Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit are three-in-one
One day, a young disciple of Christ desirous of wanting to become all that God had for him visited the home of an elderly Christian. He had heard that this old man had never lost his first love for Christ in all the years he had known Him. The old Christian was sitting on the porch with his dog stretched out before him taking in a beautiful sunset. The young man posed this question:
“Why is it, brother, that most Christians eagerly chase after God during the first year or two after their conversion, but then fall into a complacent ritual of church every week and end up not looking any different than their neighbors who aren’t even Christians? I have heard you are not like that. I’ve been told that you have fervently sought after God throughout your years as a Christian. People see something in you that they don’t see in most people who became Christians. What makes you different?”
The old man smiled and replied, “Let me tell you a story: One day I was sitting here quietly in the sun with my dog. Suddenly a large white rabbit ran across in front of us. Well, my dog jumped up, and took off after that big rabbit. He chased the rabbit over the hills with a passion.
Soon, other dogs joined him, attracted by his barking. What a sight it was, as the pack of dogs ran barking across the creeks, up stony embankments and through thickets and thorns! Gradually, however, one by one, the other dogs dropped out of the pursuit, discouraged by the course and frustrated by the chase. Only my dog continued to hotly pursue the white rabbit. In that story, young man, is the answer to your question.”
The young man sat in confused silence. Finally, he said, “Brother, I don’t understand. What is the connection between the rabbit chase and the quest for God?”
“You fail to understand,” answered the well-seasoned old man, “because you failed to ask the obvious question. Why didn’t the other dogs continue on the chase? And the answer to that question is that they had not seen the rabbit. Unless you see the prey, the chase is just too difficult. You will lack the passion and determination necessary to keep up the chase.”
The last few Sundays, through Scripture, we have traveled the road to Jerusalem with Jesus as he makes His way there for the last time. During this journey, Jesus Christ takes the opportunity to teach those who would call themselves His disciples one last time. He is more direct than at other times in His ministry because His time with them is growing short and the message must get through.
In our lesson today, Jesus is making somewhat shocking statements. He is trying to effectively relay the message of the cost one must be prepared for in order to be His disciple. He says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and his wife and children and brothers and sisters – yes, and even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple”
This is another harsh statement and one that is not so easily digested. Is He actually calling on us to hate those we hold most dear in our earthly lives? Does Jesus really mean we must also hate ourselves? This command seems too challenging. Where is the love He spoke of before?
Jesus is actually driving home the point that to be His disciple, everything else in our lives must take a back seat to the relationship we have with Him. He must be the priority. Our focus needs to be on the goal, our white rabbit must be Christ and he must be our motivation as we try to make our way in the world.
But to do that, we have to know what we are chasing and we must hold it in such regard that we keep our concentration on it. As we let the impact of what Jesus is expecting here into our hearts, we see that Jesus is, in fact, calling us to live a radical kind of life. A life that is lived which sets those who believe in Him apart from the rest of society.
This is not something we should take lightly. In the two parables Jesus teaches with here, Jesus is asking us to take the time to think about such things. What are we willing to do in our lives to reach the goals Christ is setting for us here? Will the cost be too high? Will we be able to win the battle? Are we willing to turn the love we have for Him into an action that could separate us from our families or even from those values and deeds we cherish so dearly.
One of my favorite books is a book by Kyle Idleman entitled, “Not a Fan.” In it he asks the question, “are you a fan or a follower?” A fan is one who thinks Jesus is pretty neat and they have no problem talking about him or learning more about him.
But fans, Idlaman says, “often confuse their admiration for devotion. They mistake their knowledge of Jesus for intimacy with Jesus. Fans assume their good intentions make up for their apathetic faith.”
Jesus wants more than that from His people. He wants to turn our lives upside down, He wants us to be renewed with a whole new way of life from the one we have lived in this world. Christ wants us to trust in Him with such a commitment that if we were to lose everything because of that commitment it would be worth it.
Jesus is saying, if you truly want to be my disciple, if you are willing to have the commitment it takes to follow me and not be content with just shallow admiration, here is what you have been called to do.
Jesus is trying to make it clear in these somewhat shocking words that he will not share our affection. He is saying “If you love someone or something greater than you love God, then that is your God and I cannot accept that.” Following Him requires our whole heart.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer says in his book, ‘Cost of Discipleship,’ “We have cheapened grace and cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the church. We are fighting for costly grace. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, Baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, or absolution without personal confession.”
“Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without a cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the Gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which man must know how to enter. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us.”
These words of Christ in our text are shocking to us because, somehow, we have managed to cheapen grace. We have watered it down so much that it has lost its true meaning and it’s greatness. We have watered it down to the point that people no longer know the price it takes to be a follower figuring everyone will enter heaven just because.
But that is not what we get from Scripture. Jesus tells us time and time again that following Him will cost us. He makes it clear that the road to discipleship is not an easy one. Jesus is talking to His followers in John 15: 20 when He says, “Remember the Word that I said to you; ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” And in Luke 21:15-17 He adds to this saying, “For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”
Martin Luther said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing and is worth nothing.” Yet we tend to say these words that are hard to hear in whispers. We try to avoid reminding people the cost of discipleship thinking it might be too harsh. So, we cheapen grace and relegate Christ demands as an afterthought as we look to the goal of paying the least amount to get to heaven.
No, He is not asking us to hate those we love. Scripture says over and over in both Old and New Testaments of the value of earthly love. But Jesus needs more than that. He calls on us to love him to a different level with a love that will last for all eternity. He is asking us to keep our focus on the white rabbit with a passion that will keep us on the narrow path.
Our God will not withhold anything from us in our quest to heaven. He was prepared to offer up His only Son and He will continue to love us with that same kind of love. He expects from us nothing more than He has already done for us and He has given us His grace, powerful and complete, so that we have but to go to Him in repentance and faith to be washed clean and be justified.
Yes, the road to discipleship is not an easy one and it’s too hard a journey for many. Most will be content to do their least, expecting God to do His most. But that is not any kind of relationship and certainly not one God can be satisfied with.
So, what are you willing to endure as a follower of Christ? Is the cost to high for you? Can you trust that God will get you through? Are you willing to surrender all that you are to Him?
The price might be large but the reward is everlasting. Love still rules the day and God’s love is unlimited. We can place all our trust in Him just as He has called us to do, because His focus is on us and our salvation. He deserves nothing less than our full devotion in return.
Kyle Idelman ends his book with these words. He says, “Jesus has defined the relationship he wants with you. He is not interested in enthusiastic admirers who practice everything in moderation and don’t get carried away. He wants completely committed followers.”
Idleman says that fans are all about the “do” but followers celebrate the “done.” May God send His Holy Spirit to mold us into followers who are simply not content with being fans. Let us all celebrate the risen Lord who has shown us the path to everlasting life. Let us together, as a community in Christ decide this day, to give our Lord the living sacrifice of ourselves and may we always keep our focus on Christ, our white rabbit, following Him with passion and commitment until that time we are united with Him in heaven. Amen