The cost of discipleship

Luke 14:26-33

“if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple”

“any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple”

“whoever does not carry their cross and follow me, cannot be my disciple”

Jesus often sought to shock with his language.  In this instance, he felt he needed to. 

I want to explain this morning, why he used these words, what he meant by them, and what he was saying to those who were following him then and what he is saying to those who either want to or are following him now.

Three principles to expand on:

(1) Jesus before our family (and friends)

(2) Jesus before our own needs

(3) Count the cost.  Be thoughtful before you commit.

Jesus before our family

Jesus was hugely popular at this moment in the Gospel story.  Large crowds were travelling with him:  Probably hundreds; perhaps more.  In Luke 12, two chapters back, “a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another”

He has been healing the sick, enabling the blind to see, he has fed them, he has cared for the children; he is showing love to everyone.

And in these Jewish Old Testament times, family was the absolute priority.  Nothing was more important than family.

Remember the story in Luke 2 of Mary and Joseph and Jesus travelling back from Jerusalem to Nazareth after the annual visit to the Temple, when the parents had thought Jesus must have been with the larger group heading back.  It was only some hours later they realised that Jesus was still in Jerusalem – in the Temple, as it happened.

The concept of travelling together as a group, and one huge family group was totally normal.  Community was very different.  No-one would go off in their own cars, meeting others at the destination. 

Jesus has developed a huge following, and whole families are probably just enjoying the event.  Maybe its school holidays and it’s a great distraction.  This following Jesus has become a bit like any other road trip, at least for many.

Jesus stops in his tracks.  He says if you want to follow me, forget your family.  You follow me for me, not because it’s convenient, not because it’s social, not because you’ve got nothing better to do.

So what might Jesus say to us today, if he was here, right now – to this crowd?

Are you in church today just because it’s a break from everything else?  You can get time on your own?  Your children can be looked after.  You have space.

If Jesus were here, what would he say?  He would say come, be welcome, come and sit with me, but don’t just come for the comforts, come and meet with me.  Let me show you what life as God’s people is all about and I will give you my peace.

Did you come today because your children love to be here?

If Jesus were here, what would he say?  He would say come, be welcome, come and sit with me.   Let me show me how much I love you, yes, you as an individual, as the beautiful person you are.  I have a hope and plan for your life too.  Let me show you what life as God’s people is all about.

Did you come today because you love the music, the choir, the words and the ceremony?

If Jesus were here, what would be say?  He would say come, be welcome, come and sit with me, but don’t just come for the worship, come because you want to know me.  Let me show you what life as God’s people is all about.  Come and sing with the angels.  Grasp the words that you sing to me.  Let me pray for you and bless you.

Did you come today because it is warm, you can share a coffee with others?  Is it because you are lonely?  Is it because you desperately need help and support?

If Jesus were here, what would be say?  He would say come, be welcome, come and sit with me, but don’t just come for yourself, come for me, come to know me.  I am your friend.    If you feel lonely, I am here for you.   You can always talk to me.  I will answer you.  Let me show you what life as God’s people is all about. 

Do you see what Jesus was trying to say to the crowd?  He wanted them to think about why they were following him.  Why they were listening.  He wanted to bring change.  He wanted his listeners to hear and to respond.

And in case you are in any doubt about the need to love your mother, father, sister, brother, wife and children, hear these words

“each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself” ephesians 5:33

“urge the younger women to love their husbands and their children” titus 2:4

“fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” colossians 3:21

“honour your father and mother” Deuteronomy 5:16

And Jesus didn’t want families to separate:  He had two sets of brothers amongst the twelve disciples.  And it was Lazarus who was the brother of Mary and Martha – two ladies who featured prominently in Jesus’s life.

Jesus is pro family, but he wants us to be able, as we follow him, to look to him first, otherwise we risk losing our way, getting distracted, or misguided by obligation.  

Love your family, but love Jesus more.

Jesus before our own needs

Perhaps the best way of illustrating the drama of the word “hate” is to look at John 12:25, where Jesus says “anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world, will keep it for eternal life”

He doesn’t want us to hate our life in this world. 

He does want us to put aside the things of the world and place the things of heaven first.

It was Paul who led the early church and was author of many of the letters of the New Testament.  It was he who was a wealthy Jew in his day, a serious politician, and well regarded in the Temple.

He chose Jesus.  In Philippians 3, he writes “For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him….  Brothers [he writes], join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.  For many… walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their own shame, with minds set on earthly things”

In Luke, Jesus talked about picking up our cross when we follow him.  He said these words before he had faced it himself, knowing that not just metaphorically, but in truth, that was his destiny.

Counting the cost

I love the situation that Jesus imagines.  “suppose one of you were to build a tower.  Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you”

This is something of a lesson for life.  I doubt that any of us will ever build a tower.  Maybe some will try and build their own home – or have done.  Maybe some will try and build a tree-house, a hen-house, or a shed, a barbeque, a compost bin, or perhaps just make an item of clothing or a meal for friends.

Jesus is saying to us all – before you commit to something, think it through.  In particular, if you are committing to me, don’t just commit on an emotional whim, think about the cost.  He is alongside us, ready to walk with us, but he wants us to grab that hand tight and hold onto it when we do.

And I don’t think his question cuts across the notion of faith.  Faith is stepping out with a certainty, an assurance, it is not a whim.  “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” Hebrews 11:1.

The appeal that Hugh made last week, called for promises to fund a new post within the church to strengthen the families ministry.  As a PCC, we knew that we didn’t have the funds for this post, but we felt we should step out, being confident that this was the right step for us as a church, step out and ask for support.  We were not willing make a commitment blindly, but we are ready to build the tower.  If we can find the bricks, we are making the next step.

But in our day to day life as individuals and as a church, Jesus asks us to do more than just assess the cost before we step forward.  He wants us to be ready to renounce everything.

That doesn’t mean that when we choose to follow him that he wants us to sell everything and give it to the church.  It doesn’t mean that every minute of the day he requires us.

What he is looking for is a willingness to let go.  Just as he wants us to be willing to put him ahead of our family, he wants us to be ready to put everything else before him too.

And maybe we will have difficult decisions to make.  Perhaps we will need to give up a day a week to help out somewhere, maybe we do need to get used to the idea of sharing the money we have with others, maybe we have to open up our home, perhaps we have to open up our hearts to really love those around us.

So why are you here today?  Are you here for the music?  The coffee and chat?  To be with people who will listen?  Because the children want to be here?  Because you just like the crowd?

Jesus asks you – what about me?  Be here for me, be here for a life together with me.  And as we respond to his call to commit to him, we can be sure that Jesus will be alongside us, gripping our hand as we grip his. His love is the greatest of all.

Going Deeper

  1. The word “hate” is very strong. Where else is it used in the New Testament and do you see parallels with its use in this passage?

  2. What can we learn about how to read the bible (especially individual verses) from this study?

  3. Does it surprise you that Jesus asks us to count the cost of discipleship?

  4. What do you think Jesus is saying to you through this passage?

  5. What can we learn about “faith” in the context of the passage? (Look at Hebrews 11).

Simon TSimon T