READ : Luke 14:26-27
What does it take to follow Jesus? If you wanted to be a real disciple of His, what would that mean for your life? When you hear Him talk about that, it can be pretty unsettling. Listen. I’m reading from Luke 14:25:
Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, “If any one 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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 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? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, `This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Now the disturbing thing here is what Jesus says you need to do if you’re going to follow Him. Remember, these aren’t options for spiritual athletes, not an advanced course for those especially interested in religion. These are the basic requirements. Apart from them, you aren’t in the running at all. Without these attitudes, these disciplines, you flat out can’t be a disciple of Jesus.
What do you need to do? Listen carefully. Hate your relatives and your own life too. Take a cross on your back and go after Jesus. Finally, renounce all you have.
We’re going to think about what those startling words mean a bit later. But for now, let’s let them sink in, just as He said them. Imagine that you are in that crowd, that great company following Jesus. You’ve heard the strange accounts of His ministry. Everyone’s buzzing about His miracles. You’ve decided to come and see for yourself. Now you’re caught up in the excitement of it all. It seems as though the whole country has turned out to hear this man. This is a popular movement, and you’re there.
Oddly, Jesus doesn’t seem exultant about His vast audience. He doesn’t have His agents counting them for some publicity release. He’s not sure what their intentions are, whether or not they really mean business. Are they simply fringe followers, curiosity-seekers, gapers, or do they deeply want to be identified with Him? He means to find out. So He tells them with searing honesty just what it takes to follow Him.
Let’s take a closer look at these requirements. What does Jesus mean when He says we have to hate our own fathers and mothers, our spouses and children, our brothers and sisters, and even our own lives to be His disciple? It’s important to see this in the context of Jesus’ total ministry and teaching. Nowhere else, we note, does Jesus ever urge us to hate anyone. On the contrary, He endorses as God’s second great commandment the call to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to be like our heavenly Father in showing generosity and kindness to all. We are not to hate even our enemies, but rather to love and pray for them. What can it mean, then, for Jesus here to say we must hate the dearest persons on earth to us – and our own lives too?
This obviously is a specialized use of the word hate. It reminds me of those strange Old Testament words of God: “Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated.” The context makes it clear that God had chosen Jacob for a special role and mission. In that sense, He placed him above Esau, even though Esau was the firstborn. This “hate” for Esau was not ill will or even dislike. It meant that in this instance, Jacob was preferred before him, given the privilege denied to Esau.
When Jesus says that we must hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, He’s teaching us that supreme allegiance belongs to God alone. And because it belongs to God, it belongs to Him, the incarnate Lord. It’s a dramatic, powerful way of saying that loyalty to Him must come first. Compared to that, other loves must take a distinctly secondary place. Jesus is saying that you cannot follow Him if your attachment to yourself or to any family member claims priority over your relationship to Him. In other words, this is a radical kind of commitment. Jesus seeks from His followers a passionate devotion that has no rivals. He claims first place in your life and mine.
What about bearing your cross and coming after Him? How is that a necessity for anyone who would be a disciple? Let’s think about the setting in which these words were first spoken. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. In obedience to God, He had set His face to move toward the place of rejection, suffering and death. If anyone was going to walk with Him along that road, they had to be prepared for a similar fate.
Remember, to those who heard Jesus speaking, cross-bearing could have only one meaning. A man with a cross on His back was obviously on his way to die. Now was Jesus saying that anyone who follows Him must be crucified as He was? No. Some of His followers actually would suffer martyrdom, but the point was that they could not be in His company, they could not be His followers, unless they embraced His resolve. They too had to be ready to accept all the consequences of doing God’s will. If the prospect of death in following Him seemed too great a price to pay, then they could not be His. If there was any limit to what they would do and risk for His sake, they should withdraw right now. To follow Him meant to be totally identified with Him and His cause. If they weren’t prepared for whatever that might bring – even death – then let them stay home.
What about that third requirement? “So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” The word “therefore” alerts us that this is closely related to what Jesus has just said, but it also adds something. What does it mean to renounce all that you have? Was Jesus saying to all who heard him what He said to the rich young ruler, that they had to sell everything they had, give to the poor and then come and follow Him? No, He didn’t specify that for every one He called. He didn’t require that they give away their entire estate, but He did insist that they renounce it. He was speaking to their basic attitude toward all they had. They were to renounce personal ownership of it. They were to relinquish their own claim to it. They were so to offer it up to Him, their Lord, that they held it henceforth with a light grasp, ready to part with anything and everything for His sake and at His call.
Why, we wonder, did Jesus make it seem so hard? Did He want to trim down the number of the volunteers? Was it perhaps a strategy like Gideon’s? Gideon, remember, when he was to do battle with the Midianites, started out with 32,000 soldiers. God told him that was too many. By a series of tests, Gideon reduced the number to 300. To those few good men, God gave a great victory. That ranks reduction may have been part of Jesus’ intent here.
More profoundly, He wanted to prepare those who would finally follow Him. All the surrounding crowd had been accompanying Him, had come to Him, had expressed some kind of positive response to His ministry, had indicated some desire to follow Him.
The danger Jesus saw, however, was that they wouldn’t follow through. They wouldn’t stay with Him for the long pull. So He wanted to shatter their illusions about following Him. He loved them too much to enlist them in something they weren’t ready for, or didn’t deeply choose. He didn’t want any one to lay a foundation and then not be able to complete the building, or to start a fight he couldn’t finish. He wanted them to know that there would be strenuous effort and conflict involved in discipleship. He wanted them to have a realistic assessment of the cost of following Him and the kinds of difficulty they would encounter if they did. If they didn’t go into this relationship with eyes opened, failure was almost certain, with all its accompanying disappointment and ignominy. He almost seemed to say that it would be better not to start if they didn’t mean to go with Him all the way.
I’m struck by how different His approach was from the one usually taken in the Church today. We tend to start by telling people how wonderful it is to be a Christian. We major in the benefits they will receive if they make the choice to follow Jesus. We’re inclined to keep back all hard sayings until they’re safely on board. Then we break the news to them gently. We seem to fear that if we talk too much about the cost of discipleship before they make a commitment to Jesus, we may scare them off. But Jesus loved people too much to do that. And we, I’m afraid, sometimes love them too little. We’re satisfied with a superficial response, while He demands something much deeper. We say, in effect, “give a little part of yourself to Jesus.” He says, “Give me your heart. Nothing else matters.”
And, you know, I think the reason for the difference lies not only in our anxiety and His courage, the shallowness of our aims and the depth of His. It’s also a matter of our feeble faith. We seem to think that we can’t get anyone to follow Jesus unless we somehow assure them that it’s a good deal. We’ll cajole them to Jesus. We’ll entice them. We’ll give them our best sales pitch. Then maybe they’ll have a good feeling about Him after they meet Him. Then we might persuade them to serve Him, at least a little bit. All of that betrays our lack of confidence in Him, our dim awareness of who He is.
Think of it, friends. Who in the crowd that day would have seriously wanted to follow Jesus after what they heard Him say? “Hate your parents. Hate your wife and children. Hate your brothers and sisters. Hate your own life or you can’t follow Me. Take a cross on your back and come on after Me on the way to Jerusalem, on the way to rejection and suffering, or you can’t be My disciple. Give up your claim on your own life and everything you have or you’re wasting your time.”
On those terms, who would choose to follow this Jesus? Only one kind of person. Only a man or woman, a fellow or girl, whose eyes had been opened. Only people who see Him as the Lord from heaven, the One who deserves our supreme love and loyalty. Only someone like Thomas who falls down before Jesus and says, “My Lord and my God.” Anyone who doesn’t see that about Jesus is going to drop out right away when His demands become this stringent.
Yes, it’s only those who see Jesus as the loving Savior, as the One who gives Himself for others with marvelous compassion, only those who see Him as the Redeemer for whom no conceivable loyalty could be too great. They’re the only ones who will still be around after this kind of call is given.
I was reading this morning how the psalmist says to God, “My chief good is to be near you.” The only people who really follow Jesus are those who recognize that this God is now present among us in the man from Nazareth. When we find Him, we have found the pearl of great price, the treasure hid in a field, our chief good. You see, friends, C. T. Studd had it right when he said, “If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, then no sacrifice is too great for me to make for Him.” Let’s lift up Jesus as Lord of all and as the One who died for our sins and the sins of the whole world. And let’s not be afraid to say that following Him will cost people everything. Just a few who stay with Him all the way to death are worth more than millions of hangers-on, aren’t they? And those who venture all for His sake find out that what they lost was a trifle. The half was not told them. He is worthy.