I’ve sat down in front of this screen maybe twenty times over the last few weeks. Every time I feel like I have something to say, the words just seem to escape me and I can’t finish a single post. I set out with the purpose of being consistent in my blogging, but somehow, that never happens.
I’m beginning to wonder if I’m only allowed to blog when the words and thoughts are on the brink of bursting, when I feel like I’m going to explode if I don’t get them out. With that being said, there are some things that I wanted to say, no matter what.
As an aside: what follows is based on my own observations and interpretation. Rather than simply accepting my words, I suggest that you read the passage and study it for yourself to see if what I say makes sense.
We studied Luke 14:25-35 this week in Kaleo Sunday School. At this point, the crowds are still following Jesus, waiting for him to heal someone, to perform another miracle, or to feed them (we joke that the only way to get people to church is with free food — guess that was true of ancient times too).
The Pharisees don’t exactly take kindly to being called “hypocrites” and are trying to see if they can trick Jesus into saying something condemnable. And Jesus has set his course for Jerusalem (and to his subsequent death).
Along the way, Jesus has established his identity as Messiah and the One who is bringing in the Kingdom, who is fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets and even surpassing their expectations.
He claims Lordship over the Sabbath and the right to forgive sins. He rebukes the crowds and the Pharisees for their disbelief and rejection despite all that he has said and done in their presence. Now that he has established his identity and mission, Jesus exhorts those following him to respond appropriately, urgently.
Entrance to the Kingdom, he says, is not based on genealogy or ethnic heritage. It’s not based on keeping to the letter of the Law and earning your way into God’s favor. Those who belong to the family and Kingdom of God are those who respond to Jesus in belief and repentance, and then follow after Him as disciples.
So what does it look like to be a true follower, a true disciple of Jesus? And why did Luke include this passage in his detailed account to Theophilus, whom he was trying to encourage to endure in his faith?
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. 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.”
I could go into great detail about this passage, but this has already become quite a lengthy post; I hope it’ll be worth it for you if you’ve already made it thus far. Here are some observations:
- Jesus lays out three “requirements” of discipleship. That is, 1) to hate* your family and your own life (v.26), 2) to bear your own cross and follow after Jesus (v.27), and 3) to renounce all that you have (v.33, NASB translates it as “give up all [your] own possessions”). I think it’s safe to say that that about covers the gamut of everything in our lives: possessions, our closest relationships and even life itself.
- The imagery of bearing a cross is interesting because Jesus was headed to the cross, but he hadn’t been crucified yet. I’m not 100% sure, but I think the cross was a symbol of Roman rule (and cruelty) as well as a symbol of curse to the Jews. Carrying your own cross was agreement that you deserved the guilty sentence — the ultimate act of humility (or perhaps humiliation?). Of course, when Jesus bore his cross, he was bearing our guilty sentence upon himself in the ultimate act of sacrifice. And his resurrection justified him as righteous, overturning the curse of the cross and defeating both sin and death. I’m also reminded of Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live but christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (see also Gal 5:24, “now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires”). Either way, the full meaning of carrying the cross hadn’t yet been realized until after Jesus reached Jerusalem.
- The underlying theme of both parables (v.28-32) seems to be that both the person building the tower and the king going into battle stop, count the cost of their operation, and then decide whether it’s something they can accomplish. If not, then they simply won’t start. The idea is not to start something and then have to quit mid-way.
- I think by sandwiching the parable in between the requirements of discipleship, Jesus is saying, “Here is the cost of being my disciple. Count the cost before you decide whether you want to follow me or not. Now that you know what the cost is, are you willing to follow me still?”
- At first, I thought Jesus’ words about salt losing its taste (v.34-35) was a little random and sudden, but they follow directly after “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (v.33). Discipleship to Christ has a cost, which is that you submit everything — your relationships, your possessions, your old flesh and its desires, your entire life — to Christ in order to follow Him. If we say that we are disciples, but we still hold on to those things, the things of this earth, then how are we different from the rest of the world? How are we supposed to be salt (Matthew 5:13) to the people around us? The life of discipleship was and is a radical one, because the cost of being a true follower of Jesus is everything.
This requirement for entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is a far cry from the political freedom (from Rome), feasting, glories, and restoration the Jews were expecting from their Messiah. I was thinking about how, in some ways, modern Christians have the same kind of attitude toward discipleship as the multitudes listening to Jesus.
We want an easy, seeker-friendly salvation without the cost or the discipleship. We want to be able to follow Christ and still hold on to the things of this world. We want to be justified without being sanctified, without being transformed from our normal, comfortable selves. Everything — the way we live, the way we do church, the way we evangelize — is affected by this attitude.
I think Luke included this section for Theophilus because he wanted to remind him — and us — that the call to follow Christ is a serious one, and one we should not take lightly. Too few of us really count the cost before deciding whether we want to call ourselves Christians. Too few of us really understand what discipleship to Christ looks like, even though we’re trying to pursue it.
My heart is heavy whenever I think about the people in my life who once called themselves Believers and, unable to give up the pleasures and values of this world, have wandered away from the faith and from the church. I think about the people I know who desperately need the Truth and grace of the Gospel, but the sacrifice required is too daunting.
This rings true for me as well. There are things in this life, even at this very moment, that I am still struggling to hand over to Christ. I wonder what it looks like for me to really carry my cross and follow after my Savior. I wonder whether I’m really being salt to those around me. It’s something with which we really need to wrestle.
But as I’ve been praying and thinking over these things, God in His grace has given me a lot of comfort. Even though it seems so crazy, like, “Wow, if I want to be a true disciple of Christ, I have to give up EVERYTHING,” I believe that Jesus has made it more than worth it.
“The Kingdom of heaven,” he says, “is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it, he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).
The life of discipleship if one filled with joy and hope, and so even though the cost is great, the reward far surpasses anything that we might give up in this world.
*I struggled over what Jesus meant when he said to “hate” your own family. This is a little embarrassing to use an example, but I was watching a Japanese drama in which the heir to a huge international corporation decides he must give up his status, privilege, power and everything else that comes with his position as the company’s heir (even though the company was in dire financial straits) in order to be with the girl he passionately loves. He turns his back on his mother (who disinherits him), his reputation, his wealth — to the point where it almost seems like he hates them — for the sake of the one he loves. I think that’s similar to how Jesus is using the term “hate.”