“And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 14:25-35 KJV)
“And there were great multitudes with him...” Multitudes? With Jesus? Hurray! Of all the people the crowds could be following, should this not be the one? Yet, Jesus personally has some very harsh words for this crowd. Why? Would not anyone who followed Jesus long enough despite their reasons finally get it? Why is there a hint of a rebuke at the crowds? Well, I have heard dozens of pastors launch out into a hundred different fair weather fan scenarios where the crowd was there for the wrong reason. They were not tough enough. They were fair weather fans. They had no idea the challenges and difficulties they were about to go through, and if they did not have the drive to overcome the (yet unknown) obstacles that they would be better off going back where they came from and getting back to work they knew. I am sure that these are all well meaning lessons designed to toughen up the spiritual body at hand. Also, I do not doubt there are many obstacles that we really will face that are yet completely unknown to us. Yet, I think in this case, Jesus was not offering harsh words because He had a weak audience. I think they understood something we often miss.
Allow me to take one of the many fair weather fan analogies; professional sports. We are told if you want to play a given sport at a professional level, then it will cost you an unreal level of dedication mixing physical skill, physical strength, a history with the sport somewhere, and a few connections to be discovered. Only the very best make it. Only the very best can stay. Only a few of the millions that start the process will ever be signed. Yet, this does not seem to even slow the multitudes of high school and college athletes from making their best efforts to obtain this prize. We have coaches that coach with a diligence at the pee wee level now that think every one of their athletes are going to some day try out for a professional program. All we have to do is put an all star story out there showing how an individual actually made it and people line up to try their hand at at. If your favorite professional athlete gave a speech about all the sweaty workouts, long hours, frequent disappointments, and hard times associated with finally achieving a long anticipated goal, that would be on par with what we would expect. That is the very speech which encourages us and gives us the extra resolve to press on further. It does not make us want to throw in the towel. The multitude that followed Jesus understood that being a disciple would be rough, tough, dry, and painful. They did not turn away because the road ahead had a cloudy forecast. They lived during an age where the two year old boys could be slaughtered at the command of a dictator. They lived under an empire who's idea of death was not lethal injection, but crucifixion. I firmly believe the term “cost” was much more clearly understood then than now.
So, why did they turn away? There is a key ingredient that is missing in our understanding of this story. How did His existing disciples come to be following Jesus? “And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me.” (Luke 5:27 KJV) Who called who? Jesus called Levi. Had Levi shown exceptional diligence in facing down challenges yet unknown? When we first heard the call of Jesus in our heart, had we shown anything exceptional? I know I had not. What is common here? We hear the same call that Levi (and the others) heard. Jesus called us. Are any of us able to forsake all that we have and know? Are we able to complete any foundation much less an everlasting foundation? Only by the power of Jesus. Peter understood the necessity of God's call to us rather than our resolve to follow him. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:” (1 Peter 2:9 KJV)
Jesus was speaking to an audience that has the same disease that so many of us have. They were managers, and He spoke to them in reasoning terms like a manager would reason. The secret is that this is not an issue of finding a way to manage it. It is an issue of complete surrender knowing that we are capable of none of it. Think about this. Would any of us put on a wedding ring knowing all the challenges that the new relationship was going to fling our way? Not without attempting to immediately mitigate those risks. It is only by having the genuine love and trust in Jesus that any relationship can firmly commit to dig as deep as it will take to bring that relationship through to completion. God has to give you a love and commitment individually for that individual beyond what you can do. Likewise, it is by following the constant voice of Jesus our Shepard that assures us that when those needs for endurance arise, that He is both able and faithful to fulfill that need via our trust in Him. The multitudes turned away not because they were not tough enough. They turned away because without the call of Jesus they realized they could never make it at all. It is vital to listen very carefully to the call of God even when that call seems in the most unlikely of places. The real strength here is not to endure, but to wait for His call and respond when you hear it.
“And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.” (Exodus 3:4 KJV)