Theme: “Discipleship Will Be Difficult”
Luke 14:25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 "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. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
At this point in his ministry, great crowds traveled along with Jesus wherever he went. There was something exiting and magnetic about this Jesus of Nazareth. The authority with which he taught and the power of God at his beck and call, drew multitudes to him. But on this particular day, like any other day, not everyone traveling with Jesus was there for the same reason. Some were hoping for healing. Some were political activists looking for a liberator. Some were merely curious, as people tend to be when some new movement arises.
But some, some considered themselves Jesus’ followers, his disciples. I’m not speaking here about the Twelve disciples that Jesus had chosen. I’m speaking about a much larger group outside of the Twelve (See, for example, Luke 6:13,17,20). Exactly what they believed about Jesus is not clear. But in some sense they had committed themselves to being students and followers of Jesus. They considered themselves disciples. Still others in the great crowds that followed Jesus on this day were thinking about becoming his disciples.
So Jesus turned to these great crowds and told them, in no uncertain terms, what being his disciple involves. He did this with three conditional “cannot” statements.
From the time Jesus first spoke these words until now, they have been considered among the “hard” sayings of Jesus: those difficult to understand. When they have heard or read these words of Jesus, many Christians have just ignored them, because they don’t know what to do with them.
On the surface, in these three statements, it seems that Jesus is going out of his way to repel disciples, not make them. “If you don’t hate your family and yourself, you can’t be my disciple.” “If you don’t carry your cross like a condemned criminal you can’t be disciple.” “If you don’t give up all your possessions, you can’t be my disciple.” This doesn’t sound like a winning formula for church growth. What is Jesus up to here with these words that seem to defy common sense? Why does he say this and what does it mean for us? Let’s look more closely at the text to get to the bottom of it.
First, Jesus says, “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.” How shocking this must have been to those who first heard him. How shocking to us.
From the time of the Sixteenth Century Reformation, there has been an important rule of Biblical interpretation that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” In other words, when you come upon a difficult-to-understand passage, before you turn to a learned commentary or your own reason, you look for another passage that treats the same subject, but one that is clearer, and use it to interpret the difficult-to-understand one. Scripture interprets Scripture assumes, by the way, that the Bible is a unified whole, because it has one divine author, the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Bible cannot contradict itself, even if it appears to.
How does “Scripture interprets Scripture” help us here? This way: If Jesus truly means for us to “hate” our families and selves in the conventional sense, then it contradicts many other clear teachings of Scripture about hate. Such as 1 John 3:15, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Such as 1 John 4:20, “If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” In addition, this hate saying of Jesus would contradict the many commands to love, such as, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) and “"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). So unless Scripture contradicts itself, Jesus cannot mean “hate” in the conventional sense.
Fortunately, there is another passage in which Jesus speaks on the same subject, and clarifies this hate passage. In Matthew 10 our Lord says: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (10:37-38). When Jesus says whoever does not hate his family and self cannot be my disciple, he doesn’t mean that we should not love them in any sense. Of course we are to love them! Marriage and family are good gifts of God! He means that we should never love our relatives or ourselves more than Him; For then we would loving the creature rather than the Creator and committing idolatry. For those who would be disciples of Jesus Christ, love for Jesus must come first. Loyalty to Jesus must come first. Obedience to Jesus must come first. So when even the dearest family wants you to something that is the opposite of what Jesus wants for you, you must remain faithful to Jesus, not the family member.
So what Jesus is doing here in Luke 14, is warning those who want to be his disciples, telling them that the life of a disciple will be difficult. They will be put in situations where their own flesh and blood will oppose their faith or tempt them to disobey Jesus. As Jesus says elsewhere, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51-53). Indeed, it will get even worse, as the end draws near: “And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death” (Mark 13:12).
To have one’s own family or one’s own flesh oppose our faith is one of the severest trials. At such a time the temptation is great to compromise our faith in order to make our family happy. But to do this is to love our families more than Jesus. And one cannot be a disciple if one does such a thing.
Second, Jesus says, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” This also must have shocked the great crowds. After all, unlike us, many of them may have witnessed what Jesus here described: a condemned criminal bearing his own cross through the streets of a town out to the place of crucifixion. Only the most vile felons were had to carry their crosses. Why on earth would Jesus say that they too had to do this?
But of course, Jesus didn’t mean that each of them must carry a literal cross to a literal crucifixion. Here the word “cross” takes on a new meaning. It means “suffering.” To “bear one’s own cross” means to be willing to suffer for the sake of Jesus.
For many who followed Jesus, they sensed that a new age was dawning. The kingdom of God was at hand. But they wrongly understood that to mean that victory, peace, and prosperity would be theirs. Some new Christians make the same mistake today.
Here Jesus sets them straight. He is saying, “You do not understand. The life of a disciple is a life of suffering. It will be difficult. And if you are not prepared for this you will fall away. You will be persecuted because of me, and suffer loss because of me (See Luke 8:13; John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:3-5; 2 Timothy 3:12). At that point you will have a choice. You can remain faithful to me or you can be unfaithful to make the cross go away. You can shut up rather than openly share your faith, be silent rather than speak of Jesus, go along with the crowd, rather than obey Jesus. You can compromise the truth instead of standing up for the truth of God’s Word. To do any of these things, to compromise or become silent or go along with the crowd rather than confess, speak, and live the life Christ has called us to, is to drop the cross instead up carrying it. But if you refuse to carry the cross of suffering you cannot be my disciple.”
Third, our Lord says, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” It is well known that many Christians have chosen to take this literally. They have taken vows of poverty and have entered monasteries or convents. But a crass literal understanding of this passage would contradict other passages in God’s Word.
For example, when Zacchaeus gave half of his possessions to the poor, Jesus did not rebuke him and command him to give all his possessions away. Jesus rejoiced and called him a son of Abraham (Luke 19). There were wealthy people among the first Christians and the apostles never commanded them to give all of their wealth away. Instead they say, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” (1 Tim 6:17-18). It is not money that is evil, but the “love of money that is a root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). It is the love of money and mammon, loving it more than Jesus, that Jesus warns about here in the severest of terms.
When Jesus says that we cannot be his disciples unless we give up our possessions, he means we must be willing to give up all our possessions if need be; or if it comes down to a choice between being faithful to Jesus, on the one hand, or keeping our possessions, on the other, disciples must give up the possessions. Otherwise they commit idolatry and cease to be disciples.
So why did Jesus utter these three hard sayings, so shocking to ancient and modern listeners? He intended, in the strongest possible terms, to prepare his disciples. Prepare them for what? To prepare them for the reality that a being a disciple of Jesus will be difficult--and they will be tempted to give up.
The two parables that Jesus tells in our texts emphasizes this need for disciples to prepare. The man who wants to build a tower must count the cost to make sure he has enough to finish the job. The king who is going to war must first count his troops and resources to make sure he can win the battle. In both parables the message is clear: Those who begin a major endeavor need to be prepared to see it through to the finish. Our Lord is telling us that being a disciple is a major endeavor. Disciples need to be prepared to see it through to the finish.
Throughout our lives we will be tempted to quit when suffering threatens us. Throughout our lives as disciples we will have to choose. Will I choose what Jesus wants even it means suffering and rejection? Or will I side with my unbelieving family in order to escape suffering and rejection? Will I remain faithful to Jesus only when times are good? Or will I remain a faithful disciple, when people reject or hate or shun me because of what I believe? Will I carry the cross when called to do so? Or will I drop it?
Jesus knew that he needed to prepare his disciples, for he knows what is in man. He knows that every one of us has a powerful inborn desire to be liked and loved by everyone; to be happy and prosperous; to enjoy pleasure, rest, fun. Because of this we have the tendency to avoid anything that might make people dislike us, to drop the cross and run away from suffering, and to be faithful to Jesus unless such faithfulness results in some sort of loss--loss of reputation or possessions of family.
But why must the life of discipleship be so difficult? Why so many temptations, trials, and traps? First, because Satan is, as Scripture says, the god of this world (2 Co 4:4); and the entire unbelieving world lies in his power (1 John 5:19). As Revelation 12 says,
Satan knows his fate. That he is already conquered by the death and resurrection of Christ. He knows that his time is short until Christ returns. Therefore, in his intense anger, his goal is to keep as many people from becoming disciples as possible, and causing those who are disciples to become unfaithful and lose their saving faith in Jesus.
Victory comes, says this text in Revelation, in two ways. First disciples conquered Satan “by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” In other words, they remained faithful. They didn’t love their lives even unto death. They put Jesus first, even if meant that family disliked them, enemies persecuted them, and loss of property and even death pursued them.
Yet far more importantly than their faithfulness was the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. The disciples “conquered him by the blood of the Lamb.” The Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world by shedding his blood at Golgotha’s cross. It is this that defeated Satan. For by that shed blood, all sins and failings are forgiven to those who believe the Gospel. Including the sin of unfaithfulness. Including failing to love Jesus more than family or self; including the failure to willingly carry the cross of suffering, or the failure put Jesus before our possessions.
Yet this sweet forgiveness through the blood of the Lamb should not inspire laziness and lukewarmness. It should inspire us to strive more than ever to put faithful to Jesus above and ahead of everything and everyone else; even if it means rejection; even if it means suffering; even if it means loss. Amen.
Pastor Richard P. Bucher, Th.D