A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Following Jesus
How much would you pay for eternal life?
Out in Arizona there's a place called the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. For only $200,000, they will freeze your body when you die in the hopes that at some point in the future - 200, 300, 400 years later - medical science will have discovered how to unfreeze and restore you to life. This is linked with the idea that by then, medical science will have cracked the code on death generally, and mortality will be a thing of the past.
The way I see it, there are at least two big problems with this. First, who knows what the world is going to be like in the year 2519? In my opinion, 2019 is pretty strange; how do you know you want to live in the world of 2519? And you'd be doing it without any of your friends or family (only 120 people or so have gone through the deep freeze process so far). And think about how much English has changed in 500 years ... you may not be able to understand what's going on.
But the deeper issue is simply this: there is not guarantee that medical science will discover how to unfreeze frozen dead people in such a way as to revive them. You might be frozen for 2000 years with no guarantee that you'll ever be made un-dead. So for $200,000, you can purchase the possibility that one day you'll wake to live in a world you don't know anything about.
On the other hand, Jesus offers a different deal: it comes with a much higher price, but it includes a guaranteed outcome.
The Person of Jesus
In Luke 9:18-20, Jesus asks his disciples who the crowds think he is. They indicate that the crowds think he is one of the prophets of old come back to life - Elijah or Jeremiah or John the Baptist. But when asked who they think he is, Peter gives the right answer - He is the Christ, God's promised Messiah (e.g., Daniel 7:13-14).
That was the correct answer but this is the point: not everyone saw the true identity of Jesus. The crowds only saw the power of Jesus; the disciples saw the person. And it is because Jesus is the Messiah that we can trust the promises he makes.
The Plan of Jesus
In Luke 9:21-22, Jesus unpacks the plan by which he will do his saving: rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection. He issues his disciples a warning: don't tell anyone he's the messiah. Why? He doesn't want the crowds to try and make him king because he's a different kind of messiah.
Here's what to note: the plan of God was the death of Jesus; the purpose of God is our salvation.
3. The Price of Following Jesus
The next bit of scripture ends with a reminder about the benefits of following Jesus. In Luke 9:23 Jesus describes the daily pathway by which we enter into that benefit:
- Deny yourself - say 'no' to what you want when it disagrees with what God wants
- Take up your cross - submit to God's authority when his will crosses yours
- Follow Jesus - commit to whole-hearted life as an apprentice, learning the ways of the kingdom, believing the truth of the gospel, and experiencing life in the Spirit made available through Christ.
The idea of living as dying may sound odd, but Paul often described his life in these terms:
Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
Romans 6:6: We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
Observation: the pathway to life is death to our self-will and embrace of God's will.
The Paradox of following Jesus
This way of life is not complicated, but neither is it easy. Jesus describes in terms of several paradoxes:
- In Luke 9:24, we learn that if you try to save your life, you lose it; but if you lose your life for Jesus' sake, you save it.
- In Luke 9:25, we learn that if you gain the world, you lose yourself. However, if you lose yourself, you gain the kingdom.
- In Luke 9:26, we learn that if you are ashamed of Jesus now, you'll experience shame later. However, if you identify with Jesus now, he'll identify with you later.
Imagine someone who's life philosophy is to 'suck the marrow out of life' - to extract from each and every moment the maximum degree of enjoyment possible. This is the approach to life Jesus critiques. Rather than seeking to get, we seek to give. In short, every day presents you with a choice: self-denial and God embrace, marked by life; or self-pursuit and God rejection, marked by death.
Of course, the life we're talking about isn't a longer version of this life. Eternal life is both quantitative - it lasts a long time (it's eternal!), but it's also qualitatively different. Eternal life is participation in the eternal life of the Trinity - being brought into the perfect fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit.
5. The Payoff of following Jesus
And that brings us to the payoff. What is the benefit of the high price Jesus asks us to pay? In Luke 9:27, Jesus describes it as the kingdom, that is, participation in the eternal rule of love, justice, truth, and righteousness Christ establishes through his death and resurrection. I
The Cost Benefit Analysis
And that brings us to our cost benefit analysis. The promise of Jesus comes at an extremely high price, but it comes with an extremely high payoff. You have a choice, you can pay now, or pay later.
Here's the pay now option:
- The High Cost now: die to self, take up cross, follow Jesus.
- High Benefit later: participation in the kingdom of God.
Here's the pay later option:
- No cost now: do whatever you want, enjoy what this world gives you.
- No benefit later: exclusion from the kingdom of God.
So, in the final view, what's your cost-benefit analysis of following Jesus?