“Discipleship” (Luke 14:25-35)
Today’s Gospel lesson is about discipleship, about being a disciple of Jesus. A disciple is one who learns from a teacher, one who follows the teachings of a particular instructor. In the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, some people would seek out a rabbi and choose to be his disciple. If the teacher was a traveling man, then his disciples would follow him wherever he went.
With Jesus, it was different. HE is the one who did the choosing. “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” (John 15:16) Jesus said to the Twelve. He is the one who called people to be his disciples and told them to follow him to hear his words and watch his works.
OUR DIFFICULT DISCIPLESHIP
But discipleship is difficult. That’s why he turned to the huge crowds that were following him and said some difficult words. He wanted them to know exactly what it would mean for them to be his disciples.
Here in a nutshell is what Jesus told them: Hate your family. Hate your life. Bear your cross, that is, be prepared to suffer and die. Count the cost and finish the job. Renounce all you have.
Those are some difficult words. They are difficult because of our difficult nature…our SINFUL nature. Who of us can truly say we have done all of these things which Jesus says?
When Jesus says hate your family, we must remember how Jesus often exaggerated to make a point. Elsewhere, Jesus tells us to love everyone, even our enemies and those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). Part of our vocation as members of our family is to love them. So what is Jesus saying here? When Jesus says to hate your own father and mother and wife and children and so on, he is talking about setting priorities and not letting anything get in the way of our relationship to him. When Jesus says hate your life, he is not telling you to have a death wish or to be suicidal. Again it is a matter of priorities. Do you love your life more than Christ? When Jesus says to renounce all you have, he is not telling you to go live on the street and become a beggar. We can give thanks to God for our possessions and be good stewards of what God has given us, even returning a portion to him out of thanksgiving. But in our hearts we must always recognize that, as Luther said, “We are beggars, this is true.” All that we have is an undeserved gift from God, even our possessions.
And so, the question becomes: Are you willing to not let anything or anyone hinder your being a follower of Jesus? Are your wants or needs more important than what God says in his Word?
When Jesus says to bear your own cross, he is asking, “Will you gladly suffer—even die—for me?” Remember what the cross meant to people of that day. It was an instrument of torture and death.
And then Jesus tells the parables about counting the cost of building a tower and the king who must consider whether his army is strong enough to win a battle. With these parables, Jesus wants to know: Are you able to finish what you started? Can you hang in there until the end? Are you really strong enough to be my disciple? Or do you hear that mocking voice inside your head that says, “You started out pretty good as a Christian. But look at you now. Look what you’ve done. You are not going to be able to finish the job. What will Christ say about you when he returns?”
Discipleship is a serious business. It is not easy. It is difficult. And when we measure ourselves up to this difficult discipleship that Jesus displays, we have to admit that discipleship is denied to us. Jesus says, “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… any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” We are not fit to be disciples of Jesus. And therefore we must repent.
CHRIST’S LOVING LEADERSHIP
We must repent and turn from our denial of discipleship and turn to Christ’s loving leadership. Follow the Leader, if you will. Follow the Leader to the cross…to HIS cross. Where you and I have failed to bear our own cross…where you and I have avoided suffering for the sake of Christ…Jesus bore his own cross for you.
Jesus counted the cost. He knew that the cost would be his own life in exchange for yours. Scripture says, He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification, (Rom. 4:25) In a way, it’s like some of Paul’s words to Philemon. Paul is asking Philemon to receive Onesimus, his runaway slave, back as a brother in Christ. Paul offers this to Philemon: “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” In a similar way, all that you and I owe to God has been charged to Christ’s account. Because of Christ, our account now says, “Paid in full.”
Jesus was also strong enough to go out to battle with our enemy. It appeared at first as though he was not strong enough…the Son of God, God in the flesh, became weak and allowed himself to be brutally murdered. All the forces of hell were marshaled against him. Like the king in the parable, Jesus was certainly outnumbered: Satan and all his demonic horde was against him, with the sins of the world piled upon him, and the crowd at his trial and crucifixion mocking him. And like the builder in the parable, all who saw Jesus hanging there on the cross mocked him. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe." (Mark 15:31-32) It was as if they were saying, “This man thought he was out to build the kingdom of God, but he was not able to finish.”
But Jesus did finish the job… “It is finished,” he said from the cross. The eternal price for the punishment of your sins and mine was paid for all eternity with the eternal blood of the eternal Christ. It was through his shed blood that we are forgiven, so that we can be his disciples, his followers. It was through his weakness that we are made strong. St. Paul wrote, [The Lord] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
So, follow the Leader…to the cross. And follow the Leader…to the font. You bear the cross of Christ in Baptism. It was in Baptism that you were marked with the sign of the cross. Christ’s cross becomes your cross. Cling to that cross where Jesus paid the price for your sins. You have died to sin and you have risen to newness of life as a disciple of Jesus. On our own, we are unworthy to be called a disciple of Christ. But Christ has washed away your sins and through water and the Word makes you to be his disciples. That’s what the Great Commission is all about. Jesus told His Church, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”…and then he says how disciples are made… “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Whatever cross now may come your way, whatever way in which you may suffer because you are a baptized disciple of Jesus, that cross now becomes much lighter to bear because of the cross of Christ. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” says our Lord.
Follow the Leader…to the cross. And follow the Leader…to the altar. Eat the fruit of the cross in Holy Communion. Be fed and nourished week after week with the precious body and blood of the Innocent Lamb of God. Sit down and enjoy table fellowship with him as he comes to you to strengthen you to be that salty, preservative, seasoning influence which he calls his disciples to be in the world.
And finally, follow the Leader…as victorious soldiers of the cross. “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going as before.” Our enemies of sin, death, and hell are indeed stronger than we are. But Jesus is stronger than our enemies. He defeated our enemies in his death and resurrection. And he gives us the armor of grace to wear and to stand up and follow him…the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace on our feet, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. (Eph 6:10-17)
On our own, discipleship is difficult. Because of our sin, discipleship is denied to us. But we have a loving Leader who leads us to his cross and his empty tomb. We have a loving Leader who forgives us and who through His powerful Word calls us and makes us to be his disciples. “You did not choose me,” Jesus said, “but I chose you.” (John 15:16) We can “follow the Leader”…walking in the footsteps of grace…living in God’s love and forgiveness…renouncing all that would hinder our discipleship…calling others into the Kingdom by faith in Christ…and knowing that because Jesus “finished the job” for us, we now can endure unto the end. You can say right along with St. Paul, having endured unto the end, and facing the end of his earthly life, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:7-8)