On this weekend, this Memorial Day, we remember the ones close to us, our family members, our friends, and others who have gone from this life into the next. Our society does not place as much emphasis on this holiday as in times past, at least not as far as the true meaning of it goes. Memorial Day is developing into more of a day for cookouts, for traveling, and for going back to the pool for another season. For most of us it marks the unofficial beginning of summer. For us as Christians, Memorial Day is not just a time to remember those people who have gone ahead of us to meet Christ. It is also a time to draw upon their heritage, to be inspired by their example, and to focus on the work that God still has for us to do. In the past couple of weeks, we have said “goodbye” to some wonderful saints of God. These men and women have joined the heavenly throng, and are now singing the praises of God’s Son. Alissa Cantrell now has bright, sunny days every day, all the time. Linda Hudson is walking around heaven freely, with no pain. George Pauley can hear voices and music for the first time in years. One day, as we trust in Jesus, we will see them again, as well as others who have trusted in Christ. Until that time, all of them would have us, and God would have us, to remember their example and to press towards the future. We stand on the shoulders of individuals throughout the history of our congregation who have been bright, shining examples for Christ. There are many qualities that characterize them. If we had to identify one quality however, that God used above all others to allow us to experience all the good things we have experienced here, if there is one attribute that would describe the people who have contributed so much to this church and have made possible all the uplifting, life-changing things, it would be sacrifice. We are reaching the point as a society, and to some extent as a church, that we no longer want to hear the word “sacrifice.” The very idea of sacrificing of our time, our talents, or our treasures is foreign to us. Think about each of these words: Dedication, devotion, discipleship, commitment, and perseverance. These ideas are becoming more and more unfamiliar to us. John F. Kennedy uttered the famous words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” In our consumer-driven culture today, we are turning these words around backwards, even in the church. Too often our thought is, “Ask not what I can do for my church, ask what my church can do for me.” We approach the church as we would approach Wal-Mart, looking for the bargains that give us the most benefit and passing on the things that offer no immediate gratification. Church becomes just another consumer center, a place where we can browse for the things that might appeal to us in some way. It can also be like a restaurant, where we are more focused on how much we are being fed rather than how much we are feeding others. As Jason Lovins so aptly put it last Sunday, “Church can become all about me.” This kind of attitude is not a part of our heritage as a congregation. This kind of attitude has no place in the our hope for the future. Our salvation is free, but our discipleship is costly. Our predecessors here at First Baptist knew how to sacrifice, they understood the meaning of discipleship. In our passage for this morning, Jesus is speaking to a large crowd that was curious about what he had to say. Jesus was the latest fad, he was the rock star of his time, everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of him and be able to tell others what they had seen and heard. Jesus was all the rage. So when He speaks here, He is speaking to a large group of people. He isn’t just speaking to His disciples, He isn’t just speaking to a handful of intimate followers. He is speaking to everyone who is showing even the smallest amount of interest in Him. His words here are rather sharp and cutting. Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” had not yet been written, and if it had Jesus wouldn’t have followed its principles on this occasion. Jesus remarks three times here on who CANNOT be his disciple. His words are exclusive. He sets the bar high. He refuses to lower his standards. He says if we don’t do certain things, if we don’t have certain priorities in our lives, we can’t be disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus isn’t seeking a crowd here, he is seeking commitment. He isn’t seeking decisions, he is seeking disciples. The ones who were the spiritual giants to us, the ones who mean so much to this congregation, are the ones who committed to Christ, who devoted themselves as disciples, who gave the church a “sacred pre-eminence over all institutions of human origin” as the old church covenant says. So if we are serious about following Jesus, then Jesus has some serious words for us to hear. If we really want to embrace our past heritage this Memorial Day weekend, if we really want to possess our future hope, then we will understand three things clearly.
First, our heritage and hope is found in the priorities we place. v. 26 of our passage says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Now we need to be clear here that Jesus is not telling us to hate our families – he isn’t making that point. What he IS saying is that we are to love our parents, our spouses, our kids, and our brothers and sisters LESS than we love Him. The whole issue here is one of priorities. In this day and age, just as in Jesus’ time, a huge importance is placed on family. We will do just about anything for the benefit of our families. We will pay substantial money to get our kids through high school, then pay much, much more to put them through college. We will argue with our brothers and sisters in private, then defend them to the death in public. We will shed tears over parents when we lose them and give them a sacred place of honor in hearts and minds. We will treasure our spouses while we have them with us, then grieve over them when they depart. If anything is true about us today as a culture, it is that we love our families. In fact, we come close to worshiping them. The point Jesus is making here is that he will not take second place to anyone. If He doesn’t mean more to us than our families, if we don’t treasure Him more than we do them, then we aren’t fit to be his disciples. Those are harsh words for us, but Jesus says them. The saints we remember today from First Baptist past placed Christ and his church first, above everything else. If we truly honor their memory, then we will do the same today. How many women here this morning can even imagine a man coming to you and saying, ”I want you to marry me, with one condition: if another woman comes into my life down the road and I find her more appealing than you, then you’ll have to make room in your life and share me with her.” I can’t imagine any woman accepting that kind of offer. A woman wants to be first, above all others and unrivaled in her man’s heart and life. That same kind of commitment and esteem is what Jesus seeks from us. Our parents don’t rival Him
Our kids don’t rival Him.
Our spouse doesn’t rival Him.
Our grand children don’t rival Him.
If we don’t have Jesus in that highest of all places in our minds and that deepest of all places in our hearts, then we aren’t fit to be his disciples. There is a sacrifice we must when we follow Jesus. Our predecessors here at First Baptist made it, will we make it as well? The sacrifice is that Jesus must come first in every area of our lives. He comes ahead of family, He comes ahead of friends, He comes ahead of finances. I read this last week that there are three classes of seats on the train bound for heaven. Christians seated in third class have Jesus present in their lives. Christians seated in second class have Jesus prominent in their lives. Christians seated in first class have Jesus preeminent in their lives. Our heritage and our hope is found in the priorities we place.
Then, our heritage and hope is found in the price we pay. Verse 27 of our passage reads, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” As I mentioned earlier, our salvation is free, but it is not cheap. Jesus paid a price to save us, and we pay a price to serve Him. Billy Graham once said, ”I think the main reason people do not come to Christ is because they do not want to pay the price, but Christ will not compromise and he will not negotiate.” Jesus says we must take up a cross. The cross was not an attractive symbol then as it is now. Everyone is willing to take up the symbol of the cross now, for it has lost much of the impact it had in Jesus’ time. When Jesus spoke these words, there was only one reason a person would take up a cross, and that was to die. So Jesus is calling us not only to live with Him, but to die with Him. This reason is why we must love Him more than even our own life, as He says in verse 26. Friends, if we are not willing to die to self, to our ambitions, to our desires, to whatever it is we really want in life, and if we will not completely surrender our lives to Jesus, then we cannot be His disciples. If we want to win a popularity contest at school or at work or even in the church, then we’ll have trouble following Jesus. The world and the religious establishment mocked Jesus, and they will mock us. They rejected Jesus, they will reject us. They scorned Jesus, they will scorn us. Part of the price we pay in following Jesus is surrendering our pride. Someone once said, “When Christ is on the cross, self is on the throne. But when self is on the cross, Christ is on the throne.” Are we willing to die for our Lord Jesus? Do we possess that kind of devotion? Jesus in our passage tells two parables, both regarding the necessity of counting the cost to be paid. The first parable is about the building of a tower. Verses 28-30 say, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” Many of us as believers are like half-finished towers, because we have stopped dead in our tracks when the cost of discipleship got too high. The second parable is about the fighting of a battle. Verses 31-32 tell us, “Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” Friends, living for Jesus is not a frolic, it is a fight. In other words, Christianity is not for the faint of heart. When we are disciples of Jesus, we had better be prepared to battle the world, sin and Satan every day. Many of us want to be just godly enough to be accepted by Christ and just worldly enough to be accepted by the world. We can’t have it both ways. Our heritage and hope is found in the price we pay. Then, our heritage and hope is found in the passion we possess. Verse 33 of our passage says, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Let’s be careful to understand exactly what Jesus is saying here. He is not saying we should give away everything. He is saying we should give up everything. Some of us give up our children to the mission field. Some of us give up a lucrative career to serve Jesus in a full-time church profession. All of us should give up financial resources to share with God’s people. All of us should give up our time to learn more about the Savior and service to Him. All of us should give up our energies to work for the Master in whatever way we are needed. We also need to understand when we possess this passion, it is not a negative thing but a positive thing. The football team that is passionate in the weight room and on the practice field wears the championship ring. The athlete that is passionate on the practice field and in the arena wins the gold medal. The student that is passionate in the study and with his homework gets the scholarship. When we are passionate, we are willing to pay the price and we don’t mind doing so. Jesus finishes this passage by saying, “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In Jesus’ day salt was a valuable thing. Salt has a way of enhancing everything with which it comes into contact. Our spiritual passion has the same effect. If we have no passion however, if we have no driving desire to follow Jesus, then what hope do we have of making a difference in the world in which we live? Many of the spiritual giants of First Baptist that we remember this Memorial Day weekend, many of the Christians from our church family that have gone to be with Christ, possessed a strong spiritual passion. That passion forever changed us for the better.
David Livingstone was one of the greatest missionaries the world has ever known. He labored in some of the deepest, darkest jungles of South Africa. Because of the sacrifice he made, today there are over three hundred million Christians in Africa. On one occasion Livingston received a letter from a certain missionary society that said, ”Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to know how to send other men to join you.” Livingston wrote back and answered, “If you have men that will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come even if there is no road at all.” What are the priorities we place? What is the price we will pay? What is the passion we possess? This Memorial Day weekend, our heritage and our hope is in nothing less than Jesus Christ himself. Will you respond to his call?“…anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”