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An Invitation to Discipleship: If Anyone Comes to Me...
Luke 14:25 - 14:33
March 13, 2022
Reverend Jason Harris
In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus tells us to count the cost of becoming his disciple. Before venturing to become a student of Jesus' life, we must pause to consider the radical requirement, the risk assessment, and the redefined values involved in following Jesus.
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In J.D. Salinger’s classic novel, The Catcher in the Rye, the main character, Holden Caulfield, expresses his appreciation for Jesus, but he has nothing but disdain for Jesus' followers. At one point, he says,
“I like Jesus and all, but I don’t care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible. Take the Disciples, for instance. They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth. They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while he was alive, they were about as much use to him as a hole in the head. All they did was keep letting him down. I like almost anybody in the Bible better than the Disciples.”
I suspect that there's probably a lot of people who feel like Holden Caulfield. They like Christ, but they don't like Christians because Christians are so unlike Christ. It seems to me that they don't want to have anything to do with church, or with organized religion because they see a contradiction between Jesus and his followers. That is, in part, the reason why we are engaging in a new series, for the season of Lent, focused on, what does it actually mean to become a disciple, a follower of Jesus? In the previous sermon, I mentioned that the word Christian only appears three times in the New Testament to describe the followers of Jesus. The preferred term, not only for the original 12 apostles, but for anyone who commits themselves to following Jesus, is disciple. When Jesus asks us to follow him, he's not merely inviting us to assent to a number of intellectual ideas, but rather, he's calling us to commit ourselves to living under his discipline, living under his instruction, becoming a student, becoming an apprentice of his entire way of life.
In preparation for this series, I read through the gospels, and I culled out of them all those places where Jesus uses this expression, “if anyone.” More often than not, wherever Jesus uses those two little words, “if anyone,” he not only invites us into discipleship, but he also lays out for us the requirements of such a commitment. In the previous sermon, we looked at a very challenging passage, in which Jesus said that if anyone would come after him, we must deny self, take up the cross, and follow him. Here, we come to another famous passage, which is also likewise demanding and challenging, where Jesus encourages us to count the cost. We have to count the cost of following him.
In this sermon, as we turn to Luke 14, I'd like us to consider the radical requirement, the risk assessment, and the redefined values involved in following Jesus. If you would, let me invite you to open up to Luke 14. I'll be reading v.25-33.
25Now 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. 27Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or 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? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
This is God's word. It's trustworthy, and it's true, and it's given to us in love.
The Radical Requirement
Here, Jesus lays out perhaps the most radical requirement for anyone who would follow him. “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.” I admit, at first glance, this sounds crazy, does it not? I mean, it sounds like Jesus is starting some kind of cult or something. What religious leader do you know tells you to hate your own children? How do we make sense of this? This whole passage is very hard to reconcile with other things that Jesus taught, and it's even harder to accept. It seems that these words not only violate Jesus' command to love, but they go against the grain of nature. We as human beings, we're hardwired to love, and care, and protect our own flesh and blood. How do we wrap our minds around Jesus' words?
First, let me try to break down what Jesus does not mean and what he does mean by this hard saying. First of all, how do you reconcile Jesus' words here with the fact that one of the 10 commandments is: Honor your father and your mother. In our household, I often have to repeat to our children that command. You actually have to honor your father and your mother. This made it to God's top 10 list. This is one of the big ones, but then they remind me that Ephesians 6 also says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children.” The point is, this is in the Bible. This is Biblical. We're called to show proper love and respect to our parents. In addition to that, Jesus told us that we should not only love our neighbors, but we should also love our enemies. How can you love your enemies if here we're being told to hate our families? Then we could add to that 1 Timothy 5:8, where the Apostle Paul is writing to his young protégé, Timothy. He says there, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith.” Clearly, this is important.
Jesus is not saying that we should literally hate our families, nor that we should shirk our responsibilities to them. So what is Jesus saying? Let me give you three things to think about. First of all, we have to understand that Jesus is deliberately trying to be provocative. The novelist Flannery O'Connor, used to create characters in her stories that were purposely exaggerated. These were strange, distorted, sometimes even grotesque characters. She said, the reason why she created characters like this in her stories is because she was trying to wake up her readers to the reality of the human condition, and our need for God and for his grace. But so many of us are closed off to that message, and so she once said that: "To the hard of hearing you shout, and to those who are almost blind," she said, "then you draw large, startling figures" in order to help people see. That's precisely what Jesus is trying to do here as well. He is purposely trying to shock us when he says that we should hate those who are closest to us. He has to shock us in order to get through to us. Think about this, especially in an ancient culture, family was everything. People were fiercely loyal to their tribe, and they would put family above everything else. Even today in our modern world, not much has changed. We may be less tribal, but we still prioritize our family almost to the point of idolatry. Take the relationship between parents and children. Sometimes, parents see their children as nothing more than an extension of themselves. That's why they put such focus on their children's success in school or sports or some kind of creative pursuit. Why? Because the parents are just trying to live their dreams through their kids. As a result of that, sometimes our love of family is really nothing more than love of self. It's self-centered, not self-giving at its core. The first thing you need to realize here is that Jesus is deliberately trying to shock our sensibilities in order to get through to us.
The second thing that we need to realize though, is that Jesus is using a common form of expression in the Bible. When he calls us to hate, he is using an idiom taken right out of the Scriptures. This is a Biblical idiom. In the Bible, to hate simply means to love less. When he calls us to hate our family members, he's simply saying that we're called to love them less than Jesus himself. That becomes even more clear when you look at a parallel passage like Matthew 10:37. Jesus 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.” He's not literally telling us to hate our family, but rather Jesus must be our first love. He must take first place in our hearts and in our lives. But even that raises questions, right? Because what does it mean to love God more? Think of the person that you love more than anyone else in the world—a lover, a spouse, a child. How are you supposed to love God more than that person? Does that mean you're supposed to love them less? In 1952, a woman actually wrote a letter to the Oxford professor C.S. Lewis asking this very question. If we're called to love God more, does that mean I'm supposed to love my earthly dearest less? This is how Lewis responded,
“To love you [or any other human being] as I should, I must worship God as Creator. When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.”
Do you hear that? When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed, but increased. The idea there is that the more we love God, the more we love others better, not worse. Loving God elevates all of our loves. It doesn't diminish them.
That's important for us to see, thirdly, because I know people, I literally know people, who have abandoned a spouse, or even abandoned their children—literally abandoned them—because they thought that they needed to do so in order to pursue God more wholeheartedly. That is a serious misappropriation of Jesus' words. Consider the example of the Apostle Peter. The gospels tell us the moment that Jesus calls Peter and some of his business associates, his brother, Andrew, as well as James and John, to come and follow him, and when they do, they leave their nets, their fishing nets. They leave their boats. James and John leave their father standing there in the boat, as well as the hired servants. They also leave the greatest catch of fish any of them had ever seen in their lives in order to immediately begin to follow Jesus. That sounds extreme, doesn't it? It is, yet we also know from the gospels that they still saw their family members, and they still continued to fish in the future.
Take Matthew 8, for example. There, Peter hosts Jesus in his home, which means that Peter still had a home to go to, and Matthew 8 also tells us that when Peter's mother in law (so Peter was married), so when Peter's mother in law became sick with a fever, Jesus healed her. It shows that Peter had a wife, and he continued to see her even after he responded to the call to follow Jesus. We also know from John 21, that after the death of Jesus, Peter decides to go fishing, and the other disciples join him, which shows that he still had access to his boat and to all of his gear. We also know from 1 Corinthians 9:5, which was written 25 years later, that according to the Apostle Paul, Peter's wife often accompanied him on his missionary journeys like the other apostles, including James the brother of Jesus. What does that show us? It shows that Peter's wife survived the original ordeal 25 years prior when Peter said he's going to go all in for Jesus, but not only that, she was a partner in his mission activity.
In context, we can see that the call to follow Jesus is radical, but it's not total or utter renunciation of everything else that we might love in life. No, the more that we love God, the more we love others better, not worse. It's natural for us to love and care for those who are nearest and dearest to us. So what is Jesus doing here? He is using the most dramatic language at his command in order to emphasize that in order to follow him, we must treat Jesus and the priority of the kingdom as nearer and dearer still. That means that following Jesus will come at a cost.
The Risk Assessment
That is why he goes on to encourage us to engage in a little risk assessment. He wants us to count the cost. He provides us with two examples in order to illustrate the kind of risk assessment that he has in mind. He imagines two different scenarios, but here's what they have in common. They both illustrate a demanding enterprise, and then secondly, they require an assessment of the kind of resources that are necessary in order to carry out that enterprise. Then thirdly, he reveals the outcome if those resources fall short. In the first illustration, the outcome is humiliation and mockery, and in the second illustration, the outcome is defeat and surrender.
In the first, imagine someone building a tower. This could be a watchtower over a garden or vineyard or perhaps a tower to protect someone's home. No one in their right mind would start building a tower like this, unless they first sat down and figured out how much it was going to cost. Otherwise, that unfinished tower would stand as a permanent monument to one's foolishness. I know of one such tower that was designed and constructed, at least in part by the Goldin Financial Group, in a seaside city in northern China. It's called the Goldin Financial 117. It was intended to be the fifth largest skyscraper in the world when construction began in 2008, but then construction stopped in 2018. Even to this day, it stands at 1,957 feet. It is 128 floors high, and yet it is now the tallest ghost scraper in the world, which is not exactly the record I think that they were going for! I have to wonder if a person living in that town would find special resonance in these words of Jesus as they live under the looming shadow of that unfinished tower.
Then the second illustration that Jesus introduces is one that we are all too familiar with at the present moment. Jesus asked, “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?” If not, then he will send a delegation while that opposing king is still a long way off in order to ask for terms for peace, rather than being defeated and destroyed. Right now the whole world is wondering whether Putin ever sat down and counted the cost. Did he ever calculate whether or not this could trigger World War III, through one false move, before he attacked Ukraine? Did he deliberate over how much it would cost Russia? Did he anticipate how much resistance he would receive from Ukraine? Did he count the cost of lives lost, or refugees displaced, or economies destroyed? I don't know, but the scary thing is, from my point of view, he probably did. He probably did count the cost, and yet he's so hell bent on accomplishing his plans, that he doesn't care. Let's just pray that what happens to the king in Jesus' little parable becomes true in this scenario. He finds that he miscalculated, that he doesn't have the forces to overcome in this war, and therefore, he will be forced to send a delegation to ask for terms for peace.
While we're on the subject, and I've got your attention, let me also just say that I'm aware that there are some Christians in the world today who receive the news of this war almost gleefully because they see this as a sign of the end of the age, which they believe will then trigger the return of Jesus. There's something seriously off about this. It's true that Jesus said, for example, in Matthew 24, that, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars.” Then he went on to say, "Don't be alarmed, the end is not yet. This is just the beginning of the birth pains." There are some who when they hear of wars or rumors of wars, they might say, this isn't the end, the end is not yet, but maybe this is the beginning of the end, so maybe the wars that are now taking place are beginning some kind of end time countdown. They receive that news, almost with joy, because they're so anxious for Jesus to return. The problem is that this, once again, is the result of bad theology—more often than not, the theology that stems from the Dispensational Theology of the 19th century. So as you've heard me say before, if you've been overly influenced by Dispensational Theology, please cast it out of your mind because it is not doing you or anyone else any good. Yes, Jesus did say that one day he will come, and we should anticipate his coming. But he said that when he comes, he will come like a thief in the night. No one knows the day or the hour, not even himself. Jesus doesn't even know when it is. He deliberately, specifically, purposely told us, don't try to predict my coming, but rather prepare for it. You should always be prepared for it. He could come at any moment, so don't try to predict his coming but be prepared. That's why personally, I don't understand why some Christians are always trying to read the tea leaves, and they get out their charts and their timetables to try to figure out when Jesus is going to come. Rather than engaging in this obsessive focus with endtime prophecies, which are purely speculative, we should focus on the real life condition of those who are suffering in Ukraine and elsewhere. Don't try to predict his coming, but be prepared for it. That's how you live out a true life of discipleship. If you want to be a disciple, if you want to be a student, if you want to be an apprentice of Jesus, listen to what he's saying and take those words to heart.
Coming back to the passage that's before us, the whole point here is that if you're going to engage in any kind of demanding enterprise, you have to count the cost. If you don't have the resources to put Jesus and his kingdom first, then that will lead to an even more tragic outcome. That's the warning that Jesus is putting before us. If you're going to do more than merely pay lip service to Jesus, and you want to become a true disciple, then you need to ask yourself, what will it cost you?
What will it cost you? What did it cost the original disciples? What did they leave behind? They left behind their identity as fishermen. That was no longer central. It was an aspect of who they were, but no longer defining. They left behind their most valuable possession—their boat, their nets. They left everything that was comfortable, safe, and secure. They stepped into an unknown future with Jesus. They gave up the previous sources of significance, meaning, and purpose in their life. They left their families, not in that ultimate sense, but they put the love of family in its proper place relative to their ultimate first love for Jesus and the pursuit of his kingdom.
What about you? What might it cost you to follow Jesus? It's possible it could cost you something in terms of your reputation. Not that you would deliberately pursue that, but it might change the way in which people perceive you. I'm invited to a lot fewer parties since I became a pastor! You might find yourself running in slightly different social circles. People will look at you differently. You might lose something in terms of friends or relationships. It could impact your career choices or advancement. It's definitely going to change the way you use your time, your money, and your resources. And following Jesus will redefine your values and your priorities. If it doesn't redefine your values, then you're not listening. You haven't really heard, you haven't really understood what Jesus is calling you into.
The Redefined Values
If that's true, why would Jesus ask so much of us? Why would he ask for such a high cost? The only answer is because it's worth it. Jesus knows that whatever you gain by following him, is worth so much more than whatever you might lose. At the end of this passage, he says that, "Anyone who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Jesus said something similar later in Luke 18, and the Apostle Peter responds by saying, hey, Jesus! Look at us. Look at me. Look at me. I did that. I left everything for you. Peter, true to form, is always trying to put himself forward and make himself look good. He's drawing attention to himself and his own performance. Jesus here doesn't stroke Peter's ego, but he does respond by saying, yes, that's right. You have. You have left everything to follow me. Then he assures his followers that whatever they give up, they will receive far more in and through the kingdom of God. He will go on to say there is no one who has left house, or wife, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands that will not receive 100 times over in this life and eternal life in the age to come. Did you catch that? We would expect Jesus to say if you leave everything to follow me, you will receive eternal life in the age to come. You'll receive some future promise in a future world. That's true. He does promise that, but that's not all he promises. No, he says you will receive 100 times over in this life. In this life, you'll receive far more in return.
How can that be? How can he say that because Jesus knows that whatever money or possessions you might have to part with, God will always provide your needs. He will always meet your needs in and through the community of the church. Whatever friendships or relationships you might lose, you'll receive new ones, different ones, better ones, deeper ones, in and through the community of the church. Whatever status, or recognition, or achievement, you might have to forfeit, Jesus promises something better. Because in and through the gospel, God will declare you righteous in his sight. In and through the gospel, God will adopt you into his own family as his beloved child, and therefore that means he is going to shower love and honor upon you. He is going to treat you not as your sinful self deserves, but he's going to treat you according to Jesus' perfect record. He's going to treat you as if you had lived the perfect life that Jesus lived, and that you already died on the cross to pay for any sin you ever committed. Talk about honor. Talk about respect. Talk about status. You will be the apple in God's eye if only you would follow him. In the end, you gain the thing that matters most: Life with God. Life with Jesus in the age that never ends.
Have you counted the cost to gain Christ? Jesus counted the cost. Jesus counted the cost in order to gain you. He knew that if he was going to gain you, it would come at a cost to himself. He knew that he would have to leave the glories of Heaven in order to become a human being. He knew that he would have to leave his Father’s side, and that he would be forsaken on a cross. He knew that he would have to give up his comfort, his safety, his security. He would live life on the run with nowhere to lay his head. He counted the cost and he determined that it was worth it. It was worth it in order to gain you, and therefore he is all in. Jesus counted the cost and decided to go for broke in order to gain you and now he invites you to count the cost to determine whether or not you will go for broke in order to gain him and everything he has to offer in the age to come and right here now.
Let me pray for us.
Father God, we acknowledge that you are calling us to do more than merely pay lip service to you but to become a disciple, a student, an apprentice of your entire way of life. Help us to understand and appreciate the radical requirement. Give us the grace to be able to count the cost. Father, we pray that you would so redefine our values that we would see that whatever you ask us to give up pales in comparison to everything that you have promised to give. Help us to be willing to go all in for you because you have already gone all in for us. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.