If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple...In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
OK, after hearing these words of Jesus, how many of you are now ready to become His disciples? How many of us are ready to be born again? Which of us will come forward and decide to be Christians, the way Jesus teaches us to be?
Will you allow this very flawed man to write in awe and fear of my Lord and Saviour for just a moment?
Dr Luke is a gifted writer. He arranges the account of Jesus in a way that allows us to see the heart of Jesus as He gave His most difficult teachings. The context of this particular teaching takes us back to the event that began a series of teachings from Jesus steadily increasing the cost of being His disciple.
At the beginning of chapter 14, he exposes the hypocritical, evil hearts of the religious. Would they save their own child on a holy day by doing self-imposed prohibited work? Why wouldn't they do it for someone else? How does the real author of that law interpret the Law? He heals. He loves His neighbour as himself.
In the midst of that healing, He still sees the religious not seeking the honour of God but of men. He warns against such attitudes and reminds all of them there are people who His Father sees that they overlook.
After giving some teaching on what true hospitality looks like, He then gives a stinging teaching illustrating why the kingdom of heaven is filled with those standing outside their homes instead of those being waited on inside their homes.
And this is where Luke decides to put Jesus' most challenging teaching yet.
It's obvious Jesus is not into most church growth books I have read. Everytime there seems to be a crowd around Jesus and the writers note this, He seems to give a difficult teaching intended to thin the herd.
Jesus has been healing. He has been feeding. He has been teaching with the kind of authority that taught about the Kingdom of Heaven not as a theory but as someone with intimate knowledge of its reality. I'm sure the disciples were feeling quite good about all the crowds that were following the Saviour. And then, at the height of popularity Jesus says, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple...In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples."
I can picture the disciples looking at each other in disbelief. Judas probably had his face down in his palm muttering to himself. What is he doing? Can't he see that he is ruining this?
Jesus makes it clear throughout His ministry that He doesn't want crowds, He wants disciples. Jesus does not want popularity. He desires sincerity. He doesn't want the superficiality of lots of faces. He wants the world changing power of people's hearts.
Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
When we think of evil, what do we think of? Stalin, Hitler, Po Pot and other authors of genocide? Abortion? Homosexuality? Corporate greed? Prostitution? Pedophiles? Polluters?
From the arbiters of good and evil, the greatest evil is to not love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength. It is to put other gods before Him.
When we take up Jesus' call to "Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand." It is a call to lay down our own crowns. It is a call to lay down whatever flag and reject other flags to sincerely serve the True King in His Kingdom. We are to stop following the patterns of a sinful world and turn completely around and completely, totally follow after His Kingdom and His righteousness.
But so many of us are like Lot's wife who when fleeing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, towns so evil, parents offered their daughters for sex in order to keep the men from having sex with their honored guests and the outcry from victims of injustice cried so loud that God heard them, she still looked back longingly at her home.
Jesus tells the crowd to count the cost of being His disciple. Jesus never, ever tells the crowds that if they decide to repent and follow Him that their lives will now be easy; that they will find material prosperity; that they will find eternal health; that everything will be perfectly fine and wonderful. He teaches those of us who would follow Him, that to do so will mean that our lives will be good. But being good in the midst of an evil world is very dangerous.
And so Jesus warns us that many of us will, in the heat of the moment, quickly raise our hands to proclaim, "Yes! I will follow Jesus!" but will later find that our decision's cost is too high as we long to go back to the kingdoms we turned our back on. For many around the world, their families hold funerals the moment they decide to follow Jesus since that decision means they are now dead to their own families. For others, following Jesus means leaving behind the world of frivolity and comfort to pursue a life of sacrificial service. For some, following Jesus means to stop pursuing patterns of debt, hoarding and obesity in order to "go get" Him.
In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
Repentance requires being absolutely and utterly convinced that everything outside of His Kingdom is worthless. It is all folly. We must completely turn our backs and follow Him in pursuit of a new way of life and a new way of thinking. We are to put no other gods before Him. As a wise pastor once said, "Any god that is not the Living God is a lousy god."
The sad part is that Jesus is right. In the history of the Western church, there have been many great "revivals" where crowds came and came to Jesus by the hundreds and thousands. But when the reality of the cost of discipleship hit them, they either walked away entirely or worse decided to still say we follow Jesus when our hearts followed something else. For many in the West, we are a church of Esaus. We have traded our (second) birthright for a bowl of soup. We tried to appear Christian on the outside while being just like those who do not follow Christ on the inside.
When thinking about Lot's wife, it's ironic that Jesus compares those hypocritical Christians to salt. How does salt lose its saltiness? Time? No. By mixing with other compounds that corrode the sodium chloride concentration. Once salt loses its sodium chloride, it ceases to be salt. How does a Christian lose their saltiness? Time? No. By mixing a love and intimate knowledge, granted by the Holy Spirit, of our Heavenly Father and His Son with a longing for the old ways of the world and rebellion against our Heavenly Father.
We live in a culture that tries to make money without working, that tries to lose weight without diet and exercise, that tries for honour without integrity. This is not the way of Christ. We cannot follow Christ without loving Christ or His Father in Heaven.
Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.