Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Sermon on Luke 14:25-35, for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, "Count the Cost"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Does it get your attention today, that Jesus’ sermon to the crowds was about hating your family? No doubt, verse 26 leaves many of us scratching our heads, and wondering if this is the same Jesus who also says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44). There Jesus urges us not to hate our enemies, but to love them and pray for them! So how can Jesus say here, in such blunt terms, Luke 14:26, “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”? This is not a statement that can be easily ignored or brushed away, but no doubt Jesus meant to get our full attention! The reading ends, in verse 35, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The challenge is to understand the correct meaning of Jesus’ words without taking anything away from them.
So in order to dig deep into Jesus’ words here, and understand what they mean, we’re going to have to investigate a bit about how the Bible uses the word “hate”, and learn Jesus’ point here. But first, realize how vs. 26 fits into the context of the whole passage, vss. 25-35. Jesus states 3 conditions for discipleship. If you want to be a follower of Jesus, you must 1) hate your own family, and even your own life; 2) bear your own cross and follow Him; and 3) renounce all that you have. So a big picture observation is that discipleship is costly—measured in terms of relationships, life, hardships, and possessions. Moreover, Jesus is saying that none of these things can stand in the way of our following Him, or we are not His disciples.
So zero in on what Jesus means about “hate.” We need to begin by ruling out what He does not  mean. First of all, Jesus everywhere condemns doing evil or nurturing evil in our hearts. He quotes and approves Leviticus 19, which says “love your neighbor as yourself”, and also says you must not “hate your brother in your heart.” Jesus states that even if people do evil to us, we must not do evil in return. Secondly, the book of 1 John says that no one can claim to love God, while at the same time hating their brother. It says if we hate our brother, we are liars and murderers and have no eternal life in us! This passage is not in the context of how we live with each other within family, or how we treat others, but in the context of what are the potentially biggest obstacles to our following Jesus. So the testimony of God’s Word is clear that we are not permitted to harbor evil intentions against others, or be resentful or angry in our hearts, or do evil to them. So clearly Jesus does not mean for us to wish evil upon our family or ourselves, to have bitterness or emotional hatred in our heart.
What then, can He mean? The word “hate” occurs fairly often in the Bible—mostly in the negative senses described above; or in describing how humans hate each other, or hate God’s people, or hate God. These are all negative uses of the word, and have ill intent behind them. But it’s not uncommon in the Bible, Old Testament or New, to see several places where it describes God or His people “hating” something. But in these cases, it’s a hatred of what is evil, and a love for what is good—so there is no ill intent behind it, but rather the intention to avoid anything to do with evil! God describes how He loves righteousness, but hates evildoers, the wicked, and those who love violence. God, for example, hates the child-sacrifice of the Canaanites. Proverbs 6 tells us He hates proud eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, hearts that devise wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, false witnesses that lie, and those who sow discord among brothers. In short, God hates evil, because God is pure and holy, and perfectly good. Paul in Romans 12:9 tells us to  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” These are really one and the same meaning—we are to reject, abhor, hate, or renounce in the strongest terms, anything that is evil, because we are to seek after what is good.
So how does this understanding of “hate”—apply to Jesus’ sentence, “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.” If this clearly does not mean that we should harbor ill will, be vindictive, or plan evil against them—then it must mean that we have to be willing even to renounce these most precious things, if discipleship of Jesus requires it. This agrees with the third condition Jesus gave for discipleship, in verse 33, “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Should any of those people—parents, spouse, siblings, or children, come between us and Jesus, or present an obstacle between us and God—Jesus is saying the choice is perfectly clear. There is no compromise, we must follow Jesus. Dr. Jeff Gibbs explains it this way, that we can’t approach our faith in Jesus with explicit, upfront reservations. Like this: we can’t say to God, “Well, I’ll follow you so long as it doesn’t separate me from my parents, or so long as my spouse or children don’t reject me because of following Jesus.” Or, “I’ll follow you so long as you don’t ask me to give up anything, or suffer any hardship, or that it cost’s my life.”
If any of these commitments to family, take precedent or override our commitment to Jesus, He says we cannot be His disciple. Gibbs explains that this means that Jesus sets the agenda, and we are to put our full trust in Him. We can’t set our preconditions. This is why Jesus advises us to “count the cost.” Our love for Him must be greater than that for anything else—family, our own life, our possessions—anything! The Gospel of Matthew also quotes Jesus’ words this way, where we read: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39). I cannot love anything that would keep me from God, my highest good. Even family cannot become a higher good to me than Jesus Christ, or we have made them into an idol. So far this all comes as pretty heavy Law upon us—but that verse points us to a glimpse of the Gospel we’ll explore very soon.
But first, what are Jesus’ analogies or illustrations? The first two are about counting the cost of a building project—a tower—and the cost of a king going to war—whether or not he can win it. These both show you shouldn’t begin a serious, costly undertaking, unless you’ve carefully planned and understood the expense, and know you have the resources to carry it through to completion.
Likewise, to be a disciple, to follow Jesus, is no trivial undertaking. It’s not inexpensive or light or temporary. It’s an “all-in” commitment. All or nothing. Not a half-hearted effort, or a project to casually start and not finish. A major failure is at stake if we underestimate the cost. The cost of discipleship is not measured in dollars, as though we pay money for the privilege of following Jesus. It’s not simply a cost of time, as though we just have to sacrifice Sunday morning TV or sleeping in, for one hour a week. It’s not a minor or trivial cost. And it’s not a sacrifice that is met by just saying you are going to build something, or that you are “going to war”—when you don’t have the resources, willpower, or ability to finish.
No, the cost of discipleship is much greater—and this is why Jesus highlights the things that are most precious to us in life—family, our life itself, the experiences of hardship (cross-bearing), and our possessions. These would be the most likely things to get in the way of giving our sole devotion to Him. Jesus says even families will be divided over believing in Him. Thankfully, not every family is divided over following Christ. But many are, and Jesus says this is the cost. Jesus told His disciples they might lose property or life. He never says that we won’t have to pay the same cost. We can suffer the loss of possessions, reputation, even our life. But Jesus says this is all a loss, in comparison with the infinite gain of following Him, and finding our life in Him.
So where does this leave us? Are you able to be Jesus’ disciple? Are you willing to pay the cost, even if it means losing family, life, or possessions? Do you have the resources, willpower, and ability to carry through with discipleship? Or do you feel low and empty? Where is the right place to begin? In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus meets many who estimated that they already possessed the resources, willpower, and ability to enter the kingdom of God. Those who thought they were healthy, and needed no doctor. Those who thought they were righteous, unlike other “sinners.” Those who thought they had kept God’s law, and deserved God’s inheritance. But did Jesus find any of these to be worthy or ready to enter the kingdom? None of them. Rather, He tells us that the humble will be exalted, that the sick need a doctor, that those who beg mercy from God for their sin, will find it.
In other words, where…or who…is the one-stop source for everything we need to be a disciple, and enter God’s kingdom? You know who—Jesus. It really is that simple. He provides all that we need, and He alone can see us through this great undertaking of discipleship. We do seek to do great things as disciples of Jesus Christ—to engage in bold ventures as great or greater than building a tower, or waging a war—but we do them not by our own strength, but by the grace and power of Jesus Christ. We cannot win the battle against sin and death—but Christ has already fought and won it for us! We engage in spiritual warfare against sin and temptation, as disciples who bear the cross of Jesus. The cross that covers us with His forgiving blood, and the cross that puts our old, selfish, sinful nature to death. And dripping in the waters of our baptism, a new person rises to live and follow Jesus, boldly doing good in His name.
Jesus ran the race, fought the struggle, endured the cross for us. In those two simple words, for us, we realize that everything Jesus did was on our behalf, for our sake. Discipleship is costly, but it’s not about being able to run the race as fast or faster than Jesus. But rather He bears His cross for us, so that we can take up ours and follow Him. He never turned aside from His Father’s mission, and never let Himself be distracted or dissuaded from it. Not by His earthly family, or the suffering it cost Him, the loss of earthly possessions, or even His own life. He despised the shame of the cross and for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross. When it came to “counting the cost”, Jesus calculated it accurately. He knew the cost, start to finish, and God chose Him as the chief cornerstone for the project—to be laid down as the foundation for the church, His body, to be built upon. And Scripture gives us this marvelous promise of completion, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Rely on your own resources, and you cannot complete this costly task of discipleship. But fully rely upon Jesus Christ, and He who began this work will complete it in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Come to Him empty, and be filled. Come to Him weak, and be made strong. Be humble, and He will exalt you. Renounce everything that you have, for you will find all you ever need in Him. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. The themes of discipleship explored in Luke 14:25-35 also appear in several other teachings of Jesus, elsewhere in Luke. How does Jesus define family in Luke 8:19-21? What is the cost of “taking up our cross?” Luke 9:23-27. What do we gain by losing our life?
  2. What does Jesus mean that we must “hate” our family, and even our own life? John 12:25-26; Matthew 10:34-39; 16:24-28. What do we find, in Jesus, if we lose our life? Can we be Jesus’ disciples if we set conditions on what we can’t live without, or are unwilling to surrender to Him?
  3. What kind of “hating” does the Bible forbid us to do? Leviticus 19:17; Matthew 5:21-22, 38-48; 1 John 2:9-11, 3:15; 4:20. Hatred in these passages indicates resentment, anger, a wish to harm or do evil to, and is rooted in a person’s heart. By contrast, what things does the Bible say God “hates” or we are to hate? Deuteronomy 12:31; 16:22; Psalm 5:5; 11:5; 26:5; 31:6; 45:7; 97:10; 139:21-22; Proverbs 6:16ff; Romans 12:9. In these passages, hatred is the strongest renunciation of evil or wickedness—not an intent to harm or do evil—but to resist and avoid evil or those who delight in evil.
  4. Jesus gives two illustrations about “counting the cost”—one from a construction project, and the other about going to war. What is the point of both examples? How does it apply to discipleship, or following Jesus?
  5. Does the strength or resources for discipleship exist within us, or where is the source? Matthew 19:25-30.
  6. Jesus’ final illustration is of good salt, and salt that has “lost its taste.” Understanding that ancient sea salt had other impurities that could be left, even when the sodium chloride (salt) had been leached out, we see that this sea salt could either be good or worthless. There is no in-between state. How does this relate to discipleship? How are we to be “salt” to the world? Matthew 5:13-16; Mark 9:50; Colossians 4:5-6.
  7. Why can all our earthly “losses” for Jesus’ sake, finally be gain?

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