One of the best and hardest aspects of following Jesus is understanding that it is a lifelong journey. Culturally speaking, journeys in and of themselves are not a difficult concept to grasp. People go on short-term journeys all the time.
“We took an 8-day journey along the Appalachian Trail.”
We went on a 10-day journey up the East Coast last summer.”
We even use the term as a metaphor to describe seasons of life or character development, captured poignantly in one of Miley Cyrus’ most well-known songs.
There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose
Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb
But when people say “yes” to Jesus, it is not common for Westerners to stop and consider that following him is a journey they are about to embark on. Part of the reason for this is how the Gospel is often presented in the West through terms of benefits, both now and for eternity. That’s good, but in the coming days, it is going to be necessary to recapture the concept of following Jesus as a journey, and the Gospel of Luke is a great place to start.
Luke portrays Jesus as the “Son of God” through various ‘voices’ (chapters 1-4:13). He then shows us what that means for the world through his ministry and teachings (chapters 4:14-9:50). But the book takes a marked turn in chapter 9:51, where it says, “when the days drew near for him to be taken up, [Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem.” From 9:51-19:27, the reader learns what following Jesus costs. Luke traces Jesus’ travels and teachings on the way to his “Exodus” (9:31).
Time and space do not permit the exploration of all that is there, but it would be worth going back and reading the Gospel in light of these categories to examine and consider the cost of discipleship. Indeed, it will certainly give you a greater understanding and appreciation of the necessity of Jesus’ death (23:26-49), resurrection (24:1-12) and sending of his Spirit (24:49; Acts 2:1-13) for the sake of his mission (24:44-49; Acts 1:8). And doing so will bring you face to face with the same question the disciples kept coming up against over and over again: is following Jesus worth the cost?
As the world becomes less predictable as kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall, the cost of following Jesus will only increase. But it’s no different than in first-century Rome, which is why this Gospel account was written in the first place. In 1:3, we learn that Luke has written this Gospel and the book of Acts for a man named Theophilus. It is presumed that Theophilus was a high-ranking official in the Roman Government and was considering the claims of Jesus that “he had been taught” (1:4). He was counting the costs, wondering if Jesus was worth it, because he was seeing Christians all over the empire lose their jobs, lose their families and some even lose their lives. Luke went to great lengths to write an “orderly account” for his friend Theophilus, so that he “may have certainty concerning the things” he was considering.
Luke, in essence, was inviting Theophilus into the journey: The journey to, and ultimately, through, the cross into a new life with Jesus. Luke is a good friend. And in the kindness of God, we, the subsequent generations of readers, are invited to do the same as we read the Good News concerning Jesus. Miley, and countless other songwriters, understand how much of life is a race. A journey. A climb. But unlike Miley who says, it “ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side,” this journey is, because what awaits is the world we’ve always longed for, in bodies we’ve always wanted, with God himself, who, both, created the world and is recreating it, through the sending of Jesus.