A Christian must be a disciple who pays the price to follow Jesus, but in order to follow Jesus, Christians must understand that Jesus is the Christ of God, what this truth means and requires, and why the cost of following Jesus is worth it.
Introduction – So I got to thinking. Is there anything in this world that is basically free, but will cost you everything? It’s a bit of a riddle. Lots of people receive gifts that come with financial strings attached. My kids want a dog, but please don’t give me one because I’ve got other things to spend my money on. But a pet won’t cost me everything. If someone gives you Redskins season tickets, the hidden costs of attending every game would probably be more than $1000. But a grand isn’t everything. The only thing that comes to mind that is free but will cost you everything is getting married. It seems to me that most guys who get married don’t really have any idea that a wife free, but she actually expects you to give her your life. That’s a pretty high price to pay! If only we knew what marriage really is! But seriously, I think one reason why the Bible likens marriage to the relationship between Christ and his Church is to highlight the cost of following Jesus. Most people have an opinion regarding who Jesus is. A prophet? A religious teacher? A miracle worker? A legend? Christians confess Jesus is Lord. But even those who know Jesus is Lord hesitate to follow him because it costs so much to be a disciple.
Background – Readers of Luke’s gospel know by chapter 9 that Jesus is presented as the Christ. God has revealed this to the Bethlehem shepherds (Lk 2:11), and to the old prophets Simeon and Anna (Lk 2:26-38). God the Father has testified at Jesus’ baptism of his beloved Son (Lk 3:21-22). Demons have blurted out that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, for all to hear (Lk 4:41). In this passage we hear from the disciples.
I. Who is Jesus?
A. Wrong answers from the crowds (vv. 18-19)
The world recognized that Jesus was special. Jesus excited people because it appeared he was a great prophet, like John the Baptist, or even Elijah (the greatest prophet of the Israelite kingdom period). Prophets were the greatest men God had chosen to send thus far. So the crowd’s answer is understandable to a certain degree. It was not an uneducated guess. Based on the OT, they expected Elijah to return prior to God’s final judgment to usher in the new age of the Spirit (Mal 3:1; 4:5). Jews also had an OT expectation that a prophet like Moses would come in the last days to usher in the kingdom of God (Dt 18:15).
At least the Jewish crowds, who didn’t know who Jesus really was, had an educated guess. How do people today answer the question: Who is Jesus? How do you answer? Youtube has a NYC Street Survey to this very question: Who is Jesus? Here are just a few of the answers:
1. “He seems like a Gandhi-type guy.”
2.” Some superpower. I don’t know, I believe in many.”
3. “Yes, there is definitely something special about Jesus: the same things that are special about me and you and, well, everybody.”
4. “Just a story made up by someone. Could have been probably a real person, something special, but not like the story says.”
5. “I don’t know. I don’t know Jesus very well.”
B. The correct answer from the disciples (vv. 20-21)
Those who knew Jesus best realized he must be more than a prophet. His power exceeds the greatest prophets, his teaching is of a totally different nature (not “Thus says the Lord,” but “Truly, truly I say to you”), and his life is incomparable in term of holiness since Jesus is without sin. Peter confesses that Jesus is not just another prophet on par with the rest. He is the Christ. Finally the Twelve believe! The words “Messiah” (Hebrew) and “Christ” (Greek) both mean “anointed one” or the “Lord’s anointed.” It implies one who is set apart for special service, particularly as a king. Jesus is not merely an anointed one like David or Elijah, but the Anointed One. All the hopes of Israel are bound up in Jesus. Jesus is the one who will bring salvation.
II. What does it mean that Jesus is “the Christ”?
A. For Jesus: the Christ must suffer, be rejected, be killed, and be raised (v. 22)
1. The Jews were looking for the Messiah to be a geo-political and military deliverer. The idea of a rejected and suffering Christ was unexpected. He will not triumph over the Roman occupiers. He will be rejected by his own people. They will betray and kill the Christ of God. Such a prediction must have smashed to pieces the disciples’ expectations for Jesus and themselves. And they were likely not encouraged by the cryptic saying, “and on the third day be raised” which they didn’t understand.
2. What are the many things that the Son of Man will suffer? He will be an atoning and saving sacrifice for God’s people. He will face opposition from people and from the spiritual forces of Satan, culminating in his arrest for political sedition and blasphemy. As an innocent man, he will be railroaded in several corrupt court trials and finally put to death by crucifixion. Yet all coming to pass according to the good purpose and plan of God, so that he might accomplish salvation by defeating death in his bodily resurrection. Note that Jesus must suffer these things. They are a theological necessity, hence his Heavenly Father answers “no” to Jesus’ prayer to permit the cup of God’s wrath to pass from him if it be his Father’s will (Lk 22:42).
B. For Disciples: there is a high price to pay in following Jesus (v. 23)
1. A Hard Saying: true disciples must practice the art of self-crucifixion. Often Christians soften this hard saying by interpreting our heavy burdens as the cross we bear. “My husband is a real piece of work, but I married him, and I guess this is my cross to bear.” “My mother is so overbearing, but I’ve got to grin and bear it—my cross that is.” “My job is so boring and unfulfilling, but hey, everyone has a cross to bear.” “My car keeps breaking down, so this must be my cross to bear.” You can fill in the blank. “I’m sick, I’m lonely, I’m afraid, I’m angry, I’m tired, I’m upset, and I’m still waiting for relief God! Oh well, this must be my cross to bear!”
This is not what Jesus means by dying to self. Jesus wants disciples to take all of these complaints common to the fallen human condition, some legitimate and others not so much, and compare them to the cross. Compare them to crucifixion. Compare them to Jesus, undeserving of suffering, yet willingly and lovingly embracing the cross of shame for the sake of loving God and neighbor. Jesus even wants us to compare crucifixion to the good things of this life, the things that identify us, the things that brings us happiness and fulfillment, that he may call us to give up to serve him (Phil 3:7-11). That is the Bible’s picture of death to self. That is the image disciples need to meditate on as our calling as followers of Christ.
This is the very first principle of Christian discipleship. How many pretenders, people who are attracted to Jesus’ benefits but not interested in following him into a hard life, would sneak out the back door of the church membership class if the first thing they heard about Jesus was that to find life, you must die to self? How many would opt out immediately if called to renounce selfish ambition, to die to an entire way of life?
2. What does it mean to “deny” oneself? To gladly trade control and authority over your own life for the lordship of Christ. This is a much more radical requirement than to deny things we prefer (asceticism). Jesus commands his disciples to deny not only certain things, but their very selves. Later Jesus described this self-denial as “hating one’s own life” (Lk 14:26). Jesus requires those who would follow him to reject their former life based on self-interest and self-fulfillment, and choose instead a life of willing, sacrificial obedience of Christ.
3. What does it mean to “take up your cross daily”? To completely deny yourself and pursue Jesus on the via dolorosa (way of suffering). It literally means to carry your own cross to the place where others will crucify you! Believers must faithfully endure “Christian” trials—those hardships we could (more or less) avoid/escape if we stopped following Jesus (Acts 14:22). We ought to daily crucify our self. It is an absolute necessity. Jesus commands it. We must not reason ourselves out of cross-bearing, as if we could practice self-denial for a time, then carry our cross for a season, then finally set it down to follow Jesus. No. Cross-bearing is not a rite of passage. It is a new way of life.
From Victor Kuligin’s book Ten Things I Wish Jesus Never Said.
(1) Crucify your material self. Materialism and consumerism are rampant sins, especially in this country. What do you own, acquire, or consume that makes it easier for you to call yourself a respectable person who just happens to be a Christian? What material things, if you gave them up explicitly for the sake of serving Christ, would cause your family and friends to gossip that you were becoming too religious? (1 Tim 6:17-19)
(2) Crucify your worldly self. The world is full of things that divert and distract our attention from God and eternity. Jobs, hobbies, family, friendship, and entertainment can all be good things. But they can easily become idols for us when we pursue them in sinful ways. What worldly pursuits do you need to bring under Christ’s lordship? What things tend to hinder your discipleship rather than help it? (Gal 6:14)
(3) Crucify your egotistical self. We as fallen humans are selfish. By nature we dignify, exalt, and glorify ourselves. We don’t need to learn to look out for “number one” because it comes naturally and seems right. But a disciple must esteem others higher than himself. Who do you consider undignified or “below” you? What kinds of people do you prefer not to associate with because if you are seen with them people might think less of you? Who do you need to exalt above yourself, and consider his or her needs before your own? (Gal 2:20a)
(4) Crucify your sexual self. C.S. Lewis observed that chastity is the most unpopular Christian virtue. We tend to hide sexual sin really well. When it’s secret, we lie to ourselves that we’re not really hurting anyone. But when it is exposed, sexual sin wreaks uncommon havoc. Pre-marital sex and adultery are always precipitated by sin that begins in the heart and migrates to the eyes. Today’s computer technology makes practicing chastity more difficult than ever. What are you allowing your eyes to look at? Where are you allowing your thoughts to wander and focus? What kinds of reading material are you tolerating? What relationship have you allowed to cross inappropriate limits? (Gal 5:24)
Thank God he provides for us the power to take up the cross by his Spirit. Otherwise discipleship would be impossible!
4. What does it mean to “follow” Jesus? To believe, revere and obey the teachings of Jesus, including those regarding his identity as Lord and God. To follow his lead as example. To join the company of his disciples who are also following Jesus.
5. So there are three requirements for disciples. (1) Self-denial in the use of your time, money, gifts, energy—indeed your whole life—for your own purposes. (2) Cross-bearing by embracing the shame and suffering of Jesus for his sake. (3) Jesus-following by choosing his path wherever he leads (even if to your death), instead of heading in your own direction. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the martyr who suffered at the hands of the Nazis during World War II for his faithfulness to the gospel, said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
III. Why pay the price to follow Jesus Christ?
A. If you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, then you will actually save it (v. 24)
This is a paradox. Jesus says that you will only find life by losing it! Everyone looks for life, blessing, happiness, contentment by seeking it. The method is always through maintaining control. But Jesus upends this conventional wisdom. To find true life, you must suffer and lose your life with no expectations for life in this life. True life comes on the other side of death. Francis of Assisi believed, “It is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
In a sense you must lose control, or better, you must give up trying to keep control of your life, and yield control to Jesus. Yes, it’s scary, but Jesus promises it’s the only way to save your life. If you won’t, whether you’re too proud or too afraid to lose your life, then either way you’re placing yourself on the throne of your life, to rule your little kingdom of self. Jesus promises that all kings and queens of little kingdoms will lose their lives, especially at the last judgment (cf. Lk 9:26; Jn 12:25).
Let’s think again about marriage. God didn’t invent this mysterious human institution to rob us of life, even though getting married entails you giving yourself to your spouse. A marriage that functions properly will be hard yet immensely fulfilling. Marriage is a picture of losing life to gain it again because it pictures a Christian’s marriage to Jesus. If you are a Christian (even if you are single), then you are married. In following Jesus you have “married him”. You have lost your life in him but your loss is really great gain. Believers who are living in the joy of the Lord know this by experience.
B. If you gain the whole world, then you will lose your only lasting treasure: your soul (v. 25)
Jesus makes this “wager” explicit. Those who wager to win the world will lose even when they win! Because to win the world is to seek after life in this world, to seek to save one’s life, to put down the cross and stop following Jesus on his way of suffering and self-denial. Such a “win” will gain the world but your soul. Jesus is saying that such a wager is a losing bet. In the kingdom of God, to lose in this world is to win in the next, and to win in this world is to lose in the next. Worldly life is eternal death. Worldly death is eternal life. Gaining all the world has to offer is infinitely less valuable than one’s eternal destiny in relation to God.
Imagine you are trapped in your home as it’s quickly going up in flames. The one thing on your mind is escape. As you search for a way out, you see all around the house your life’s treasure, mocking you as you seek to escape with your life. Your life’s treasure doesn’t look so appealing now, does it? Stay with your life’s treasure, protecting it, hoarding it, deriving self-worth from it, and you’ll certainly lose your life. Die to your treasure and run to Jesus to find the only life that really matters. Treasure Jesus above worldly treasure and you will save the only thing you have worth saving: your soul.
By the way, this is a cure for your fears. If this life is most important to you, then you will not do anything that will endanger your safety, health, or comfort. But if following Jesus into eternal life is most important to you, then you may find yourself in unsafe, unsanitary, disease-ridden, uncomfortable places. But you will not be overcome with fear, because you’ll have confidence that Jesus is leading you and eternal life is untouchable by such worldly dangers. You will know that Jesus will raise you to eternal life!
C. If you are ashamed of Humiliation Jesus, then Exaltation Jesus will be ashamed of you (v. 26)
1. Being ashamed of Jesus is another way of disowning Jesus and his gospel, with the opposite being to acknowledge Jesus. What would cause a person to be ashamed of Jesus? To a secular person, the idea of a god who would die was pathetic. Who would want to worship a god like that? To a religious person, the idea of a messiah who would give himself up to be arrested and killed was ludicrous. Who would want to put their hopes in a messiah like that? To both secular and religious, Jesus seems to be a loser and worthy of shame. But Jesus’ resurrection glory puts his rejection, suffering, and death in perspective. He will rise again and come in glory on the last day. He will be exalted above all. His lowly shame will be transformed into highest honor.
2. It is currently en vogue in our culture to respect the teachings of Jesus, but to deny Jesus as the only Savior and Lord. Jesus will have none of this. If you are ashamed of his identity, then you will experience his shame on the last day. Jesus understood that this “hard saying” of discipleship would stir up feelings of shame—even in Christians.
Most people who consider themselves Christians on the right track would not describe themselves as “ashamed” of Jesus. But Jesus thought it was important to warn his twelve most committed disciples of being ashamed of him. Are you ashamed of Jesus? What are some litmus tests to determine if you’ve got some Jesus-shame to confront in your life? (1) Are you afraid to let people know you love God’s doctrines, God’s people, God’s Son Jesus? (2) Are you afraid to let people see that you are a committed Christian, someone they might consider a little overboard, more than a little religious? These are evidence of your heart’s still-remaining unbelief, because it shows you care more for the praise of men (who are seen) than the praise of God (who is unseen). It is proof that in the moment when Christ calls you to bear your cross, you instead choose to lay it down.
So he graciously warns us. Jesus is saying that we need to have an eternal perspective, to take the long view, to value what is valuable in the end.
D. If you pay the price, then God may bless you with a glimpse of glory even in this life (v. 27)
Jesus will suffer in order to be glorified. Glimpses of God’s kingdom encourage us that suffering, cross-bearing, and death are worth the sacrifice. God prepares disciples for the hard life of following Jesus by showing us glimpses of his glory. The disciples will not have to wait for another messiah to bring deliverance and salvation. The kingdom of God has finally arrived in Jesus, and it will soon come in power!
Conclusion – Some of you may be ashamed as you consider the price you haven’t paid for being a disciple of Jesus. The world says you ought never to be ashamed of yourself. But Jesus confronts you head-on with your shame, and then he gently performs heart surgery, removing the shame rooted in fear of what others might think of you. How? By taking your shame upon himself. Jesus’ cross was a shameful way to die. Jesus died fully experiencing the shame of rejection, the shame of being labeled a criminal, the shame of mockery, the shame of devoting his life to a lost cause, the shame of punishment for sin—from his enemies and even God his Father. He was our substitute. The cross is the antidote to our shame. When you consider the great love of Jesus on the cross, it will stir in you an indescribable gratitude, a deep and lasting sense of indebtedness for the one who died to release you from the fear of men and the fear of losing yourself. The price Jesus paid to forgive your sin and cover your shame will move you to deny yourself, love him more, and give you courage to take up your cross daily and follow him, even when the fear encroaches upon your heart.
A Zimbabwean pastor (who remains anonymous) penned these words as a personal discipleship manifesto, as a vow to serve Jesus Christ as Lord. “I am a disciple of the Messiah. I will not let up, look back or slow down. My past is redeemed, my future is secure. I am done with low living, small planning, smooth knees, mundane talking, chincy giving, and dwarfed goals. I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised or rewarded. My face is set; my goal is sure. My road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few. My God is reliable, my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, delayed or deluded. I will not flinch in the face of adversity, not negotiate at the table of the enemy or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I am a disciple of the Messiah. I must go until He comes, speak of all I know of Him and work until He stops me. And when He comes for His own, by the grace of God, He will have no problem recognizing me, because my colors are clear.” I pray we may be able, by God’s grace, to pay this price to follow Jesus.