Luke14v25to35: THE COST OF BEING A DISCIPLE OF JESUS
(A) Introduction. Read: Luke14v25to35
This is a long exposition and I would need two sermons to preach it. However, discipleship is the strong underlying theme and so I present the exposition here in full. It can conveniently be divided into three parts.
(B) Discipleship denoted.
When Jesus spoke about estimating or counting the cost he wasn't referring to becoming a Christian but being a Christian. I think very few people actually count the cost immediately before conversion. It is the unconverted who count the cost! Satan ensures that many who come through our Sunday schools and never make a commitment to Jesus have estimated the cost and made their decision to stay in the world. It is unlikely that Saul of Tarsus, the Philippian jailor, the Ethiopian eunuch or Cornelius estimated the cost of confessing Christ prior to exercising faith in him. The testimonies on the BBC 'Songs of Praise' are often of people crying out to Jesus in despair or desperation. Their lives are in such a mess that counting the cost is the last thing on their minds. When someone is converted they are usually thinking about what Jesus can do for them. They are sinners - their lives ruined - and they reach out to Jesus for help - trusting to his mercy and God's grace for salvation and newness of life.
Jesus was travelling with a large crowd of good time followers when he made his remarks about counting the cost. Many of his supporters tagged along for the miracles, occasional free meal, entertaining and exciting teaching, skirmishes with the Pharisees and in the hope that the 'movement,' with Jesus at its head, defeated Rome and established a sovereign state of Israel. Jesus knew that most of the people in the crowd had no conception of what discipleship involved. Jesus expects everyone he saves to be a disciple. It is one thing to be saved and another thing to be a disciple. As C.H. Spurgeon pointed out in one of his peerless sermons, John Bunyan's Christian had nothing to pay to pass through the Wicket-gate and commence his pilgrimage to the Celestial City. Grace opened the gate for him - but once in the way Christian had to surmount many obstacles, overcome great difficulties and endure much hardship to stop in the way.
The challenge of discipleship is conveyed by the old Sankey hymn, 'Am I a soldier of the cross:'
On flowery beds of ease
While others fought to win the prize
And sailed through bloody seas.
(C) Discipleship defined.
Jesus defined discipleship by these words: "And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." Lk14v27. A fuller version of this statement is found in: Lk9v23: Then he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."
From this it is evident that discipleship involves three things:
A disciple of Jesus has to deny himself or empty his life of self. In achieving this, a believer becomes more like the Master who said: "The one who sent me is with me, he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him." Jn8v29. "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." Jn4v34.
Jesus taught us to pray: "Our Father ...... your kingdom come, your will be done." Mt6v10. Our selfish interests and desires much give way to God's interests and desires - his will and purpose.
We must be like a young man who has taught himself something about electrical wiring before commencing an apprenticeship to become an electrician. The old tradesman to whom the apprentice is entrusted will tell him to forget everything he has learned and to follow his example in all things.
This is what happens after a person becomes a Christian. The believer's conduct must conform to the teaching of Jesus. There are three little sayings in the Sermon on the Mount that illustrate how demanding this is: "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." Mt5v39to41. Jesus tells us not to retaliate when we are hurt, not to insist on our rights and not to avoid rules and regulations that we do not like. Those are hard lessons to learn and even harder to practice!
The expression, 'take up your cross,' must have meant something to Jesus' hearers. Jesus wasn't referring to a great one off sacrifice. He hadn't died for sinners yet and so his hearers would not have associated the cross with sacrifice. Indeed, such was people's repugnance of crucifixion that it was many, many years before the cross became a Christian symbol. Jesus also talks about taking up the cross daily!! This is not something that could happen literally!
'To take up the cross' must have been a colloquial expression with a well-known meaning. I refer to one possibility in my exposition on Luke9v18to27. It could mean taking responsibility on a daily basis for being committed to Jesus. But there is another possibility. To 'take up the cross' is probably a very similar expression to: 'bite on the bullet' - an expression every Englishman understands. In the bad old days, before the use of anaesthetics, a soldier would bite on the bullet as an amputation was carried out. So it has come to mean resolving to get on with a difficult and painful experience. We might still use it of a sick man agreeing to undergo risky surgery with unpleasant side effects or of an employer laying off staff or of a girl telling her boyfriend she is going to break off their engagement.
So when Jesus instructs us to bite the bullet on a daily basis he is saying, "Get on with what is difficult. Don't shrink from suffering loss. Don't put off demanding service. Never procrastinate." A study of John's gospel shows that Jesus bit the bullet almost every day during his earthly ministry. There were endless confrontations with his critics. Jesus did not find it pleasant to face down hostility and antagonism. There have been tasks that Satan hasn't wanted me to do that I have found difficult - a visit to the dying, distributing the church newssheet round the village, helping with the youth club, organising games for the holiday club, giving up work to care for my father, making safe the tombstones ... . I have had to bite the bullet to do them.
If we follow Jesus we will try to emulate him - to be like him. We know from the gospels what this involves - serving others, forgiving, praying, teaching, giving and opposing bad attitudes in the church.
Sybil Harton, the wife of the Vicar of Baulkings, tells of John Betjeman, the poet, helping an old lady out of the train. He opened the door and handed out all her various parcels. He did so with no self-consciousness paying her all the time a great deal of personal attention. This was his way. John would do the same for anybody. He had an innate kindness. It would be the same whether you were in rags or in a crown.
In this at any rate John Betjeman, for all his faults, was like his Master.
(C) Discipleship Described.
Jesus described three aspects of discipleship:
(1) Its priority.
Jesus said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters - yes even his own life - he cannot be my disciple." v25. "In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple."
These two verses teach quite simply that Jesus must come first. He must come before family, possessions and our own life. (Jesus does not mean literally that a Christian must hate his or her family. Matthew in paraphrasing Jesus' remarks does convey the sense less starkly and more accurately. See Mt10v37.)
Another of my friends, Pastor Joseph Hewitt, undoubtedly loves his wife, Elizabeth. He is visiting Burma as I write. In all probability Elizabeth would rather her husband had stopped at home! He is in his late 70's and hasn't quite got the stamina he used to have. Burma is not the safest place for a Christian to visit. But my friend has gone - not because he doesn't love his wife enough - he does - but because he believes that is where Jesus wants him to be for three weeks - encouraging and supporting Burmese Christians. His wife understands.
(b) Jesus expects us to love him more than our house, garden, computer or motor car. What do we lavish most time and attention on - Jesus or our possessions?
(c) Jesus expects us to love him more than our health and strength, our personal safety or our lives. Mr ten Boom, the Haarlem watch mender, decided during the German occupation of his country, Holland, to allow Jews to hide from the Gestapo in his house. He did so because he believed they were God's people. In doing so he put his home, business, family and life at risk. Eventually the ten Boom residence was raided and Mr ten Boom and his daughters arrested. The godly watch mender was taken to Gestapo headquarters in The Hague where the chief interrogator took pity on him and said: "I'd like to send you home, old fellow. I'll take your word that you won't cause any more trouble." Mr ten Boom replied, "If I go home today, tomorrow I will open my door again to any man in need who knocks." He died ten days later in prison. He lost everything for Christ's sake - a true hero of the Faith.
Jesus used two illustrations - building a tower and going to war - to show what a disciple must be prepared to have:
Christians have a battle to wage. Paul urged Timothy to: Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 2Tim2v3. I have not found it easy to be a Christian - it has been a great challenge.
(b) Determination. If a man sets out to build a lookout tower he will complete it if he is determined enough. Determination will surmount all obstacles and overcome setbacks. In my youth I was secretary of a committee set up to build the Brockley Village Hall. We had all sorts of problems. To begin with funding was denied us. Then the firm supplying the steel frame of the building went bust. Then the concrete screed on which we were going to lay a nice wooden floor broke up and had to be removed and replaced. But the project was eventually completed and the hall stands today as a tangible monument to our determination and unity.
The famous words of Churchill highlight the importance of determination in wartime: We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
Christians must fight on to the end whatever the disappointments and discouragements. Although C.H. Spurgeon was at pains to emphasise the free grace by which Christian began his pilgrimage to the Celestial City he went on to stress the need for perseverance on the way: But when a man is put on the road to heaven it will cost him something. It will cost him sweat to climb the Hill Difficulty; it will cost him tears to find his roll again when he has lost it in the arbour of ease; it will cost him great care in going down into the Valley of Humiliation; it will cost him resistance unto blood when he stands foot to foot with Apollyon in conflict.
It is a pity that today most Christians have probably never read John Bunyan's, 'Pilgrim's progress'. I am grateful to my father for bringing me up on it!
(c) Resourcefulness. A man setting out to build a tower must bear the cost in time, energy and money. There is always a terrible cost in going to war - a huge expenditure in terms of men and materials. When Churchill addressed the House of Commons on becoming war leader he showed his preparedness to bear the cost. He said: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." This has about it a strange echo of John Bunyan.
We need resourcefulness to be Christians. Discipleship will be demanding of our time, energy and money. It is incredibly foolish to think that all we have to do is sit back and let Jesus do everything for us.
Some Christians have proved immensely resourceful in the service of Jesus such as the 19th century missionary to the New Hebrides, John Gibson Paton. He arrived on the island of Tanna with his new wife in 1857. They were the only white people in a community of wild, naked cannibals. Within a year Paton's wife and new born babe had died. Things went from bad to worse and the missionary was fortunate to escape from Tanna with his life. He made his way to New South Wales. Showing considerable nerve he managed to persuade the leaders of a church in the colony to let him address the congregation. He outlined the desperate plight of the unsaved inhabitants of the New Hebrides islands with such eloquence that the church pledged to support him and a movement was born that saw a missionary placed on almost every island of the New Hebrides group - with an ocean going ship as back up. John Paton made a trip back to Scotland in the 1860's to remarry and recruit more Scottish missionaries for Christ's work in the Pacific. In 1866 John Paton returned with his wife, Maggie, to island of Aniwa. There they found the natives to be very similar to those on Tanna - "The same superstitions, the same cannibalistic cruelties and depravities, the same barbaric mentality, the same lack of altruistic or humanitarian impulses were in evidence." Things seemed pretty hopeless!! But in the next 33 years the situation changed dramatically - thanks to the resourcefulness of John Paton and his wife.
John learned the language and reduced it to writing. Maggie taught a class of about fifty women and girls who became experts at sewing, singing and plaiting hats, and reading. They trained the teachers, translated and printed and expounded the Scriptures, ministered to the sick and dying, dispensed medicines every day, taught them the use of tools, held worship services every Lord's Day and sent native teachers to all the villages to preach the gospel. Enduring many years of deprivation, danger from natives and disease, they continued with their work and after many years of patient ministry, the entire island of Aniwa professed Christianity. In 1899 John Paton saw his Aniwa New Testament printed and the establishment of missionaries on twenty five of the thirty islands of the New Hebrides.
(d) Confidence. A man who builds a tower or goes to war needs confidence. Winston Churchill had confidence in spite of all the evidence to the contrary that the Second World War would be won. He said: "We cannot tell what lies ahead. It may be that even greater ordeals lie before us. We shall face whatever is coming to us. We are sure of ourselves and of our cause and that is the supreme fact which has emerged in these months of trial.
Nehemiah was confident that the wall of Jerusalem would be rebuilt. When Sanballet, Tobiah and Geshem mocked the efforts of the builders, Nehemiah said: "The God of heaven will give us success." Neh3v20.
Joshua and Caleb were confident that the Israelites could successfully invade Canaan despite the gloomy report of the ten other spies. They told the people: "If the Lord is pleased with us he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them." Nu14v8and9.
Christians need confidence if they are to be effective disciples of Jesus. It is people with a 'can do' attitude who get things done. My old cricketing companion Dennis Fisher is an electrician with a 'can do' attitude. I asked him to come and have a look at my 35 year old cooker which had broken down. Most electricians would have said it was beyond repair - but not Dennis. He sorted it out - as for many years he has sorted out the collection of antique mowers and rollers Brockley Cricket Club use to maintain the ground.
Disciples of Jesus share the attitude of Paul who wrote: I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Phil4v13. Note that: I can do everything - not, God can do everything .... .
(e) Defiance. Jesus probably referred to a man building a tower and a king going to war in the hope that his good time followers would 'get real.' But he does conclude by saying: "In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." v35.
We must not think that Jesus was commending the man who doesn't build the tower because he cannot afford it or the king who doesn't go to war because his army is small. That is doubtless better than starting to build and giving up or marching into battle and retreating at the first set back but it is hardly what Jesus wants from us. The words: "In the same way," are very suggestive. Jesus is teaching that his disciples must be prepared to defy all the odds and go for broke. Where Jesus is concerned it is 'all or nothing.'
This was the attitude of Winston Churchill during the war. In a radio speech broadcast from London to America on June 16th 1941 he said: In these British Islands that look so small upon the map - we stand, the faithful guardians of the rights and dearest hopes of a dozen states and nations now gripped and tormented in a base and cruel servitude. Whatever happens we shall endure to the end.
Nehemiah had this attitude as he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. When the enemies of the Jews threatened he armed the labourers and gave this instruction: "Whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us." Neh4v20.
What splendid defiance David showed as he went for broke against Goliath. He goaded the giant with these words: "This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I wlll give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel." 1Sam17v46.
Christians face three might foes: the world, the flesh and the devil. Paul does not advise us to give up the fight - to run away and hide - to make compromises and sue for peace. Rather he says: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can stand against the devil's schemes. Eph6v10and11.
It is amazing what Christians have achieved when they have defied the odds and gone for broke.
(f) Exultation. The speech of Churchill I love the most was given during the war to the boys of Eton school. During his visit the pupils sang a verse of a School Song that had been written in the great man's honour:
In his speech Churchill said: You sang here a verse of a School Song ....written in my honour, which I was very greatly complimented by ... . But there is one word in it I want to alter. ..... It is in the line: "Not less we praise in darker days." I have obtained the Head Master's permission to alter darker to sterner. "Not less we praise in sterner days." Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days - the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.
Winston Churchill exulted in the great work he was doing. Surely we should sometimes exult in serving Jesus sacrificially. Jesus said: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Mt5v11.
Christian disciples should experience the truth of Horatius Bonar's hymn:
Thy joy to do the Father's will;
It is the way the Master went;
Should not the servant tread it still?
(3) Its purpose.
"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap; it is thrown out." v34.
Christians should be like salt - fit for purpose. In Biblical times salt had three main functions:
Christians have longed campaigned to cleanse society from injustice and unrighteousness. This was particularly the case in the 19th century when Christian reformers like William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury were active. There are still Christians prepared to defend the handicapped and disadvantaged. A God fearing solicitor was in the news recently for fighting to save scores of old people's homes from closure by the Local Authority. She certainly incurred the wrath of the Local Authorities some of who conspired to get her struck off as a solicitor. Fortunately they were not successful.
(b) Preserves. Christians should maintain standards, values and principles by how they live. The reality of this can be seen in 'Faith Schools.' The ethos in these schools is usually quite different from that in other State Schools. In Bury St Edmunds the middle school that supply teachers are happiest to work in is St Louis - a Roman Catholic School - because the atmosphere is conducive to learning. I finished my career in Debenham Church of England High School in mid-Suffolk. A wonderful spirit was established in that school by its first head master and carried on later by Mr Crawshaw. Staff and children were friends - not enemies.
(c) Flavours. Christians should add a distinctive flavour to any company by their cheerfulness, helpfulness, compassion, generosity, honesty and integrity. I read a lovely little article in the magazine of College Park Baptist Church, Lewisham recently. It was about the four chaplains who featured on a United States commemorative stamp in 1948. They were chaplains to 900 soldiers crossing the North Atlantic on S.S. Dorchester in February 1943. On the third day of that month the Dorchester was struck by a torpedo. Chaos reigned on board as the crew abandoned ship. The four chaplains found a deck box full of lifebelts and together started distributing them to men without. Soon the box was empty. The chaplains, one by one, removed their own lifebelts and gave them to soldiers who had none. They locked arms, sang and prayed for the men as the troop carrier sank with them on board. Each was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their heroic sacrifice. The chaplains proved to be salt that had not lost its savour.
In Jesus' day it was possible for salt to lose its saltiness. If a heap of salt mixed with impurities like crushed limestone stood outside for too long there was a risk that rain could leach out most of the salt. The mixture was no use as salt. It was too insipid - the salt content had been diluted. What was left was good for nothing. It couldn't even be used as limestone to sweeten the soil or the manure heap because some salt remained. It was neither one thing nor the other.
So we can see how Jesus' reference to salt fits the teaching of this passage. So called Christians in whom the qualities of discipleship are lacking or diluted are just like salt that has lost its saltiness - neither one thing nor the other - neither hot nor cold - tepid - such to make Jesus spew!