Life of Christ 126
During Jesus' Perean ministry, in the last few months of His life, He is once again experiencing great crowds (Luke 14.25-35). Perea has been nothing if not welcoming, and that marked a wonderful change of pace, especially for the Apostles, who had seen so much rejection and hostility recently. Then, wouldn't you know, Jesus has to go and mess it up. In essence, He purposely tries to decrease the size of His crowds by telling them to think long and hard about the high cost, in the long term, of being a disciple of His.
This seems counterproductive to us, but it made all the sense in the world to Christ. Yes, He loves the entire world, but He knows the entire world is not going to love Him back. 'Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it' (Matthew 7.13-14).
Correspondingly, He never tailors His ministry to reach the widest number of people. Instead, He tailors His ministry to reach a number of dedicated people. Jesus was never interested in making it easy to follow Him; He was interested in making it real to follow Him.
Truth does not stand in isolation; it stands in blocks building a complete revelation of God. Those who yank this verse from its context and use it as an excuse to separate religious devotees from their families are spiritually dishonest. There are a veritable plethora of instructions and examples in the Word of God that we are to love our families and to honor and respect and obey our parents. At the same time, it is also true that following Christ with all we have will sometimes cost us a close relationship with those whom we love the most. A firm adherence to scriptural doctrine always results in division (see Life of Christ 121), and frequently that division comes into the family.
Additionally, Jesus told the crowds the unwelcome news that following Him involves suffering. 'And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple' (Luke 14.27). The mature Christian life, into which God intends for you and I to grow, always involves a crucifixion – of myself and what I want, and of suffering, as I seek to make salvation available to others through active ministry.
Jesus did not want followers under false pretenses. He well knew that such followers would not stick around through the hard times that were shortly to come upon His Church. He wanted them to know, up front, how much it was all going to cost. Thus, He used the illustration of carefully counting the cost before you launch a building program, or begin a war (Luke 14.28-32).
If you want to be more than just a nominal Christian it is going to cost you, and the more you are willing to pay the closer you will get to Christ. 'So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple' (Luke 14.33). And if you can handle this, good. 'He that ears to hear, let him hear' (Luke 14.35).
This short explanation of today's story leads to the title of this blog post for it is precisely here that modern American Christianity goes wrong. It is all in on making it easier to be a Christian via the prosperity gospel, and the seeker sensitive, come as you are, casual, world copying types of churches. What is the result of this? Joel Osteen can put 40,000 people in the seats on any given weekend – for the moment.
Christianity is guilty of measuring things eagerly and prematurely. We look at the large crowds of the compromising churches of our day and ask ourselves what we are doing wrong. Perhaps we ought to instead ask ourselves this question: which handles a thunderstorm better, a mushroom or an oak tree? Everything I know about God as revealed in Scripture tells me that He plays for the long term rather than the short term. We see this in His contest with Satan for the soul of humanity, and the possession of the Earth. We see it in the approach Jehovah took with Israel in the Old Testament. We see this in Jesus' own earthly life when set within the context of the difference between His first advent and His Second Coming.
I am convinced that a storm cloud is on the horizon for American Christianity. We are going to face an increasing number of legal, political, social, cultural, financial, and vocational pressures to cave in on what we believe. Think about it for a minute. When you have built your church and your ministry by promising people health, wealth, fun, and an easy time, what is going to happen to your crowd when the storm comes?
Preaching this kind of a message limits the attractiveness of your church, but it greatly strengthens and solidifies it to handle whatever comes in the long term. Jesus built a religion that looked small at the beginning, but, boy, was it strong. In calling for a higher commitment He built very well for the long term, and American Christianity desperately needs to rediscover this instead of canceling Sunday night services yet again for 'family time.'
We do not need to make the standard expectations for God's people lower; we need to make them higher. I can hear it already…
'Pastor Brennan, you'll never get a big crowd by pushing people to attend all four services, go soul winning every week, tithe, give to missions, give to the building fund, put hours into a ministry, and dress modestly. You need to relax those standards and expectations. That old way doesn't work anymore. Times have changed.'
Curiously enough, I am not trying to get a big crowd; I am trying to build disciples – that are committed for the long term, and that will last under temptation, testing, pressure, persecution, disappointment, discouragement, and Satanic attack. Oh, it would be great if our church would double in size, and we work hard at reaching people, and our church is larger than it used to be but that is not our aim. And the day it becomes our aim is the day we embrace pragmatism and reject obedience, watering down the hard things in the Word of God so that the offense of the Gospel is removed.
Jesus was not a contemporary American pastor. He was not trying to get His ministry to be bigger; He was trying to get it to be purer. The fact is that Christ calls us, not to the easy life, but to the hard life. Let us accept it. Let us embrace it. Let us emphasize it. For it is only in this way that there is long term strength, and genuine holiness.