By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
September 8, 2019
Luke 14:25–33 (ESV)
25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 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. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
What does it mean be a follower go Jesus? What exactly is a disciple? I have often considered these things. There are days where I will just sit thinking of these things. I will sit wondering, I will stand around thinking, and I will contemplate as I walk around. Even after being a pastor for sixteen years I still wonder.
At this point in Jesus’s ministry he has traveled throughout Judea and Galilee. He would walk from town to town talking to the people and helping where he could. People liked what they were hearing, they liked what they saw happening. They began to think that Jesus was the very thing they were looking for, but what were they looking for?
There was a lot going on in Israel. Throughout the ages Israel has been the cross-roads of empires. They were always a people called out, different, in the world but not of the world. This concept is extremely odd to think about. If we look at the history of this group, we see something very interesting. Abraham, the patriarch of the nation, was called out. Have we ever really thought about what the calling of Abraham really was? He was called to leave Ur, we do not really think too much about the place he was called from, but Ur was a capital city of one of the first great empires of history. Abraham was called out of the center of the world to an unknown place.
Can you imagine the eminence faith that would take? Ur at that time was the center of the universe. It was the empire; they were the greatest society known at that time. And it was out of the center of the world that Abraham was called to leave. He was called to a place; a place often called the promised land. A place on the edge of everything. The edge of Egypt, the edge of Babylon, the edge of Assyria, the edge of Sumer. Israel was on the edge of empires. Always on the edge but not the center. Often, we do not see Israel as on the edge because in our minds it is central. It is the place, the one place where God called the people he claimed for his own. But it was on the edge. God called Abraham out, he called him to follow him to the place he would lead. And God lead him to the edge.
They were always on the edge. Part of the empire yet not totally, just off to the side. In the world but not of the world. Israel’s culture has reflected this apartness throughout their history. Just outside the mainstream of society. They have been accepted yet rejected largely because they have always been called outside of the empires. And during Jesus’s ministry they continued to live this awkward existence.
No one really likes to be on the edge just outside. They want to be included with everyone else. Yet that was not the life that God called Israel to participate in. Have you ever looked at the laws that were given by God? Many of the laws just do not make worldly sense. For instance, if clothing had mildew it was to be burned. Do you know how many times I forgot to put my laundry in the dryer, and it gets that musty smell? If we had to burn those garments, I would go broke from buying clothes. But the reality of the law is that once mildew sets you do not really get rid of it. It lingers. That same law is found even regarding structures. If there was mildew found in a house, they were required to burn it down. This would keep the construction companies happy but how many of us could afford to burn down our houses because we forgot to turn on the fan while we showered? These laws seem odd, but they are there for a reason. There is even a law that requires you to place railing on the roof so that people would not fall off the roof and hurt themselves. Why would they need that law? They should not be on your roof anyway why would God want us to protect potential criminals? They were even required to welcome the alien and sojourner as if they were members of their extended family.
These laws do not make sense in the world. That is one of the reasons the Jewish people have always been disrespected. We do not understand why they live the way they do. But if we were to look deeper those laws all revolve around a common theme the first is to love and honor God and the second is to be hospitable to those around you. They were always supposed to be on the edge of the empires but showing something different.
Life on the edge of accepted cultural norms is difficult to live. And right away Israel demanded to have a king so they could be more like the rest of the world. They wanted to be like everyone else. They wanted to be part of the world instead of living on the edge. They wanted to have their unique place yet be the empire. Israel, even at its greatest point was never a large nation, yet it did have influence. They were always just on the edge of one empire or another, even today they have influence, yet they are just a tiny nation. I say that not as to disrespect the people because my faith is derived from theirs. We would be nothing without Israel. Because Israel’s existence causes us to reconsider everything.
Jesus ministered to Israel in the first century. They were yet again on the edge of an empire, this time it was the Roman empire. Yet they still wanted their own king. And Jesus was potentially that king. He attracted a great group of people that wanted to listen and even more that desired his healing touch. They wanted to follow, but they really did not know what that meant.
They wanted to be independent, yet they also wanted to be like everyone else. Jesus is walking toward Jerusalem; he had just left the banquet of a ruler of the Pharisees and a crowd is following him. And why wouldn’t there be a crowd he had just healed a man. He turns and he looks at that crowd and he says some outstanding things. They want him to be a king, they want to follow him, but they do not realize what that life would entail.
He says, “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.” How many of us look at that verse and gasp? Well some of us might look at it and say done, I can’t stand my sister or my parents. This is a great example of hyperbole. It’s an exaggeration to make a point. Jesus is not telling us to hate our relatives. He is trying to say that we should honor them, but our love for our family should not be greater than the love that we have for God. Our families can become a sort of religion. Most of us have heard of the ministry, “Focus on the Family,” it is a great ministry that encouraged us to raise our families in faith. But there can be a problem in that ministry. We can focus so much on our families we lose track of God. I stopped listening to Focus on the Family a few years ago, about the time James Dobson left the ministry. I stopped for one reason, I went to our yearly meeting and listened to leaders within our church speak of their families in terms of worship. It was almost as if they made their family into an idol. I love my family. I had wonderful parents. I have a great wife, and two spectacular sons. I could not dream of a better family, but we should not worship our family. Every member of our family should direct us to God. There is a reason Jesus said that people will not marry or be given in marriage in heaven, because family will not be there. We are all children of God and that is it. Our earthly families are here to teach us how to live with God, not be our god.
Jesus says that we must hate our family to be his disciple. Every time I read this passage I am set on edge, and that is the point. Jesus is trying to let people know where their devotion really is. Would you follow even if your family would not?
“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” This verse is probably one of the most misunderstood verses in scripture, because it is taken out of context. The cross in threat of the empire. It is the destiny of those that oppose the will of the ruling bodies. It is not just a burden to bear; it is an instrument of public execution. To be a disciple of Christ we must be willing to stand with him even if that means opposing the will of a nation. What is Jesus saying?
Jesus goes on speaking about how people would not start to build a tower without having the money to complete it. And that nations would not go against another nation without having the proper strength to be victorious. These verses as well get quoted out of context. What Jesus is saying is that we should start to build the tower even if we do not have the money and that if God leads us into battle we should go even if the odds seem against us. Which means something very profound. We must trust God.
Families, Governments, towers, and armies all represent spheres of influence. Is God in those places? Do I trust God with my family? Do I trust God with my government? Do I trust God in my finances? Do I trust God?
Following God does not always make worldly sense. I mentioned that before. But are we willing to follow anyway? Let us look again at building a tower. In the world we would first have to obtain the capital to build, obtain the land, then we would then have to get the zoning and permit before we could start. Then obtain the materials before we began work. Once all of that was secured, we would build. That is how our world works. There are parts that might look different in some areas but overall this is how we function in our society. What if God told us to build a tower today? What would stop us from answering that call? There are several areas that might cause us to neglect obedience. Maybe it is the money. Maybe we just are not sure we can survive if we invested our resources in that way. That might be true, but do we trust God?
In the Lord’s prayer Jesus encourages us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” Have we considered what this prayer is saying? If we are praying God’s will on earth, then we are saying whatever and wherever he leads we will follow. And that is followed with give us our daily bread, meaning that if we are going to follow his lead, we trust he will provide for our needs. A disciple trusts even though they do not understand fully.
A disciple trusts God with their family, they trust them even if that means opposing the government, the trust him with their finances, and they trust him with their security. Each of these aspects are areas we like control. God is telling us that we are not true disciples unless we give that control over to him.
Israel was always on the edge of empires, and they were there to encourage those empires. They were at the crossroads of the empires to remind them that there is something else to consider. Israel is like a geographical Venn diagram of empires, where they all overlap is Israel, always the edge but when we look at the bigger picture right in the middle. This tells us something very important about faith. It might feel like we are on the edge but what’s the bigger picture?
Imagine what it might have felt like to be one of those people opposed to the Nazis when they ruled Germany? What might it have been like to be one of the first groups to support the abolition of slavery in the United States? Most people would think that you were on the edge. You would not quite fit in the mainstream of society. They might not invite you to social events, they may even throw you in jail. But you feel as if you must stand on your convictions. That is a cross to carry.
That is discipleship. Being on the edge of the normative culture reminding them of something different. Reminding them that no matter what we do, or how great we are God is still right there in the center. Are we willing to be the voice on the edge? Are we willing to live by faith even when the world might reject us? Are we willing to be in the world but not of the world? Willing to show our families that to live is Christ. Willing to speak out against our own nation in support of justice? Are we willing to build even if it does not make sense? Are we willing to stand as a nation against another nation in support of global justice even if the might of the other might be greater? Will we stand for God even if our religious leaders won’t? Will we stand or will we walk away?
The cost of discipleship. That is the heading that the compilers of scripture put on this section of scripture. It is also the title of one of the most profound theological books written. It was written by a man who opposed the Nazi government and paid for that opposition with his life. To live our lives following Jesus requires that we often oppose powers within the world as we strive for something greater. It often requires that we sacrifice our own desires to encourage others to deepen their lives of faith. It requires a change of life and lifestyle. A lifestyle where we love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and live the love of Christ with others. It is not an easy life, but it is good. Even though it feels often like we are losing everything when we look at the larger picture we are right there where God needs us to be. Giving hope to the hopeless. And that hope is Christ, who came and lived among mankind, died and rose again to give us true fulfilling life with God.