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Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you have a Bible that has headings over sections of the text (or if you look at the Gospel reading in the bulletin), you’ll see that the heading over this passage is often “the cost of discipleship.” What will it cost you to be a disciple of Jesus?
Jesus asks, which of you would start building a building without first sitting down to see if you have enough to finish it? If someone laid a foundation and couldn’t finish, they would be mocked. Or if one king was going to war against another king, it would be foolish to do so until he knows whether his 10,000 soldiers can defeat the other king’s 20,000 soldiers. If not, he better go make peace before the other king gets there.
There’s the cost of building a building and there’s the cost of going to war. But what about the cost of being a disciple? Jesus says three things. To the large crowds following Him, He turns and says, If anyone comes after Me, and does not hate his father and mother, sister and brother, wife and children—even his own life—he is not able to be My disciple. Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after Me, he is not able to be My disciple. Whoever does not renounce his claim on everything he has is not able to be My disciple. Three things which amount to everything. Being a disciple of Jesus will cost you everything.
Does Jesus really mean you have to hate your family, a family that He gave you? Certainly not in the sense of “I hate zucchini.” This goes back to the parable that Jesus has just told. He talked about “a certain man” who invited a bunch of people to a feast and they all had reasons or excuses for why they couldn’t come. One bought a field. One bought oxen. One got married. And as we said, none of those things are evil. Whatever we have, God has given—which makes it all the worse when we put those gifts of God into the place of God. When it comes down to a choice between anything or anyone and Jesus, and we choose that thing or person instead of Jesus, then it or they have become evil idols. Everything that is not Jesus will eventually have to give way to Jesus. That’s the cost. The fact is, in the end, we will give up everything and everyone, even our own lives. There isn’t anyone or anything whom we can take through death. So have you calculated the cost?
But what is Jesus trying to get us to do here? Is He saying that, before we become Christians, we need to sit down and see if we have what it takes to finish the Christian life? It seems reasonable, like when we’re building buildings or going to war. Because when people calculate the cost of a building, they’re almost always on target, right? Especially when the government builds something, the cost is never beyond what they’ve calculated, is it? And when nations go to war against each other, the cost is always what they say it’s going to be, right? It never lasts longer than they say it’s going to last, and it never costs more than they say it’s going to cost, and it never claims more lives than they say it’s going to claim.
Because we don’t know. We can’t see what’s going to happen. We all know that there are unintended consequences to every action, contingencies we haven’t considered, events outside our control or beyond what we can see. You and I do not know what it’s going to cost us to be Christians. We can’t see the future or know what’s going to happen. We don’t know if we’re going to live our lives in relative comfort. We don’t know if persecution is going to come and we’re going to be threatened with loss of property, income, or life because we bear the name of Christ. We don’t know any of that.
Consider your life and the choices you’ve made. Life is a series of choices, and some of them narrow down our range of choices. There are things that you might have chosen earlier in life, but that you can’t choose now. But you didn’t know at the time what those choices would mean, any more than you could know what it would mean to be a Christian at this point in history. The only thing we know is that eventually the cost of a life is one life. Everything we have is exactly what is going to be taken from us on the day we die. There’s no way around it.
There’s only one person in the history of the world who considered the cost of life in this world, who saw what it would mean, and who accomplished what He set out to accomplish; who finished what He started. When the Son of God went forth to war, He knew that by Himself He would be able to conquer sin, death, and hell. When He began to build, He laid the foundation on the prophets and apostles, Himself the chief cornerstone, and He made you living stones within that House. He calculated the cost of the salvation of the world—of your salvation—and the cost was one life, God and Man. He knew that it would mean being humbled to the point of death, even death on a cross. And He finished what He started.
We can’t see what’s ahead. We don’t know what following Christ will cost us. But we don’t have to go looking for crosses. They will come to each one of us as surely as we’re with Christ. Because that’s what it looks like for Jesus in this world: the cross. What we don’t know is what that cross will look like, or what we will renounce.
But we do know this: here and now, today, Jesus knows. And He gives us exactly what we need for today, and for tomorrow’s today, and for all the todays after that. The cost of being in Christ is our life, with everything we call “ours.” And if we try to hold on to it, to them, to those things instead of Jesus, we will most certainly lose everything. But He has put before us death and life. Clinging to our life is death. But He is our life and length of days. Christ is your life. And today He again feeds you that life, eternal in His own body and blood. The one who counted the cost and paid it in full, who finished what He started, and accomplished what He set out to do—from the other side of the resurrection, He gives us that life even as we die under the weight of our crosses. That, too, He has calculated, and He has enough for you and for all His disciples. His cross will lead to resurrection for all those who are His. And all our uncertainties and unknowns will be dissolved in this certainty: whatever this life costs us, His life will repay, now and forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/6/19