Summary: Jesus makes it clear in Luke 9:23 that the path of discipleship is a costly one; what challenges do we face in "bearing our cross daily" in today’s culture?
COSTS OF THE JOURNEY
In this series from Luke we are seeing how following Jesus – what we call discipleship – is like a journey with him. This is what the disciples did in Luke’s Gospel, where Chapters 9-19 are in the form of a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. In the first week Wayne introduced the series with the story of the call of Levi, simply to follow, accepted by the Lord although he was a social outcast. Then Simon talked about our need for faith on the way. Wayne then spoke about how aligning our lives with Jesus needs repentance. He showed how we can envisage that in terms of the “Kairos circle”, transforming our lives progressively in Jesus’ direction. My theme is the costs we must bear on the way.
Costs of following Jesus
Jesus makes it crystal clear that there are costs of following him, of aligning our lives with his. In 9:22, Jesus foretells to the disciples his own suffering and death. Then he turns to them in 9:23 and says bluntly "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Wow. Not an easy road, the road to Jerusalem. Was he just talking to his disciples? Well, we know that all of them except John met a violent death. But look closer. He refers to “anyone” not “you”. He links his cross to his followers’ fate when the disciples had no idea how he would die. No, he’s talking to us the readers of the Gospel who know the whole story. Notice he’s talking of a choice set before us, he sets us free to choose or reject Him. The issue is not suffering generally, like illness or accident but suffering which is a direct consequence of our choice to be a disciple. And then there’s the word “daily”. His call to his followers at the very outset of the journey is to daily sacrificial living – not martyrdom.
All that seems hypothetical and easily forgotten, if a little unsettling – but he repeats the phrase in 14:27 “anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”. He is serious. And he wants to concretise it so we understand what the costs are of following him on the journey. Let’s listen to a threefold clarification in 9:57-62: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family." Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
Willing followers face uncomfortable choices. Jesus is telling anyone who follows him – and that includes us - to forget about a comfortable home and financial independence “no place to lay his head”. He’s also saying his call has priority over the most important obligations in society, then or now, those to our parents and wider family. He’s not saying – choose me and not Satan. He’s saying – choose me over the very best and noblest of human relationships and motivations. No earthly tie, however close, must take precedence over our allegiance to and obedience of Jesus. Note too that in ancient times the family was even more crucial to people’s lives that it is now. A costly call indeed!
Then he warns his followers that they may suffer persecution. Luke 12:12: "When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say." When not if you are going on trial. Think of Stephen’s death at the hands of the authorities in Acts and Jesus is making a direct prophecy. We as his followers may all face similar situations, of criticism if not martyrdom.
There is also a financial cost to following him, in Luke 12:32-34 – his followers must travel light on the road: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”