25Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, 26If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it– 29lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. 33So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. NKJV
Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in Germany during the regime of Hitler. Bonhoeffer was part of the resistance to the Gestapo, and though he lived in America for a short time and could have avoided persecution, he chose to go back to Germany. He went to encourage others in Germany, especially the church, to refuse to crumble before the despot government ruling the country that he loved. Eventually Bonhoeffer, along with other members of his family, were arrested and placed in concentration camps. While in Tegel Prison Bonhoeffer was a source of encouragement to many other prisoners. Even the guards took a liking to him and they often smuggled out his writings and poems. Eventually, Bonhoeffer was executed at the Flossenburg Concentration Camp on April 9th, 1945, just a few days before it was liberated by the Allies. At about the same time Bonhoeffer’s brother Klaus and his sisters’ husbands were executed in the concentration camp at Sa-ches-en-hausen.
I told you all of this to let you know that the man who wrote the book The Cost of Discipleship was writing out of experience. In the introduction of this book, Bonhoeffer writes: “And if we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer this question we shall have to go to him, for only he knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy.”
Discipleship, however, also means a total commitment to follow Christ and not to let anything, not even our own lives, stand in the way of finishing our course. As Bonhoeffer says, discipleship is to, “abandon attachments to the world” and to “surrender ourselves to Christ and union with His death.”
Bonhoeffer didn’t just write about this, but he lived and died the truths he believed. He understood the cost of discipleship, he counted those costs, and still he chose to follow Jesus rather than capitulate to the popular political agenda of the time.
We live in a time of, as Bonhoeffer called it, “cheap grace”, and easy believism. We live in a time where Christianity is more identified with health and wealth, than it is by sacrifice and service. But, “when Christ calls a man,” says Bonhoeffer, “he bids him come and die.”
As I have noted throughout this series on discipleship, Jesus didn’t come to earth to simply get a large following. With the kind of miracles He was performing the crowds were often large—numbering in the thousands, if not tens of thousands. At times the people were so eager to see and to touch Him that He and His disciples were sometimes in peril of being crushed.
But when the crowds came clamoring to Him for bread and fish, or for healing and deliverance, when they were ready to put Him on the throne of Israel, Jesus would turn and confront them with what it really means to be His disciple. In our text, we have one of those encounters and we need to consider His words carefully. We need to understand the cost of discipleship. We need to consider the cost, not to decide whether or not to follow Him, because we should all follow Him. But we need to consider the cost so that we know that while grace is free it ain’t cheap, and while the invitation to follow Him is given to all who “labor and are heavy burdened,” still we must be prepared for the radical nature of this call—a call that says we must be willing to abandon the whole world, to count it all but waste and refuse that we may gain Christ.
Look at your text with me:
I) THE CHALLENGE
25 Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, 26 If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.
The large crowds were following Him, so He turned to challenge them to go a little deeper in their commitment. He said that in order to follow Him, we must place our devotion and our love for Him so far ahead of every other earthy tie that in comparison it is as though we hate our father, mother, spouse, children, brothers and sisters, and even our own life.
Jesus wanted these Jewish believers to understand that by following Him they must be willing to face the rejection and scorn of family members who will not embrace Jesus as the Messiah.
Some folks will only follow Jesus as long as they have someone else to get them out of bed in the morning. Some folks can only follow Jesus as long as others in the family are coming to church. But I am inspired by the wife whose husband does not go to church and who often belittles her for her faith. Yet, still she comes and worships and serves the church. I am inspired by the teenager whose parents never set a foot in the church, and still they get up early on Sunday morning when everyone else in the family is still sleeping and they come to church to worship the Lord.
In Maine there was a woman and her four-year-old boy that Sun and I gave a ride to church every Sunday. Her husband hated the Pentecostal church and would not attend with her. Finally he kicked her and their son out of the house in the dead of a Maine winter. That next Sunday she called us from the women’s shelter and asked us to pick her up and bring her to church. This is the kind of commitment that Jesus is looking for in a disciple. A commitment that will not allow any other relationship to hold us back or keep us from following Him.
Following Him, however, will inevitably make marriages stronger when both are willing to follow. Following Jesus makes us better friends, better spouses, better parents and better children. But before we can experience the lift that we gain from our radical attachment to Christ, we have to learn to let go. We can never be His disciples as long we allow other attachments to hold us back. That’s why the Apostle Paul said:
13Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14, KJV).
Some folks who have followed Christ for years still have not let go. They are still clinging to other things that they place ahead of Christ. As long as everything is going well, they aren’t even aware that they have placed other things, or other people ahead of their relationship with Christ. But then when one of those relationships goes awry, when a spouse leaves, or a child dies, or parent passes away they will blame God and will forsake the Lord. Discipleship, however, is a refusal to forsake Christ even if everyone else in the world forsakes us. “Though none go with me, still I will follow!”
II) THE CROSS
27And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
Not only must we be committed to follow Jesus, even in the face of rejection by those we love the most, we must be willing to follow Him even if it calls for sacrifice, even the sacrifice of our own life.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer lost his freedom; still he followed Jesus. His own brothers and brother-in-laws were placed in prison, still he followed Jesus. In time it cost him his life and the life of his family members, but Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote the book on the Cost of Discipleship was a man who had been willing to pay that cost.
Jim Elliot had a passion to take the gospel of Christ to the Auca Indians of South American. He and a missionary pilot flew deep into the jungles and landed the plane near a river. Their reception, however, was violent and the Aucas who were also cannibalistic in their culture killed the two men.
Later investigation showed that there was a gun in the plane, but it had never been fired. Jim and the pilot had come to save lives, not to take lives and so at the young age of 29 years old, Jim laid down his life in martyrdom, leaving behind a wife and daughter.
Some would say that such loss of life was a waste. But not long before embarking on this journey, Jim Elliot wrote in his journal, “He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim and the pilot’s blood became the seeds of more missionary efforts that eventually won over the Auca tribe. Later, Elizabeth Elliot, Jim widow, would baptize in the river where her husband was killed, the man who fired the fatal arrow.
Scott Wesley Brown, a musician missionary inspired by the life and death of Jim Elliot, wrote a song entitled, “He Is No Fool.” Brown writes:
For he is no fool
Who gives what he cannot keep
To gain what he cannot lose
Yes, he is no fool
Who lays his own life down
I must make this the path I choose
Jesus said we must be willing to take up our cross every day and follow Him. The cross is a symbol of death; taking up our cross, therefore, means that we are willing to die for Christ, if need be, rather than live for self. If we are willing to lose our life in Christ, then we have found life. But when we cling to our life, our rights, our wants, our wishes, our desires and our ambitions and place them all before our commitment to Christ, then we may gain all these things and yet lose our life. And what has a man profited if he gains the whole world, and yet loses his life? (Matt. 16:26)
III) COUNTING THE COST AND CALCULATING THE RETURN
Next Jesus uses two parables to illustrate the point. The first is of a man who started to build a tower, but did not have enough money to finish it. As a result the people in the community will mock him. Before he began to build, the man should have counted the cost, he should have been prepared to meet the financial obligation. The question isn’t whether or not he should have built a tower, the issue is to be prepared before beginning.
28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it– 29lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
The second parable is of a king who was going to war against another king. But he did not take enough men with him to win the victory. Instead of winning a battle he will have to surrender and ask what the price of peace will be. Perhaps he had a right to go to war, but before beginning the campaign, the king should have been prepared, he should have been able to finish what he was starting.
31Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.
Jesus is not telling us that the cost of discipleship is too great. Nor is He implying that we should not endeavor to become His disciples. But what Jesus wants are men and women who have counted the cost and who are committed to Jesus regardless of the cost, and who will not stop in the middle of the stream and go back.
Discipleship is not for the faint of heart. Discipleship is not for the lukewarm. Discipleship is not for the fence-straddlers.
Discipleship is for the committed, for the consecrated and dedicated. Discipleship is for those willing to put their hand to the plow and not look back. Discipleship is not for a day, or for a week, or a year. Discipleship is for the rest of our lives.
Jesus tells us to count the cost, and then, having understood what it means to be a disciple, to be willing to follow Him regardless of what we have to let go of and leave behind. He said in verse 33, “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”
Of the remaining eleven apostles, after Judas committed suicide, ten gave their lives in martyrdom. Only John lived into old age, dying (tradition says) in his 90’s. But even he suffered intense persecution for his testimony. The Apostle Paul was beheaded in Rome. And Fox’s book of martyrs gives us page after page of men and women, teens and children who laid down their lives as disciples of Christ.
We read, more recently of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Jim Elliot. And even thousands of other disciples in Muslim countries, whose names we may never know, but names that are honored in heaven, men and women along with their families who live in peril for their very lives every day simply for following Christ. Almost daily in these countries Christians are dying because they have chosen to follow Jesus. They have counted the cost, and yet chose to be disciples of Christ.
Have you made that decision? Are you a disciple of Christ? Have you released your hold on your live so that you can hold on to Jesus with both hands? We cannot hold on to the world with one hand and on to Jesus with the other. We cannot serve two masters, for we will love one and hate the other.
Jesus said to count the cost, not to deter us, but when we consider what it will cost us not to be His disciple, then the only reasonable choice, the only logical choice is to let go of all that is temporal and decaying to grasp that which is eternal.
Some of you haven’t let go of some things in your life and these things are holding you back from going all the way with Jesus. You’re coming to church going through the motions, but you haven’t let go and therefore you are not fully committed, you are not fully invested in Christ. You may be able to get along for awhile like that, but somewhere along the way, what you’ve got will not be enough to get you through, and like the man with the unfinished tower, your testimony will become a source of ridicule to the people watching your life. It’s time for some of you to let go, so you can hold on. It’s time for some to forsake some things so that you can completely commit to Christ.