When we study the Gospel stories of Jesus calling people to follow Him, He is consistent in talking with people about the cost. And He encourages people to count the cost. While there are immense benefits to be gained in following Jesus, there is also a high cost. Jesus is quite comfortable talking about something that we tend to avoid: the fact that sacrifice will be a central part of following Him.
We fear talking about the cost because we suspect that it will keep people from embracing Jesus' call. We fear that people will conclude that following Jesus is too hard or that it will require too much. In contrast, Jesus hold before people the benefits and the costs of being His follower, and then He demands that they decide.
Matthew 16:24-26 tells us Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it , but whoever loses his life because of me will find it, for what will it benefit someone to gain the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will anyone give in exchange for his life?
If we had been giving Jesus advice about His teaching we might have told Him to downplay the part about the high cost of following Him! Jesus, never minimized the cost, and He certainly never omitted that part of the story when He called people to follow Him. He was direct, open, and honest. He assured people that, along with the unspeakable joy of following Him, there would certainly and unavoidably be suffering and sacrifice. Jesus never hesitated to talk about the cost.
If we are wise and honest, we too will choose to talk openly about the high cost of following Jesus. We will follow His example and make the cross a central part of the message.
Over the years many people have been deeply affected by a book that emphasizes that very point. Entire generations of believers have been moved and changed by Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "The Cost of Discipleship" In re-reading this book it is easy to tell your closest friends that this book has changed your life.
Bonhoeffer's words challenge the comfortable and convenient life that many people seem to seek. Very much in line with the teachings of Jesus' Himself. Bonhoeffer claims that sacrificial suffering is not some terrible surprise that meets us on the journey - nor some tragic mistake that shows up without warning - but quite simply the natural and expected journey of following Jesus. In his words
The cross is not a terrible end to an otherwise God fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.
What a staggering thought... that we are called first to the cross... and that following Jesus means leaving everything else behind. Obviously these are not easy words. And obviously , this is not a lesson that we have mastered. But the call is clear. And He still speaks those same words to those who would be His followers today. Jesus still seeks followers who will take up their cross and follow Him.
Sacrifice is not merely the sad lot of some few believers who happen to live in tough places. Instead, sacrifice is the life of any and all who would follow Jesus. The cost of discipleship is high. Jesus has always been completely open about that. He makes the certainty of sacrifice clear from the beginning. Is he worth following?