25Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him,30saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
34"Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? 35It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!"
Greek, like any other language, does not have special "hidden" meanings when it comes to their regular words. The words that are in bold above -- 'traveling' and 'follow' -- are cases in point. The word 'travel' comes from συμπορεύομαι (symporeuomai) and the word 'follow' comes from ἔρχομαι (erchomai). This last word is also translated "comes [to me]" at the beginning of verse 26.
Despite the absence of "hidden" differentiating meanings in these two Greek words for 'travel' and 'follow', let's use these words to stand in for the differentiation that is clearly represented in what Jesus is teaching in this passage.
We read, "Now large crowds were traveling with him." Jesus drew large crowds everywhere he went. Healings, miracles, and other cool and weird phenomena attended him wherever he went. Jesus also taught in fresh and powerful ways about God and God's Kingdom. Plus, the fact that Palestinian life was hard and boring (my modern snobbery), seeing something dramatically different was cause enough to carve out a few hours in the afternoon to follow this man and see what else he might perform. At the very least, we can safely say that there was immense curiosity about Jesus.
So, a typical scene of large crowds "traveling with" Jesus.
We all know having large crowds or creating a buzz about his ministry was not what Jesus was after. To become a cause célèbre, for Jesus, was utterly irrelevant to why he came to earth.
We all know he came in part to make disciples who will be filled with the Holy Spirit and advance the cause of God called the Kingdom of God with the good news of Jesus himself as Lord and Savior. Being a disciple of Jesus is the same thing as following Jesus.
The differentiation in this passage therefore is between "traveling with" Jesus out of curiosity and "following" Jesus out of discipleship.
We can say tersely: Jesus is not interested in curiosity; he is Interested in discipleship.
The curiosity bit, the "traveling with" Jesus part, is easily understood for what it is. [That profound truism, "it is what it is."] What it is, this curiosity-about/traveling-with Jesus, is that it doesn't last. Curiosity about X comes and goes. Traveling with X comes and goes, literally. There is no sustained movement, there is no lasting impact, there is no changed lives. The circus comes to town, the people watch elephants stand on hindquarters, the clowns freak people out, the people drive back home. A few laughs, a bunch of calories from popcorn and candy, a few selfies for Facebook, but all in all, another forgettable evening of unimportant entertainment. So why bother, ultimately?
The following part, however, is what any meaningful relationship to Jesus is about. Outside of mere curiosity, we are invited to something stronger, more lasting, more life changing. Following Jesus, in two words, is what it's all about. But what in the world does this -- following Jesus -- mean? There is an answer that can be given on paper or on email, but there is a deeper, truer answer that can only be discovered by living out the following Jesus. In other words, our very lives become a kind of answer to the question, What does it mean to follow Jesus?
One part of the answer to the just asked question is that something's gotta give. Following Jesus means not following something else. More broadly, following Jesus means letting go of other things. In some passages in the Bible, following Jesus means giving up something most precious -- your life! What a terrible price to pay! That's the point Jesus is driving at: before you go further than joining the crowd who's interested only in traveling with me, says Jesus in so many words, consider what the price will be in following me. Something's gotta give, something must be left behind. You can't take everything with you -- your stuff, your values, your relationships with various people, your sins, your future, your ultimate goals. It's metaphysically impossible given how things are set up. OK, 'metaphysical' is a little too heavy, but it's not far off. It's spiritually impossible to be a follower of Jesus and a follower of something else.
This impossibility is intrinsic to our relationship to Jesus, not extrinsic. What I mean is this: a total commitment to following Jesus entails a total non-commitment to following something or someone else. Letting go of other things simply comes with the package of not letting go of God. If it were extrinsic, then it would be possible to follow Jesus and follow something or someone else. Letting go would not be required since having the cake and the pie too is possible. More to the point: Jesus is not trying to make following him difficult. Jesus is explaining clearly that when we follow him we pay the cost of not pursuing other things. When you say yes to marrying someone, you are also saying no to other intimate relationships. When you say yes to your calling as a celibate monk, you are also saying no to a non-celibate life with another. When you say yes to rooting for the Washington Redskins, you are also saying no to feelings of triumph and jubilation (hey, Mike Hong, this one's for you [and for me]).
But following Jesus does come with triumph and jubilation. Following Jesus comes with a host of amazing things we could never get on our own: Peace, Joy, Love, Fellowship, Adventure, Supernatural Encounters, Miraculous Provisions, Healing, Dreams, Prophetic Hearing, Wisdom, Compassion, Breakthrough, Laughter, Tears, Partnership, Angels, Friends, Nations, Cities, Spiritual Family, and Good Craziness. Yes, there's a cost; yes, there's a greater benefit.
Let's pray: Lord Jesus, when we sit down to estimate the cost of building a tower or going to war, we might come to the conclusion that the cost is too high. When we sit down to estimate the cost of following you in our present context in suburbia America, we have to admit that the cost for most of us is not that high. Yes, there is some cost, but it's absolutely clear that the benefits far outweigh the costs. A no-brainer. Investing in you by following you is the best investment that we will ever make in our lives. Bar none. Lord Jesus, you are the great treasure and joy of our lives. It is our pleasure and honor, Sir, to follow devotedly after you. We are honored to be your followers. In your name, Amen.