The Cost of Following Jesus

Title: The Cost of Following Jesus


Text: Matthew 8:18-22

Time: October 5th, 2008

What does it really mean to follow Jesus Christ? There are millions of people on the planet earth who claim to follow Jesus Christ, but how many really do follow him? It is easy to profess faith in Christ, but it’s another thing to actually follow through on that profession and live like it. It’s one thing to sign-up for Christianity, it’s another thing to finish life as a Christian, a real Christian. In our world today, with Christianity having been established here for 2000 years, it’s easy to attach oneself to the church, but is that really what Christ calls us to do with our lives? Isn’t there something more to it than simply having our name on a church’s membership books? In some parts of the country, for example the South, practically everyone is a Christian, particularly a Baptist, yet it’s hard to know that from divorce rates found there and other signs of cultural decay among the population of that region. Where are the true followers of Jesus, where are the true disciples of Christ? Well, it’s obvious that not everyone who calls him or herself a Christian truly is a Christian, not everyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus really is a disciple of Christ. There is a difference between profession and conviction; there is a difference between a vague, general belief in God and a strong heart or soul trust in God. There is a difference between casual adherents to the Christian “religion” and a serious, committed faith in Jesus as Lord of one’s life. That’s the message Jesus was trying to communicate in the small section of scripture found in Matthew 8:18-22: “When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave order to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” In this section we see two statements by would-be disciples, and two responses by Jesus to them. And the responses by Jesus were not the typical evangelistic “sign-everybody-up” kind of recruitment approach taken today, but rather, oddly, almost discouragements from following. Now we know that Jesus would never ever turn anyone away who truly believed, but he wasn’t afraid of testing the apparent belief of potential followers to see if they really, truly believed or whether they were just momentarily moved to sign-up and affiliate with the Jesus movement. In other words, Jesus encouraged his followers to “count the cost” and not just rush ahead to follow without thinking it through. We would be wise to listen and learn from Jesus’ evangelistic and discipleship methods, especially today as the church is flooded with false converts and false disciples in our midst. If 1/3 to 1/2 of all Americans really were “born again,” how different our country would be. If all the people who claimed to be Christians in the U.S. truly were indeed Christians, how different our culture would be. Jesus didn’t encourage superficial faith and neither should we encourage it; yet that’s exactly what many churches do. Jesus in fact discouraged faith and discipleship among those who really didn’t believe or hadn’t repented and surrendered their own personal will to him whose will alone counts – God. Let’s turn now and examine Christ’s methods for evangelism and discipleship, and see what we can learn from him that might help us today in our efforts to carry on his ministry correctly.

First, we learn from Jesus that talk is cheap and profession of faith is easy. Matthew 8:18-19, “When Jesus saw the crowds around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’” What a great and encouraging start for a religious teacher to encounter a student who is so enthusiastic in his response. What pastor, teacher, evangelist, church leader, etc. wouldn’t love to have this kind of response every time to their message: “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Success at last! Finally, somebody responded, somebody listened, somebody acted. Isn’t that the goal of most Christian leaders – to lead someone to believe and take action? Well, apparently this man did because we have a description of what appears to be a genuine and sincere convert. The typical evangelical church would snatch this person up and probably announce this person’s name publicly the next Sunday as a new Christian, would probably baptize the person the very next Sunday, would probably admit the person to membership as well. Why? Because the person seemed to be saying all the right things, making the right profession of faith, making all the right spiritual moves or motions. In today’s language, such a person coming up front of the church at the end of the Sunday church service, might have said something like this: “Pastor, I really believe what you taught, I will follow such teachings with my whole life. I will listen and learn from you whatever you teach. Sign me up.” It’s almost an evangelists dream come true. The man obviously was moved to present himself for conversion or baptism or church membership. What modern church could resist such a perfect recruit? Now the man Jesus encountered, we know very little about him. It says he was a teacher of the law, which was typically not a good thing, because it was, you recall, the teachers of the law, the scribes, the Pharisees and the religious leaders who got Jesus killed on the cross. So this man was a member of the religious establishment that opposed Jesus. But here he is coming to Jesus and apparently wanting to follow. Was he faking it? Was he a spy for the opposition? Was he like the leaders John the Baptist encountered by the Jordan River: “But when he (John) saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance,’” Matthew 3:7-8. They were coming for baptism because that was the popular thing to do, but their hearts were not right. Is that what this man who Jesus encountered was doing, only in a different context? Most evangelists and church pastors would not be so cynical or assume the worst. They would simply take the man at his word and sign him up. But let’s see what Jesus does with the man.

Second, we learn from Jesus that people should “count the cost” before they sign up to follow. Matthew 8:20, “Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’” What was Jesus saying? He was saying to the man and to all would-be-disciples, “Not so fast. Do you really want to follow me? Have you considered the cost? Are you willing to pay the price?” Now wait, isn’t the gospel free? Isn’t faith a free gift from God, unearned, impossible to buy, pure grace? Yes, salvation is free, but it costs everything, because it costs us our lives, the surrender of our lives to Christ, the surrender of our own personal will for the will of God. The phrase “count the cost” comes from another teaching of Jesus found in Luke 14:28, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it,” NKJV. Further on in that same verse, we read this: “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple,” Luke14:33. I was once in the city of Denver, Colorado attending a church conference downtown, when I decided to attend a local church for Sunday worship. I walked into a large Methodist church near the conference location and began to listen to the sermon by the pastor. I was shocked to hear him say, “So we see Jesus really wasn’t very good at evangelism and wouldn’t have made a very good local church pastor because he made things too hard for followers. He actually discouraged people from following him and his demands were too high – like give up everything and following him, or count the cost, etc. All this shows that no church would want to hire Jesus as its pastor; he was too strict.” When I heard this pastor actually say these words, I was first shocked and disturbed. I couldn’t believe I was hearing this coming from a pastor in a church. But as I was leaving that church I began to reflect and came to the conclusion that the pastor’s words reflect more on the state of the modern church than on the qualifications of Christ to pastor the church. To the contemporary and modern church, yes indeed, Christ wouldn’t fit the ideal pastor profile. But that isn’t because there is anything wrong with Jesus Christ as pastor – after all, he’s called the good shepherd in the Bible – but it does point out a problem in the modern church. The church today, generally speaking, has departed so much from the true mission of God, that Jesus probably wouldn’t make a good pastor IN THAT KIND OF CHURCH. Today, churches have such low standards of spirituality and morality that they probably wouldn’t put up with the pastor like Jesus. Like the man said, he’s much too strict. He requires too much. In fact, the Jesus of the Bible requires all, everything of his disciples, something most Americans would object to and rebel against. That says more about Americans than about Jesus. Jesus was actually discouraging the man, slowing him down, getting him to count the cost. Only if the man still wanted to follow after having honestly counted the cost, would he be permitted to do so. We need more of that in churches today, and less fast-track recruitment.

Third, we learn from Jesus that there can be no excuses given in discipleship. Matthew 8:21, “Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’” Here is a man who seemingly has a legitimate excuse for not following Jesus immediately – he needs to attend a funeral, his own father’s. Who wouldn’t give someone time off to attend the funeral of his own father? Most companies have policies for allowing workers time off for funerals. Is Jesus being hard-nosed about this? Is Jesus unfair? No. It really isn’t about funerals and time off to bury one’s father. The issue was really, according to most Bible scholars, the man wanted to return home to his family, his father, his mother, etc. and work on the farm until his father died, and then come and follow Jesus. In other words, the man wanted to finish his family responsibilities first and then he’d come and join Jesus later, perhaps years later. He wanted permission from Jesus to put on hold his following after Jesus for this family situation. He wanted Jesus to excuse him from following him now. Isn’t that what we see from people all the time today? Everybody wants to be a Christian, everyone wants to follow Jesus – just not now. Teenagers want to be known as Christians, college students want to identify themselves as Christians, but they just don’t want to follow Jesus now, right now. They want to sow their wild oats, they want to have their fun, they want to break the rules and cross the boundaries with their friends, but they don’t want to cut all ties with the Christian faith. They want to put it on hold for a while, then after they are settled down, perhaps married with family, then reconnect with Christianity and the church. That’s what this man was saying to Jesus, “Lord, I want to follow you, but not right now because I’ve got these other things I want to do before I follow you.” And he felt he had a legitimate excuse for not following Jesus. We see that same attitude today. I’m reminded of the famous sinner’s prayer before sinning, “Lord, make me holy, but not right now.” People today typically want Jesus in their lives, but they want all kinds of other things in their lives as well, sinful things, disobedient things, and so they try to make excuses. What about you, what about me? Do we make excuses to God why we can’t follow his will today? Do you pray that God makes you more loving, but then make excuses when you treat people in an unloving way? If so, then you are doing the same thing as this man: Lord, I want to follow you, but I can’t right now, I’ve got this other thing to do, but I really do want to follow you, but not right now. You understand, don’t you Lord?” Notice also, the man put conditions on following Christ. “I’ll follow you Jesus, but . . .” For us today, it’s: “I’ll follow you Lord, but I want to first . . . make money . . . have fun . . . make a name for myself . . . do my own thing . . .” But will Jesus grant us any of our excuses?

Fourth, we learn from Jesus that true disciples follow with no excuses, no conditions. Matthew 8:22, “But Jesus told him, ‘follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” Tough talk from Jesus. Was the pastor of the Methodist church in Denver correct? Is Jesus really too tough? If the situation was only that the man wanted to return home to attend the funeral of his father, then we might think that Jesus was indeed too tough on the man. But the situation wasn’t a funeral, like I explained before; it was about putting off discipleship for other concerns. Jesus would have none of that. Jesus didn’t permit excuses, any excuses, from disciples in following after him. And so there can be no legitimate excuses in our own lives today for not following Jesus. We can’t use any excuse for not following Jesus. We can’t excuse ourselves for any reason in not follow after the Lord in life. We live in a society of victims. Everyone, it seems, is the way they are because of someone else; it’s someone else’s fault. “The devil made me do it,” as one comedian used to say. “My parents are to blame,” as many people claim today. “She drove me to drink,” as more than one alcoholic has pleaded. Yes, we can always find plenty of excuses for our actions, but Jesus won’t permit us to use any excuses for not following after him. If we want to be a Christian, if we want to follow Christ, then there is nothing that should stop us. One of the big problems today in the church is that we’ve made it so easy for people to join, the standards for following Jesus are so low, everyone says they are Christians, but few people actually follow the teachings of Christ. We need to slow things down in the recruitment process and ask people to count the cost – and explain to them that there is a cost. Yes, salvation is free, it can’t be earned, it’s a gift from God, but it requires all that we have, heart, mind, body and soul. We give up all personal rights and surrender everything to Christ – that’s what it means to say “Jesus is Lord.” Christianity isn’t just professing a belief in God or Jesus, it’s committing our heart to God, it’s repenting of sin, renouncing our own selfish way, and turning to God in humble trust and obedience. Our lives should begin to bear the fruit of obedience that comes from a true heart conversion. Jesus never taught easy-believism or easy discipleship. Jesus always taught things like, “And anyone who doesn’t carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple,” Luke 14:27. He didn’t raise the standards of discipleship to keep people out of his kingdom, but rather to test people’s hearts to see whether they were ready to enter the kingdom. We need to do more testing today in order to see whether people are ready to become Christians and not just assume everyone who comes and says, “Lord, Lord” is really a disciple. If we take the time to explain clearly and prepare people’s hearts beforehand, we’ll see more solid disciples and a stronger Christianity.


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