This month we have tackled some of my favorite parables that Jesus tells. The Good Samaritan is a beautiful story about this guy who should not in any sort of way been a hero becoming one. It’s about God doing away with the way that we put people into categories and showing us that his categories and expectations are way different than what we think or our own. The Good Samaritan doesn’t just call us to love the people we hate and to help when we see in need but it beckons us to lay down our lives for the sake of doing what is right and not just what is comfortable. The Laborers in the Vineyard is my favourite parable at this point in my life. Again it is setup to completely destroy our systems of fairness and entitlement and show us whose game we are actually playing. When we think we deserve more, this parable reminds us that we deserve as much as the least. When we think we deserve less the parable reminds us that we will be rewarded with as much as those who worked hundred time harder. It reminds us that truly the first will be last and the last will be first and not because God will miraculously come in and the end and start cheating the rules, but because that is actually how life works.
I love these parables because it takes the load of my shoulders to perform or prove my worth as a Christian or human in anyway, but just allows me to bask in grace of Christ. But these parables also do something else; more specifically the first one this month on the two builders and the one today about counting the cost, they are little kicks in the butt reminding us about the reality of how the world works. God’s grace is so powerful that it enables us to see the destruction ahead of time and choose to go the other way. But as these parables remind us, God’s grace isn’t downloadable via our good works rather through humble following of who Jesus is.
Grace is a funny thing. While it is absolutely free and there is nothing we can do to earn it, so many of us can’t seem to grasp it. We are so bent on proving to ourselves or others or God that we somehow deserve the grace that we have that we are unable to see that grace can only come through death, not our feeble attempts at showing off our great lives. Because to receive grace actually means to die, many of us have not experienced, in many parts of our lives, the grace of God. We are way to prideful and are way to stuck in our ways of comparing and bookkeeping to allow God’s grace to transform our life. This is the same frustration that Jesus had as more and more people started following him. Let me explain.
Here was the problem. Everyone was expecting a Messiah; every single Jew out there. They expected this Messiah to come and bring salvation to the Jews. So Jesus enters onto the scene and slowly starts winning people over. He starts doing miracles, fulfilling prophecies, opposing culture and doing everything that everyone thought a Messiah should do. Jesus was a bit reluctant at first warning people to go and tell no one about what he just did; we just think he’s trying to be humble. Then the feeding of the five thousand happens (the only miracle reported by all 4 gospels), the entire miracle was so underplayed and people probably barely knew until the end what actually happened. What does Jesus do as soon as people start finding out? He takes off because he knew that these people wanted to make him King and do it by force. Now this is interesting because after this point in his life, the miracles slow down a lot. Just a few here and there. Here is what I think what happened.
Jesus hates crowds and he hates big numbers because he knows that it isn’t that easy. He’s staring at this massive group of five thousand people and he gives them all a quick bite to eat and then all of sudden they want to make him King. Jesus knows that he is going to become king, but he also knows that for his kingdom and his kingship to last it takes a little bit more than marching into a castle with an army, or even having a vote and doing it democratically. He knows that isn’t the kind of kingdom he is talking about. The kind of kingdom he is talking about only comes by through death, the ultimate cost of this little thing we call our life. Jesus takes this to the bank through the gospels and eventually dies on the cross as an ultimate example of what this kingdom looks like. He knew that these crowds were not willing to die. They were just excited about salvation and all the great things that they had coming for them. Jesus knew different. He wasn’t there preaching an easy message, or an easy way out but one where it you had to give absolutely everything that you’ve ever hold dear up for the sake of it. A gospel with that kind of message isn’t spread through force or voting but through love, service and ultimately death.
Now before we jump into it first, let’s just open up the floor for some personal examples. The umbrella of mercy is up and so is the umbrella of humility. Which means everything you say won’t be considered as bragging but simply helping me make my point for later in the message.
So let’s give some personal examples/stories here of the things you have had to give up, or what it has cost you thus far in your life to follow Jesus.
This parable starts with that sort of understanding. In Luke and Matthew it says that “large crowds were traveling with Jesus.” We already know that Jesus isn’t much of an extrovert and we know that he doesn’t seem to agree with the majority that wants to force his kingship. Now I will preface this that we need to understand here that Jesus did not have a BA in Marketing, and he obviously was not convinced in a seeker sensitive type message to gather more and more numbers. His attitude to crowds always seemed to be the same, get me out of here. So let’s read how Luke puts it.
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
This story is sort of told in a three step wam wam wam pattern. Look you could build a tower and you’ll get made fun of if you don’t complete it and that would be stupid. Or you could jump into a battle and not realize your going to lose and you’ll die along with thousands other men, and that would be extremely idiotic. But God help you if you jump into being my disciple and not realize the cost that this involves. This is worse than dying because you are alive while you are dying. You have to choose to die every single day over and over and willingly carry your own cross. At least in war you go down fighting, but here you go down like a wimp cause you do so willingly.
There are other passages in Matthew 8 and 10 along these lines saying very similar things. See what I mean by Jesus not having very much marketing experience? Everyone knows you don’t put all the negatives up front and advertise those if you want the sale. You wouldn’t buy a cell phone from a company that advertised having the most expensive plans, ridiculous roaming charges and 20 year contracts would you? You want to know the truth, and you want to know why you should jump on board something, not all the reasons why you should stay away. But Jesus jumps right into the heavy stuff. He says look. “Unless your willing to hate your family and yourself then this isn’t going to work out. Unless your willing to completely die, then you should try the religion down the road. I’m warning you here, don’t jump into this thinking that it’s an easy ride and this idea of salvation that you’ve worked yourself up about is all its cracked up to me. You have to let go of everything else to get this one. Everything else. I don’t just want a few hours on a sunday morning, or 10% of your income or even a bible study here and there, I want you all.” So there it is, the secret is out. Nice work Jesus way to drive these crowds away. And he says, absolutely, that’s exactly what needed to happen. Salvation cannot come by crowds demanding salvation or forcefully demanding their rights. Salvation comes through the act of dying and picking up your own cross.
Luke hints to this by putting the parable of the banquet feast right before this story, the primary obstacles to discipleship is family and possesions. This is a point that the gospel writers keep pulling out of Jesus’ stories to remind us over and over again that it is impossible to serve and love both. You have to pick one or the other. Luke brings it up again in Chapter 9 where a few guys who want to follow Jesus have to go say goodbye to their family first and Jesus just looks at them and says you don’t get it, that’s not how this works. You don’t have to worry about those kind of trivial things anymore, they will take care of themselves. I am giving you an open invitation here but it comes with some obvious demands that if you can’t hack then see ya later. We all have brilliant excuses don’t we? Gotta go to school first, gotta provide for my family, have to have enough stuff saved up, have to raise my kids, have to etc etc etc. See Jesus jumps right to the most precious stuff and says look, if you can’t give that up, then don’t bother. I want it all.
Through it all there is an implicit call to committed discipleship. Whoever would be a disciple should know that discipleship involved ways of thinking and acting that do not come easily. There are times when a person must set other things aside in order to focus on what is most important. Or one must enlist what one has (time, energy, skills and financial means) for the sake of living out a life of commitment to Jesus and his gospel. Either way, discipleship is costly. There is no such thing as easy discipleship. It involved an either/or in terms of one’s primary commitment. A third possibility is excluded.”
Now I think where we struggle with this a little bit is in these stories. Especially reading them now. See we are already in the middle of this thing. It’s not like we are just sitting down now to see if this Christian thing is all its cracked up to be, but we have been doing this for years. Most of us here grew up already building our tower without really sitting down and evaluating the cost. So what ends up happening is we just go with the flow. A few dollars here a few hours there and make sure we’ve done our part to make sure we’re good people. But Jesus is talking to people who were all traveling with Jesus. They were walking around with him and bunking up with him day and night. Can you imagine what this crowd would have looked like? Parades, rejoicing, everyone excited yelling at everyone else that they pass by to come on and join because this train is heading to salvation land. If you get on board here then you can come with us to heaven. But Jesus looks back over his shoulder and just doesn’t understand the excitement? What are they actually thinking? Are they not listening to me at all? So he says “let’s put a stop to this party for a second (we’ll be talking about the parties next month) and let me fill you in on a little bit of bad news. This train is heading to the most beautiful kingdom the world has ever seen. The problem is we first have to pass through death on a cross and then ridicule, oh ya and put aside any ridiculous ideas you have of me sitting on some physical throne and stomping on your enemies heads. So if you still want to come through all that, then let’s go. Woo hoo…party on, i’m so excited” and then he keeps on walking whistling to himself thinking “that will show them.” Finally maybe they are starting to make sense of what I’m actually saying here. Probably not though, the crowds never seen to understand the severity of the situation.
This is the message that Jesus is telling us right now. I don’t find it a mistake that we are covering this little parable right now at the early stages of development of theStory. He is looking at us all right in the face and saying “look, I know you’ve been with me this far kind of tailing along throwing some cash in my back pocket here and there but listen. If this is really for you, if you really are serious about this kingdom stuff and you really want to be my disciple well then you better take up your cross and learn to die. I’m really not interested in starting up yet another church in a city of too many churches full of people who are all trying to stay alive. Don’t start building into this tower right now if you don’t have what it takes because honestly you are wasting my time.” Sounds harsh doesn’t it?
“As the parable is read, it poses a challenge to the hearer and reader to consider whether discipleship is a real possibility. Discipleship is costly. Just as one might not have the financial wherewithal to finish a building project, it is possible that one does not have what it takes to be a disciple. And just as something done halfway can be ridiculous, being halfway or halfhearted disciple can be preposterous.”
There is this strange paradox that he calls us into, but unless we are willing to embrace it then we can’t actually be a follower of Jesus, because well….we’re not following him, cause that’s where he’s going. No sense in lying to ourselves that we are following him by only giving bits and pieces; we aren’t even close to him. Jesus is dying and losing. Are we? You see Jesus isn’t saying this to get rid of people because he doesn’t want them on board. He’s saying it so he has people on board that know what they’ve got themselves into. It’s informative not a threat. You would do the same thing. You have this news that if only you would die to yourselves, serve others and follow God then you can enter into the Kingdom of God then your ranks start to fill up with all these half-hearted punks who want nothing more than great teaching, good childcare and flowers when they are sick. No wonder Jesus was trying to get them out of there, they didn’t have a clue what was going on, they were hoping to be served instead of serve.
“The issue facing his heareres (and Luke’s readers) is not one of risk management, or even being willing to forsake “house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God.” Rather losing all appears to be unavoidable in any case. The only question is whether one will lose all as a follower of Jesus and for the sake of God’s reign, or as one who refuses to follow and obey.”
Here is the deal. theStory cannot be a church like most. theStory has to be a church where everyone participates all the time and everyone is constantly trying to become disciples at the best of their ability. There isn’t room for disciples in the kingdom that just want to participate a little bit. It’s all or nothing. This is why I’m especially not fond of Christians “checking us out” all the time. I don’t want to be just another church in the catalogue that has our own unique style. I want this to be a church where we are all committed and we recognize the cost of following Jesus. I want this to be a church where together we know what this is going to take and that is what we are going for. I don’t want to be a church where the pastors are Christian enough for everyone and get paid for it. I want to be a church where we are all disciples and not just a few “spiritual” ones in the corner. Snodgrass puts it this way.
“The church implicitly or explicitly has often tried to establish two levels of Christianity, one for the really committed and one for those more engaged with other aspects of life. This “practical” idea has no basis. One is either a follower of Christ or one is not.”
“Sit down and reckon whether you can afford to follow me, and in the second story he says sit down and reckon whether you can afford to refuse my demands”
So after getting an idea of what Jesus is talking about. What are some of the practival ways that we should be dying to ourselves but aren’t?
Following him or refusing to follow him will cost one’s all, there is no middle ground. Either way you are going to lose everything. The real question is do you want to lose everything while following him or do you want to lose everything by yourself? That is your decision. That is your cost. A few chapters later is the story of the rich young ruler and it is sort of the sad ending to Jesus’ constant reminder to everyone what this really cost. I think the story of the rich young ruler in luke 18 is maybe not so much a story about a fool as much as it is about someone who finally understands what Jesus is talking about. Remember the conversation started with Jesus telling him what to do and him saying he’s done it all. Really Jesus wasn’t so concerned if this guy was obeying him and all his laws or not. What he is concerned about is if he can die. Jesus can only raise dead people. So Jesus just cuts straight to the point, and says that ok just sell everything and let’s do this. Then the rich man walks away because he finally realizes what this is about. This isn’t about following a list of rules, this is about dying, and he just didn’t want to die.
A few more chapters later, Jesus is tired and he just finished heckling with the Pharisees and Saducees and telling them off and doing what Jesus does best with his Ninja arguments. Then he sits down and looks over at the temple and sees all these people bringing large bags of money and giving it to God. Then he looks again and sees this poor women throw in a couple of pennies and says that this women has given more than all of these other people combined. Again, Jesus is reminding us that this isn’t about just following rules and giving to God what he asks for. It is about ultimate and complete death to self and giving everything that you have and everything that you are to God. By God’s rules, two pennies can be more than millions of dollars. As long as it is everything, who cares how much it is! Let’s pray.
God, we know that we don’t have what it takes
We know that we are fallen, sinful people
We know that even in our best moments we fail to meet your demands
So teach us more about your grace
Remind us again of what is at stake
Take our lives and accept our death
It is in the very act of dying that your grace abounds
Yet we can’t seem to bring ourselves to do it
So take our inability as our death
We know your way is good
Give us strength to die daily
Give us hope to see the eternal
Give us death so we can have true life