Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Luke 14:25-35 5 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. 34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Most people picture Jesus as a calm, nonthreatening, warm fellow. The kind of person you like the first time you meet. He doesn’t get ruffled or easily agitated. However, that Jesus isn’t the Jesus who shows up in Luke 14. First, in the Gospel last Sunday, Jesus said, “Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled.” Then this week he cranks up the pressure with the shocking statement, “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” (v 26). A call to hate the very people we were created to love is jarring. Our life in Christ is a life in tension.
Some would say that Jesus’ call to discipleship in Luke 14 is beyond radical, that it’s fanatical. Not able to stand the tension of the text, we might be tempted to explain away the tension. Sometimes, pastors feel it’s their role to make these difficult passages seem more reasonable.
Rather than dodge the tension, we must allow the text to speak and do what it’s supposed to do: bring our daily lives into alignment with our faith. Sometimes when we have a pain in our hip, our lower leg, or our shoulder, a chiropractor, with some pushing, twisting, and pulling, brings our spine back into alignment, and the pain goes away. Likewise, what we believe and what we live can get out of alignment. The pushing and pulling tension of this text brings us the alignment we need. We discover that
Living Christ’s Call to Discipleship
Means Giving Up Everything for Him.
Our text begins with the statement that large crowds were gathered around Jesus. Jesus is not talking to the disciples or the inner circle of the three. He’s talking to masses that followed him, because they wanted to watch the action. They wanted to learn but not actually do. St. Paul talks about people who are “always learning” but “never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” That describes this crowd. Interested but not committed. It’s to this crowd that Jesus issues this shocking ultimatum: “Hate your father and mother, give up everything you have, take up your cross and follow me.” In other words, the life we are called to live in Christ necessitates our active and uncompromising participation.
The cost of discipleship is shocking to our ears. Jesus really did say, “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.” There’s no easy way to hear these words. The call to discipleship is a call to hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters. Jesus clarifies his reason for using the term “hate.” He says, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The tension is not created by Jesus, but by our sin that pits God against these other people or things. You see, you cannot mix allegiances, attention, or affection. When push comes to shove, you will choose one over the other. So the time to make the choice is now, not later. To be clear, the choice is a call to put faith first, obedience first, Jesus first.
That’s what it looks like when we faithfully follow Jesus. It looks like living out our faith, sharing the Gospel, and defending the truth, even when the rest of the family or friends are wringing their hands, asking us to tone it down. It looks like standing up and speaking out the Gospel truth, even when we fear the consequences. Now discipleship is not the same thing as acting like a jerk, being rude, judgmental, or condescending. Our most effective weapon in the kingdom of God is love. We can’t shout people into heaven, but we can’t remain passive and silent and expect them to wake up to the truth. The call of discipleship is costly, and today is the day to wake up and start living by boldly, speaking the truth about our Savior to those who do not know Jesus.
Yes, it always feels safe to have one foot on the dock and one foot in the boat. You don’t want to miss the fun of a journey, so you tentatively step one foot into the boat. But if the boat starts to go crazy, you’ve not fully committed; you can always get back on the dock. That is, until the boat starts moving—creeping away from the dock. At that moment you realize that having one foot on the dock and one in the boat is the absolute worst position to be in. Worse yet, the moment of choosing has past. Now you have one choice, though it’s not really a choice. Your only option is a very wet future. Following Jesus is like that. You cannot have one foot anchored in the things this world values and another foot anchored in the things that God values. The time is now! Wake up and start living for the kingdom of God.
Second, God makes it clear that the cost of discipleship is not just surrender of our family. Jesus calls us to surrender everything. “If anyone . . . does not hate . . . even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (v 26).
He is calling us to view all of God’s good gifts, including our very life, from the steward’s perspective. If I’m the owner, the well-being of my life, property and relationships is dependent on my work and my diligence. This means my focus is on my stuff. I’m not focused on the things of God. By surrendering ownership to Jesus, I manage and care for his good gifts, but I know that their safety and well-being are in God’s hands, not mine.
This shift does two things. First, it aligns my priorities with God’s priorities: people before stuff, eternal before temporal. Second, it releases me from the anxiety and stress I experience because of my stuff, my health, my family and friends. Paul says, “For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties” (1 Cor 7:31b–32a).
While the cost of discipleship is shocking to our ears, the activity of discipleship would have been terrifying to the hearers in the crowd. Luke 14 is the call to carry our cross. Jesus continues, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (v 27).
The phrase “bear his cross” sounded much more radical to the hearers than it does to us today. Crucifixion, in Jesus’ day, was a common form of punishment for the rebel Jews who sought to overthrow Rome. It was not uncommon for the rebels to refer to the burden of their cause as a cross, for they knew that if they did not die in battle, they would likely die by crucifixion. They approached their cause with the belief that they were already dead men, and that death could possibly come through the cross.
Imagine what this challenge must have sounded like to the crowd. Jesus is not calling them to a metaphor; people were literally being crucified along the roads between their towns for being insurrectionists. A call to carry the cross was a call to live life as if judgment had already been passed and now each step they took was a step that brought them nearer to the place of their execution. This was the worst possible death known at that time, and now this kind, loving Rabbi is telling them that to follow him is to choose such a death? While the challenge may be uncomfortable for us, it must have been terrifying for the crowd.
So what do we do with this tension, with this radical, if not fanatical, call to follow Jesus? Living in the tension begins with understanding the true source of the tension. Jesus’ call is not the source of the tension; our sin is. We were created to walk with God, without distraction or compromise. In Genesis, before the fall into sin, Adam and God walked together in the garden in the cool of the evening? It is sin that pits two loves against each other. It is our weakness that drives us to love one and hate the other. Rather than blaming Christ for setting impossibly high standards, blame our sinful, broken lives that have made our separation from God seem normal to us.
Second, we rejoice. Yes, the tension we feel in this challenge is a good thing. We rejoice that our life in Christ rests upon his perfect love, undivided devotion, and unwavering sacrifice for us. Jesus did what we could not do. He did not love his own life more than he loves us. Rather he sacrificed his life for ours. Through his death on the cross, he defeated sin and conquered the grave. This victory and new life he gives to us as a gift. For in Baptism, our old nature was drowned, and we have been given new life in the Spirit (Rom 6:1–11). In this new life, by the Spirit, we find the will and the strength to follow Jesus with undivided attention and unwavering conviction of our life as a living sacrifice to God.
We rejoice knowing that the tension we feel is a reminder of the new life we have in Christ. Heaven is our home. Because of our new life in Christ, we are strangers in this world. If we were not born again through water and the Word, we would care little about Christ’s call. We would not feel the tension. That we feel the tension is a wonderful reminder that we have new life in Christ, and that new life, like a new patch of cloth sewn to an old garment, is tugging at the seams of our old life.
Finally, we rejoice because we were created to answer this call to live lives focused on God, our Creator. You see, discipleship without singular focus, without sacrifice, without death—death to self and death to the flesh—is like salt that is no longer salty. “Salt is good,” Jesus says, “but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile” (vv 34–35a). It serves no purpose and offers no benefit. It is time for us to stop sleepwalking through our life, being passive spectators of the work of the kingdom of God. As Jesus turned to the crowds in the text, he now turns to you and me, not to put a burden on our shoulders but to invite us to set free the life given to us in Baptism by focusing our life on following Jesus without fear of consequence or challenge.
Today, Jesus calls us with unflinching clarity to take up a life of unwavering devotion to him and his kingdom mission, to surrender all as we take up our cross to follow him. Amen.