Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Cost of Discipleship
Luke 14, verses 25 through 35 contains more enigmatic statements per verse than almost anywhere in the gospels. If you read over this section and just took it without thought or context, you’d conclude that you needed to hate your family, get crucified, earn lots of money so you can finish that tower (whatever that means!), sue for peace with your enemy, hate your possessions, and above all make sure you have salt that’s, well, salty.
Going back to Chapter 9, verse 51 – Jesus “determined to journey to Jerusalem.” This was all part of His plan to save the world singlehandedly by His death at the hands of man on a cross in God’s chosen city. On the way He parried with the religious leaders of the day, who had coopted God’s religion and made into a man-serving, rule-based country club. He told the leaders in no uncertain terms that they were hypocrites—seemingly pure on the outside while totally evil on the inside—and that unless they humbled themselves and realized the sin that filled them and the God that could show them mercy—they stood no chance of seeing His kingdom and sitting down at His heavenly banquet.
Now Jesus turns His attention to the masses. There are two important things for us to consider here:
1) these people are either not committed to Him or don’t understand what that means. They are “hangers on”, or “groupies”. Jesus is “giving it to the man” and the crowds love it. But they don’t realize why He came, what He is going to do, or what He calls them to do in response. They don’t know they are “dead men walking” in sin and in desperate need of a Savior.
2) Jesus is not a “bait and switch” salesman. He isn’t going to promise an easy path with no commitments and all the benefits. Jesus will lay it out as straight as He can in the following six statements.
Let’s take them one at a time.
25 – 26
You can imagine the scene. Jesus is like a popular political figure or a famous actor or rock star. Everyone wants to be around Him. He performs miracles like healing disease, casting out demons and providing food, and stands up to the tough guys in charge of Judaism. You wanted to identify with Him because He was your ticket to a full belly, a healthy body, and freedom from oppression.
Jesus is no doubt wondering and worried about their motivation. Just what do they think “following” Him is like—signing up for a new political party with someone from outside the Jerusalem Beltway? So at some point He turns and gives these people the terms of engagement. If you’re going to follow Him, really consider what that means.
You know, we talk a lot about becoming a disciple of Jesus. We ask people all the time to let Jesus into their heart. But it is important that the choice be made with full awareness and volition. And that’s what we learn in these statements of Christ.
The first is this idea of hating your own family and even your own life. Without that, Jesus says, you “cannot be My disciple.” Jesus is of course not calling us to feel hatred towards our family or ourselves. Why would He say “love the Lord your God … and your neighbor as yourself”? He’s talking about two things here: loyalty and priority. Who is number 1 in your life? Who do you listen to first? If there’s a conflicting set of values or priorities, whose do you follow? The question is: who you are really loyal to—yourself and your earthly relations, or to God and His kingdom?
Jesus says you can’t be My disciple unless you put Me first and in comparison to your love for Me you “hate” yourself and your family. And sometimes it is a stark choice. Members of the crowds who chose Jesus often gave up their families. They were disowned. Some even gave up their lives in service as a disciple. Their love for God and their loyalty to Him was that great. Is yours? If your family forced you to choose—shamed you and threatened you—would you bow to their pressure? What if someone actually threatened your life? Would you recant? Now I’m saying that we all need to be superheroes. But you can really test the meddle of a true disciple when the really hard choices come. Just ask Rachael Joy Scott, who was just eating lunch on the lawn at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. She was approached by killers who were rampaging her high school and asked a simple question: “Do you believe in God?” Rachael, a disciple of Jesus, knew her answer would mean death, but she said “yes” and became the Columbine killers first victim. We don’t all have to face that choice, but it’s good to think about it as you consider that choice whether to serve Jesus.
Verse 27 is interesting. We hear it and understand what it means in terms of the cross of Christ. But those hearing this the first time would not have had that context. What they knew of the cross was a means of torture and execution by the Roman occupiers. It meant they were cursed according the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 21:23). In light of the previous verses I think a good way to understand this is to place yourself in the sandals of one forced to “lift” their cross.
They are condemned. Lifting the cross is like after the last meal on death row when the guards come to escort you to the death chamber. In terms of crucifixion, you are walking the last feet before you go up on that cross and get lifted up in the air to die—and are actually carrying or “lifting” the death chamber on your own shoulders. Nothing here in this world is of any more concern. You aren’t planning your next dinner party or wondering how you will make money tomorrow. Your life becomes very focused. There needs to come a place in everyone’s life that they realize there is nothing more important than having a relationship with the King Jesus.
“To bear” is an interesting word. In addition to “lift” the word means: “to endure, declare, sustain and receive”. It’s not that we just “identify” with Jesus. We receive Him as our Lord; we declare our loyalty to Him; we sustain that commitment and endure whatever trials and persecution come our way, knowing that in the end we will be with Him and in utter joy forever.
Further, Jesus says we must “come after” Him. So it’s not the idea of just taking on trouble or leaving behind worldly things in the absence of a direction. You can’t get to heaven by being an ascetic. You follow, and come under the authority of Jesus. That’s why the Romans forced the condemned to carry their cross. It was a public sign of submission to the authority of Rome.
At this point you might be saying “man, this is heavy!” But let me quote Jesus talking about the burden He lays on us:
Matthew 11:28-30 (HCSB) “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
You see, in the end, the burden of this age—of always having to prove yourself, of having to get more and be more powerful and sustain all the stuff—that’s so much more of a burden than to let Jesus be a co-burden-bearer. That’s the idea of a yoke—it was in pairs. And who do you think does all the heavy lifting—you?
So next Jesus uses two parables to speak to the fact that we need to be ready to take up that cross, that burden of being a disciple. It’s not a light matter or something we just feel like doing today then change our mind tomorrow.
28 – 33
Jesus uses two illustrations of things with which the people would have had some familiarity. Building a watchtower over your property was not a cheap venture. If you didn’t have the capitol to complete it, having a half-finished project would just open you to ridicule. Count the cost and make sure you have enough to carry it through. For a general, unless he has some special weapons or tactics is not going to win the battle over a force twice his size. So instead of being foolish and charging into battle anyway and face the chance of total defeat, he makes an offer that will satisfy his enemy and avoid war.
What’s the point? Don’t enter into discipleship lightly. Now this is not saying that you must know you are going to be a successful, highly fruitful warrior for God able to leap tall buildings in a single prayer. But don’t be a weekend warrior for God. Discipleship is not a hobby. And a light commitment will not be adequate to the task. Jesus wants all of you. Period.
The idea here of saying “good-bye” to your possessions I think means that you let go of what possesses first place in your life. On your way to the death chamber your 60” flat screen means nothing. We should have light fingers on the people and things and positions of this age. First place belongs to Jesus. We will have struggles and doubts, but like I tell people in marriage counseling: marriage is a commitment, not a feeling. I can’t wake up and decide I don’t feel like being married today. So too, we can’t wake up and decide not to be a disciple.
34 - 35
The final thought of Jesus is right along the lines of His previous statements. Apparently Palestinian salt can leach out of the salt crystals, making it useless as a fertilizer or a catalyst for burning manure. The point is: why call yourself a disciple if you don’t want to commit your life to Jesus. Putting the label “Christian” on yourself is just as meaningless as putting sand in a jar and labeling it salt. I don’t think Jesus is talking about losing your salvation here. He’s saying we need to be authentic disciples, not make-believe Christians.
Jesus ends with: “Listen up!” “Pay attention!”. Let this soak in and if you haven’t considered what it really means to be a disciple, now’s the time to do so.
So what is the cost of discipleship? First let’s talk about 4 things it is not:
- It is not not earning your way into God’s favor by good works
- It is not knowing the Bible or theology but knowing God
- It is not joining a church but marrying a Savior
- It is not learning how to act like a Christian but letting Christ act in and through you
- It is the simple to see yet difficult to stick with chore of relentlessly and systematically putting Him in first place, pushing aside those things that will tend to crowd back in front.
- Don’t feel that this makes God unapproachable. The way is narrow but wide open. It may be a difficult choice but it’s the right choice
- But understand that coming to Jesus means leaving something behind. You can’t love sin and the values of this age and love God. The two are mutually exclusive.
- Your choice may cost you everything, yet because God’s choice to send His Son to die for you was His giving everything precious to Him—you will get much more back than you will ever give up.