Discipleship Tested

Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “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. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions (Luke 14:25-33, NASB).

Scripture regularly mentions Jesus surrounded by crowds. I’d suspect that these were large crowds. Yet, considering the regularity with which crowds surrounded Him, I’m left with a question:

While there are often crowds, how many from these crowds are His followers? 

Jesus never rebukes anyone for following Him. Yet, from what’s discernible, many ultimately reject His teaching; claiming it radical and blasphemous (Matthew 26, 27). The crowds are there to see miracles (Matthew 12:38; John 4:48; 1 Corinthians 1:22). Many seek healing; though, few are willing to incur cost. But, as with anything in this life, there’s always a cost. Something and/or someone must be surrendered and/or sacrificed…

Jesus regularly uses powerful speech when communicating to crowds. His intentions are not to satisfy their [worldly] desires, but to share Truth (i.e. Himself) and offer them salvation. Possessing a different perspective for what constitutes “Truth,” Christ’s messages often seems to leave the crowd uncomfortable. His Godly wisdom fails to accommodate their [worldly] sensibilities. While they desire “more,” He tells them that it’s necessary to “surrender everything” for what He offers (Mark 8:35). Consider the passage below:

“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. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke  14:26-27, NASB).

Strong words, right? Seems harsh, doesn’t it? Yet, maybe Jesus uses such evocative and definitive language to make misinterpretations difficult. Would it be far-fetched for Christ, knowing the hearts and minds of all people (Jeremiah 17:10; 20:12; Luke 11:17; 16:15; John 2:25), to communicate in a manner that prevents His audience from misinterpreting His intentions?  I don’t think so.

Now, allow me to provide an important clarification before continuing. When contextually read with consideration to Christ’s other teachings, such as the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-31), the application of the word “hate” in His message should be interpreted as a relative (and not literal) “hate.” He uses it to communicate something that would bring discomfort to many, if not everyone, in the crowd. Simply stated: To follow Him requires that He must come first. He must be the priority. Our strongest affections must be directed towards Him. Period. We must be willing to sacrifice all for Him; dying to ourselves (Luke 14:27; Matthew 16:24). When teaching the sermon that inspired this post, Pastor Carlos Sibley used the following statement to summarize what Jesus asks of anyone who seeks to follow Him:

“Everyday, when we wake up, there must be a funeral and a resurrection” (Luke 9:23; Galatians 2:20)

In the same speech—shortly after telling the crowd that they must hate their immediate families—Jesus addresses another major form of idolatry; ensuring that materialists and wealth-mongers wouldn’t consider themselves justified in their sins:

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions (Luke 14:28-33, NASB)

Jesus is warning us not to hedge our bets. We cannot accumulate enough wealth or power to either purchase or force entry into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 6:19-20; Luke 12:15-21; James 5:1-6). Therefore, such intentions (i.e. “performance as justification” mindset, materialism) are foolish endeavors that lead us away from God. We mustn’t pursue earthly treasures instead of Christ; damning ourselves like the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-27). We’d be dead wrong in our reasoning…

We should be careful, however, not to confuse materialistic idolatry with good stewardship. There’s a significant difference between the two. As Jesus specifies when speaking to the crowd (Luke 14:28-33), materialistic idolatry is the accumulation of wealth and other resources for personal ends. While, good stewardship may—but not necessarily—lead to financial blessing, a good steward’s resources are invested into furthering the kingdom of heaven; bringing glory to God. Good stewards realize that with any blessing, there’s a responsibility to use it for God’s kingdom. Otherwise, such blessings become curses (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28). We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24), and Christ clearly states that there’s only one Way to enter the kingdom of heaven:

…“I [Jesus] am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6, NASB).

Therefore, as previously stated, we must prioritize Christ over everything else. That’s the cost of discipleship (Mark 10:28).

Unfortunately, it’s likely that there are still fewer followers than people in the crowd (Matthew 7:21-29). Christ’s message isn’t any less challenging than when He first shared it. And without faith in His character, how easy—or rather, inevitable—it is that we’ll reject His value proposition; believing the cost of discipleship too great. On occasion, even the most ardent believers among us probably wrestle with the standards Christ establishes for discipleship, given that sanctification is a process.

Let’s be extremely careful, however, not to deceive ourselves. If we find ourselves unconcerned in our periods of backsliding, maybe it’s not backsliding at all. We could actually find ourselves in an infinitely worse condition, for maybe our foundation has never been in Christ…

When we’re confronted with the Truth of our sinfulness (e.g. our idolatries), our first instinct—that emanating from our “natural” person—will likely be to distance ourselves from it. Many of us may flee, avoiding Truth that—if accepted—necessitates major changes in our lives. Others among us may reposition Truth; creating a fictional truth (i.e. lie) to accommodate our sins; attempting to hedge our bets. To flee from the Truth is to embrace death. We cannot follow both Godly wisdom (i.e. Christ) and worldly wisdom, for they’re in opposition to one another (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).

We must accept that Truth is Truth, whether it’s initially pleasing to our ears.

There’s a common saying that I’m sure we’ve all heard numerous times: “Better safe than sorry.” This saying, though popular, doesn’t align with an unmitigated pursuit of Christ (Matthew 16:24). In C.S. Lewis’ fictional tale, the Chronicles of Narnia, Susan asks the Beavers if Aslan— the lion character representing Christ—is safe. Mr. Beaver answers:

“Safe? Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

While following Christ isn’t safe, it’s definitely good. And, whenever we suffer for our Lord’s sake, we can trust in Him; rejoicing in His promises (1 Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 4:12-19).

Therefore, to summarize: We must depend on Christ for faith. We must depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us. We must prioritize Him above all else; willing to sacrifice all for Him.

May we all become whole-hearted followers of Christ:

Peter said, “Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.” And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:28-20).

AMEN.

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