“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” – Luke 14:33
In the Gospels it seems like many who go to see Jesus aren’t necessarily His followers but are often just curious… or maybe they even just want a good ringside seat for some fireworks… (David Garland).
And sometimes, maybe even we who truly believe are tempted to do that as well!
Maybe this is just one of the reasons it seems that Jesus is always eager to challenge us… keep us evaluating, keep us assessing, keep us guessing, keep us asking… “What does this mean?”
In our specific Gospel text for today, Jesus tells the great crowds accompanying him – and us as well – that we must hate our family and our own lives, carry our cross like him, and, well… give up everything we have.
What about honoring one’s father and mother?
What about easy yokes and light burdens?
What about an abundant life?
Here, it seems like being a Christian is really, really hard… Maybe even impossible!
It almost might sound like Jesus is trying to discourage us… “Should you really be a Christian?”
And yet, once again – we dare not forget the importance of context!
What else, after all, do we see surrounding this passage in the book of Luke?
Well, we see, on one side, the great message of the wedding banquet! You know the story….
[briefly sum it up]
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.”
And on the other side, we also see the parables of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son….
[briefly tell it]
So just what is going on here in this short snippet sandwiched between these great accounts of God’s grace?
Well, Jesus is asking us to be steely-eyed about everything, and so He is warning us of the very real dangers we face.
Jesus is being a realist. “There is no escaping it” He says. You can’t be friends with the world and its ways. Discipleship will demand sacrifice and suffering.
Count the cost.
The world doesn’t get Jesus but it has an idea of what realism entails, even as, yes, it also understands the capacity of human beings to deceive themselves (but, ironically, if often can’t tell when it itself is being deceived…)
I recently was reminded of Jesus’ words in our text today when I read the following from an economist:
“For the past couple of years I’ve been binging on war and battle documentaries and podcasts. In part to learn history. In part to learn about military tactics. But also in part because I find it a fascinating study on economics. Specifically the complete and total ignoring of it. Because in nearly every instance of battle, war, and invasion the winner always had better economics. And had the opponent in the war merely took the time to measure and assess their resources and economic efficiency against their adversary, most wars would have never been fought, millions of lives never lost, and thousands of economies never ruined.
Still, even to this day, economics I believe plays a subdued or unrecognized role in warfare and battle. WWII is about the only war where resources maybe made it to the forefront, perhaps the frontal cortex of the Allies’ brains. But Hitler and Hirohito failed miserably to assess their economics versus the Allies and millions died and perished because of it. Had Hitler and Hirohito just had better economics, WWII would have never started.
Still, this is the price we pay as a society for mis-measuring other countries’ economics and economic potential. Millions dead. Economies destroyed. Centuries lost. And hundreds of millions of affected family members. And so if we can do a better job assessing economic reality, we stand to gain tremendously as a global society.”
Now, maybe this economist is seeing everything through his own biased economist lens, or maybe he is right on the money. I don’t know. But just like this economist, Jesus is saying “Pay attention and be realistic! – take account of the facts on the ground and don’t you dare not be practical.”
And like our economist, Jesus is also, by the way, thinking about war.
Again, if you are a Christian… if you don’t feel likes its really happened to you already (I’m guessing it has), you are going to realize that the world is at odds with you, and in fact, is going to hate you.
At some point, this will hit you like a ton of bricks…
And Jesus doesn’t want you to be unprepared.
Let’s look at what our Lord says again:
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.”
Again, Jesus’ point in all of these short parables today is for us to be realistic and count the cost. Don’t think for a minute that He wants you or anyone else to ask for terms of peace!
That would be to surrender to the world, your flesh, and the devil.
Our God doesn’t want you to fall into all the temptations to throw in your lot with those who are fixated on the world and its ways!
Those can be taken away at any time. Cultivate your attitude of abandonment (Gaebelein) and be prepared to run lightly…
Hate your relatives?
They don’t give you the identity that lasts into eternity. You are always to prefer God and to serve Him above anyone else.
Crosses to be carried daily?
If they persecuted your Master won’t they persecute you?
Hence all throughout the book of Luke we see similar warnings:
- “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”
- “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
- “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
- “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three….”
And we remember the parable of the sower of seed, where in some cases Satan immediately snatches the seed out of hearts, or hearts fall away when tested… or life’s riches, cares and pleasures choke whatever faith such hearts may have had…
I hope “not so!” with me! I hope “not so!” with you!
Let our hearts be the good ones who keep and treasure the Word planted.
Let we who have ears hear!
Again, Jesus wants us to see that there is a war going on here!
In his parable about building the tower just before his parable about the armies, some commentators make the case that this is also related to war.
It is likely a military tower… a military outpost that serves as a defensive fortification. And the army illustration, of course, speaks to this defensive posture in war as well.
Indeed, Jesus wants us to be those prepared for the siege, for all-out battle.
And, I believe, to do so realizing that the way we become a Christian is the way we stay a Christian….
What do I mean? We are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.
We continue to live in this world in exactly the same way.
In sharing these parables about the tower and army, God is rousing us not to shrink back, but to fight.
Like Peter, we are meant to cry out “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”
He means for us to recognize not only His total Authority but our total and utter dependence on Him for everything.
Again, not in a million years are we meant to conclude that embarking on this course is something we could never do (Marshall).
Perhaps something only for the morally strong.
Or for the morally fit.
Or, even for those who are just prudent risk managers (David Garland)!
Indeed, even from the more noble worldly point of view, becoming a disciple of Jesus would be imprudent since the power of raw human desire — “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” as the Apostle John puts it – seems so powerful and overwhelming…
“This Jesus clearly doesn’t get what He’s asking… He’s not being realistic”
“Wrong,” He says, steely-eyed….
And then He asks “Will you go away too?”
Our Lord is in fact communicating to us that the very survival of True Love, Life, and Light – everything good, true, and beautiful that we have begun to experience in this world — is at stake.
So with Him it is all or nothing.
No half-measures are in play here!…
You say you can’t do it? You can’t but you must – and you don’t know where to turn?
I get it. I’m there.
Remember this though: we aren’t meant to conclude that this is something that we can do on our own, from our own internal and intrinsic powers… but only with Him and the grace and strength He provides us.
- Having seen His great love, do we find ourselves, even at the most minimal level, wanting to throw in our lot with Him?
- Having been invited to this great feast of the great King, do we have visions of being able to participate in this wonderful King’s work, His war?
- Do we see that His war is an awe-inspiring mission to rescue those held in captivity by the forces of evil?: sin, death, and the devil?
- Do we want Him to be able to rely on us as faithful soldiers in the battle that He has, for all practical purposes, has already won?
- Do we believe that His resurrection shows that His work at the cross was the Greatest Victory?
- And that He is coming again to rescue us, His people, in the final battle?
These are the key issues – the bigger picture – that all of us need to understand are at stake here….
One way or another, one must lose everything.
And for those elect of God, those called by God, to “lose your life” means nothing more than to submit to what you hear from our Great Master and Commander
….the crucified One who really counted the cost.
…but not to the world, but to the King of Grace.
On my heart imprint Your image,
Blessed Jesus, King of grace,
That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures
Never may Your work erase;
Let the clear inscription be:
Jesus, crucified for me,
Is my Life, my hope’s foundation,
And my glory and salvation!
That is the song the church keeps singing.
And rest assured, without Him and His Purposes in the picture, we will certainly lose any saltiness we might have previously had….
And we might indeed lose that which was so easy to gain in the first place – our very free salvation.
And again, that of course, is not what He wants.
He calls us to war, wanting us to fight against the world and to fight with Him.
And the paradoxes that result from this are many:
- Only in this way will yokes be easy and burdens light.
- Only in this way will we must fully understand what it means to honor one’s father and mother.
- Only in this way will we know abundant life.
- Only in this way will the hope of heaven and all its rewards seem to be totally worth it….
Because heaven is where Jesus, our King of Grace, will be.
Brothers and sisters, Abide in His Word.[i]
Let’s talk through just a bit more about what this means for us in practical terms, in the context that surrounds us today.
To enter the Christian life is to be called into lifelong battle.
It is a battle, however, that is so unlike the battles that are fought in the world…
Again, our Lord’s is a spiritual mission of rescue that results in eternal salvation from sin, death, the devil and hell.
It is a spiritual war of justice—with an emphasis on grace and mercy—vs. the world’s forces of evil and oppression.[ii]
And as compatible as our faith and our culture may have often seemed, they, actually, aren’t going to like people being serious about following Jesus.
Hearing us, they are often not going to convert, and will be very confused.
Again, be realistic!
The world hates this message!
“Isn’t complete and total cultural and political freedom after all, the most important thing in life?”
Many will never grasp the “good news” because they don’t want to hear the Bible’s realistic – true – message about what has happened in the world and the way things subsequently are…
- Stop going on about how we live in a fallen world! A “Genesis 3” world!
- Hey Apostle Paul, in your letter to Philemon, stop leaving us with the impression that God was actually alright with certain kinds of slavery even as he also encouraged masters to do better!
- Stop saying that there are limits to what freedom might mean and I can’t live my life anyway I please or be whoever I think I am or dream of being!
- Stop telling me that there are limits to what my imagination can shape and build!
- Stop talking about death likes it’s an enemy and not a part of the way things are!
- You medieval freak, stop talking about how we are sinners and need God’s forgiveness!
- Stop saying that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life!
Don’t get me wrong.
Some will hear and believe!
Often those who we have just been human with …
and who have felt welcomed and loved by us will hear us out, and even be transformed, by the power of the word of God!
It can’t not happen, because we are salt, and it is in fact the Word of Christ, working in all places but especially through us, that preserves this world and gives it the little joy it does experience…
We have joined an army with the Lord as our Commander who will not falter and who supplies all of our provisions.
Aware of the enemy’s tactics and eager to counter them, this army ultimately aims to open up the Kingdom of Heaven to all people.
It is an odd army of mercy, who, like their Lord, eagerly gives the promise of paradise to those enemies of God dying to the left of them and to the right of them, if only they would have it.
It gives to those who have nothing to give, and who can pay nothing back.
We, God’s people, like God Himself, are driven by true justice, and this means in part to be profligate with compassion, mercy, and grace.
So go out and tell them to come in. Seek the lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost son.
Build the tower.
Fight the war.
[i] As we abide in His Word, our eyes are fixated primarily on the stories of God’s grace and mercy while not excluding passages that demand everything we are and have.
These all need to go together.
The parables and accounts of God’s amazing grace in Jesus Christ – about His desire for and seeking out the lost – like the very ones that surround our reading for today: the parable of the wedding feast. The parables of the lost coin, sheep and son.
…these are really, ultimately, the food or fuel that drive us.
It is by God’s grace that we remain in this grace, and keep grace-focused eyes.
It is through God’s grace that we recognize the fight that we have before us and that we are able to maintain this orientation and outlook.
…that is to know in our heart of hearts that God’s grace not only for us but for our neighbors as well…
Our mission, like his, is to love each and every human being – to desire their good and their final salvation.
When God says that He desires all persons to be saved, this desire should be ours as well.
[ii] And regarding the final judgment, Christians will judge the world as Jesus says and Paul echoes.
That said, prior to the final judgment, Christians of course were to judge as God judges: showing mercy – both pity in the form of physical assistance and the forgiveness of God Himself through Christ – to all, first to the believer and then to the terrified unbeliever.