His promises about their rewards? And when given the opportunity to leave, they respond “Where else can we go? You have the words of life.”
The truth is we like to remake Jesus in our image and fashion Him after ourselves. We like to think that He a buddy or hippie or some other such approachable figure with whom we would not mind hanging out. He’s probably a fan of our favorite sports teams, He would likely be proud of the company for whom we work, He probably drinks our favorite cocktail, He probably laughs at our jokes, and He would pat us on the back for going out of our way to be nice to other people. He probably even understands when we sleep in or play golf or just lay around instead of coming to be fed by Him and to worship Him. We do this to avoid the uncomfortable truths with which He confronts us. We need a Savior. We cannot “fix it” ourselves. All our lives are indebted to Him. And He loves us far more than we could ever love ourselves or one another. Add to that His holiness, righteousness, mercy and other characteristics which He reveals to us, and we have a problem.
His solution to our problem is unheard of! Quite frankly, as Paul reminds us, it was simply unimaginable that He would die for us to restore us to Him. Follow Me, and I will lead you in safety to My Father’s kingdom. You cannot serve two masters. You cannot live in two worlds. We are, in poker terms, either folding or all in. Either way, there is a cost. Reject Him, and you come up to short to pay it. Accept Him, and your life is changed forever, but it is also redeemed.
Does He mean what He says? Of course. There is a terrible price to pay when following Him. How many of our Apostles were martyred for their faith? How many in the early Church? How many today are persecuted for their faith, passed over for promotions, not invited to certain gatherings, excluded from specific cliques or clubs, and generally teased for being a “Jesus freak” or “religious nut?” And though we may be tempted to blend in, to mute our voices, or even to remake His teaching by saying “this is what He really meant" in order to make His words more palatable, you and I are called to proclaim to the world a God centered life, a life which glorifies and honors Him for the work and person of His Son, a life which calls us to dies to ourselves and to live solely and entirely in Him and through His grace. Is it easy? No, but then He told us it would be very costly, and He took the greatest cost upon Himself.