Jesus planned to be crucified. In Luke 18 he told his disciples that he would “be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.” Quite a while before that, in Luke 9:22 he told them “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” He didn’t walk blindly or naively into the horror of his beating and execution. He knew exactly what was going to happen. He was determined to follow through on his course anyway, because of his love for us and because that’s what the Father asked him to do. Jesus counted the cost, and followed through to the end. His prayer in Gethsemane was exactly that. “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Matthew 26:39) He didn’t relish the experience, but he didn’t hold anything back, and he went to the cross willingly. It didn’t just happen to him, either, like something he knew was coming and just accepted. He went there intentionally, brought about the events intentionally, because he knew it was worth the cost. You were worth the cost.
The Luke 9 passage in which Jesus predicted his suffering and death on the cross continues with this: “Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'” Jesus’ expectation of us is that we too will count the cost, and obey in following him.
Last week I was thinking about belief and action in relation to sin. If we agree with God about sin, our lives will reflect that belief. It is no longer a matter of keeping a law. It is a matter of following what we know is true, of following and obeying him because we love him. But the call he places on us isn’t just about avoiding sin. If we want to follow him, Jesus tells us, we have to take up our cross daily and follow. As Paul says in Galatians 2:20, it is not I who live any longer, but Christ who lives in me. If I believe that is true, and if action follows consistently with belief, what would my life look like?
The path is likely to be hard. Jesus’ path certainly was brutally difficult. He was blameless, and yet he willingly took on the sin of the world and the punishment for that sin. The path of the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 is not an easy path. Nor was Paul’s, or any of the first generations of Christians. They were stoned, beheaded, crucified, burned alive, impaled, whipped, thrown to wild animals, and had numerous other unspeakable things done to them because they were followers of Christ. Nothing most of us go through in our modern world (at least in the West) is anything like that, but we have no right to expect that our path should be easy, when those who went before us were faithful through so much hardship. It isn’t hard just for the sake of being hard. Its hard because that’s what develops maturity, what gives us the opportunities to be faithful and grow, to choose obedience even when disobeying would be so much easier.
There is no such thing as defeat, except turning away. When we embark on the path that God gives us, the only failure is not obeying. Often we think God gives us a task to accomplish, and if the thing we think he wants us to do doesn’t work, we think its a failure. That’s not the case. The works that God prepares for us require more than we bring to the table. We are called to be faithful, not to do God’s part. Generally when we think we have failed in accomplishing what God has asked us to do, it’s because we’ve made assumptions about God’s intended outcome. There are lots of examples of this in the Bible. When Job was sitting in the dump scratching at his sores, when Joseph was in prison, when Moses was in the wilderness before returning to Egypt, when David was hiding from Saul. All of these turned out well in the end. We’re tempted to look for good endings in short time frames. That’s not always the case. Sometimes the time scale of what God is doing can only be seen from eternity. It is a mistake on our part to try to figure out what God is doing and whether its working or not. Of course its working, he’s God. The mistake is based on thinking that it is our work, on a human scale. The works that God prepares for us, the works that God is doing through us, are not like that.
It is God’s scope and plan and will that counts. In Gethsemene this was the whole point. “Not what I will, but what you will.” Jesus said. In John 14:10 Jesus said “The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father abiding in me performs His works.” Job couldn’t know God’s reasons for what happened to him, and God didn’t ever reveal them to him. That’s often the case. But the truly important things that are happening in our lives and the lives of the people we touch are not visible on our scale. They are things that God is doing in the hearts and over time scales we can’t see. Everything truly worth doing has to be done according to the will and plan of God. Our responsibility is to respond faithfully, to obey, to fully engage and pursue God. The outcomes belong to Him.
There is another danger here as well: that we will fall into religiosity rather than relationship. Jesus’ talked about this in regards to giving in the temple. The Pharisees were careful to calculate their tithes, but they ignored the heart of what God asked of them. The poor widow’s sacrificial gift was worth more than the much larger gifts of the rich. Giving someone a glass of water is either good or not depending on if is a matter of love, indifference or scorn. But the works of faith, the works that God prepared in advance for us and that does his own work through, are a natural and inevitable outflowing of a heart that seeks after and belongs to God.
Remember Christ’s statement: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” That is a daily, ongoing call. If I believe him, if I love him, then I will seek to come after him. I will obey. My life will be radically different as a result. Is it?
If I count the cost and choose to follow anyway that means I don’t balk at the cost later. I’ve already given it up, handed it over to Him. If I have died and it is Christ who lives in me than it is Christ who is responsible for my family. It is Christ who owns my bank account (not just a tenth) and my home and my car. “My” money will be used how God chooses to use it, not for my convenience and aspirations, or for the American dream. Christ owns my time, my career, my work, my attention. “My” time, attention, and effort will be used how God chooses to use them. All of it is his. No one else comes first. No one else gets my first loyalty, my first responsibility, my first love. In fact, if what I say I believe is what I actually believe, than I cannot be my first love either. God is, and only him. That is the cost, and it is well worth paying.