What it Costs to Follow Jesus

Pastor Jeff Struecker

We’re going to treat this sermon today like a conversation. Now, I want you to imagine that you’re sitting down at a restaurant back before corona (when we could actually sit down at restaurants), and you’re having a conversation with a friend who’s been having some discussion with you about Jesus.

And in this discussion, they’ve heard what we said last week about the gospel. We said the gospel is a four-lane bridge. It’s a bridge that no human being could ever personally cross, like from Sydney, Australia to Seattle, Washington, and God is the one who builds the bridge so that sinful people like me could be made right with him. And now they’ve started to understand that.

I want you to picture in your mind that somebody is sitting down at a restaurant table with you, and they ask you a really raw, really honest question. They say, “I think I understand what you’re saying. I think I now understand a definition of the word gospel. But I just need to know something right up front. Before I step across the line of faith, before I take that final step, I need you to look me in the eyes, and I need you to tell me, what is this going to cost me?”

You see, not a whole lot of people ever get the chance to ask that question. Maybe they’re embarrassed, or maybe they don’t know anybody who could give them an honest answer to that question. But really what this question asks is extremely important. It’s the kind of thing that you would want to know before you sign the mortgage on a house. You would want to know this before you agree to a job.

You would want to know this before you go deep in a relationship with a guy or a girl. You want to know, what is this thing going to cost me? And I think you absolutely should be able to ask the question, what is following Jesus going to cost me? 

Here’s what I want to ask you to do. I want you to answer out loud. What do you think it’s going to cost you? What would you say if somebody asked you, “Hey, I need you to look me in the eyes and tell me exactly what this is going to cost me.” -because I believe in truth and advertising. I think there’s an honest answer to this question, and here it is:

Following Jesus is going to cost you less than you think, and if we’re really going to be honest today, it’s going to cost you more than you can possibly imagine. And by the way, by the time that we get done, if you properly understand the gospel, hopefully you will have decided, I’m willing to give everything that it costs me because I believe I’m going to get a whole lot more than I give following Jesus.

Following Jesus will cost you less than you think and more than you can imagine.

I realize if you’re looking at this statement, this is one question, and it has two answers to it. It may feel like, “Wait a second, Jeff. This isn’t fair. You can’t give two seemingly contradictory answers to one question.” I want you to hear today that these answers are not contradictory. They’re actually complimentary. And this is really the honest picture of what following Jesus looks like.

So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to take both sides of this equation, both sides of the coin, and we’re going to talk about the three things that it’s going to cost you that are less than you think, and the three areas that are more than you can possibly imagine. 

And so let’s just begin with the second half of this answer, let’s start with what it will cost you, and then after we take a look at a few of these things, we’ll look at what it won’t cost you.

It will cost the shame.

Here’s what it’s going to cost you first. It’s going to cost you some shame over the mistakes that you’ve made in your life. Now, if you’re like me (By the way, I don’t even need to know you to know this is true of you), let’s just be honest. All of us have done some things in our past that we’re not proud of. If you’re saying, “Hey, I’ve never done that.” then I am going to call you out on it right now, because I’ve done some things that I’m not proud of.

And if you’re not careful, those mistakes that you made in the past can haunt you into the future. Did you know that the gospel says you don’t have to carry the pain of those mistakes, the shame of those mistakes with you into the future? The prophet Isaiah many hundreds of years ago was writing to God’s people. They had made some massive mistakes. They had committed some sins that were so bad, God sent a foreign army into conquer their land and took them away into captivity. 

God is restoring the land and God is, through His prophet Isaiah, promising a future where they don’t have to carry the shame of their past mistakes with them. I want you to hear what Isaiah chapter 54 says about how God through His great glorious gospel does away with this shame. Here’s what it says:

Is 54:4.  “Do not be afraid, for you will not be put to shame; don’t be humiliated, for you will not be disgraced. For you will forget the shame of your youth, and you will no longer remember the disgrace of your widowhood.”

When Isaiah is writing this, he is describing what we may call today a modern day “Karen”. You see, I was scrolling through Apple News this week, and I stumbled across this headline that said, “Help! My wife made a Karen video on social media.” 

Now, I didn’t have the first idea what social media is talking about. So, I had to go do a little bit of research about this. This Apple News article is referring to “Karen” as a type, a stereo cast. If you don’t know what this term means like I didn’t and had to Google it this week, here’s what Karen refers to. It’s a middle age, affluent white woman, usually with a bob haircut, probably a racist, who does something that she is ashamed of and that thing makes it to social media.

In this discussion, this lady did something and had a meltdown in public. Her husband is writing to try to get some help because his wife has become a recluse and refuses to go out of her house. Now, please listen to the pain in this family’s voice. The wife herself admits, “I have just said something. I have just done something that I am so ashamed of that I don’t even want to leave my house.” And the family is now asking the question, is it time for us to move? That’s how bad life has become when this thing she said or did went public.

In the process of answering this question (it’s on this online forum and lots of people are giving advice), some people are saying it’s time to move and start all over again. Other people are saying, “Here’s how you pick up the pieces after you have done something that you’re personally embarrassed about.” The husband isn’t embarrassed for his wife. He is saying, my wife is so embarrassed that she’s become a recluse.

And I wish somebody on that forum would give the answer that this guy and his family really needs to hear. It’s a two-word answer. And the answer is, the gospel is the solution to the shame of a mistake that you’ve made in the past that continues to keep up with you and continues to haunt you. What Isaiah is saying to us today is, you don’t have to let those mistakes and those failures of the past define who you are today, nor do they have to go with you into the future.

God is saying, “I will take all of those mistakes, all of those sins, all of those failures, and I will erase them.” And then you can get up in the morning and not feel the shame of some major mistakes that you’ve made in the past. 

It will cost the pain.

You’re going to give away your shame when you commit to Jesus, and by the way, most of us in this room, most of us watching this would say, “I’m more than willing to, I’m ready to give that one away.” You know what else the gospel will cost you? You’re also going to give away some of the pain, the pain that life inflicts when it punches you in the face and kicks you while you’re down.

Now, we’re going to read from Psalm 25, but before we get there, I just need you to understand the name, 2 Cities. But more importantly, I need you to hear clearly, so pay attention. The Bible never promises that God will prevent you from having pain.

In fact, in this earthly city that we live in, city number one, this earthly city, the Bible almost guarantees that there will be some painful times that come. But, it does say that there is an eternal city that’s waiting for us when God will do away with all of the suffering, all of the tears, all of the pain. But here’s what I want you to understand from Psalm 25 today: He promises that he will walk with you through the pain.

And now it hurts, but it doesn’t hurt nearly as bad because you have the Holy Spirit of the living God going with you in the midst of some intense pain and difficult problems. Five times in Psalms 25, David, the King of Israel cries out for God to make the pain go away, or at least, “God, be with me in the midst of this pain.” And I want you to hear from Psalm 25, starting in verse 16. Listen to what David says:

Ps 25:16–20 (NLT) Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress. 17 My problems go from bad to worse. Oh, save me from them all! 18 Feel my pain and see my trouble. Forgive all my sins. 19 See how many enemies I have and how viciously they hate me! 20 Protect me! Rescue my life from them! Do not let me be disgraced, for in you I take refuge.

Maybe you feel like David right now, and maybe life has punched you and kicked you while you were down. Maybe you’ve had some people who have turned on you and stabbed you in the back. The guy who writes this Psalm knows what it feels like to be in pain. We don’t know exactly what’s going on in his life, but maybe this is the circumstance. He’s had a father-in-law who will do anything to prevent David from taking the throne, to include killing him.

His own father-in-law wants him dead. Or maybe it’s even worse than that. Maybe it’s a moment where David’s family falls apart, and he’s experiencing the pain of a son, literally a son who is sleeping with his step mom and trying to murder his own father because he wants dad’s job, dad’s power, dad’s wealth. Maybe that’s what’s going on when David cries out to God, “God, I am hurting.”

And what he says here is, “I just need to know that you feel my pain. I just need to know that you will walk with me [Psalm 23] through the Valley of the shadow of death. I just need to know that you’re going to be by my side.” David is hurting, and he is turning to a God who is present and walking with him through the midst of the pain. 

I want to give a quick shout out to a lady from our church who, for the first time in a long time, maybe the first time ever, tried to share her faith this week. She was at a clothing store. There was a lady who was serving her, waiting on her, helping her, and it was obvious that this lady that was serving her was in deep distress, was really troubled. And so this woman from 2 Cities Church took a courageous step and just simply tried to start the gospel conversation. And here’s what she learned: This young woman, 21 years old, is now pregnant with her second child, and her family doesn’t know this yet. She is experiencing the pain and the shame of having to go tell her family that she’s now pregnant with child number two.

I’m so proud of this woman from our church who just simply said, “The answer to your shame, the answer to the pain that you’re going through is found in King Jesus.” And although this woman didn’t give her life to Christ right there on the spot, what this woman from our church did is just reached out to her and say, “Is it okay if I give you a hug?” And that hug meant so much to her, that this lady got emotional.

Maybe it’s because of the struggles that she’s going through. Maybe it’s because of social distancing, and we can’t even hug people right now. But whatever it is, what this woman just needed to know is that there’s somebody who cares about her and who will go through this pain with me. That’s what David is saying. 

It will cost the strain.

See, following Jesus is going to cost you shame of some mistakes that you’ve made in the past. It’s going to also cost you some of the pain that you’re struggling with. And finally, it’s going to cost you the struggles, the strain that you have been trying to work yourself through.

This weekend is the 19th anniversary of the attacks in the United States on September 11th. Let me tell you exactly where I was on this day. I was a chaplain on active duty in the United States Army in the The 82nd Airborne Division when these attacks happen. The men in my unit, the paratroopers in the 82nd Airborne Division, were struggling and were stressed out. They were thinking through the impact that these attacks were going to have on them and on their families and on our country.

My commander gathered the entire unit together and just basically gave them some thoughts on what he thought the future would look like. I asked my commander at that time. “Do you mind if I read one or two verses from the Bible and just say a quick prayer over all of these paratroopers, not knowing what the future holds?” 

When I read from the Bible, the verses that I wanted these paratroopers to hear came from Psalm 46, because when you’re struggling and suffering, when you’re really having a hard time, I believe we need to remember how big our God is. Psalm 46 ends this way:

Ps 46:10–11  “Stop fighting, and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.” 11 The Lord of Armies is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

And then he says the word Selah. The word strain here, if you have a different translation of the Bible, probably says, stop fighting. It may also say cease striving. And the idea here is swimming in the ocean as hard as you can. But the current is stronger than you can swim, and you’re fighting against the current with every fiber of your being. However, you don’t get closer to shore. You just keep getting pulled farther and farther away. 

And what the Bible says is, sometimes you’re struggling in life. Sometimes it feels like no matter how much I give, no matter how hard I try, I just keep getting pulled farther and farther away. It’s two steps forward and three steps back. And at the end of the day, I’m farther than I was when it started. Maybe that’s what life feels like for you right now. When you turn things over to Jesus, the Bible says you have a God who is bigger than your problems, a God who is bigger than the warring factions on the earth, bigger than even the chaos and the 20 years of combat that the global war on terrorism started.

What I wanted these paratroopers to hear is how great our God is and to put their trust in Him and only in Him. 

So are you struggling right now? Are you suffering right now? Are you feeling like the deck is stacked against you and that you can’t get ahead? If that’s you, stop fighting. If you’ve gone through some shame and made some mistakes in your past and they’re haunting you today, stop letting that shame define who you are in the future.

If you’re struggling with some really difficult, painful circumstances, turn those things over to Jesus and he will help you through those problems. That’s what following Jesus is going to cost you. 

But, I also want to tell you, the second half of the equation. You see, I want you to also know what it’s NOT going to cost you. I want you to understand what changes when you become a follower of Jesus and what doesn’t change when you become a follower of Jesus.

It will not cost your brain.

So let’s take a look at the three parts of this equation that don’t change when you become a follower of Jesus. You don’t have to check your brain at the door. It will not cost you your intellect or your brain. Someone recently asked the question, almost exactly in these words. “I don’t feel like I have enough faith to take this blind leap. And so, I guess I’m just not going to become a Christian.”

And the idea, I’m afraid, behind this question is, “I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t think that the math adds up.” And I just want you to hear what the Bible says, because one of the most brilliant minds on planet earth had this radical experience with Jesus Christ that changed him completely. He also realized that, I don’t have to check my brain at the door. I don’t have to give up my intellect. I can really think through what I believe is a reasonable faith.

This comes from the Apostle Paul. It’s found in 1 Corinthians, and I want you to hear how he describes following Jesus in this short verse. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says:

1 Co 13:12  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.

I’m referring to the Christian faith as a reasonable faith. Now, let me explain the word faith. Ultimately, it is a belief. Nobody can believe for you. Nobody can take that last step of faith for you. You’re going to have to do that one on your own.

Nobody can twist your arm into believing anything about Jesus, but I called it a reasonable faith, because I think if you look at the history, I think if you look at the archeology, I think if you look at the ethics behind it, I think if you look at theology, I think if you look at the evidence for the Bible, when you look at all of these things, it becomes highly reasonable to believe the claims of the Bible, to believe that there really was a man who lived 2000 years ago who claimed to be the son of God, to believe that he said he would become the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and he died a brutal death on the cross, to believe that they took a body off of the cross (a man who really was dead) and then three days later came out of the tomb by his own power and is alive today and at the right hand of God, the Father. 

I can’t conclusively prove these things to you, but I think when you look at all of the evidence, it becomes highly reasonable to believe that what the Bible claims about Jesus really did happen. Now, the way the Apostle Paul said it in 1 Corinthians is that it’s like looking through a mirror. You’re just seeing a reflection right now.

He says we’re looking at a God that we cannot see, so ultimately, we’re looking through the eyes of faith. But there will be a point in the future where faith becomes sight and where I see with my eyes what I have believed with my heart for a lifetime. I just want you to understand that it’s really reasonable. You don’t have to take some blind leap that defies logic. No, it’s highly reasonable to believe the claims of Jesus, to believe who he said he is and what he did for you. That’s something that you don’t have to give up when you become a Christian.

It will not cost your campaign.

I wish I didn’t have to make this next statement, but unfortunately, because of what’s happening in our country right now, I do. You also don’t have to give up your politics. And because I’m looking for words that rhyme, I just used the word campaign. But somebody asked me this question: “When you become a Christian, can you really vote for a political party that endorses abortion and basically treats abortion like it’s no big deal?”

Now, I want to give grace to this question because I hope the person who sent it is genuinely asking a question and they’re looking for an answer. But something inside of me tells me that they may be just trying to promote one political party over another. 

Every four years, our country is torn at the seams by two political parties. And I just want to answer the question honestly, do you have to become a Republican when you follow Jesus? I’m going to be very specific with the answer to this question: No. 

I’m going to give you a verse from Luke chapter six about the kind of people Jesus called to follow him and about their politics. We’ll start in Luke 6:13, but I want you to understand who the last guy listed in the long list of 12 apostles are. Here’s what Luke 6:13 says:

Luke 6:13; 15  When daylight came, he summoned his disciples, and he chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles:v 14 … and Simon called the Zealot

Now, if you know something about your Bible, you know that there were two Simons that Jesus called to be his apostles. One of them Jesus changed his name and called him Simon Peter. The other Simon, the Bible refers to as Simon, the Zealot. Are you aware that Zealot is a reference to a “political party”?

There was a political party in Jesus’s day that was of fierce nationalists who believed in the nation of Israel, hated all the foreigners in the land, and eventually years after this would try to violently overthrow the Roman government in order to kick the foreigners out of their land so that Israel could become the nation that they were supposed to be in the eyes of the Zealots. Simon, the last guy on the list, this second Simon that Jesus called, was a Zealot.

And notice, the Bible doesn’t say that he had to give up being a Zealot to follow Jesus. I think his politics probably shifted over time, but Jesus intentionally went after a guy like this. Now, I’m not comparing either political party in the United States to the Zealots. I’m just going to be very careful with what I say next, because this will get me really fired up, and I’m going to go off and lose my ever loving mind, because I think what this question implies is if you’re a Christian, you have to vote the way that I vote. And that idea makes me very, very angry.

In fact, my answer online to this question was, don’t you dare cherry-pick political issues and take one political issue and make that one equal with the gospel, because that’s how non-Christians act. That’s how non-Christians think. We don’t act like that. We don’t look to the government to fix our problems. We believe only King Jesus can fix the ultimate problems in our society. 

And yes, there are some issues that should significantly influence the way that we vote, but we vote our conscience before a Holy God. I need you to hear this from me, because what politics has done to our country, especially the two party political system is abhorrent to me. It is shameful. And unfortunately, it’s happening in the church now, where church people are drawing political lines and they’re starting to become divided over politics. Shame on us if we allow politics to ever become more important than the gospel. 

Here’s what I’m just going to say, and I’ve got to get off of this topic because I’m getting angry already. Understand the issues. Know who the candidates are and what they stand for. Vote your conscience before a Holy God. He will hold me and you accountable for who you vote for or who you don’t vote for. 

But don’t you dare make presidential politics equal with the gospel. The president of the United States cannot change a man or a woman’s soul. Only King Jesus can do that, and only by changing a soul will you ultimately change society. 

It will not cost your name.

Third, someone also asked the question, “Where do Christian names come from? When I become a Christian, does the Bible necessarily say that my name has to change?” And really, what it’s asking is, does everything about my past, my identity, my c