Luke 14: 25-35 “Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he 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. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. 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 heap; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’”
Huge crowds were following the Lord – talk about Church Growth! So what did he do to keep them coming to his meetings? Was it a touchy-feely session, stroking their emotions and telling them “what beautiful people you are”? No. Anything but that. He gave them a message on the cost of becoming his disciples.
Five of the words in this passage are its foundation and the door to understanding its teaching. They set before us the direction we’re to go in order to grasp their meaning. They are these words, “If anyone comes to me . . .” (v.26). These words are the dynamic of this passage because it is about the nature of true discipleship, and so this is where I must begin. The words “coming to Jesus” have the same meaning as “believing upon Jesus.” The two phrases are used quite interchangeably in the gospels, for example in John 6 and verse 35, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he that comes to me shall never go hungry, and he that believes on me shall never be thirsty.’” So to come to Jesus is to believe on Jesus, and to believe into him is the same as coming to him.
WHAT DOES CHRIST MEAN WHEN HE SAYS, ‘COME TO ME’?
There are three things involved in a true coming to Christ:
i] Coming to Christ always involves an awareness of my spiritual need of him. That is the only reason to come from where you are to be where he is. That is why he left his Father, became incarnate, lived a holy life, taught us what to believe and how to live. He came to make atonement for our sins by his death on the cross as the Lamb of God. It was only thus that man’s spiritual need could be met. Salvation cannot be found anywhere else and it is futile to look for it in anyone else or anywhere else. So we go to him when we are conscious of our need of him. You might remember his great invitation, “Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Here are a people who are distinguished from every single unbeliever by a conviction that they have a felt spiritual need they know can’t be met in anyone or anywhere else. They must have Christ.
So someone who comes to Christ is a person distinguished by this fact that his most conscious moral and religious need is his guilt. The tax collector in the temple was a cheating, deceiving, thieving, greedy son of a gun and he knew it. He was so aware of it that he couldn’t raise his head to talk to God. He looked down to the dust beating his breast and asking God for mercy because he was a ‘sinner.’ When in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress the man sets off on his journey from the City of Destruction he discovers that he is carrying on his back a great burden which seems heavier and heavier with every step. He is heavy laden, and only Christ can remove that burden. It is when he comes to the hill of Calvary that it falls off and tumbles down and down the slope and disappears into the open sepulchre never to be seen again.
Here is someone who feels the weight of his guilt. He knows that there is chargeable to his account a mountain of iniquity and God will punish him for his every defection from his holy law. He is brought to that conscious need, and then he runs to Christ. The Pharisees in our Lord’s Day didn’t have that need, and so they wouldn’t come to him. They weren’t heavy-laden sinners burdened by the weight of their guilt; they weren’t wounded sinners looking for a balm for their wounds; they weren’t convicted sinners looking for a refuge; they weren’t aware of their inner deadness who were totally dependent on Christ for life. When Jesus said that those who sin are the slaves of sin they replied, “Not us; we are free men.” They didn’t need to find liberty in Christ. The only one who could make them free was standing in their midst, but they wouldn’t come to him because they weren’t conscious that they had any need of anything he could do for them. There was no service he could render to them. They were not ignorant sinners looking for wisdom, or guilty sinners looking for mercy, or helpless sinners looking for heavenly power. They were determined to go on living their lives without ever coming to Christ.
And you? I am saying that you’ve never come to Christ in the Biblical sense if you’ve not been made consciously aware of your need of him. Have you known what it is to spend even one hour with the thought that a holy God who sees and knows everything you have ever thought and said and done, who has recorded your every deviation from his holy law, is actually going to hold you accountable for how you’ve lived in the Day of Judgment? I tell you, men and women, that when that thought begins to get under your skin, and it penetrates your conscience and your affections, then you know have great needs. Then you start to ask, “What shall I do? To whom can I turn? Where can I find relief from this burden?” To plead for God to take my life just hastens the time when I must stand before him. To seek to run from God I cannot. Where can I escape from the omnipresent God? Where can I hide? Do you know what it is to experience this? I’m not asking you if you’ve heard preachers talking about it, but do you know what it is to experience it? If you have ears to hear then listen! If you’ve not been made consciously aware of a spiritual need that only Jesus Christ can meet you have never come to him.
ii] Coming to Christ is a conviction that he is the only one suitable to meet my needs. No one comes to Christ who has not seen his need of him, and no one comes to him who isn’t shown by the Holy Spirit how perfectly the Lord Jesus meets his need. He sees that Christ is the Word made flesh, the great prophet sent from God who tells us who we are, why we are here on earth, what is man’s chief end, who God is, what is wrong with us, how that can be put right, how can we get to heaven, what must we do to be saved, how we should live. There actually are answers to such questions. You need not live your life defiantly crying, “Nobody knows” or “There are no answers.” The Lord Jesus Christ has come from God and given us mighty answers to such questions. We go in our ignorance to him in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and he informs us and educates us. He gives us true knowledge. He meets those needs of ours that have been created by our ignorance. He also meets our need for guidance and protection throughout our lives. He will keep me in my weakness; when I am lying in the I.C. ward after that major operation, only able to whisper to him, “Help me, Jesus, help me . . .” then he is there. In my loneliness and fears I can turn to him. When I have said good-night to my spouse in the hospital and walked into the car park knowing she is facing a major operation early next morning and I am driving home alone then I can pray to God in the name of Jesus knowing that he hears. He is able to help and protect her and me. When I am ashamed of my wretched life, the hurt I have caused to people I respect and love, then I learn that by his royal atonement there is forgiveness for all my blame and shame. If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He is perfectly suited to meet our needs.
iii] Coming to Christ involves a resignation and commitment of myself to him to meet my needs. I come to him, just me in the totality of my being, with my history, my body, soul, affections and mind – I come to him, God’s great Prophet, Priest and King, Son of God and Son of Man, wholly human and wholly divine, two natures in one indivisible person. I simply put all of myself into his hands, under his control, beneath his rule. I entrust myself to him, to the glory of his person and to the perfection of his finished work. When I know my ignorance he says, “I am the truth;” when I am lost he says, “I am the way;” when I feel dead, he says, “I am the life.” I say to him, “There is no one else I can turn to. There is no other name I can plead.” I commit myself to him in all his offices. I resign myself to him.
“Take myself and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.” I start there where Frances Ridley Havergal ended. Then I go through all the details; “Take my life . . . my moments and my days . . . my hands . . . my feet . . . my voice . . . . my lips . . . my silver and my gold . . . my intellect . . . my will . . . my heart . . . my love. I commit all that I am as the one in need to this great One who can meet my every need. I commit myself entirely, without reservation, body, soul, mind and affection, for time and eternity to him who makes the invitation; ‘Come unto me.’” That is coming to Christ. It is seeing your need, and seeing how Jesus Christ meets that need, and it is a full yielding of yourself to him the Son of God, the Lord of glory, your Judge and Saviour in order that he meet that need.
That I say is what Jesus means in our text when he talks of anyone coming to him. So have you come to him? In other words, have you been made consciously aware of your spiritual need? Has the Holy Spirit shown you the perfect suitability of Jesus Christ to meet that need? Have you abandoned yourself to him and to him alone? If not, you have not come to Christ, and if you haven’t come to him you are living a life apart from him. You are not joined to him. His life is not being lived in and through you. His teaching and sacrifice and intercession profit you nothing. But if you come to him, just as you are now, then he says, “I will in no wise cast you out.”
So now that you understand this I may invite you to come. With whatever authority God has given to me when he called and gifted me to preach his word I must exhort you and command you to come to him. I must urge you to come. Yes, I must plead with you to come to him. Yes, I must beseech you to come. You thieves, you adulterers, you drug addicts, you perverts, you violent abusers, you liars, you drunkards, you cheats, you tax dodgers, you blasphemers, you Sabbath breakers, you TV addicts, you swearers, you mockers of religion, you proud, vain men and women – you come to him just as you are, all of you. You come to him now. If you wait until you are better you will never come. He is speaking to you now, and he is saying to you, “You come to me now.” But he is reminding you of something else . . .
JESUS CHRIST MUST HAVE THE SUPREME PLACE IN YOUR LIFE.
Our Lord couldn’t make that fact any more striking than he does here: “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. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (vv.26&27). There are three or four statements he makes to highlight the supreme place he must have in order for you to know that you have truly come to him.
i] Those who come to Christ must place him far above even the most dear and natural of human relationships. Compared to the way we worship him as our God, and submit to his good and perfect will, and experience the feelings of thankfulness and gratitude we have for him for seeking us and saving us at such tremendous cost, then all our feelings towards our spouse and parents and children have a second place. He has to have total priority in our lives. Your husband did not humble himself to the death of the cross because of his love for you, but Jesus did. Your wife did not taste damnation for you but Jesus did. One of your parents did not willingly remain in the anathema of a sin-hating God to deliver you from hell. Only Jesus could and did do that. So how do you compare your love for the dearest people in the world to the love you have for God the Son? Love for him is measureless compared to your great but finite love for them. The relationship of these two loves – for our dearest on earth or for our dear heavenly Father is as different as the relationship of love with its very opposite . . . hate! The actual word Jesus chose to use was ‘hate’. It is of course a figure of speech, a hyperbole, a gross exaggeration. Jesus is meaning a far, far greater affection for God, but if he used anodyne language like that we’d never remember the challenge of his words. The Lord is using absolutely contrasting language of love and hatred in order to express the comparative degrees of these affection. In other words, to ‘hate’ in his terms is to ‘be giving second place’ to another.
Our first loyalty is not to our kinfolk; it is to our God. The choice has to be made, as in thousands of homes today it is being made, a Hindu family or Christ? The choice often has to be made. A Muslim family or Christ? A secular atheist Welsh family or Christ? The choice has to be made. Gradually, but with increasing conviction and often with many tears, we have to choose God. Jesus’ love, so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. There are times when our love for our families gets in the way of our love for Jesus Christ. He is saying that the claims they truly make on us as father, mother, children, brothers and sisters, still may not interfere with the claims our Lord makes on us. Every husband will bless God for the love his wife has for him, but he will pray, “Oh that she would love God more than me.” Every parent would thank God for the love their children had for them, but they will pray, “Oh that they would love the Lord more than they love their Mum and Dad.” Those are Christian family values.
There was a student here who seemed to have come to Christ, but after some years of following him suddenly two close members of this student’s family died, within a month or so of one another. It happens. We are mortal men and women and that will be the end of all of us, sooner or later, but they took it very bitterly, and blamed God for taking away those that that they loved more than their love for Christ. I don’t think there is any profession of belief in their life today. They discovered that they had always been thinking, deep in their unconsciousness, “I love you Jesus Christ, but if you touch anyone in my family then that’s the end of my love for you.” They had never mortified those feelings by the power of the cross of Christ. They had “come to him,” yes, with certain qualifications. The Lord, in their estimation, was not far, far, far above the most dear of human relations. Family still sneaked into first place. Those parents and grandparents were high and lifted up in their values – far above how they valued Christ. Thomas Boston said, “No man can be a true disciple of Christ to whom Christ is not dearer than what is dearest to him in the world.”
Of course Christ is not encouraging us to neglect our families or not to honour and obey our fathers and mothers. If we are to ‘hate’ them in comparison with our love for him then still we love them very, very dearly. Then let me ask you, by Jesus’ criteria here, whether you have truly come to Christ? Do you always pray that he will prevent you making an idol of members of your family?
The dearest idol I have known, whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from the throne and worship only Thee.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters . . . he cannot be my disciple.” The missionary to the South Sea Islands, John G. Paton was born on May 24, 1824 in Dumfries County, Scotland. His father was a godly weaver who had his stocking frames in a room of the house. Paton’s biographer says that the churchgoing, the Bible stories and Shorter Catechism were ‘not tasks but pleasures’ in the Paton home. Young John had to quit school when he was 12 to help his father support the family of eleven children, and when he was 17 he had a deep experience of conversion that brought all his parents’ love for Christ home to his own heart. The call to Christian service became irresistible and Paton worked for ten years as a city missionary in Glasgow among the poor children of the slums. At 32 he accepted a call to missionary service going to the New Hebrides in the South Pacific. In March of 1858 the 33 year old John married Mary Ann Robson, and on April 16 they sailed together for the cannibal island of Tanna. In less than a year they had built a little home and Mary had given birth to a son. But on March 3 of 1859, one year after their marriage, Mary died of a fever, and within three weeks the infant son also died. John Paton dug their graves alone and buried them both alone, and he wrote, “But for Jesus. . . I must have gone mad and died beside that lonely grave.” One of the gifts that Jesus gave him sustaining him in his bereavement were the words his wife had spoken shortly before her death, “I do not regret leaving home and friends,” she said. “If I had to do it over, I’d do it with more pleasure, yes, with all my heart.” John continued on in the New Hebrides for decades living the life of God’s servant, preaching and make disciples to this Lord – the God who had permitted his wife and child to be taken from him in death. He loved God more.
ii] Those who come to Christ must love him more than their own lives. “Do you really mean that, Lord?” Jesus answers, “Yes. Even his own life” (v.26). Perhaps that is easier to grasp than loving Christ more than our wives or parents. There are things for which all men and women would lay down their lives. A nation will see a million volunteers who will lay down their lives for the freedom of their country. Parents would lay down their lives for their children. A husband would lay down his life for his wife. A man would lay down his life for his friends, and the newspapers contain such examples almost every week. There have been more martyrs for Christ in the 20th century than in all the preceding centuries put together. Disciples of the Lord Jesus will die rather than deny him. They will stand trembling in the arena to be torn apart by wild beasts for the entertainment of the crowd; they will be burned alive at a stake rather than deny him. If the choice is between rejecting Christ or dying then disciples will say, “I have no choice. My only regret is that I just have one life to lay down for my Saviour.” So we are to love him more than our families, and then also more than our lives. We don’t have to live, but we have to love and serve our God. His love for us, so amazing, so divine demands my life.
iii] Anyone who comes to Christ must carry his own cross (v.27). Jesus is very careful. “Carry his cross,” he says. Jesus is certainly not speaking of us being like Simon of Cyrene and carrying the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even metaphorically we cannot share in the redemptive, substitutionary sufferings of Christ. We need a propitiation for our own sins let alone anyone else’s. He trod out the winepress of the wrath of God alone. By himself he purged us from our sins. Jesus is speaking of us following in the steps of our Master as his disciples, and so as he was despised and rejected of men we who are like him will be treated in the same way. There will be troubles that come into our lives only because we are following him. We would have dodged those problems if we weren’t his disciples. He’s speaking of us bearing up under our own specific trials and temptations. He’s not saying, “Take up my cross.” No. “Carry your cross!” He’s saying that we enter heaven through afflictions and opposition, but be brave. He is not saying, “Be grim and dogged, and grind your teeth and plod on.” No. What a privilege to be counted worthy of carrying a cross for Jesus. Lift it up! Embrace it! Carry it up. We are ready to endure it, whatever scorn or contempt or pain the world might hurl at us. Glory in it!
If the Father made his Son to be the glorious Son that he was through the things he permitted the Son to suffer, then that was the best way, and God won’t use another way to bring us into conformity to him. We remind ourselves, “He told me no less.” I have to take up my cross too. The Lord made the future absolutely clear when he gave me the honour of being his disciple and bearing his name. We recognize sufferings as God’s plan to craft us into the very image of Christ.
iv] Anyone who comes to Christ must from that time forth follow him (v.27). “Follow me,” he says. What does that mean? It means to look to Jesus, looking out for him, looking to see where he is and what he is doing and following his example, imitating him, in his obedience, and that whatever trials may lie in our way, being a good plodder. William Hendriksen’s definition of following him is this: “One follows Christ by trusting in him, walking in his footsteps, obeying his commandments out of gratitude for salvation through him, and being willing even to suffer in his cause.” This is at the very heart of Christian discipleship. Understand very, very clearly what Jesus is saying; he is not saying to his disciples, ‘I will save you because you deny yourselves.’ He is not saying, ‘I love you because you’ve denied yourself.’ He’s saying this, ‘Because I’ve set my heart on you, because I’ve saved you by grace, then come to me, and love me more than anyone else in the world, being ready to lay down your life for me, taking up your cross and following me for the rest of your lives.’ Jesus is not talking about meriting salvation through following him. Jesus is talking about expressing the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts in the happy life of discipleship.
We follow his character, the one who washed the feet of the disciples, the one who humbled himself to death, the one who resisted the devil, the one who prayed for those who hurt him that they might be forgiven. We walk in his steps. We care about his agenda. We are concerned about his name and his cause. What would a political candidate think if you showed up at their office in town and said, “You know, I would like to do some canvassing for you.” “Good,” you say warmly. “How much time can you give us?” “Oh, I can spare you a half hour a week Thursday,” he replies. Oh. He doesn’t seem a very promising foot soldier, and so you had better find out more about his beliefs. “Are you in agreement with our policies on the war in Afghanistan, on education, on the Health Service, on a change in the voting system, on marriage, on taxation?” and so on. “No,” you say. “I don’t agree with any of them, in fact I am quite hostile to them all. I think your policies are the worst things I’ve ever heard.” Do you think that that political candidate would consider you a supporter at all? I think not. He would consider you a fifth columnist. He wouldn’t allow you to become his canvasser. If that is true for people and causes in the world then multiply by infinity. The Lord has specified very clearly who may be one of his disciples. He has told us what it means to come to him. So we need to be asking ourselves today: Is our Christianity characterized by loving him more than our closest family members? Are we ready to lay down our lives for him? Are we prepared cheerfully to carry our cross, and are we day after day after day following him? That is the heart of being a mere Christian.
I read two things in the paper recently, two totally different understandings of what it is to be a follower. The first was a letter from the vicar of Morecambe in Lancashire. He was describing what he thought it meant to be an Anglican follower of Christ. He said, “It is a celebration of the different integrities within our communion. It is distinctive for the number of committees catering for all interests, from mission through to whether or not to have salmon spread sandwiches at the Christmas Fayre. It is a lifestyle which makes simple demands on its followers; it requires attendance only on Easter Sunday, Whit Sunday and midnight Christmas Eve. Above all, so long as the vicar believes something, one can be relaxed about one’s own theology or lack of it. That is its genius.” So there is one kind of follower; almost indistinguishable from the world. Then I read the comments of Philippe Saint Andre, the head coach of Toulon rugby club who gave this advice recently to Welshman Gavin Henson who had joined the club. “I told him that the only way to be successful was to think rugby, sleep rugby, drink rugby, eat rugby and be a footballer again. There is nothing to do just rugby.” Now I am saying to you that that attitude of single-mindedness in pursuing your goal, but elevated to the highest and most glorious level, is much more in tune with what Jesus said here about discipleship.
Now if you expect me to be asking you to make a decision to become a Christian then you are going to be very disappointed. I am going to tell you what Jesus told his hearers in the passage before us.
JESUS CHRIST ASKS YOU TO COUNT THE COST.
The Lord doesn’t ask his hearers to make some vague decision, about some vague kind of discipleship following a vaguely known Master. See how he has told them that eternal life and salvation and deliverance from hell is the result of coming to him. Then he explains what that coming entails. Then what does he do? Not plead with them to come, and not weep over their refusal to come, no, not here. He does that elsewhere but not here. Here he commands them, “You count the cost of following me.” It is going to be a life changing and costly decision to follow him. It will mean taking up your cross each day. Have you counted the cost?
To ram the point home Jesus tells them two stories. A man who has some grand scheme of erecting not a house but a great tower will first, Jesus says, calculate the cost before he lays the foundation lest he builds half a tower and sees he has spent every penny he’s got and what he’s left with is a folly, an incomplete building. There is no way he can complete it. It is useless for anything and he is mocked by the world for his foolishness. He failed to count the cost. There is no such thing as half a discipleship. Or again there is a story of a Prime Minister announcing that he is going to declare war on another country. How easy to work up popular patriotic feelings about fighting the enemy. Before long the boys are fighting in some distant country but then their bodies are coming home in coffins, and the months turn into years and the economy suffers, and we are losing the war and we are suing for peace to get out of the mess. The Prime Minister did not count the cost.
Do you have the desire to follow Jesus Christ? Do you have the understanding of what it means? Do you have the stamina for lifetime discipleship through hostility and sacrifice walking in the steps of the Son of God? Are you prepared for a cross? Is your commitment to Christ an educated and informed commitment? Have you worked out what it entails? Have you counted the cost? This is what Jesus does. He does not make it exciting and easy. He does not tell us all the advantages while saying nothing of the cost. In fact this is what he says, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (v.33). This is Christianity; you give to Christ everything you have, keeping back nothing, and you get from Christ all he is and all he has done. He also keeps back nothing; he blesses us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. The two movements occur at the same time; there cannot be the one without the other. We give ourselves to him. He gives himself to us.
The professing church is full of people who might come to church three times a year who yet claim to be Christians, they were confirmed with the bishop’s hands on their heads, they were baptized by an impeccably orthodox preacher, they joined a lively church and attended more often than that. All seemed good for a while, but then troubles came, trials and testings, their peer group had no time for Christianity and soon they began to change, they gave up the evening service and prayer meetings and daily Bible readings and had less and less interest in Christianity until they came to three service in an entire year and never thought about God between those occasions. They had failed to count the cost of coming to Christ. What happened? The heavenly salt that once was in their lives got more and more diluted. As Jesus says here, the salt lost its saltiness (v.34), and they were no good for the church while the superficial religiousness they still hung onto made them no good to their pals either. They were limping between two opinions. Where do they end up? On the manure pile (v.35). They are thrown out. Like the prodigal son, disdained by his moral older brother and also disdained by the people of the distant city, friendless, flavourless, walking through the pig manure – the salt that had lost its savour. Good for nothing. That’s what Jesus says, “You are good for nothing; so I’ll throw you out.”
Do you have ears? Do you have ears that hear? Do you have ears that hear what God the Son says in his word? Then hear him! Hear him when he tells us what is the nature of true discipleship, and cry mightily to him that he will deliver us from self-delusion, from fake discipleship and make us real followers of Jesus, the men and women whose privilege is to be the salt of the earth.
8th May 2011 GEOFF THOMAS