What is The Cost of Jesus?
September 08, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Jeremiah 2:4-13 Philemon 1-21 Luke 14:25-33
How many of you remember Rex Humbard?
Rex Humbard was probably one of the first of what we now refer to as televangelists, or mega-church preachers and he made his home, for many years, in Akron, Ohio (technically, Cuyahoga Falls) But one of the things for which Rex is remembered, is something that he didn’t do, or, more correctly, started, but never finished.
Even though Rex Humbard left for the sunny skies of Florida in 1983 and passed away in 2007, it is his financial troubles that are remembered in Akron, where, at the site of the Cathedral of Tomorrow, he began construction of a 750 foot broadcast tower that would be taller than Terminal Tower, include a revolving restaurant overlooking the city and from which you could dine and see the lights of both Akron and Cleveland. But, that’s as far as it ever got. Construction began. And then stopped, at 494 feet, as money troubles, internal squabbling, and trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission erupted.
That tower, all 494 feet of it, still sits in Cuyahoga Falls and you can see it from a large portion of Akron, and from the turnpike in Cleveland. In 1989, someone bought that tower at auction for $30,000 and then rented space to various cell phone companies to place antennas at a height they could never attain otherwise.
The moral of the story is an old one, and it’s a biblical one, and it’s one that residents of Akron tell at parties. It is always foolish to build something unless you know you have the money to finish it.
Likewise, we should know the costs of our actions, good or bad. When we travel the interstate highway at speeds in excess of the legal speed limit, we should be aware of the fines for doing so and be prepared to pay them if we are caught. And that’s exactly the message that Jeremiah brings to the people of Israel. (Jeremiah 18:1-11)
18:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So, turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’
God is clear that he will reconsider the good things that he had intended for those people who do evil. If we wander from the truth, and wander away from God, God will continue to love us, but like any good investor, God will not throw good money after bad, and will not continue to bless people who have chosen a path that leads away from him. This is the reverse of the Rex Humbard story. Rather than considering how much something will cost, this story reminds us to consider the cost of not doing it. What is the cost to us for not doing the things that God calls us to do, and not living in the way that God has taught us to live?
And then in Luke 14:25-33, Jesus makes an important point to anyone who chooses to follow him.
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
Jesus begins and ends with the same message; there is a price to be paid for following Jesus and it won’t be cheap. But in the middle, Jesus points to the kind of story that was familiar to people both then and now. If you are going to build something, you need to know what it’s going to cost to build it or, like Rex Humbard, you will look ridiculous, people will be staring at your half-finished tower, and they’ll be talking about your mistake for decades after you’re dead. Likewise, a king who doesn’t consider his options may end up worse off than if he had negotiated some sort of treaty.
Jesus says that the only way to follow him is to put all your chips on the table. Understand that by following him, you might lose your relationships with family members that you love, you might be uncomfortable, you might suffer, you might lose your fortune, and you might even lose your life. And, if you aren’t prepared to give 100%, if you aren’t sold out to Jesus, if you aren’t “all in,” then don’t even start down the road to building a tower that you can’t afford to finish.
But what might that look like in real life? It’s one thing to talk about Rex Humbard, or a contractor building a tower, or a king going off to war but, most of us are none of those things. What does it look like for an ordinary person to be “all in”? And, in Paul’s letter to Philemon, a book of only one chapter, we meet two people who are called upon to do the right thing. And although they are nearly opposites, they both run the risk of losing a great deal. (Philemon 1-21)
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.
From this letter we understand that Philemon was, at one time, the owner of a slave by the name of Onesimus. But Onesimus, had at some point, left in a way that was not approved by Philemon but has become a valued partner in Paul’s ministry. Although “escaped” might apply here, so might several other words. Slaves of that time could be professionals such as doctors or accountants, and might travel across the Roman Empire, on their own, while doing the business that the owners had sent them to do. It is possible that Onesimus went on a trip and failed to return. But whatever the circumstances surrounding his departure, Onesimus was supposed to return and he did not. At some point, he likely became afraid of what might happen to him if he did. But Paul wants both men to do the right thing. But both have a lot to lose if they do.
If Onesimus does the right thing, and returns what he stole from Philemon, he risks mistreatment, pain, torture, death, and at least a life of servitude. And if Philemon does what Paul has instructed him to do, which is also the right thing, he loses the value of his slave, he loses the respect of other slave owners, and he could easily lose a lot of money and business as he loses face in an honor based society. He runs the risk of being financially ruined if he does the right thing. But Paul calls upon both of them to do the right thing, because as followers of Jesus Christ, our call is to do what’s right even if what’s right ruins us financially, causes us to suffer, lose our friends and relationships with our family members, and even if we might lose our lives.
We laugh about people who don’t plan and leave half-finished towers, but as we consider our relationship with Jesus, we must be careful not to do the same thing. We must never say that we are the followers of Jesus if we are not prepared to be all-in, sold out, and 100 percent committed.
What is the cost of Jesus?
Are you prepared to do whatever it takes?
Are you prepared to pay the price?
No matter what?
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