“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14:26-27

They were having a friendly dinner—three evangelical ministers and their wives—when for some reason the subject of martyrdom came up. What would it be like, they wondered aloud, if they were actually called upon to give up their lives for the faith? Would they do it? Two of them agreed that, if only intellectually, they had settled that question in their minds from the beginning: Yes, they would die for Jesus if necessary. Whether they would live up to that commitment, only events would tell. But one of the ministers present declared that he wasn’t sure he was “there yet.” That is, he didn’t know if he would be willing to hold on to his belief in Jesus if the threat of death were on him. He’d have to wait and see. At any rate, no, he could not say unequivocally that he would lay down his life for Jesus, at least, not at that time.

Perhaps this pastor simply had not considered the question before. I feel reasonably certain that would be the case for many believers in America today. Counting the cost of discipleship is an avenue into church membership traveled by fewer and fewer people. In our “seeker friendly” church culture we don’t want to put any obstacles in the way of folks joining our community. We don’t require huge commitments. We tell people to come as they are; all their baggage and questions in tow. We hold out the hope of a fuller and happier life among friends who understand and care. We want them to ease their way into the church rather than make a full-blown, clear, and final break with their old way of life.

I wonder what Jesus would think of all this?

THE MOTIVE OF THE CROWDS

Have you ever noticed that Jesus often tried to discourage great crowds of people from following Him? In John 6, Jesus openly rebuked the crowds because He understood that the only thing they wanted from Him was to satisfy some purely selfish need. When He stiffed them, they tried to bait Him into doing their will by suggesting that if He really was God, He’d give them free bread, just like God did for their fathers in the wilderness. He replied that He was more than enough for them, and they turned away in droves. The twelve went on like they would continue with Him, but He challenged their motives as well (John 6:66-70).

In Luke 11, great crowds again began to gather around Jesus, looking for more of the kind of signs and wonders they’d heard He had been doing. He called them “an evil generation” who only came to Him for the spectacle (Luke 11:29). Again, in Luke 14, great crowds started to follow wherever He went, so He took a moment to challenge them to examine their motives in coming to Him. This time the crowds seemed to be looking at Jesus as a kind of “add-on” to their lives. They had their homes and families, and life for many of them must have been at least OK. Surely, though, this Galilean prophet would bring a little value-added to their lives? Instead, Jesus advised them that following Him meant forsaking everything and taking up the way of death to self and the world.

Then there were the crowds who hailed Jesus as He entered Jerusalem on that first glorious Palm Sunday. Every day, for the better part of a week, those crowds showed up at the temple to hear Jesus teach and watch as He lambasted the religious leaders. But Jesus knew those adoring masses didn’t really believe in Him (John 12:36,37). Those same people who shouted, “Hosanna!” at the top of their lungs on Sunday would, on Friday morning, be screaming, “Crucify Him!” No wonder He left town every night to be alone (Luke 21:37).