The Cost of Following Jesus

Sometimes I get to preach a couple of weeks in a row, and often when Ben and I discuss the structure of a passage and realise that it would make sense for one preacher to take a particular block. This has happened to me these past weeks as I’ve gotten to preach from Mark 1:16 all the way through to Mark 3:6. The section has been broken in two, with part one looking at 1:16-45 and part two looking at 2:1-3:6.

As I was preparing for the sermon last week I noticed, with the aid of ‘Dig Deeper into the Gospels’, a chiasm that Mark has inserted into this section. A chiasm is a structure of writing in which two halves parallel each other in an ascending/descending fashion, often to highlight the middle portion. The chiasm in this section of Mark’s gospel looks like something like this:

A.   1:16-20 – Calling disciples to follow him

B.   1:21-28 – the Authority of Jesus teaching confirmed by a miracle

C.   1:29-34 – Healings

D.   1:35-39 – Jesus’ focus on preaching

C’.   1:40-45 – Healing the leper

B’.   2:1-12 – the Authority of Jesus to forgive confirmed by a miracle

A’.   2:13-14 – Calling Levi to follow him

You can see the small problem I had because we had originally planned only to go to 1:45 rather than through to 2:14 to cover the chiasm. This isn’t too big of a problem – many other commentators break up the structure of Mark at 1:45, and I was happy to work with that, but it did mean that because I was convinced of this particular chiastic structure I had to work out what to include and not include in the sermon.

So one of the things I dropped was the A, A’ bracket. While in the first service I shoe-horned it in, I dropped it for the second service as I realised it didn’t make much sense. Preaching 1:21-45 as it’s own unit made more sense – focusing more on the teaching of Jesus as confirmed by the miracles surrounding it all.

This coming week I’m preaching on Mark 2:1-3:6 and I’ve begun to notice something else: an escalating conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees.

It begins in 2:1-12 with the healing of the paralytic man. The authority of Jesus to forgive the paralytic man’s sins is questioned by the scribes – and rightly so. Only God can forgive – so their questioning of Jesus here makes sense, and we can give them the benefit of the doubt.

But then when Jesus calls Levi to follow him and hangs with the Tax Collectors and sinners (2:13-17) the Pharisees insert themselves again into the story asking why Jesus would hang around such people. Jesus’ response has a bit of a double edge (he came not to call the righteous – but no one is righteous… so is he saying that the Pharisees are self-righteous?).

By 2:18-3:6 we then have three incidences which escalate the dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees. They involve fasting and two incidences on the Sabbath until it finally ends in 3:6 with the Pharisees beginning their plot to kill Jesus.

It seems that the point of this weeks’ sermon will fall on the Pharisees and their objections to Jesus. Point A’ of the chiasm will, therefore, fall more naturally within the discussion on Jesus hanging with tax collectors/sinners.

So what this means is that discussion on the cost of following Jesus – which I was thinking I was going to highlight, is going to probably fall by the wayside.

And that’s why I’m blogging this – to say here what I was hoping to say on Sunday but realise is better left on the cutting room floor. Or the post of a blog.

On the cost of following Jesus

In Mark 1:16-20, and 2:14 we have two clear instances of Jesus personally calling disciples to follow him. Five men in these stories are called – Simon, Andrew, James and John (1:16-20), and Levi (2:14). In each of these stories we read that these men followed immediately – there appears to be no time elapsing in between the call and their decision to follow. There is no double checking with the spouses, no seeking permission from parents, just a simple act of responding.

And in each case, we can see a relatively massive cost to following Jesus.

First, there is the cost of leaving everything behind. By the description of the fishing operation, Simon and Andrew had a relatively successful business as fishermen – enough to own a home from it (cf 1:29). James and John were a part of a sizeable small business as well – not only were they also fishermen in what appears to be their father’s business, but the operation was large enough to require ‘hired servants (cf 1:20).

When Levi was called he was sitting at the tax booth – he was a tax collector. Given that these men would own the rights to tax collecting, and it was a relatively profitable venture, all these men gave up their wealth and ‘careers’ to follow Jesus.

There’s also the cost of leaving father (and mother). James and John were probably going to inherit their father’s business after he passed away. And yet here they were, not only turning their backs on this but also parting ways with their father whom they leave behind.

Following Jesus is a costly thing. In small ways we see here what Jesus demands of his followers later:

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. – Mark 8:34

“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. – Luke 14:26

The Luke quote is hyperbole – over the top exaggerated language to make the point: Jesus comes first.

It’s no small thing to follow Jesus. But as we saw in the opening verses of Mark, Jesus – the authoritative teacher affirmed by his miracles – is worth following. He is worth the cost of giving up everything we have to follow him.

And that’s all I wanted to say about that.