This past week a friend drove up from New Ulm to visit. He was supposed to arrive in Dawson at 12:15; he finally showed up at 1:00 pm. When he arrived he said, "Why did they put the west so far west?" He didn't consider just how far he had to drive, and the trip took longer than he thought.
Jesus once told his followers that they needed to consider just how much it would cost them to be his students, his disciples. "Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said, 'If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and his mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple' " (Luke 14:25-27).
Following Jesus isn't a part-time job or a hobby. It is a full-time career. Following Jesus means a complete change in life, attitude, and mind. This is only natural, because Jesus brings us an even greater change--he changes our standing before God. On our own we are sinners before God, disobedient rebels who deserve nothing but punishment. No matter how hard we try, we can't escape God's anger. This is the natural state of those who don't follow Jesus.
For Jesus' followers, the situation is different. Jesus came to change our status before God. Jesus carried his own cross; he suffered and died on that cross to pay for our sins, and he rose from the grave to show us that God had accepted his sacrifice in our place. Because of Jesus, God forgives our sins; he promises that he will no longer hold our sins against us, but instead will raise us from the dead, just as Jesus rose from the dead, and will give us a new home in heaven.
God gives us faith in Jesus through his Word, and makes us followers of Jesus. Because of Jesus, our lives are completely changed. We are no longer bound for hell, but we look forward to heaven. Faith in Jesus is the only path to heaven. Jesus' followers make him their highest priority. Jesus is more important to Christians than even their own families and loved ones; Jesus is more important to us than even our own lives.
When Jesus said, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and his mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple," he wasn't saying that Christians must immediately turn against those they love. Instead Jesus pointed out that his followers will not let anyone or anything come between them and their Savior--not friends, not any earthly loyalty, not even their own families or own sinful desires. Jesus tells us that he is more important to his disciples than anyone or anything in the world; nothing can come between Christians and the one who saved them from their sins.
Jesus said that "Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." Being a Christian is not easy. It is a constant struggle to turn away from sin and to fight the temptation which comes at us from every angle--from TV, from our friends and families, and from our own hearts. Yet Jesus helps us in that struggle. Through his Word he sends his Holy Spirit to help us, to strengthen our faith. Jesus strengthens our faith by giving us his own body and blood in the Lord's Supper. Following Jesus is not easy because we are constantly tempted to leave him, but neither is it impossible, because Jesus himself strengthens us and keeps us following in his footsteps.