Our theme this year has been titled, “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross.” The goal of our theme is to look at the importance of the cross and how the cross changes everything about how we look at life. I hope that this series has changed how we think about the cross. In our lesson last month we examined Philippians 2 which teaches to have a cross attitude. We will not think of ourselves but will think about others. We need sacrificial thinking. In this last lesson in this series we are going to look at how sacrificial thinking is to lead to sacrificial action. There are many bumper stickers on vehicles today that say, “Salt Life.” I think the idea is that the person would like to live on the water above all else. For Christians, the bumper sticker of our lives is to read, “Cross Life.” Now that we understand the idea of the cross, this picture does not sound very good. The cross was the execution device used by the Romans on the worst of criminals. Do you want that kind of life? Who would want that kind of life? But this is exactly the life Jesus teaches. Open your copies of God’s word to Luke 14:25-35.
The Cross Life (14:25-27)
Great crowds are following Jesus according to Luke 14:25. We would think that this is a positive. We would think that Jesus is being successful. We would think that the ministry of Jesus is finally going in the right direction. Is not the goal to have great crowds? Yet, Jesus does not see it as a positive that great crowds are following him. He sees this as a negative. He sees that great crowds following him as a problem. Why is this a problem? Why would Jesus be disturbed by this? The reason why is because following him is not easy. Jesus wants to make sure that every person understands what it means to follow him. There are requirements for following Jesus and Jesus does not want people to follow him without understanding what that life looks like. So listen to what he says to the crowds in verses 26-27.
“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 bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26–27 ESV)
Is this first declaration startling? Jesus just told the crowds to not focus on their families. He just told them that if you want to follow him, your family cannot come first. Jesus must come first. When Jesus says that we are to hate our families, we should not think about the emotion of hate or in terms of malice. No one should be sitting in the seats saying that they hate their parents or hate their spouse so they are well on the way to eternity with God. This is not what Jesus is saying. The ancient world frequently spoke of matters in terms of categorical contrasts rather than in a difference of degrees. So Jesus is not speaking about an emotion of malice or hatred. Rather, the statement speaks to making a choice between two important claims. For example, the apostle Paul quotes God as saying, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13). Did God hate Esau? No, it is not referring to God having a malicious motive. Rather, the statement indicates the worth of the choice being made. The privilege and blessing went to Jacob, not Esau. Jesus is making the same point in Luke 14:26. The point is that our loyalty is to Jesus above all else. We choose him. Not even family can become our master. Our love for Jesus must take precedence over all other loves, even our family. This does not mean that we will fail in our responsibilities as husbands, wives, parents, and children. This does not mean that we will undo all the scriptures that tell us to love our families and perform our roles in the way God has prescribed. The point is that family never is placed ahead of Jesus. Family never gets the first seat. Family never goes first or makes the decisions. Jesus always is first and gets the priority in every decision, even when it does come to family.
The second declaration may be even more startling. Look at the end of Luke 14:26: “…even his own life.” Not only can other people not come ahead of Jesus, you cannot be first before Jesus. Whenever the choice is Jesus or ourselves, to be a disciple of Jesus means we choose Jesus and not ourselves. We never put ourselves first. We never take the forefront. The imagery of verse 27 confirms our understanding. We are to take up our cross to follow Jesus. Please hear what Jesus told the crowd: to follow him you must live a life of self-sacrifice. Following Jesus means doing his will and not our own will. Following Jesus means Jesus above everyone and everything. This is what the cross life looks like.
Now you are going to thin out crowds when you say something like this and Jesus is completely fine with that result. Jesus never tried to trick people to follow him and surprise them with what it really means to follow him. Any time there were crowds, Jesus was telling them what following him looked like. Some times we think we are ready for this, but Jesus on another occasion tried to communicate that he really means what he is saying here. Look at Luke 9:57-62.
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57–62 ESV)
Notice that we have a person seeming to say the right thing: “I will follow you wherever you go.” But does he understand what he is saying? Jesus wants to make sure. Would you follow Jesus if you did have the comforts of home to sleep in? Would you follow Jesus if you had to leave behind your family? The choice to follow Jesus is not an easy choice because it runs counter to everything we think is true and important. Jesus is blowing up and destroying everything that we know about life. The world says that you need to think about yourself, Jesus says that this is not true. The world says you need to worry about yourself and Jesus says that this is not true either. The world says that God would surely never want you put him above your family. But Jesus says that is exactly what I want you to do. Jesus is flipping everything we know and everything we think is important completely upside down. Further, there is no “let me first” when following Jesus. Notice that twice the answer given to Jesus’ call to follow him is the response of “let me first.” There is nothing first except Jesus. That is the cross life. This is why Jesus continues with his teaching in Luke 14:28-33.
Understand The Cost (14:28-33)
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? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:28–33 ESV)
I want us to slow down and just think about this illustration that Jesus gives. The illustration is to count the cost. This means that there is a cost to follow Jesus. Somehow the religious world, in their effort to have crowds, have removed the cost as if it is easy to follow Jesus. It is not easy to follow Jesus. Jesus is telling us upfront that there is a cost to consider to be a disciple. We have to be willing to lose much to follow him. Following Jesus does not mean life will continue the way it always has. Following Jesus means that it is going to cost us some things in this life. The cost is going to be costly. Notice verse 33 that this is exactly what Jesus wants us to understand.
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)
If this was not enough, Jesus continues to impress the idea into us. Look at verses 34-35. Is Jesus teaching some important truths about salt? No, he is talking about us. Salt losing its saltiness means that it is worthless. Salt without saltiness has no value. What is Jesus’ point? Do we see the connection? A disciple that does not renounce all that one has is not a disciple. There is no value in that disciple because that disciple’s heart still desires something more that Jesus. We are a disciple to someone else or something else if we will not give up everything for Jesus. This is the picture of the cross life. Refusing to renounce all that we have makes us useless to God. We have lost our salt if we are unwilling to count the cost and make the sacrifice where Jesus says we must.
Making The Shift
So is Jesus hoping for people to have miserable lives on this earth as they follow him? Or to put this another way, does Jesus want a bunch of people who would be rather seeking after their own things, but begrudgingly follow Jesus because they have to? The point I am making is that the goal is not to live in this world hating this life that we have been called to walk because we have to make so many sacrifices. That is not at all the goal. I want us to go back to the “hatred” declaration at the start of this paragraph in Luke 14:25. We noted that this is not a feeling of emotion or having malicious motive. The point is to show the inestimable worth of the choice. Discipleship is for those who have considered the worth of Jesus and are ready to sacrifice anything to enjoy him above all else.
Unfortunately, I believe following Jesus has been portrayed under a false narrative for far too long. Following Jesus is a sacrifice. But we should view following Jesus as a sacrifice as much as we view going on vacation as a sacrifice. We might have to do packing, get behind at work, spend money, and deal with a number of painful elements in order to get to our vacation destination. But are the headaches and sacrifices worth it once we reach our destination? It is absolutely worth it. The sacrifices we make of ourselves are small when we look at the bigger picture. This is what Jesus wants us to do with him. We want to abandon all personal projects, plans, and goals for the purpose of enjoying the projects, plans, and goals of Jesus. We want him and whatever must be discarded to be with him, that is what we will do. Do not fall under the false narrative of looking at all that you have to give up. Here is the narrative: look at all you have to gain by renouncing all that you have! It is no loss at all to lose our lives for him when we see the life we gain by following him.
Let me end by putting this another way so that we can see another perspective regarding to what Jesus says. We need to count the cost of not following Jesus. Count the cost of not following Jesus and see if the math makes sense. If we choose this life and not Jesus, then we will gain everything that this life has to offer. The problem is that what this life has to offer does not last. Everything is temporary. We are gaining things that do not last, that rust, that break, that disappear, that are stolen, that die, that become meaningless, and that become valueless. We are exchanging eternal joys and riches for vapor and mist. We are giving up the eternal presence of Jesus for whatever we are doing right now. It is like giving up a paid vacation to keep going to work. Why would anyone do this? But it is what we do with God. God is offering us true rest and we tell him that we would rather keep working in this life, trying find joy that can never be found, because everything here is temporary. The cross life is a life of deep sacrifice. The cross life means giving up everything for Jesus. But the sacrifice should be no more difficult than us giving up a dollar today to receive a million dollars tomorrow. Did you have to forfeit something? Yes, but it was worth it. Friends, you must make sacrifices to follow Jesus. But have the perspective of eternity when these costs come to us. We want to abandon anything in this life for everything that is in the life to come. We say, “Take it all” because we want to be with Jesus and remain in his loving presence forever.