In reading Luke’s version of the Gospel, you always have to be aware on which side of chapter 9 verse 51 you are. Are you before or after? It is a line of demarcation, a turning point. Jesus had just appeared before three of His disciples in transfigured glory on the mountain, and then it says: “When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” He never took His eyes off Jerusalem after that. The cross was His goal, and He was compelled to get there.
You must hear today’s Gospel with that same frame of mind. This is Jesus heading to Jerusalem to die. The memo hadn’t quite circulated yet. The crowds were still big, pressing in on Jesus for a favor. They were looking for celebrity Jesus. Popular Jesus. The kind of Jesus we all want. Fun Jesus. The Jesus who gives us what we want and when we want it. Healing? You’ve got it! Endless bread and fish? No problem! Raise your child from the dead? Easy as waking her up! 180 gallons of wine for a wedding party? Just fill those jugs with water and dole it out. Now there’s a Jesus worth following!
Jesus turns to the crowd. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciples.” OK, so that’s not so fun. Wait a minute! Hate? I thought Jesus was pro-family. What’s with this “hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters?” That doesn’t sound like the gentle, focus on the family Jesus I know. Hate your own life? I thought we were supposed to love our lives. Take care of number one.
“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Let’s see, how many crosses do we have out here today? Anyone in the crowd bring a cross with them? I’ll bet they didn’t. Make no mistake. Crosses aren’t the pesky little problems one encounters in life like ingrown toenails or a car that won’t start or the fact that your rug doesn’t match the upholstery on your couch. Crosses kill. They are instruments of suffering and death. To take up your cross is to take up your death. You can’t follow Jesus without a cross. His way is the way of death and resurrection. It stands to reason that if you can’t die, you can’t rise, and if you can’t rise, well, you’re kind of stuck in your unredeemable mess. That’s the problem with the angels. They can’t die. So if you want to follow Jesus in the way He’s going, then you need to pick up that cross of yours, and go the way of death and resurrection with Him. Suddenly, this business of being a disciple doesn’t sound like so much fun anymore, does it? It sounds dangerous, deadly even. Remember, His face is set to Jerusalem. Jesus has His cross front and center in His gaze. That’s where you need to be looking.
Count the cost. Do the accounting. Run the spreadsheet. We do it all the time. You set out to build something, and you get bids and work out the costs to make sure there’s enough money available, otherwise you’ll pour a foundation, run out of funds, and your slab of concrete will stand as a monument to your shortsighted stupidity. We’ve all seen it. The ambitious building project that never got done. The house that stands for years partially completed. I recall a huge house that we passed by every day in St. Louis. It was an enormous structure, a mansion in the making. Then one day the work stopped, the workmen left. And the house just sat there for years. What happened, we wondered. Well, divorce happened, for one thing. Bankruptcy. Business failure. They’d bitten off more than they could chew. And now the half-built house just sat there as a silent witness. Count the cost.
When a king goes to battle, he counts the cost of war. Can he afford it? Can his ten thousand troops match his enemy’s twenty thousand? And if they can’t, he sends the peace delegation in to negotiate terms. We should have done that ten years ago in the Middle East. And we’re talking about doing it again. Count the cost. War is expensive. Can we afford another conflict?
Many of our decisions are economic more than anything else. Can we afford it? Will it break the bank? Is there enough money? We make important choices in our lives by counting the cost. And we’re shortsighted fools if we don’t.
Now count the cost of being a disciple of Jesus. What will it cost you to follow Him? Your life. Not just your money or your fame or reputation or whatever. Your life. Everything. All that you have. To follow Jesus on His road to Jerusalem to die and rise is literally going to cost you everything you hold dear. Can you afford it? Are you willing to pay that price? You say you want to follow Jesus and be His disciple? Are you willing to pay the cost of discipleship?
When you ask people to join the church, they usually worry about how much it’s going to cost them. “I’m not going to have to give ten percent or anything like that, am I?” “You’re not going to want me to volunteer for stuff, are you?” “I’m not going to have to go to a lot of meetings, am I?” “Do I have to go to church every week for 90 minutes?”
No, following Jesus is going to cost you a lot more than 10 percent of your income or 90 minutes out of your Sunday brunch time. It’ll cost you everything. Your whole life. And unless you literally hate anything that competes and gets in the way, whether parent, child, work, friends, food, drinks, soccer, baseball, football, you name it, if you try to bring anything along but your cross, you are not worthy to follow Jesus.
Truth be told, if you ran the cost of following Jesus, you wouldn’t. If that great crowd that was following Jesus around like a rock star took stock as to where He was going and what He was about to do, they would have turned on their heels and run for the hills. If you counted the cost, you would never come to Baptism, never trust in Christ, never decide to follow Jesus. No one would.
And that, my friends, is why God doesn’t make salvation a choice. No one would choose the way of salvation. It’s simply too costly. If salvation were left to us to decide, if following Jesus were a choice we were given to make, no one would do it. We don’t take up our crosses willingly. We don’t willingly set our face to Jerusalem as Jesus did. We go kicking and screaming. We see death, and we run the other way as fast as we can. The doctor says, “You have six months to live,” and we panic and run to any quack cure that promises hope. If we counted the cost of discipleship, we’d take a U-turn on the road to Jerusalem as fast as we could.
That’s why God doesn’t make salvation a choice. It might sound that way in our OT reading. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” It sounds like a choice, doesn’t it? Choose between death and life. But there’s no neutral position between death and life, evil and good. It’s one or the other. If you’re dead, you’re in no position to choose life. And if you’re alive, the only choice you have is death. But you have no choice where you start.
Israel belonged to the Lord. He was their God, they were His people. They didn’t choose Him; He chose them. And being His chosen people, the only “choice” they had was not to be His chosen people. Just as Adam and Eve could not choose life. They were alive. They could only choose death, which they did. Or in the book of Joshua, when Joshua says to the people, “Choose this day whom you will serve,” the only choice they have is which idol they will serve if they don’t serve the God who has chosen them.
This is why Jesus calls coming to faith a “rebirth”, being reborn from above, becoming a “new creation.” Why, Baptism is a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Did anyone ask you if you wanted to be born? Seriously, would anyone want to be born if they counted the cost leaving the womb? Not a chance!
This is why Jesus has to go the way of the cross alone. There is not an old Adam alive who would be willing to take up his cross and follow. Even Simon of Cyrene had to be forced to carry Jesus’ cross. We won’t do that. The cost is too great.
Jesus bears the cost of discipleship. That’s the good news hidden in today’s Gospel. Jesus bears the cost. He lays down His life to save the world. He becomes the world’s Sin. He dies our Death. He did not count equality with God something to be held like a treasure but emptied His grasp of all that He had to go to His own death on a cross. Jesus counted the cost of being the world’s Savior. Jesus counted the cost of rescuing you from your Sin and Death. And it was worth every drop of His holy, precious blood to save you. He gave up everything that was His – His honor, glory, dominion, power, His entire life – and for the joy of your salvation, He set His face to Jerusalem to die. He took up His cross to save you.
He didn’t ask you to choose Him. He chose you. He baptized you. He called you by His Spirit. He put you on the path of life before you even so much as twitched. You were dead and God made you alive in Christ. You were dead and God rebirthed you by water and Spirit. You were captive to Sin and Death, and God made you free in Christ. Before you believed, before you were born, before you ever were, Christ was your Savior and Lord and Redeemer. You didn’t choose Him; He chose you. Even if you came to faith as an adult and sought out Baptism, you still didn’t choose Him. He chose you. He laid His cross on you, not to kill you, but to bring you life.
You didn’t choose to be here this morning. I know it may have felt that way, but you didn’t choose to be here. Had you not been here, THAT would have been YOUR choice. You are here because God chose you in Christ and He determined that you would be here. You have been called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ. You are here because God chose for you to be here to receive the gifts of salvation that Christ has won for you.
Salt can’t make itself “salty”. Either it’s salty or it isn’t. The believer can’t make himself believe. The disciple can’t make himself follow. It’s all by grace, gift, free, gratis in Jesus. And that’s not “cheap grace,” my friends, that’s free grace. Free to you; costly to Jesus.
So count the cost of discipleship and thank Jesus for paying it when He set His face to Jerusalem.
In the name of Jesus,