The man who steps into the pulpit today and wants to be faithful to God’s Word so that at the end of the sermon he can say in his heart: “Thus saith the Lord!” faces a difficult task.
The words of our Lord Jesus Christ that we hear in the Gospel lesson today call us to hate our loved ones and even our own lives. They tell us to voluntarily take upon our own shoulders an instrument of torture and death. They command us to bid farewell to everything that we call our own and leave it behind.
Jesus says that unless we do this hating and taking and forsaking, we cannot be his disciples. We cannot be his disciples.
If you have your bibles open or the bulletin, take a pencil and under line these words in verse 26: he cannot be my disciple; and these words in verse 27: he cannot be my disciple; and then these words in verse 33: he cannot be my disciple. What does Jesus mean by these words? He means what he says when he calls us to count the cost of following him! The Bible says that:
Great crowds accompanied him [Jesus], and he turned and said to them, “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.
When we hear these words of our Lord Jesus Christ we understand why he said that wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are MANY who go in by it. But narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are FEW who find it. We understand why the people asked Jesus if those who would be saved are few.
We wonder to ourselves: is this really the message that we want to convey to the world? Is this really the best way to get people to join our church? Are these the words we want on our sign out there on Sunset as thousands drive by each day?
And yet Jesus spoke these words to the great crowds who followed him—unconcerned for his reputation; unconcerned that his words might be misunderstood; unconcerned about the effect that his words would have on those who heard them except that people would know and understand just exactly what it means to follow him as a disciple so that they might count the cost from the very beginning.
Jesus spoke these words so that we would understand that being his disciples means that he must come first in our Lives—first in our Loyalties—first in our Loves. He comes first to such a degree that every other love and every other loyalty looks like hate in comparison and that life apart from him is death. Now please understand…
When Jesus spoke these words about hating those who are closest to us, he had not forgotten that the summary of the Law is to love our neighbor as ourselves. He was not overturning the commandment to love, honor and serve our parents. He was not contradicting the teaching of the apostles who would take the Gospel to the world that husbands must love their wives. What he was saying—in a vivid, memorable way--is that love for him comes first in the lives of his disciples. Let me give you an example.
There is a Lutheran lady here in Texas whose son married a Mormon and eventually he joined the Mormon Church. You can imagine what a knife in the heart this is for this Christian mother. And so she learned everything she could about the Latter Day Saints and goes to various churches and conventions warning people about the spiritual danger that is found in that religion. Because of this, her son and his wife have turned their backs on her and forbidden her to see her grandchildren.
God forbid that something so terrible should happen to any of us but the words of Jesus let us know up front that living as his disciple may mean that a Christian spouse has to leave their unbelieving loved one behind on Sunday morning so that they can attend Church.
It may mean that Christian parent has to tell their unbelieving child that their live-in boyfriend is not welcome in their home.
It may mean that we cannot “go along and get along” when a family member tears down Christ and his ways.
What these words about hating our family mean is that there is a cost to following Jesus as his disciple and that cost is often times comes in the lives of those we love in our families. As difficult as THAT is, Jesus goes on to say that those who follow him as disciples must even hate their own lives.
We see exactly what those words look like in the lives of all the faithful martyrs of the past and present. In Revelation, John is writing about these martyrs and he says that they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
So it has been down through salvation history-- and even on the pages of the newspaper today: disciples who love Jesus more than their own lives and so are martyred for the faith.
We may not ever be called upon to bare our neck to the sword and so it becomes easy for us to say that we would. But our own actions deny those words when we will not make the smallest sacrifice to LIVE as a Christian today to say nothing of dying for Christ someday.
But death is exactly that to which we are called. Jesus said: Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
The people who heard these words knew Jesus exactly what referring to—they saw it all over the Roman world. As they traveled up to Jerusalem there was a man crucified by the side of the road for being a revolutionary. There was another man crucified for being a murderer. And there on Golgotha was a man crucified under a sign that read: The King of the Jews.
This was the life that Jesus had come to live. This was the death he had come to die. This is the journey that every one of his disciples is called to make and the destination to which we are called to go. We are to accept the judgment of the world that we are fools. We are to endure the shame and abuse of unbelievers. And we are to die. Jesus wants us to understand:
The way of discipleship IS the way of the cross and the way of the cross leads to death. It leads to the death of self. It leads to the death of our hopes and dreams and plans that we make for ourselves. It leads to the death of our will and going our own way.
Jesus says: If anyone would be my disciples, this is the journey you will make, this is the life you will live, these are the priorities you will have and if you will not do that, you cannot be my disciple. Jesus speaks these words plainly so that all of us would understand the cost of being his disciple--up front—before they begin. Jesus 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? 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 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? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.
When you travel from San Antonio down to Kingsville there is an enormous house sitting off in the brush on the west side of the road about half way complete. You can see that it was going to be something magnificent.
But it has sat there, incomplete, abandoned, empty for almost two decades because the man who began to build it ran out of money and now it is a monument to his inability to finish what he started.
In the days leading up to Desert Storm I Saddam Hussein told us again and again that if we invaded Iraq, it would be the “Mother of All Battles” and would mean the destruction of the United States. The entire conflict was over in just a few weeks and Saddam Hussein was shown to be a blowhard and Desert Storm I is a monument to his foolishness and pride.
Those are the kinds of warning that Jesus gives to everyone who follows him as his disciple. He is not saying that we shouldn’t begin—we should—but we should also understand the cost! But why on earth would anyone pay that cost? Why would anyone go the way of hating, and taking, and forsaking? It is because…
The way that Jesus sets before us and the journey he invites us to travel—even though it most certainly leads to death—is the only way and journey that will also lead to life-- for the way of the cross does not end at Calvary but goes on into the darkness of a tomb and then to the bright shining light of a resurrection morning that will have no end.
That was the way of the cross for Jesus—and that is the way of the cross for us-- and only when we understand that up front can we accept the cost when Jesus says: if any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
That word “renounce” means to leave behind; to forsake; and bid farewell to. Jesus is talking about a final break with anything and everything that we would lay our hand to and call: mine. We see what that looks like throughout the Bible as people followed the Lord.
When Abraham followed the Lord’s call he left everything familiar to him and went to a land he did not know. When Elisha heard the call of God he sacrificed his oxen and burned his plow. When Matthew heard the call of Jesus he left his tax booth behind. And when the sinful woman was saved from stoning she left her sinful life behind.
To follow Jesus Christ as his disciple is to give everything into his hands—our future, our hopes and dreams, our desires—not so that he can take from us—but so that he can then fill us to overflowing with his blessings, a full measure, pressed down and overflowing.
The great mystery of discipleship is that we will never receive those blessings until we trust in Jesus’ words to let all things go. This is the whole purpose of a life of discipleship and Jesus says:
“Salt is good, 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. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
The purpose, the essence, the value of salt is to make things salty and if it does not do that then it has no value at all. So it is when a disciples loves others more than Christ and forsakes the cross and trusts in possessions.
That is not discipleship at all and is worse than worthless in the end and Jesus’ point is that no matter how great the cost of discipleship, the cost of not following him is terrible and eternal.
The Lord has put ears on the side of our head so that we can hear his words and take them to heart. God grant it for Jesus’ sake! Amen.