The Cost of Discipleship

A sermon on Luke 14:25-35 for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost in series C.

Jesus has been hard at work, preaching, teaching, traveling and healing. Many are beginning to follow him physically and many are beginning to wonder what it takes to follow him spiritually. Today Jesus gives the massive crowd following him the answer to that question. What does it take to follow Jesus? What does it cost to be his disciple? What is the cost of discipleship?
In the verses leading up to today’s lesson, Jesus has thrown a curveball to the people who thought they had it figured out. Following the law perfectly was the way of the day. It was the way to be a child of God. It was the way they thought they were in God’s grace. By working towards perfectly keeping the law, pharisees, sadducees, scribes, teachers of the law and more thought they could work out their salvation.
But in the verses leading up to today, Jesus has shown them just how impossible that perfection is. He shows them how backwards their thinking on salvation has been. In Luke 13:22 Jesus is asked if many will be saved. Jesus responds with an unexpected teaching about how narrow the door is and about how few will enter. He tells those listening that the last will be first and the first will be last. He turns things upside down.
He continues this flip in the gospel lesson we had last week when Jesus told those gathered at the banquet that they should not sit in the seats of honor, rather the low seats so that they can be honored. And that they should not throw parties and invite those who can repay leaving out the undeserving. In these parables he shows us even more about how God will raise up those who humble themselves in confession before him. Jesus gives the people listening and us a glimpse of the merciful undeserved gift of eternal life that he gives us all that we cannot even begin to think about repaying. We are the blind, the lame, the crippled and the poor that are seated in the place of honor alongside or risen and reigning savior.
These teachings lead up well to our lesson today. We learn more about what it takes to be a disciple of the Lord, one saved by his grace does what? We can only guess that a question was asked of Him along the lines of “Jesus, what does it take to be a disciple?” Perhaps the crowds were beginning to murmur among themselves, “What makes those 12 men so special?”
Whether or not that question was asked directly, Jesus turns to the crowd following him and answers with these startling, unexpected words, “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.” (Luke 14:26).
And there we have it, one of the favorite verses of those who like to point out the “contradictions” in scripture. Doesn’t Jesus tell us to “love your enemies and be good to those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) and here he is telling us to break the fourth commandment (Exodus 40:12, Ephesians 6:2) and hate our families? You know that commandment that clearly says, honor your father and your mother!? What about Paul in Ephesians 5:25 when he says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church”? Had he not heard this teaching of Jesus?
Obviously this verse takes some reckoning. First off we can remember what we are to do when we come across a hard saying in the Bible, we let scripture interpret scripture. Looking at Matthew 10:37, we see that the Gospel of Matthew has recorded a similar saying in this way, “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.” And we know that the Law of God is summed up in the command to love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:26-28) and that our neighbors include the members of our families.
Jesus gives us perhaps the best demonstration of what he means by hate when he says later in his ministry, “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” (Luke 16:13)
The other thing we should realize is that the word translated for hate (miseo) carries in our english language a lot of baggage. Jesus’ intent is not that we despise and avoid and kick to the curb and never speak to again, our father, mother, wife, children and even our self. These are all implications of the word hate as we use it. But in this usage Jesus is assuring us of the order of things that should be. The law is summed up only in part by love your neighbor as yourself. The primary desire of God for our lives is that we love him with our entire “heart, soul and strength!” When we perfectly love God we cannot but love our neighbors as ourselves because our neighbors are a part of God’s creation and loving Him means loving them.
Jesus is not telling us to hate our neighbors he is telling us he comes first. In the same way Jesus is not telling us to hate ourselves but he is telling us to get over ourselves. There you find the cost of discipleship. The cost of discipleship is getting over yourself. You will get in the way of following Jesus by putting your desires before what he requires. Our desires for ourselves and what we want the most, our desires for those loved ones in our lives will even supplant the love of God that we are created for.
Jesus Goes further and tells us what we were created for and what being a disciple is all about. It is not only about coming to him, leaving behind family and self, but it is also going after him, going with him. Picking up in Luke 14:27, Jesus says, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
Picking up cross, lifting up cross, bearing Jesus is what being a disciple is all about. The cross is not pretty. The cross is not glamourous. The cross is not a public relation specialists dream. It is the opposite. It is foolish. It is bloody. It is messy. It is painful. Awkward. Uncomfortable. But being a disciple is about following the one who went there.
Jesus was trying to get that through to the crowds. He gave this teaching to them as he was on his way to jerusalem where he was going to the cross. Where he was to endure the shame of it all. And Jesus wanted them to know the lengths to which he would go for those who follow him.
Many times we like to think about bearing our cross as carrying and enduring the burdens that sin causes in our lives and that is certainly a good thing to understand. But the cross we are called to carry first and foremost is the cross of Christ crucified which vanquishes, demolishes and demeans all of the other burdens we carry. Bearing a cross is certainly more than wearing a dying man on a chain around your neck, it is living a life for the one who went through it all for you. The cost of discipleship is letting Jesus and the ugly cross be first in everything you do. That is a costly thing to do and Paul warns us of it in his letter to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:12 saying, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” It’s madness!
Jesus goes on to give you two parables about seeing what you are up against. He says, “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.” (Luke 14:28-32)
How’re we to interpret these? Let’s try this on for size. Suppose you are desiring to build a tower to stand against sin, death and the devil, you should first sit down and count the cost to see if you have what it takes to withstand the temptations, attacks and devices that will come your way. In doing so you will likely realize that you are incapable of finishing or perfecting such a wall on your own. By counting that cost and realizing you need something outside yourself to help, you will save yourself some severe mockery.
What about the second one, let’s try this interpretation on for size. Suppose you are going out to war, wait, not war, but you are going out to face judgement. God is coming to bring his just wrath against the wickedness and vile deeds in your life. You would do very well to sit down and deliberate whether your piddly righteousness would stand against the standards of God. You would do even better to find an emissary to negotiate peace on your behalf. More on that in a moment.
And what about the last statement in Luke 14:34-35 “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.”
Let’s try this on for size, you are the salt without saltiness and you can do nothing to restore your flavor and you are good for nothing in your saltless condition, good for nothing except to be thrown away.
What then are we left to do when we are aware of our condition. What are we to do when we realize we cannot build the tower, we cannot fight the war and we have no flavor? When we come to realize this we are being made aware of our sin by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is part of the life of discipleship to come to this place because the cost of discipleship is being aware of our sin.
Christ says it well himself in that verse I skipped in verse 33 he says, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Being aware of our sin and our sinful condition will leave us with no option other than to renounce everything we have. We cannot built it. We cannot fight it. We cannot love it. We cannot show it. We cannot follow on our own. Thanks be to God he does it for us.
Thanks be to God the cost of discipleship is paid by Christ. He paid it for you when he became the stone the builders rejected, the cornerstone for the tower that will endure forever against the assaults of evil. He paid it for you when he rode into battle not 10,000 against 20,000 but one man for all people and he having lived the perfect life, laid it down undeserved for you and me. Taking the wrath of God deserved by us to save us from the death we deserved. He paid the cost of discipleship for you when he made you new again in his resurrection, paving the way for that last day when we will all be raised unblemished in the new creation, with perfect and untarnished saltiness.
The cost of discipleship is ultimately paid by Christ on the messy cross that we bear on our foreheads and on our hearts from the moment of baptism that we daily remember. Because of this you can be confident that you are his disciple. Forever.