Counting the Cost (1): Second to None
January 24, 2016
Read Lu 14:25-35 – A couple got married, but soon after, Paul stopped wearing his wedding ring. His wife asked, “Why don’t you ever you’re your ring?” He said, “It cuts off my circulation.” She replied, “I know. That’s what it’s supposed to do.” Well, this passage is about the same issue as it relates to our marriage to Christ. Many people claim faith in Him, but they’ve taken off the ring. They’re still flirting with other idols.Their commitment is half-hearted at best, and Jesus’ point is, that just won’t do. You’re either in or out. Disciples can’t sit on the fence.
A lot of people believe there are two levels of Christians – those, like themselves, who believe the facts but are unchanged in life, moderates – and a few Marine types, like pastors and missionaries and a few others who are a little on the fanatical side. Disciples. Radical Christians. The all-ins! They’re suggesting you can be a Xn without being a disciple. One commentator says: “Jesus seems to make a distinction between salvation and discipleship. Salvation is open to all who will come by faith, while discipleship is for believers willing to pay a price. Salvation means coming to the cross and trusting Jesus Christ, while discipleship means carrying the cross and following Jesus Christ.”
I don’t know where he got that, but he didn’t get it from Jesus. Jesus never says or implies, “Okay, those of you who want the easy way, just believe. But I also need a few Green Berets.” Never says that. Never implies that! In fact, look closely and you will when talking about disciples, He’s addressing the whole crowd here – not just the 12. The whole crowd must choose to be His disciples or be left out altogether. There’s not two levels. Just one.
Neither Jesus nor the Bible know anything about multi-level Christianity. There’s no class distinction between regular Christians and hard-core disciples. Jesus nowhere says, as some advocate, that you can accept Jesus as Savior now, and maybe as Lord later. There aren’t two standards. Full discipleship is a requirement for everyone. But the Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord . . . you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). Lordship is not optional. To be a disciple is to be a Christian. And to be a Xn is to be a disciple. You can’t say, “Well, I’m a Christian, but I’m not into all that.” There aren’t two standards. If someone has taught you that, you have been sorely misled. That is precisely what Jesus is warning about here.
As this passage opens, Jesus is finally leaving the extended lunch He had at the home of a leading Pharisee. As He does so, v. 25 tells us, “Now great crowds accompanied him.” There are lots of people. But there is a dilemma. They think he is on the way to Jerusalem to claim His empire as Messiah. Actually He is on His way to Jerusalem to die to pay the price for entrance into that empire, and these people don’t get that – not one little bit. They think they are in because they are Jews and keep the law. Jesus knows differently. So three times we find the phrase, “cannot be my disciple.” So guess what the theme is? Doesn’t take a rocket scientist. This is one more way Jesus defines saving faith. Salvation is by faith alone. But faith is costly, and Jesus is not a seeker-friendly evangelist who tells His followers, “Let’s just get them in first – we’ll tell them about the cross later.” He is no bait-and switch specialist. He believes in full disclosure. Count the cost NOW if you want to be mine!
If you’ve looked at your phone bill lately, you know exactly what I mean. Get a line for $19.95 a month. But when the bill comes, suddenly it’s $50 – filled with extraneous state, local and federal taxes, and other totally unintelligible “access” charges.” A lot of people advocate that’s how we should entice people to Christ. But Jesus never goes there. He’s up front. Nothing hidden.
Now, to get the sense of this passage, let’s start back to front. Vv. 34-35: “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” What is this all about? It is a solemn warning. Modern table salt is generally pure and does not lose its savor. But in Bible times, salt, often from the Dead Sea, was mixed with impurities. Salt could waste away to a residue that was worthless for either preservation or spicing things up. So Jesus uses salt as to represent a professing disciple who starts off with great enthusiasm (salty), but who lacks staying power. His faith was never real. He wanted the blessings, but not the person of Christ. In hard times he fails and is “thrown away” – a Biblical term for lacking salvation.
This is the third soil in that parable where the seed starts to grow but is choked out by the cares of this world. Remember? They looked real at first, but never were. They didn’t lose their salvation. You can’t lose that gift. These never had it in the first place. John says of such people in I Jn 2:19-20, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” You’d have sworn they were true Xns. Never missed a Sunday. Always gave an offering. Even taught a class. But when the going got tough, they left town. The writer to Hebrews makes a really sobering comment about such people: “4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Heb 6:4-6). People who have seen the truth of the gospel in all its glory and outwardly subscribed to it for a time only to turn their back on it – for those there is no hope. So Jesus is warning, “Don’t be salt that has lost is savor. Salt that’s not salt. Be real.”
Now, to prevent that, you must count the cost before you commit. He gives two examples. Vv. 27-31, “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?” We were in Edinburgh, Scotland a few years ago. There is an incomplete monument in a hill there that is known as The Great Folly. Whoever started it didn’t have enough money to finish, and so it’s an apt description. For years in SoCal we used to drive under a set of lanes that came to a dead end right over the top of the freeway. Going nowhere because money ran out. Jesus’ point is, if you’re going to follow me, you need to consider what that really means. He’s not trying to talk anyone out of it; but He refuses to mislead anyone as to the cost.
So, He’s asking, are you real? Do you really want to follow me? Then here is what saving faith will cost you. You “cannot be my disciple”, claim my name, unless you renounce three things – Relationships, Rights, and Riches.
I. Renounce Relationships
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.” Wow! Sound radical? Well, it is radical. Jesus meant it to be radical. He is shaking people out of the lethargy of self-righteousness. He is saying, “You’re in Fantasyland. Reality is over here, and here is what it looks like. To be my disciple is costly, and the first thing it costs is your relationships.” Now, Beloved, before you panic, understand this is the only way to truly straighten out damaged, broken, fallen, entangling relationships that can strangle us anyway. In the end, what Jesus asks is freeing and energizing and uplifting – but it all must come Jesus’ way.
So is Jesus saying we must literally hate our families? No. One of the Ten Commandments is to honor father and mother – promoted by Jesus several times (Mt 15:4-6; 19:19; Mrk 7:10, etc.). Jesus loves and affirms families. So why does He say we must hate father and mother, wife and children? It’s bc He’s doing what He often does. He is using hyperbole – exaggerated statement to make a point. And His point is He must come first in our lives. Our love for Him must far exceed any other in our lives. His point is that top priority in relationships must go to Him alone – and by a large margin.
Turn Gen 29. Remember how Jacob fell in love with Rachel, agreed to work for 7 years for her hand in marriage? And remember how Laban tricked him into marrying sister Leah first, so Jacob worked another 7 years for Rachel? That’s a long time, but he loved her so it seemed like a few days. Now Gen 29:31, “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.” So did Jacob really “hate” Leah? Back up to v. 30: “So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years.” See, hatred here means “loved less.” Do you see? And that is exactly what Jesus is saying. He’s not saying you just literally hate your family – but it’s still a big requirement. Jesus is saying, “I must be your Rachel. If you come to me, you must love me more than anything – if it comes down to them or Me – it must be Me.”
This was a devastating challenge in a society where family was everything. These people would do anything not to shame or disgrace family. To go against their wishes was unthinkable. So in claiming allegiance above family first, Jesus is staking a staking a claim at the highest possible level. “I must be your Rachel. Do you love me more than family?” Our question, too!
A few years ago a Muslim man in Chad named Baki heard a taped message about Jesus. He reports, “I told Pastor Musa I wanted to give my life to Christ. He urged me to think about it before I made a decision.” Knowing the cost would be high, Baki chose Jesus. Trouble came immediately. His father-in-law seized his wife and boys. Baki was told they would only be returned if he renounced his Xn faith. He couldn’t even see his family. For over a year, Baki followed his wife’s nomadic cattle group, often sitting under a tree reading his Bible while the cattle grazed. As hostility grew, Baki eventually left without his family. A couple of years later he made another try, but in the course of this confrontation, the father-in-law killed Baki’s first born, Joshua, by poison. Still Baki would not renounce Christ. Baki later got his 2nd son, but never his wife. We’ll probably never face anything like that, but people all over our world have been disowned and turned out and sometimes turned in by family members – because they chose Christ first. Now no one is going to kill us, but some of you know what it means to suffer the ill-will of close family members because of your faith in Christ. Hang in, Beloved. It’s often part of the cost of loving Jesus more.
I think of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, lesbian women’s right activist and tenured professor at Syracuse – living her life’s dream, who once, in a kind manner, told a group of easy believism Christians, “I gave up my girlfriend and my career for this. What have you given up?” I think of my Uncle and Aunt who gave up the teen-age years with their daughter to continue as missionaries in Africa. I think of a friend who gave up a girl he loved because she was not a Xn. People who love people deeply – but love Jesus more. For those who truly come to Him, Jesus stakes a claim higher than any other.
Now some of you are thinking – “Hate my children? No way. Nothing is more important to me than them.” Others are thinking, “Hate father and mother or hate sister or brother – no problem. I already hate them.” Either of those positions is a huge problem. Both are signs of a wounded life. Either will eventually cause great heartache, anxiety and pain if it hasn’t already. Neither is compatible with a true commitment to Christ. And to simply say, “Well, that’s just the way it is” – will not do, Beloved. Jesus will accept you as you are, that’s true. But as Lord, He will not leave you there.
C. S. Lewis depicts Jesus as Aslan, the great lion, in the Narnia Chronicles. At one point the two girls Susan and Lucy want to bury their heads in his mane. But they go all “trembly” at the sight of him. Lewis describes Aslan’s paw touching the girls and says, “Altho it was velveted, it was very heavy.” He’s telling us while Jesus is very good, He demands our all. He is not safe. He is good and terrible and sharp at the same time. We simply do not know Him that way – and we must. That’s why He says “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters . . . he cannot be my disciple.” His love makes great demands.
Why? Because Jesus is needy?! No -- it’s all for our good as well as His glory. See here’s what Jesus knows that we don’t. He knows that whatever our relationship issues – too much love in one direction – hatred in another – all are a human tragedy waiting to happen – He knows that the solution to all of it is to love Him above anything. He demands our outmost affection – way above anything else, even our spouse or children – because He knows that is the only thing that will set all relationships right in our lives. To live at peace with ourselves and with others, our loves must be rightly ordered – beginning with Him. When we look to the opinions of others for our self-worth, and put expectations on others to be our healers, we are asking of people what only Jesus can give.
We may hate our parents for demanding too much – but spend our lives trying to meet those expectations. Or we die inside because the imperfections of our spouse fall way below our expectations – what we need and want. We fear our children will be stunted if we do not give them every opportunity the world says is important – even at the cost of their spiritual development. We are enslaved to what people think of us and what we expect of them. [Repeat].
But there is a solution – a solution to every relationship issue we face. The solution is to look at the cross – to see how Jesus took upon Him there every doubt, every fear, every anxiety, every disappointment, every burden, every sin. And now He asks, “Love me most. It is the only way to put the other loves and hatreds in your life into perspective. It is the only way to deal with the fear of failure, the fear of loss and the anxiety of not meeting expectations. I must be the love of your life. I am the only one who will never fail you. All other loves must be as hatreds beside the love you have for me. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” It is a heavy demand, Beloved. But it leads to a freedom you can find nowhere else as you find and build your true identity in Him. We’ll never get this perfect in this life, of course. But our heart must be perfect – loving Jesus above all.
Conc – The story is told of how Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire, once captured a prince and his family. When they came before him, Cyrus asked, “What will you give me if I release you?” The prince replied, “Half of my wealth.” And if I release your children?” “Everything I possess.” And if I release your wife?” The prince replied, “Then, your Majesty, I will give you myself.” Cyrus was so moved by this devotion that he freed them all. As they returned home, the prince said to his wife, “Cyrus was certainly an impressive, handsome and just man, wasn’t he?” To which she replied, “I did not notice. I could not take my eyes from you – the one who was willing to give himself for me.” Disciples of Jesus have that same devotion for the same reason. He gave His own life to pay our penalty. How could we fail to love Him most. And when we do, it puts every other relationship in life into perspective. What would you give up for Him? For true disciples the answer is anything and anyone. Are you – a disciple? Let’s pray.