Bible Reference: Matthew 5:1-9

Grace and mercy and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

One of the most hauntingly eloquent words of Jesus comes from the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” When the world knows that we by faith are the followers of Jesus Christ and we have shown mercy to others, it will cause us to stand out as distinctly different from the rest of the culture. We will be radically countercultural, and we will never more accurately reflect God’s heart than when we show mercy to others as God has been merciful to us.

Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist and a member of the Nazi party during World War II, was a spy for the allies and is credited with saving over 1200 Jewish lives during the atrocities of that war by employing them in his manufacturing plants. In a movie depicting his life in that point of history, Schindler goes to visit Amon Goeth, a prison camp commandant. Just before he arrives, Goeth is sitting on the deck outside his house overlooking the prison camp. He’s been shooting a high-powered rifle, picking off those helpless Jewish people who are prisoners of war, killing them for sport. When Schindler arrives, Goeth says, “Control is power.”

Schindler says, “Is that why they fear us?”

“We have the power to kill,” Goeth says.

Schindler says, “Power to kill arbitrarily. Revenge is power to kill is better. But really that’s not power; that’s justice. It’s different than power. Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t.”

“Power?” says Goeth.

“That’s what the Emperor said. A man stole and was brought before the Emperor. The man threw himself down and begged for mercy. He knew he was going to die. He knew he deserved to die, but the Emperor pardoned him. This worthless man, he let him go. That’s power. Pardon, forgiveness, and mercy – that’s power.”

The power of an act of mercy has the ability to change the world, and that’s what Jesus calls us to offer in His name. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said this: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

If we were going to define mercy, we might point to a person who deserves judgment, but it’s withheld, and compassion and kindness are shown instead. Yet mercy can also be broader. Psalm 145 says, “The Lord is good to all; his mercies are poured out over all his works.”

When we look at the life of Jesus, it’s interesting that in three separate stories those who are broken and in need beg for Jesus to show them mercy. The first is about Bartimaeus, the blind man sitting by the road outside Jericho. He knows Jesus is coming by, so he cries out, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus, despite the opposition of the crowd, calls the blind man to Him and heals him miraculously. The blind man whose sight is restored, having received mercy, follows Jesus.

We see the Canaanite woman beg for Jesus’ mercy in Matt. 15:22-28. Her daughter was demon possessed, and she even overrides Jesus’ initial reluctance and begs again. Even the dogs under the table eat the scraps that are thrown. Have mercy. The man who had a demon-possessed son said, “Have mercy on me, o Lord.”

So from the life of Jesus, we see this pattern:

  1. Mercy sees the distress, helplessness, and suffering.
  2. It responds with inner compassion.
  3. Compassion then propels us to relieve the suffering or reverse the distress. We show mercy.

That’s how we would follow the pattern of Jesus. Mercy is linked to forgiveness. In Titus 3 we read this: “According to God’s great mercy, he saved us.” So mercy was behind forgiveness. Forgiveness is the fruit of mercy. When God looked at our broken condition with compassion, affection, and sympathy, He sent Jesus Incarnate on a mission of mercy, and Jesus – in mercy – went to the cross. Mercy is the attribute of God that led to the forgiveness of the world’s sins in the name of Jesus, crucified and risen.

Mercy is also linked to love. Remember how we read in Ephesians 2, “According to God’s great love with which he loved us, he showed us mercy.” Mercy flows into forgiveness but out of the heart of God’s love.

So let me ask you this question: when your life is over and you stand before the living God, would you rather ask Him for mercy or for justice? I’m going to ask for mercy.

We have three questions to frame how we can apply this powerful truth of God’s mercy to our own lives. These three questions are not original to me, but they’ll provide a good framework for us to discuss.

First, Can God be merciful to me? In Lamentations 3, the prophet Jeremiah says, “This I recall to mind, and therefore I have hope. The Lord’s loving kindness and mercy never ceases. God’s compassions never fail. They are fresh and new every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness.”

Or how David the King all through the Psalms pleads with God, “Have mercy on me, o God.” Or the story Jesus tells of the Pharisees standing in the Temple proudly naming all his attributes and all his good deeds, but in the back corner of the Temple, the publican falls on his face and cries out without lifting his eyes, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

The whole of Jesus’ incarnation – His coming to earth born of a virgin, living the perfect life, teaching of the kingdom of God, going to the cross, bearing the sins of the world, dying in our place, and then being raised from the dead. The whole of the life of Jesus is a mission of mercy. Jesus Christ embodies the combination of mercy and justice. Jesus, on the cross and in the resurrection, became the atoning sacrifice for our sins. In Jesus Christ, God has bridged the gap between His holiness and our sin to extend mercy and reconcile us to himself.

Yes, God offers you mercy in the name of Jesus Christ today.

The second question is, Can I show mercy to others as God has shown to me? Am I willing to be merciful?

I recently read a story of a Christian pastor whose son, Tim, was murdered at college. Tim had been working part-time job at a convenience store not far from where he went to school. One night a man, desperate because of a drug addiction, held up the store where Tim worked. Tim intervened and the desperate man murdered him on the spot. He was later arrested and sentenced to prison.

The Christian pastor, still grieving for the loss of his precious son, went to the jail and visited the murderer, the perpetrator of the crime against his son. He said to him, “I am the father of the man you murdered. I am a believer in Jesus. He has shown me mercy, and I want you to know that I forgive you in Jesus’ name.” Then he went on to share how Jesus can transform a life and set us free from guilt and shame, and that he could believe in Him. He shared the Gospel. That man refused the message of Jesus, but that father, the Christian pastor, in going to that prisoner – the murderer of his son – showed mercy.

Third, Can I be merciful to myself?

When I was young pastor, I was on the Bible Board at Park River, North Dakota. When I was there one week for meetings, a young mother from a nearby community asked if she could visit with me. She was a happily married woman with several children of her own. She began to unburden her heart and talk about how, when she was a young woman, though raised in a Christian home, she had a prodigal journey. During that time of being apart from God, she had become pregnant. She decided to hide her pregnancy from her parents whom she knew would be so disappointed, so she secretly went off and had an abortion. Later, thankfully, she came back to Christ. She reaffirmed her faith in Christ and asked for forgiveness. She professed her loyalty to Christ.

Now, a married woman and a mother, she still was haunted by her past. She said, “I have a reoccurring dream. In my dream, I’m going to church, but on the steps of the church just outside the door lies a large, dead snake. I’m deathly afraid of snakes; I can’t go in.” It was as if the Holy Spirit revealed to me that this woman, though believing in the forgiveness Jesus offers, had never been able to forgive herself for her past sins. She had never been able to be merciful and let go of her shame.

We shared the words of Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.” We talked about how she needed to be merciful and forgiving to herself because Jesus has already been merciful to her.

Can you forgive yourself for your past? Can you believe that the grace of Jesus Christ, the mercy of God in Jesus’ name, is greater than all your past shame, failure, and guilt?

Recently here at Faith Lutheran in Spencer, Iowa, we laid a dear saint to rest. Her name was Luella. She and her husband, Don, had been happily married many years and had a family.

Once in the course of their busyness of life, Don, who normally mowed the grass of their home, had a busy day and so Luella offered to mow the grass. So Don went out and started the mower. It was one of those old cast-iron mowers that was like pushing a lumber wagon through the grass. Don started it, left it in the driveway on low idle, and told Luella it was ready.

Luella, while Don was watching, came out and, without adjusting the idle, began to mow the grass. Well it was at too low an RPM and it couldn’t handle cutting the grass. So Don called out, “Make it go faster, Luella!” So Luella started running behind the mower. “No, No,” said Don. “Make it go faster.” Of course, he meant speed up the rpm’s of the motor of the mower so that it could handle the grass, but Luella thought he meant run fast with the mower. It was unable to cut the grass and it killed. Don threw up his hands, got in his pickup and drove off.

We’re like Luella if we think we have the capacity to be merciful all by ourself. Only when we have, in faith, invited Jesus the Savior and the Son of God, to come into our life and have asked Him to be merciful, forgiving us, and then ask His Holy Spirit to dwell within us, can we then offer the mercy and grace of Jesus to the people He brings to us.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Amen.

Rev. Lee Laaveg

Distinct: You Matter

Bible Reference: Matthew 5:13-16

As we begin this new sermon series from Matthew chapter 5 entitled, “Distinct,” the first thing I want you to understand and act upon is this truth: In the whole scheme of things, you matter. You really do!

I can say that because I know you are died for. While you were lost in your sin, Christ died for you to pay for your sin and bring you into a relationship with God as you place your trust in what the Savior did for you. I’ve heard it said that even if you were the only person living in this world, Christ would have died for you! You matter.

Now if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you matter because you’ve been given a new status. Scripture tells us you are holy – set apart for God’s good purposes – to actively engage and influence others in your sphere of influence for the kingdom of God. God has big plans for your life. This is what Jesus tells us today in our reading. It talks of the importance of living in close proximity to one’s culture, to actually engage it as salt and light. We’re not to hide away like spiritual hermits but impact the culture for good for the cause of God.

To make this point, Jesus chose two metaphors of everyday objects found in any home and in any culture – salt and light. First He said, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, it’s not good for anything.” Salt was considered to be a valuable commodity in those days. Soldiers were actually paid their wages in salt. Thus we get the saying, “he was worth his salt.” It was also used in sacrifices in worship. So first off, He’s saying you are valuable, and you matter to God and to the world.

Now I’d like to have you think with me about the qualities of salt and what can it actually do. As you probably know, salt as a spice makes things taste good. Jesus is telling us that we have the ability to spice life up for those around us with whom we have contact.

We also know salt creates thirst. You’ve heard the adage – you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Someone once told me that indeed, you can make him drink! Just give him some salt, and he will drink. You have the ability to create a thirst in people for a relationship with God, the water of life – Jesus.

Salt also has a preserving quality. Back in the days when there was no refrigeration, salt was used to preserve meat and keep it from rotting. Jesus is telling us we have the ability to keep this world from deteriorating. In essence He is telling us the world is a bland, deteriorating place. It needs us to be salt in it.

Jesus goes on to say, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all those in the house.” Light is valuable; it keeps us from stumbling in the darkness. If you have ever been stuck in a dark place, you know how much you value light.

What are the qualities of light? It reveals, enlightens, guides, illuminates, and clarifies things. Like a lightbulb that goes on in our minds, it’s unique, observable, and powerful as it penetrates the darkness. Jesus seems to be describing the world as a dark place that needs us to be its light.

It’s interesting that the One who said, “I am the light of the world,” now says to us who are His followers, “You are the light of the world.” We are to reflect His light into the lives of those around us. “Let your light shine before others so they see your good deeds, (the things that are consistent with what Jesus would do), and give praise to your heavenly Father.”

Now let me clarify something here. Of course, we speak up for Jesus publicly. In Mark 8 for instance, Jesus did say, Anyone who is ashamed of me and doesn’t speak up for me, I’ll be ashamed of them when they stand before the Father. But we must remember, people can stop listening, as they sometimes do, but they don’t stop watching. Jesus seems to be telling us here that He is counting on you and me to demonstrate His love in practical and tangible ways, in acts of compassion in the lives of those who live close by us.

A while back I read a book by a great evangelical author, John Stott, and he mentions four truths Jesus is teaching us as He calls us to be salt and light in the world.

First, Christ’s followers are radically distinct from non-Christians. Light is different from darkness, and salt is opposed to blandness and decay. Jesus is implying that the world is dark and in need of light. It’s rotten and decaying and needs salt to keep it from absolute destruction.

He had just given them a description of salty and light-giving followers in the Beatitudes (or as I call them, the “be-different attitudes”). They are to be humble, aware of our need for forgiveness, meek, controlled, peacemakers, righteous, merciful, and willing to be persecuted for Jesus. He is saying His followers are to be different from the prevailing culture around us. We are to be people who live above the norm.

Second, Christ’s followers are to permeate, infiltrate non-Christian society. Salt and light are only good if they engage their surroundings. Salt left in the shaker is worthless, and light that is covered up is of no use to anyone. We are to touch lives around us with Christ’s love and compassion through our words and our actions at work, school, where we live, on our team, in our home, in our neighborhood, and in our communities.

Third. Christ’s followers can influence and change non-Christian society. You can make a difference, Jesus is saying with these images. Salt and light are effective. Salt does preserve and make things taste better. Light does overcome darkness, and so can you in your own sphere of influence. You can influence one person at a time. As we change people, society gets changed.

We cannot bring about perfection in this world. There will be no utopia until Jesus returns in power and majesty, but we can improve the lives of those around us in Christ’s name and connect them to the One who gives life, Jesus Christ. We can serve as examples of righteousness and love. We can pray for people around us and for situations in this world. We can talk about Jesus and the difference He has made in our lives and awaken people to what a wonderful Savior He is.

Fourth and finally, Jesus tells us His followers must retain their Christian distinctiveness. We are not to blend in like chameleons who change their colors to match their environment. We are called to courageously stand out in the crowd living out Jesus’ values, Jesus’ standards, Jesus’ love, committed to doing things God’s way instead of following the ways of the world. We’re to be people that never, ever compromise the Gospel.

N. T. Wright, a great Bible scholar, asked this question and then answered it:

Why, then, are Christians placed in this world? They are to benefit the world, and we benefit the world only when we live as salt and light. If the people of the world fornicate and we fornicate, what’s the difference? If they lie and we lie, what is the difference? When they don’t love their spouses, and we don’t love our spouses, what is the difference? We cannot benefit the world if we are like the world. We are to have a greater righteousness, a heart that loves God and aims to please Him. We are to have a wider love – even our enemies and those we are uncomfortable with. We are to have a nobler ambition to see God’s rule and righteousness, His Will done in this world.

The Gospel, you see, has transforming power and Christ has commissioned us – you and me – to be effective salt and light where God has placed us: in our own personal networks, our own little spheres of influence, to use our abilities and our resources to make a difference in our community and world.” This is what He’s getting after here.

I was arrested the other day by a question I heard. If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? A good question, isn’t it?

O follower of Jesus Christ, let me ask you something. What beautiful thing have you done in the name of Jesus Christ lately? We are called as His people to do something beautiful in His name as salt and life and light making this world a better place and establishing His kingdom.

I leave you with a personal challenge: embrace Christ’s agenda for your life in the sphere of your influence. Be distinctive for Christ.

American Christianity has not always been good about engaging our world. It’s easy to drift, create our own little Christian ghetto, and let our faith be primarily about us. For instance, if you peruse Christian bookstores, you will find our best-selling Christian books are consistently about how to enhance our relationship with Jesus, how to solve our family problems and money woes, how to study the Bible and glean deeper truths, how to get God to answer our prayers. I don’t see very many books about how to be salt and light. Yet, Jesus Christ is calling us to be salt and light in our world, to get beyond ourselves and our sanctuaries, and intentionally connect with people in our proximity on Christ’s behalf, to do something beautiful in other people’s lives in the name of Jesus Christ. This is our purpose in Jesus Christ – to be influencers.

Let me quote from the end of Kenneth Latourette’s seven volume history of the expansion of Christianity. Referring to Jesus he says, “No life ever lived on this planet has been so influential in the affairs of man as that of Christ. From that brief life and its apparent frustration has flowed a more powerful force for the triumphal waging of man’s long battle than any other ever known by the human race. Through it millions of people have had their inner conflicts resolved. Through it hundreds of millions have been lifted from illiteracy and ignorance and have been placed upon the road of growing intellectual freedom and control over the physical environment. It has done more to allay the physical ills of disease and famine than any other impulse, and it has emancipated millions from slavery and millions of others from thralldom to vice. It has protected tens of millions from exploitation by their fellows, and it has been the most fruitful source of movements to lessen the horrors of war and to put the relations of men and nations on the basis of justice and peace.”

This is the influence of Jesus through His followers in society. This is our history. Don’t underestimate the power and the influence even a small minority can exert in the community, even one can have in his community. You see, you really do matter right where you are. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer

Lost People Matter

Luke 15:1-10

As we read through the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we find Jesus encountering all kinds of people – men, women, and children; winners and losers; rich and poor; nice people and not-so-nice people; healthy people and sick people; the looked-up-to and the outcast; working class and professionals; priests and prostitutes; religious and nonreligious; law-abiding people and crooked people just to name a few.

The amazing and surprising thing in these encounters is, Jesus loved them all. That’s not to say He approved of the way they lived their lives or their attitudes and thinking. As a matter of fact, Jesus changed many of them along the way. Across the board, Jesus loved them all and turned no one away.

The religious authorities of Jesus’ day did not approve of Him welcoming these people and they often criticized Him for it. After all, religious, law-abiding folks need to be careful about the company they keep, they thought. And if Jesus really is one of us, He would know better. Thus, it made Him suspect. After all, Birds of a feather flock together.

In today’s story, as people watch Jesus teach tax collectors (considered to be lowlifes of the society) and some other sinful, immoral types, the Pharisees and Scribes began grumbling. “This fellow welcomes sinners and even eats with them.” Or as we might put it today, This dude runs with the despicable. He’s disgusting. He should know better!

They were actually correct in some respects. The people with Jesus were not nice. They were a very tough, unlikable group. We might compare them to drug dealers, pornographers, and other seedy types of our world.

But the religious experts didn’t understand Jesus, His Gospel message, or His mission. They became nervous and uptight and felt irritated with Jesus. So they criticized Him and grumbled amongst themselves.

Jesus either heard them grumbling or knew what they were talking about as He observed their critical disapproving stares. However, instead of openly putting them in their place, He told them three stories called parables, two of which are in our reading for today.

He asked them to imagine being a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. When one goes missing, the shepherd goes on an all-out search until he finds that animal. When he finds it, he puts it on his shoulders and carries it home. Then he calls together his friends and neighbors saying, “Rejoice with me, for I found my sheep that was lost!”

Jesus concluded, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Before His listeners could ask any questions, Jesus stretched their imaginations a bit more and asked, “What woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one doesn’t light a lamp, sweep the house, and search until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I lost!’”

Summing up what He was describing, Jesus says, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents (the person who gets found).”

What is Jesus telling us in these stories? I have found three things.

First, Everyone Matters. Each of us is of great value to God. Something of great value is missing in these stories and is merited an all-out search until it is found. These possessions are anything but trivial to the owner.

Scripture tells us all people are created in the image of God and are the crown of God’s creation. God wants everyone. Jesus is telling us everyone matters. That is why He welcomes those whom society has written off and eats with them. They matter!

Second, Everybody Needs God. Without Him, we are sunk. Notice how Jesus describes the missing objects as lost. We are helplessly, hopelessly lost without God in our lives, like the lost sheep and the lost coin.

Each one of us were made for a personal relationship with God – to walk with Him, enjoy Him, follow Him, serve Him, and love Him all our days. But because of our sinfulness, that relationship is broken. Scripture tells us ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All are lost then, and the wages of sin is death and eternal separation from God. We can’t fix that relationship. We are helplessly, hopelessly lost. This is true for every person.

The Scribes and Pharisees didn’t realize it, but they were lost too! They deluded themselves into thinking they were saved by keeping rules. They did all the outwardly religious things, but deep inside they were as captive to sin and its consequences as anyone else.

People get lost in a variety of ways. Some just outright reject God. I don’t need a crutch, they say. I’m quite capable of managing my own life without God.

Some choose other gods, and place idols at the center of their lives, such as personal pleasure, money, family, success, or power. These are the gods in their lives who take precedence over everything else. The Lost.

Some grow up in a Christian home but get distracted by the busyness of life as the years go by. Soon they have nibbled themselves lost like sheep will do. One day they look up and realize they’re far from God. Jesus says these persons are lost, spiritually dead, and separated from God, the source of life in this world.

They’re also lost in the world to come. A person who has no relationship with God is destined to be eternally lost from God. That is why Jesus entered our sinful world. He is the Son of God. Jesus said of Himself, “I and the Father are one.” John described Him as “The Word become flesh.” He welcomed sinners and ate with them because He was on a search-and-rescue mission for His Father. Jesus came “to seek and to save the lost.”

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem where a cross awaited Him. He would die on that cross to save the lost – meaning everybody! He lived the perfect life of obedience and was the perfect sacrifice to pay for our sinfulness. He gave up His life as a payment for the likes of sinners – all sinners, including you and me. The promise God gives us is this: whoever believes in His Son Jesus shall not perish but have everlasting life. He will have a restored relationship with God that will last into eternity. No matter who you are and or how much you have messed up your life or the lives of others, He won’t turn you away as you come to Jesus. That is grace.

What the Pharisees said that day, though it wasn’t meant to be complementary, is true! Jesus does welcome sinners and even eats with them. I thank God He does, because many years ago He extended His nail-pierced hand to this wandering and lost sinner and put my life back on track with my heavenly Father. It has been a full life with Him leading the way ever since.

How about you? Have you come to Him, the Redeemer, the Rescuer of lost sinners? Are you lost? Have you received Him in your life? Maybe you’ve gotten lost along the way by nibbling yourself away from Him. It can happen. But you can still come home to Jesus right now simply by asking Him in, saying, Jesus I’m sorry for my sinfulness. I need You in my life. I’ve strayed. Thank you for dying on the cross for me. Please come in and take over my life. I want to know You better and follow You.

Finally, If lost people matter to God, God wants them to matter to those of us who have been found, no matter who they are. This is a vital word for followers of Jesus. The disciples were present with Jesus that day, and His words must have stuck with them, because it was included in the Gospel. The lesson is this:

The Church of Jesus Christ is in the search-and-rescue business. Our purpose is to seek lost people until Jesus returns in glory, not separate ourselves from the world. We are meant to break out of our huddle and get in the game – lovingly pursue people who are far from God and be passionate about people and their eternal destinies.

I have discovered this fact along the way: God has placed us where we are for His purpose. Each of us lives in a mission field, a little sphere of influence, our personal network. You and I know someone – maybe a relative, a friend, a coworker, a teammate, a neighbor, a student, a player, your coach, a patient you’re serving, a nurse who is serving you, a neighbor kid, even a person you don’t like who is on a deadly trajectory in life and needs to experience God’s grace in his life. God has placed you in their life for a purpose. They need someone – like you – to love and care about them, to pray for them, love them, and talk with them about what God has done for them through Jesus. You are to plant the seed of the Gospel in their lives and then let the Holy Spirit do the rest. You see, you are not on your own in this.

Jesus promised us, “Lo, I am with you always.” These stories in our text tell us that Jesus was just taking care of His Father’s business. That is what He is telling the questioning religious authorities. I want to bring lost people home to the One who loves them more than anyone ever will.

So Christian, how about you? Will you commit yourself today to be an active member of God’s search-and-rescue team? To cast aside apathy or fears and go for the Gospel? To let lost people really matter to you?

You might wonder why you would take the risk of getting involved in someone else’s spiritual life. Jesus has a good answer to that question. At the end of each story He said, “There is great joy in heaven when even one is found.” It brings joy to our heavenly Father! So, do it out of love for God your Father who saved you in Jesus. Remember. It gives Him joy.

Now isn’t bringing joy to the One we love most a great motivator? Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer

The Bottom Line

Bible Reference: Luke 14:25-35

Okay. So, what’s the bottom line? We ask that question when we want to know what something is going to cost.

We just watched the Olympics. The bottom line for the Olympic athletes requires absolute commitment to rigorous training, taking extra special care of their body and having a competitive, never-give-up attitude. They must commit to being a team player and a person of character as they represent our nation. That is their bottom line.

An employee might ask his boss what the bottom line is for him to get a promotion in the company. The boss, then, would have a list of things. That is his bottom line.

When a bill comes, I open it and look immediately at the bottom line to find out what I am to pay.

I want to consider another bottom-line question with you today. What is the bottom line for being a follower, a disciple of Jesus Christ? Jesus answers this question for us today in our text from Luke. He was accompanied by great crowds who were enthusiastic, passionate admirers of Him. They liked this “miracle man,” this charismatic teacher. Perhaps they thought of Him as their hope for the future. Perhaps they thought they could benefit from being connected to Him. He provided great entertainment with His miracles and storytelling, and people loved it when He took on the religious leaders and stumped them. Some may have even referred to themselves as disciples of Jesus as they sought to be identified with this popular celebrity.

But talk is cheap. In reality, they were fans, not followers. A fan, you see, is someone who is an enthusiastic admirer. Jesus was not interested in having fans. What He wanted were followers.

Sometimes those of us in the church can fall prey to the danger of creating more of a fan approach to our faith then being a follower. People become spectators with a consumeristic attitude – entertain me, feed me, inspire me, take care of me, wow me! Sure, I believe in Jesus! I’m here, aren’t I?

This attitude becomes prevalent in the church when we have been too focused on promoting the benefits of Jesus by selling Him like a product to the masses and not talking about what it means to follow Him. Why do we do that? For the sake of attracting and keeping the crowds. Say the prayer, let Him into your heart, and keep showing up.

But Jesus seems to have other ideas. He lays out the bottom line for the crowds. What does it take to be My disciple? (What’s the bottom line to follow Me?) To be My follower means a willingness to risk losing everything for Me – like your family. “He who does not hate his family cannot be My disciple.” How shocking this must’ve been to hear!

By the way, when Jesus says I must hate my family, He’s using an Aramaic way of saying I must love them less than I love Him. I must choose Jesus over my family.

I’m reminded of James and John who dropped their nets and left their father to follow Jesus. In the early days of Christianity, following Jesus could be a major sacrifice. It might mean you would be considered dead by your family members.

I recently read about a woman in India who was poisoned by her family and died for converting to Christianity. In America, a commitment to follow Jesus Christ can cause disruption and tension in homes. Are you going down to that church again? Why are you giving them our money? I am opposed to this. It must stop! 

Jesus goes on to say that to follow Him also means a willingness to risk losing your life, to suffer and even die for Him. Jesus doesn’t tell us to pick up our Cadillac and follow Him. No, He says, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” Be willing to sacrifice your reputation and suffer rejection by those who don’t understand why you stand up for Him. Speak up for Him in this world.

Jesus goes on. To follow Him means a willingness to lose your possessions. Choose Him over things like a car, house, job and financial security. The bottom line is, Jesus wants everything.

These words of Jesus remind me of another place in the Gospels where Jesus said that life with Him was like finding a precious pearl – which was very valuable – then going out and selling everything in order to possess it. Imagine this little dialogue:

I want this pearl. How much is it?
It’s very expensive, the seller says.
But how much? he asks.
A very large amount.
Do you think I could buy it?
Oh, of course. Everyone can buy it.
But didn’t you say it was very expensive?
Well, how much is it?
Everything you have, says the seller.
I made up my mind. I’ll buy it.
What do you have? he wants to know. Let’s write it down . . .
I have $10,000 in the bank.
Good! $10,000. What else?
That’s all! That’s all I have.
Nothing more?
I have a few dollars here in my pocket.
How much?
(He starts digging.) Around $120.
That’s fine. What else do you have?
Nothing. That’s all.
Where do you live? (The seller is still probing.)
In my house. Yeah, I guess I have a house.
The house too, then. (He writes it down.)
You mean I have to live in my camper?
You have a camper? he says. That, too. What else?
I’ll have to sleep in my car.
You have a car?
Yes, two of them.
Both become mine. Both cars. What else?
You already have my money, my house, my camper, and my cars. What more do you want?
Are you alone in this world?
No, I have a wife and two children.
Ah, yes. Your wife and children, too! What else?
I have nothing left. I’m left alone now.
Suddenly the seller exclaims, O, I almost forgot. You! Yourself, too! Everything becomes mine. Wife, children, house, money, cars, and you too!
Then the seller goes on. Now listen, I will allow you to use all these things for the time being, but don’t forget that they are mine – just as YOU are. And whenever I need any of them, you must give them up, because now I am the owner.

This is a little different from what we are used to hearing most of the time when it comes to following Jesus. It is more than admitting my need, confessing my sins, saying a prayer for someone, showing up regularly for worship, and then being told that is what it’s all about. This calling has some teeth to it. It is not a soft sell by any means. It means being willing to risk everything – family, life, possessions – to follow Christ. When you think about it, risking everything means laying aside the American dream to pursue His dream.

Jesus, by the way, knows He’s demanding a lot, and He encourages us to count the cost before we jump in. He is telling the crowd, You need to think this through before you jump in with Me. It won’t be a smooth ride or a trouble-free walk. A builder counts the cost before he starts a building project; a king considers the cost before going to war. If you are to be salt to the world, and you lose your flavor, you are useless and will not help my cause. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Jesus is not interested in building a fan base; He’s looking for committed followers to follow Him and establish His kingdom, the Kingdom of God.

Wow! I wonder how many people went back to their homes that day.

These words of Jesus remind me of a book I read years ago, The Cost of Discipleship, written  by a great Christian theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who eventually became a martyr. He wrote, The Cost of Discipleship. In that book he said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

I’m reminded of a great missionary named Amy Carmichael, who did a lot of writing. She said, “Can he have followed (the Savior) far who has no wound nor scar?”

While this talk from Jesus may have shocked His listeners (and maybe we even find it a little harsh and shocking), it really shouldn’t surprise us if we are at all familiar with the rest of the story. We remember where Jesus was headed – to Jerusalem to suffer and die on a cross for the sins of the world. That was His agenda. He was carrying out His Father’s plan to rescue His lost world – a plan hatched in the Garden of Eden after humanity’s fall into sin. Jesus was totally committed to laying down His life for you and me to rescue us from sin and death. And that is what He did!

In response to His boundless love, He wants us to love Him unequivocally, unambiguously. He wants us, His followers – who are saved by grace through faith – to be willing to go from asking, Where does my Christianity fit into all the things of my life? to How do all the things in my life fit into my Christianity from now on? It’s a willingness to give my all in all to the One who is my all in all, who laid down His life to rescue me and give me eternal life. It’s a willingness to speak up for Him – no matter the cost – whenever the opportunity arises. He wants me to stand up for Him when others might be running Him down and give myself away to others in His name in big and small ways so they might come to love and trust Jesus like I do.

That is the bottom line. And it begs the question, Is it worth it? Is it worth it? Jesus once said, It is in dying for me that you will find life. It’s in self denial. “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Matt. 16:25-26). Jesus was willing to die so I might have life with Him here and in eternity.

And as I pointed out earlier, Jesus described following Him as a real bargain. The man who found a precious pearl of great worth and sold everything to have it didn’t see it as a sacrifice, but as a very wise investment. Jesus tells us when we follow Him, we are trading up when it comes to living.

We might ask how we can know Jesus’ words are true. The answer is simple: the resurrection! After Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, God raised Him on Easter and affirmed everything Jesus had said. All power and authority in heaven and on earth has been conferred to Jesus. He is Lord, and His Word is truth! Listen to these witnesses who have answered His calling in their lives.

▸ The Apostle Paul, who was martyred for his faith, testified, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).
▸ Jim Elliott, a missionary who was martyred in Ecuador, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
▸ David Livingstone, an African missionary, when asked about his life and what a sacrifice it was, replied, “People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege.”
▸ Amy Carmichael, who I mentioned earlier, said, “What is the secret to great living? Entire separation to Christ and devotion to Him.”
▸ Malka Muggeridge, a famous British journalist, writer, and Christian apologist said, “I never knew what joy was until I gave up pursuing happiness, or cared to live until I chose to die. For these two discoveries, I am beholden to Jesus Christ.”

Let me ask you a personal question today. Are you willing to sign up to be a follower? Are you committed to giving everything up for Jesus Christ rather than settling to just be a fan? Are you a fan or a follower? I appeal to you this day to commit yourself to spending the rest of your days following Jesus and giving Him your all in all. “He who has ears to hear,” as Jesus said, “let him hear.”

Jesus, we pause at this holy moment and ask You to come in and take over our lives. We commit ourselves this day to following You, to giving our lives for the sake of Your Kingdom. Use us in whatever way You see fit. Thank you for losing Your life for our sake, for laying it down for us. In the name of You, Lord, the Savior, we ask this. Amen!

Rev. Steve Kramer