As Jesus went around Perea proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God, great crowds began to follow Him wherever He went. A great line of hostility had been drawn by the most powerful religious leaders in Jerusalem against Jesus, but He was still the most popular teacher in the nation. Many of those among the people had come to believe that He was the Messiah.
As Jesus traversed the towns and villages of Perea, He began to make His way towards Jerusalem. Everyone was watching His moves, and everyone knew that a major crisis was on the way. When the time of Passover came, there was bound to be a terrific clash. The entire nation was talking about it. Would they try to arrest Jesus? Would He bring some fantastic miracle and assert His power over Jerusalem? So far, Jesus’ miracles had been used to show compassion for others. When would He use His power for Himself?
The Old Testament told stories about angelic armies and miraculous victories for the nation of Israel over nations with far more powerful armies (Check out Exodus 14:12-31 or Isaiah 36-37). Would Jesus somehow come against the Romans and establish a throne of His own?
Many in the crowds believed Jesus was the Messiah, and they didn’t want to miss the blessings that would surely come when He chose to act. They were expecting Jesus to somehow take His throne in Jerusalem as the rightful King. They expected Him to build the Kingdom He was always talking about, and they wanted to be a part of it.
They didn’t understand that Jesus was talking about a spiritual Kingdom. They didn’t yet grasp that the Great Enemy that Jesus was going to have victory over was far greater than the Roman Empire.
Human empires may have their day in the sun, but they always fade away eventually. The real oppression of human history does not start with human leadership. It starts with Satan and the powerful grip of the Curse. That is what Jesus came to destroy, and it was a far deeper victory than anything the people of His day had imagined.
Christ’s victory would open the gates of Heaven, God’s eternal Kingdom, for all who believed in Him.
What the crowds, including Jesus’ own disciples, did not understand was that living for the Kingdom for Christ on earth was not going to look like victory…at least not right away. It was going to look like the cross. This was not only going to be true for Jesus. It was going to be true for His followers as well.
The blessings of God’s Kingdom in this world are often the very things most people view as a curse. For the past 2,000 years since Jesus died and rose again, His followers have made major sacrifices to establish God’s Kingdom to further and further regions of the world. In fact, more people have died for the name of Jesus in our time than in any other. It is happening today…it probably happened somewhere in the world as you were reading this post.
As His faithful ones have proclaimed the Good News, they have often come against very same hostility that Jesus was facing. Following Jesus often brings suffering and hardship. Like Jesus, the true hope of His disciples is in a world they cannot see. Someday, all who have stood faithful with Jesus will live in the lavish blessings of a Perfect World with a Perfect Savior. It will make every moment of suffering for Jesus here on earth worth it, but it will not necessarily be easy in the meantime (Check out 1 Corinthians 4, Revelation 6:9-11, and 12:10-12 ).
The Lord wanted to make the cost of following Him very clear to the crowds and His disciples. He wasn’t afraid to challenge them with choices that were meaningful enough to cost them something. He had no intention of hiding what true devotion looks like. In fact, He demanded it as a central imperative for a life of true faith.
So He said:
“‘If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, even his own life- he cannot be My disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.’”
Now, do you think Jesus really meant He wanted His followers to hate their families? This was the same Jesus who told the people to love their neighbors…and their enemies. When the Jewish people used the word “hate” in the way Jesus was using it, they meant that you had to choose to love something less in comparison to how much more you loved something else.
For example, it is okay to love ice cream, but that love should be nothing close to how much we love our families. Compared to our devotion to parents or children, our love for ice cream should be so much smaller that it is almost like hatred. In fact, if we ever have to choose between family members and ice cream, we would “hate” or reject ice cream so that we could express love to our relatives. They are a lot more important.
As much as His disciples were supposed to love their families, their love and obedient devotion to Jesus had to come first. And if it ever came down to choosing between making family happy or honoring Jesus, obedience to the Lord had to be the most important thing. The Lord Jesus was demanding first loyalty from those who wanted to follow after Him. That meant being willing to obey all the way to death. That is a lot to ask. It is radical love. But it is no less than the radical love He has shown for us.
Then Jesus said:
“‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays down the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, “this fellow began to build and was not able to finish.”
‘Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 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. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.’”
Wow. Jesus was challenging each of His followers to sit down and think: “Am I really willing to give up everything for Jesus? What if He asks for my house? My job? What if I have to suffer to proclaim His name? What if nobody understands what I am doing but the Lord? What if they all think I’m crazy? Or stupid? What if I have to die? Is it worth it? Can I truly follow Him to the end? Can I really give Him everything?”
The scary thing about these questions is that they demand a real answer. And as extreme as these questions seem, they aren’t anything that Jesus wasn’t willing to do for us Himself. These were all things Jesus willingly gave to God on our behalf.
The life of Christ was being poured out for the people of His nation, even as they rejected Him. And His blood would be poured out to bring salvation to the world. He was the model and the hero that all who believe in Him can follow. He created the door with His own body, and then led the way through it. And He is so beautiful, so pure and so good…so not like the confused and dark things of this world, that the more we gaze on Him, the easier that becomes.
In the end, the thing that stokes the soul and makes it radiate with passion is not the vapid mediocrity of ease and compromise or selfish pleasure, but the ringing, powerful call to something greater than ourselves…and nothing is greater than Christ.
Those that truly want to be identified with Him must be willing to surrender to the Father as completely as He did. It is their radical surrender to God and their carelessness about the things of this world that testifies to the watching world that there is something far greater they are waiting for.
As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, He was preparing…challenging…each person to search their own heart. Would they count the cost? Were they willing to pay the price? Many would have that question answered for them when Jesus was arrested. Even those with the best intentions would find themselves faltering and failing in the face of death. Would any be left when all was said and done?