Based On: Luke 14:25-33
How many unfinished projects do you have lying around the house? You know, those things you thought would be a great idea – redecorating the house or a new hobby you thought would be fun. I have plenty of those projects that I keep thinking, “Oh, I’ll finish that some day,” but that day never comes. Most of these are little things – if they don’t get done it’s not a big problem. It is very different when we are building a house. In fact, the bigger the project the more we will want to plan and think about it ahead of time. We don’t want to get partway into the project and find out we don’t have the resources to finish. The half built building is a waste of time and money and makes the builder look like a fool. How much more important is it to look at to the cost of discipleship, the cost of following Jesus. This is a matter of eternal consequence and so we must, as Jesus directs us, look at the cost of discipleship. The cost is high, so consider it carefully.
Jesus was getting close to his crucifixion. Luke tells us that there were large crowds following Jesus and we can expect that some, if not many, in these crowds were following Jesus for the wrong reason. It is probable that many of these people expected Jesus to march into Jerusalem, declare himself the Messiah, and start ruling the earthly kingdom of Israel, throwing out the Romans and conquering the rest of the world. These people were expecting to share in some of his glory. Perhaps others expected Jesus to provide an easy life. After all, Jesus fed the 5,000 and the 4,000, he could feed them too. Maybe some were there just to see the miracles – it was a form of entertainment.
Jesus didn’t want any of them to be misled and so he turns to them and he tells them the truth. He tells them if you are going to be my disciples, if you are going to follow me, there’s something you should know. There is a cost. Following me is not cheap, nor is it easy. You must hate everything you hold dear. You must hate family members and even your own life in order to be my disciple.
Does that sound harsh? “But Jesus” we say, "aren’t we supposed to love others? Do you really mean for us to hate?" Maybe Jesus is just using a figure of speech. Maybe he is just exaggerating in order to make his point. Like when we try to lift something heavy and we say, "that thing weighs a ton." It doesn’t really weigh a ton but we want people to know that it is heavy.
Or maybe Jesus does mean hate. Perhaps we should both love and hate. We love our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters. We help them and take care of them when we can. Most of all we want them to be in heaven with us. But, as a disciple of Jesus and as someone who knows we only have eternal life through Jesus, I hate those things that come between me and my Savior. This means that when the desires of my family conflict with my faith, my Savior comes first. Others will misinterpret our love for our Savior as hate for our family.
I know a man who grew up in the Middle East. He was a Moslem, but now because he heard the Gospel and the Holy Spirit worked faith in his heart, he is a Christian. Because he is a Christian his family has disowned him. In fact they would rather see him dead. Here is the cost of being a Christian. He still loves his family and wants them to have the same joy he has in Christ, but his family considers him a betrayer. His family and others in the Moslem community would say that he hates his family.
For most of us the cost is not that extreme, but there is a cost. It may be a spouse who doesn’t go to church; that spouse may even make it difficult for you to get to church. It could be another family member who asks you why you spend so much money at your church or on sending your kids to St. John’s School or MVL. It may even be our own lives that take the place of our Savior – our own wants and desires. These are the things that we are to hate in comparison to our love for our savior. The 1941 translation of Luther’s "A Mighty Fortress" says, "Take they our goods, fame, child, and wife. Let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won, the kingdom ours remaineth." Luther understood the cost of being Jesus’ disciple.
Yet, Jesus isn’t telling us about anything that he has not already gone through. While he lived on this earth he was rejected for the most part by the Jews who were his brothers. Even worse he suffered the abandonment of his heavenly Father. He did this so we would never be abandoned by our heavenly Father. Think about that for a moment, abandoned by God. It is the absence of all the wonderful blessings God bountifully gives us every day, often without us knowing it. The absence of these blessings would immediately bring on us great despair and anguish. It is the torment of hell itself. This is what Christ suffered so that we could experience the love of our heavenly Father and the fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters forever.
Jesus knows well the cost of following him, and it is out of love that he tells us this cost. He is warning us. He is telling us for our own good. When you agree to work for someone you usually know what the responsibilities are going to be and what your pay will be. Jesus wants us to know the pros and cons of following him.
You can see how Jesus is different than this world or the devil. When the world or the devil tempts you to sin, they will show you the benefits. They will tell you about how good it will make you feel to commit this sin, but they will not point out the harm you will do to others and to yourself. Jesus tells all because he wants you to consider the cost of being his disciple.
Is the cost involved really worth following Jesus? This depends on why you are following Jesus. What kind of Messiah, what kind of Savior, is Jesus for you? Do you come to church for the friendship and the social benefits. Do come because there is good food at the potlucks? Do come simply because your family has done it for many years? If these are your reasons then these words of Jesus are going to be offensive to you.
But if Jesus is your savior from sin, if you realize what Jesus has done for you, you are willing to pay the price. As believers, we are disciples. We are aware of the cost; we are willing to pay that price; we want nothing to get in the way of being one of Jesus’ disciples. And we know Jesus will strengthen us. We pray for his strength and find strength when we read and study his word. It gives us strength for the difficult times. God does not give us more than we’re able to bear and when he allows trouble he will also give us strength to handle those troubles.
Even though the cost is high, our Savior promises a gift greater than the price we pay on this earth. As Christians we have parents and children and brothers and sisters in the faith. God provides us with family and with an eternal home.
What about those who originally heard Jesus say these words? Perhaps many of them left, thinking the cost was just too great. Jesus was being honest with them. He considered it better to have a few disciples who knew the truth than to have many people follow him that were uninformed and following him blindly.
The same is true for us. We may have a lot of people in this church. We may have only a few. In the end that is not up to us. We simply follow as disciples of Jesus and do what he did, we share the truth. Let me say that again, whether the church is big or small, our job is to share the truth – the truth that we are sinful people who deserve punishment, but Jesus died for us. This truth will cause hardship for us here on this earth. You need to know that. It will cause some to leave this church and find another place that does not talk about what Jesus says in these verses. In the end God will not judge us based on the size of our church, but he does expect us to be faithful to his word.
As disciples of Christ we need to know what to expect. We need to know that the Christian life is not an easy life. You yourselves know that what Jesus says here is true. You have seen it here in this church. So if Jesus is being honest about the less desirable parts of being a disciple, then you can trust he is also telling the truth about the tremendous blessings of discipleship, that you have a heavenly Father who loves you, that you have so many brothers and sisters in Christ that you cannot count them, that as a disciple of Christ you have peace with God and with yourself because your sins are forgiven.