“Being a Disciple of Jesus” (Luke 14:25-35)
Our world is full of teachers and students, leaders and followers. There are all kinds of masters and gurus, senseis and sifus who wish to impart knowledge and wisdom to their disciples. Many voices. Many choices. Whose teaching will you listen to? Who will you follow? In whom will you trust?
When you are a disciple of a certain teacher or expert, you follow what they teach. You do what they do. You live the way they live. If you follow a certain nutritional expert who tells you to eat this and not that, drink this and not that … you’ll do it. If you follow a spiritual guru who tells you to meditate, do yoga, repeat mantras over and over again to achieve balance, wholeness, wellness, and enlightenment … you’ll do it. If you follow a motivational speaker who tells you if you think positive, speak positive affirmations, then you’ll attract success and wealth to yourself … you’ll do it.
Being in close proximity to a teacher is also often part of being a disciple. It’s not enough just to read their books or watch their videos. You want to go to conferences and seminars where they will be speaking. You want to hear them in person, to sit at their feet and soak in their wisdom.
“Great crowds accompanied” Jesus, our text says. Not unlike the great crowds that follow all the teachers and masters and so-called experts in our world today. But compared to what Jesus says in our text, their instructions are easy. Being a disciple of Jesus is hard. In fact, it’s next to impossible. This is what he made clear to the great crowds who accompanied him. The crowds were coming out to see a miracle worker. Someone who would give them bread and raise their dead. The promised prophet who would restore Israel to its former glory. And so Jesus wanted to teach the crowds what they were getting themselves in to, if they really wanted to follow him.
I suppose you might say that “great crowds” accompany Jesus today, too. Many people claim him as their teacher and master. But do they really consider the radical nature of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus? Do they stop to consider his exclusive claims? The “great crowds” surrounding Jesus today feel free to pick and choose what they like about his words in the Bible and reject what doesn’t sit well with them.
Listen to these high standards placed on the disciple of Jesus. Hate your family. Hate your own life. Bear your own cross. Renounce all you have. How does that sit with you? Probably not well. It probably didn’t sit well with his first hearers either.
Now, Jesus is not calling you to hate your family in the way we think of hatred. After all, Jesus elsewhere tells us to love everyone … both our neighbor whom we like and our enemy whom our sinful self would rather see dead. In those days, this was a way of saying to prefer one over another. To reorder your priorities. Love Jesus above all else … more than your family, more than yourself.
Furthermore, Jesus teaches those who would follow him to pick up their cross. Be willing to put your life on the line for Jesus. Before you set out as a follower of Jesus, count the cost. Finish what you started. And live a salty life. Be a seasoning and preserving influence in your world.
Following in Jesus’ footsteps, though, we often trip and fall. Our feet stumble over sinful obstacles in the way. Our feet get tired, and we lag far behind. We get lazy or give up following him altogether. We do not finish what we started. We take our eyes off of Jesus and his Word and we lose our sense of direction. We do not love him more than our family or ourself. We hesitate to put our life on the line for Jesus. And we certainly have a hard time renouncing all we have, all these nice things we’ve accumulated.
If you don’t do what a motivational speaker tells you to do … if you can’t follow what a mystical guru teaches you … no big deal. Just go out and find another teacher. Learn to be a disciple of someone else. But we don’t have that choice with Jesus. He is our only Master. And there are eternal consequences if you are not a perfect disciple. If you are not a follower of Jesus, you are not a part of his Kingdom. Not now. Not ever. You will not sit at the eternal wedding banquet reserved for those who were faithful disciples of Jesus in this life. Like salt that has lost its flavor, you’re not even fit for the manure pile. Jesus never pulls any punches, does he?
The great crowds, even his own disciples, abandoned Jesus in his final hours. The great crowds whittled down to One, solitary, faithful Keeper of the Law, only One who loved his Heavenly Father and loved his neighbor perfectly. Jesus lived up to his own high standards for us. Jesus hated his own life and preferred ours to his own and in so doing gained our salvation. Jesus was all alone at the cross with the punishment for our sins placed upon him. He bore that cross so we don’t have to. He counted the cost, and the cost was the price of his shed blood. Jesus was mocked in the process, because it didn’t look like he was able to finish what he started. But he certainly was able. “It is finished,” Jesus said. What looked like defeat was in reality victory. His life, death, and resurrection is the solid foundation upon which the Church is built and in which you and I are placed as living stones in this spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:5).
Jesus went out against the hordes of hell, not with twenty thousand, not with ten thousand, but all alone … and won! No terms of peace were offered to the devil who would seek to draw us away from the Kingdom of God. But Jesus won our peace with God. He forgives us for our far from perfect discipleship. And now he seasons our life with grace and hope and preserves our life unto eternity.
Being a disciple of Jesus is not something we choose on our own. It is a gift and a calling. In the ancient world, you picked out who you wanted to have as a teacher. This is not unlike our world today with all the assorted choices and popular voices you could choose to follow.
But Jesus chooses you, just like he told his first disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). You became a disciple of Jesus, not when you decided to follow him, but when you were baptized and connected to his Word and Spirit. Disciples are made by baptizing and teaching, as Jesus said to the apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, 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” (Matt. 28:19-20). Your discipleship was initiated by Jesus. You are connected to him and his teaching. You follow him in your baptism. In baptism, where Jesus went, you go, too. At the font, you followed him to the cross where your sins were taken from you and laid upon Jesus. At the font, your sins were placed with Jesus into the tomb, buried, done, dead. At the font, you came forth from the tomb, risen to a new life of faith and trust and forgiveness and salvation through Jesus.
As Christ’s chosen disciples, you can abide in his Word. Jesus said in John 8, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). In this way, you sit at his feet and listen carefully to what our Master teaches us. You adopt his teaching as your way of life … a life of repentance, trust, forgiveness, love for God, love for your neighbor, humbling yourself and sacrificially serving others.
Jesus promised that he would be with us always (Matt. 28:20), so you can be assured that you can remain in close proximity to your Master. Jesus lives in each and every believer (Gal. 2:20). He has given the Holy Spirit to dwell in each believer and among his Church (Rom. 8:9, 11; 1 Cor. 3). And the closest you can be to your Master on this side of heaven is when you kneel here and eat and drink his true body and true blood. Here your teacher continues to give of himself for you and comes to you and empowers your life as his disciple.
Each day, now, you can reorder your priorities … loving your family properly by loving them in the right order … Jesus first, all others second. To love your family by loving Jesus first is the best way to love your family.
Each day you can count the cost … and remember that Jesus already paid the price for your discipleship.
Each day you can renounce all you have … because all you have belongs to God in the first place.
Each day you can pick up your cross and live a life of sacrifice. Put the needs of others before your own. If need be, truly put your life on the line for others. This is a real possibility in a world that is increasingly hostile to true, confessing Christians. Jesus spoke of the potential for suffering and persecution and said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matt. 10:24-25). In other words, if it happened to Jesus, don’t be surprised if it happens to you.
And finally, be salty. Live a salty life. Sprinkle grace here. Hope over there. Peace and forgiveness there. Mercy in this place. Compassion over there.
This world is passing away. But as a salty disciple, you can also act as a preserving influence. Tell the Good News of the forgiveness of sins to those whose lives are passing away so they, too, might come to faith in Christ Jesus … so they might be preserved in faith in Christ into eternity.