Now great multitudes accompanied him; and be 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 wife, 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, be sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, who ever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
"Salt Is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill; men throw it away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
I am sure you must have been struck by what seems to be the harsh tone of these words from the Lord, the One who told us that the greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbor. I am sure these words must have struck the disciples with even greater force than they strike us. The Lord was certainly an enigma to the disciples. He was always up to something that would completely derail them. They never knew him, and, of course, they could never really know him.
The Lord himself said, "No one knows the son but the Father." And today be still upsets us by the strange things he said.
The Lord, at the very outset of his ministry, seemed to indicate that anyone could come to him. His invitation was, "Come to me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."' Men began to respond in great numbers. Luke takes note of~the fact that there were great multitudes following the Lord at this time. But now, instead of gathering this number together and teaching them, he begins to warn them against himself. Instead of inflaming their hearts, he throws cold water on them. He seems to go out of his way to offend and antagonize the very people he called to be his disciples. What is he up to?
May I suggest the answer is found in the nature of the crowd that was beginning to gather around the Lord at this time. He was followed by various types of people, people who listened to his words, watched his actions, wanted to be a part of this great movement. But the Lord knew their hearts. He knew that they were following him for what they could receive, their motives were selfish. And he began to move to thin out the ranks.
In this discourse he gives them a revelation of the only terms by which a man can become a genuine disciple. Three times he gives the terms, without which, he says, no one could be his disciple. In verse 26, in verse 27, and in verse 33 he lays down the terms; and then by means of two parables, he clearly explains the reason for the severity of these terms.
Let us examine first the terms of discipleship. These are solemn words. Verse 26:
"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.''
He hits at the very heart of human relationships. the dearest relationships that we have. These have to be laid aside out of loyalty to Jesus Christ.
Then in verse 27, he says:
"Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.''
He moves into the personal life, and the necessity of laying aside our personal ambitions, our own goals in life.
And third, in verse 33,
"So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple."
He strikes at our possessions, the things that we own, and says we must abandon these. "Without these terms." he says, "you cannot be my disciples."Now frankly. when I read a passage like this, I have to ask myself the question, '' If these are the terms, am I a disciple?" Because certainly these are qualifications impossible to fulfill. It would seem to be a direct appeal from law, laying down demands that are impossible and saying, "Unless you fulfill these requirements, you will never be my disciple.'' But let us look in detail at these terms.
The first says we must hate our fathers and mothers and wives and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even our own lives. We have to remember, I think, that Jesus frequently used "alarm" words to arrest people's attention and alert them to danger. He is not saying that we must be malicious and hateful to our families in order to follow him. He is not saying that we have to abandon our homes or ignore our wives and children if we are going to follow him. To do so would be to ignore much of revelation in other parts of the Scriptures that tells us we must love mother and father; and love wives as Christ loved the church. He is saying that we must be alerted to the possibility of a competition in loyalty between Jesus Christ and those whom we love; that love for the Lord takes precedence over all other loyalties. He must be first. And there may be times when to follow Christ will appear to be hatred of those we normally love.
I have a good friend, Jim Hutchings, who was a chaplain in Viet Nam for eighteen months. At the end of his tour he chose to extend his time because of the great ministry that God had given him among the GI's in his unit. It was not an easy choice; he missed his family. And to those of us who knew Jim and his family, it would appear that he hated his family, and had turned his buck on them and abandoned them. This certainly was not the case. Jim would have liked nothing better than to go home to his wife and children. But there was a higher claim on him: his loyalty to Jesus Christ. So he stayed in Viet Nam out of obedience to that call.
That is what the Lord is saying, that he is the object of our ultimate devotion. Our primary devotion goes to him. Notice he does not name sin as necessarily a deterrent to becoming a disciple. We think of the sins we commit, rebellious attitudes and actions, as the things that keep us from following the Lord. But he put his finger on the highest of human relationships. There is nothing greater than love for father and mother. Mother love is a cardinal virtue, but even these things may and do challenge our loyalty to Jesus Christ. Our love for our families can turn us against the Lord, Every relationship has to be examined and regulated by cur determination to be a disciple. Does this relationship draw me closer to the Lord, or does it separate me? I have known many young people who have had to walk away from a love relationship because they sensed that to continue the relationship would drive them farther away from the Lord. I have a friend who walked away from an opportunity to he in partnership with his father, because of a higher claim on his life. It is difficult; it hurts. Men have had to walk across their own hearts out of obedience to Jesus Christ, because he comes first. That is why the Lord said, "You must hate your own life, to follow me.
This is, of course, no justification for abusing parents or wives or children. The Lord warned against that attitude when he referred to the actions of certain Jews who brought a sacrifice into the temple and said,' 'this is reserved for God," to keep money out of the hands of needy parents. Our love for Jesus Christ ought to cause us to love our families, and to love our parents and our children with a greater love than we could ever have for them without Christ. But he is saying that we must first love Jesus Christ. Every other relationship must be subservient to that. And it may appear that we hate those around us because of decisions we have to make out of our Jove for our Lord.
Now he interprets this principle, I think, in verse 27 when he says, "Whoever does not bear his cross and come after me, cannot he my disciple." In order to understand what he meant by "cross," we have to think in terms of the disciples' understanding of the word. If they saw a man dragging a cross up a hill, they would know that the man was going off to die; his life was at an end. This is what the Lord is saying. In order to be a disciple our life must end. All things precious to us and our program must be waived out of regard for his program. This was the cross that the Lord himself endured. Philippians says that the Lord did not think it a thing to be grasped after to be equal with God, but he set this equation aside and became obedient unto death, even the death of a cross. He poured out his life for all men, out of obedience to his Father. He set aside his prerogatives as God'. he came to earth, identified himself with men, set aside all the glory that was his, for us.
And a cross always has a vicarious aspect to it. It is on behalf of others. If we are to follow Christ, we are to live no longer to please ourselves and indulge ourselves but to live on behalf of others.
Paul writes in Romans 15:
"We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him. For Christ did not please himself..."
Jesus did not seek his own selfish motives; he came to seek and to save the lost. And Jesus says if we are going to be disciples, that must be our program as well: not to live for self, but to live for the highest good of others. If we are going to enter Christ's enterprise, we are going to have to do it his way.
Then third, in verse 33, he says we must renounce all that we have; our possessions. Now granted, possessions in themselves are not wrong. It is not the things that we own; it is the things that own us that God is talking about. He is not talking about possessions per se, but the things that we have that possess our heart, that come before our allegiance to Jesus Christ. Every possession must be brought under his authority and rule.
Now these are the terms of discipleship. They have to do with the most personal ambitions and goals, and with our dearest possessions. God may not necessarily take anything away from us. But if we are going to be disciples, we must be wilting to yield all to him. What if God does take our family, or dash our fondest dreams, or take our prized possessions? How will we react? With bitterness, with anger against God, with rebellion in our heart? Then it is an indication that we love them more than we love him. Corrie Ten Boom once commented that she learned to hold everything loosely in her hand, because she knew she would grasp them tightly and the Lord would have to pry her fingers away, and it would hurt. If we are going to be true disciples, we must hold things loosely, counting nothing as our own. Everything is a gift given to us by God to be used for him, to be enjoyed, yes, but most of all to be placed under his authority. Only thus can we be a disciple.
Now, having declared the terms (in no uncertain terms), he gives the reason for the stringency for these terms. He uses two parables. One, a man who builds a tower.
"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.'"
And secondly, he uses the parable of a king, going to encounter another king in war.
"Will he 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."
Why these two figures? Is he saying that we need to count the cost, like a man who goes to build a tower, or a king who goes to war? I do not think so, because he has just told them that they are not to count the cost; that there is no comparison between love of family and love of Jesus Christ; that one cannot consider discipleship in terms of a profit/loss transaction. There is to be no hesitancy regarding fellow shipping wish him in the cross. No, it is not they who must count the cost, but he who must count the cost. He the king going out to war; he is the builder desiring to erect a tower. These two figures run all the way through the Scriptures.
God is in the world for building -- building men, and building a church. He is here to do battle against the forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is he who has to reckon on the quality of his workmen and his warriors. Jesus said, "I come to build my church [that is the building aspect] and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it [that is the warfare that is going on]." He said that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, rulers of wickedness in high places. That is the battle. The Apostle spoke frequently of building a house of God. that the church is a great temple that we are building. These two figures run all through Scripture-building and fighting. And the supreme question that the Lord asks is, "Will I have enough men qualified who will stand by me till the building is done, and the battle is won?"
In the Old Testament there is the story of Nehemiah. who went back to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls that had been destroyed by the Babylonian invaders. When he got there he discovered that there was a great deal of opposition to the rebuilding, and so it was necessary for Nehemiah to arm his men with a trowel and with a sword. Half of them were given over to the responsibility of erecting the wall; the others to defending those who were building. Again, the figure of building and fighting. He is asking for men who will build and do battle. He is not concerned about the number, but he is concerned about the quality of those to whom be entrusts this task.
The Lord is sifting the crowd, I think this explains the severity of these words, He is not concerned with size of the task force. Size is no guarantee of success. But he is concerned about the quality of the men who are following him. (There is also the story of Gideon in the Old Testament, who learned from God that 300 wholehearted men are to be preferred over 32,000,who had no heart for the task.)
The Lord emphasizes this principle again by another analogy in the last two verses in this chapter, when he talks about salt and its properties.
"Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?"
Jesus had told the disciples earlier that they were the salt of the earth. They understood that he spoke of them. They were of no use to him unless they had the true quality of salt, the bite, the aseptic quality of salt, with its ability to arrest the spread of corruption. Today the Lord is still looking for disciples who have this salty quality that he can spread throughout the world.
Now I sense that each of us has a hunger to be put to use. We want to be a part of this enterprise; we want to be men and women of quality that the Lord can use. I feel that these words are for us, At first sight they do appear harsh, but I think that these are like the words of a surgeon who tells his patient that he is forced to engage in radical surgery to heal his body. The surgeon knows he must cut deeply into the flesh, or the cure will be superficial and the man will never be whole again. The patient's response is to yield himself to the surgeon's hands. The surgeon insists on this right if he is to do his work properly.
God wants to heal, and put to use. An unyielded Spirit will keep us from wholeness and excitement of cooperation with God. We will be caught in some eddy and we will watch the mainstream of God's purposes pass us right by. But, as Paul says, If we present our bodies a living sacrifice, if we will make ourselves available to him -- our family, our time, our possessions, all that we have -- God will fill and use us.
Finally. in the first two verses of chapter 15, we note the response of the people who were gathered. In chapter 14 he closed with these words, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." And Luke says,
''Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near him."
There is a significant connection here. It was the sinners and publicans who heard him, and wanted to be a part of this operation. They were willing to allow Jesus Christ to move into their lives and correct and to do whatever needed to be done, to qualify them.
''And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.'"
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