Text: Luke 14:25-35
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I worked as a salesman in retail stores I quickly learned that if you are trying to sell someone some kind of product and it is a little bit pricy you don’t start out talking about how much it costs. You talk about the benefits first and then, after you have them convinced, you quickly try to mention the price in passing. TV commercials do the same thing. First they show you how great something works and then, right at the end, they sneak the cost in: “Only 4 small payments of $29.97!” Jesus does not sneak the cost in. Jesus talks openly about the cost in our gospel reading. His words in our gospel reading about hating your father, mother, sister, brother, children, and even your own life don’t sound very nice. They aren’t very appealing. This is probably not the kind of message that we as a church feel compelled to advertise. This is not church sign material. A message like this is going to turn people away.
At this point Jesus has huge crowds of people following Him, massive crowds waiting to see what He will do next, and Jesus turns to those massive crowds and delivers this message: “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.” This is what it is going to take to follow Jesus, this is the cost. If you want to follow Him you need to be ready to renounce and give up everything, even forsaking your own family, friends, and even yourself, as you journey through life with Jesus. How many people from that crowd do you think went home? I’m guessing a lot of people left Jesus that day. The cost was just too high.
Jesus speaks these same words to us today. He calls us to be singularly focused, without distractions, on Him. Our attention cannot be divided. “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” In other words: unless you are prepared renounce and give up everything, even your family and even your life, you cannot be my disciple.
It’s not that Jesus hates families, not at all. Our families our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, wives, and children are gifts from God. After He had created Adam, God looked at Him and said, “It is not good for man to be alone, let us make a helper fit for him,” and He created Eve. God created family, God blesses family telling Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply; family is a good gift from God. On top of all of that, in the Ten Commandments we are told to honor our father and mother, not to hate them.
The word hate is strong, but Jesus is trying to shock us so that we understand the serious cost of following Jesus. He is calling us to think about what we are holding onto, what we are unwilling to let go of. We need to be prepared to renounce or give up everything for the sake of following Jesus. Family is just one example of that. Jesus uses family as His example because that will hit close to home for many of us. We love our families and rightfully so. Family is a good gift from God, but if family comes between us and following Jesus we need to be ready to give up our family and follow Jesus. Anything that might come between us and Jesus needs to be gotten rid of otherwise we cannot be His disciple. Following Jesus is not a part time job. We might need to let go of some stuff that is getting in the way.
Following Jesus means fearing, loving, and trusting Jesus above all things, loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. That is the simplest way to summarize the first of the Ten Commandments, “You shall have no other God’s before me.” But our sinful nature, with some encouragement from the Devil and the sinful world around us, fears, loves, and trusts a lot of things more than God.
We hold onto a lot of things in this life. There are things that we think are so important that we cling to them is if our life depended on it. These are the things that we work for everyday of our lives, things that we protect with every ounce of breath that we have, and that we love more than anything else. It could be something like family, but it could be something else. Whatever it is that we are holding onto, we need to be ready to let it go. These things aren’t necessarily bad things, but we make them bad things in our unhealthy sinful obsession with them. Anything that we cling to so tightly that it comes between us and Jesus is a problem.
Jesus is warning us about these distractions that we cling to because if our eyes are off of Jesus even for a second, we lose sight of our Saviour, the one who has saved us from sin and death. All the other things that distract us and grab our attention, the things that we hold onto and make into little gods for ourselves, cannot save us from our sin. We treat them like gods, but they cannot save us like our God has saved us through Christ. Our eyes need to constantly be concentrated on Jesus and never looking away because we are in constant need of the forgiveness, new life, and salvation that He gives to us.
So Jesus calls us renounce everything, to take up the cross, and follow Him. Taking up the cross means almost nothing to us today, but to people back then it meant taking up death. To people at Jesus time the cross was a very real thing. People were executed on crosses all the time by the Romans. Crosses were well known tools of violent execution and death. Taking up the cross was no small matter, taking up the cross meant giving up everything being ready to die. And Jesus says that is what being a Christian means; that is the cost.
It is a steep cost. In fact, it is a cost that we can never fully pay. Try as we might we will always fail and come up short. Our intentions our good but our follow through leaves something to be desired. Consider Peter, one of the 12 disciples. Shortly before Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem Peter insisted that he could follow Jesus, he was willing to lay down his life for Jesus. But, just a few hours later as Jesus stood on trial in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter denied Jesus three times. “I do not know Him,” he kept saying. Peter couldn’t pay it and neither can we.
This is a price that Jesus has paid for us, we can’t pay it ourselves. All the things that cause us to stumble, the price that is too high for us He has paid. He left behind house and home, comfort and ease, peace and quiet, reputation and status, and even His own family and life. One day as Jesus was teaching his mother Mary and His brothers came looking for Him. They had heard what He was doing and wanted to take Him home because they thought He was out of His mind. When they arrived looking for Him Jesus said, “Who are my mother and brothers? Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother!” Jesus leaves behind His own family for us. And from there He went on to Jerusalem where He did take up the cross and He carried it out to Calvary where they crucified Him. He gave up His life for us. Jesus paid the price, the whole cost, for us. This price that Jesus paid was put on us when we were baptised. Our bill was stamped PAID.
When we count the cost as Jesus urges us to do in our text today we quickly see how short we come. We can’t pay that price. Our sinful nature holds on too tightly to the things of this world that distract us and lead us away from complete and total focus on Christ. We will always stumble, but because that price has been paid we are forgiven for our stumbles, for the times that we cling too tightly to the wrong things and get distracted from our Saviour. Each time we stumble Christ extends a new and constant invitation to us to leave everything behind and come and follow Him.
Leaving it all behind and letting go of the things we cling to is still a pretty daunting thing, but we are baptised children of God. We have died to this world in baptism and we have died to sin. Jesus has already made us His own through His death when we were baptised. It’s done, He did it. And we know what the future holds. We do not need to cling to the things of this world. This world is not the end for us, we look forward to the world that is to come, the Kingdom of Christ where we will live forever. Because of what Jesus has done we can follow Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we can fear, love and trust Him more than anything else, because He is our God and He is our Saviour. We can join with the apostle Paul when He says:
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. 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, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:8-11