Threats to True Discipleship (Luke 14:25-35)

On March 12, 2002 Tom Ridge the head of Department of Homeland Security unveiled the Homeland Security Advisory System. It was developed in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
The system was modeled after the forest fire system which consists of 5 color-coded threat levels. The system was designed to inform the public about the probability of a terrorist attack to the United States. The color coded system consists of 5 stages: Green (Low Risk), Blue (General Risk), Yellow (Elevated Risk), Orange (High Risk) and Red (Severe Risk of Terrorist Attack). The system was effective for 9 years until the system was changed in 2011. The New Head of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, introduced the change on January 27, 2011 in a speech given at George Washington University by saying:

Today I announce the end of the old system of color-coded alerts. In its place, we will implement a new system that's built on a clear and simple premise: When a threat develops that could impact you—the public—we will tell you. We will provide whatever information we can so you know how to protect yourselves, your families, and your communities.[1]

The United States government did not want to bother the American people unless there was a serious threat to their lives.

The change reveals a serious flaw in our thinking of potential dangers. The greatest threats are not the ones we are expecting, but the threats that come without notice. In only informing our society of imminent threats, we are lulled into thinking that we are safe from all threats. There are real threats in our culture, but the greatest of these threats are the ones we are not anticipating.

Listen to what Kevin Spacey aptly states in his Academy Award winning role as villain Keyser Soze (Verbal Kint), in the Usual Suspects, when he says, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn’t exist.” When we ignore the real threats to our faith, we can be easily destroyed by them.

The United States Government informs you of a threat when it could hurt your life; similarly, the Lord Jesus informs you of the imminent threats that could destroy your faith. Jesus lists three threats in this text that could destroy true discipleship. The first threat to true discipleship is the threat of Family.

The Threat of Family
It is important to first see the context of the threats to true discipleship. Jesus has just finished a meal with the Pharisees, rebuking then for not accepting His invitation to the banquet. Now Jesus turns towards the crowds. This passage is not directly speaking to the Pharisees, but to all people who desire to follow Jesus. Luke 14:25:

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “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.

Before we dig into the specific threat, let’s zoom out and see how Jesus approaches the crowds. Jesus is not concerned with gathering crowds. He is not concerned with filling the pews. Can we learn a lesson from Jesus here? Jesus did not care about the crowds, so neither should we.

In September 2005 issue of Rev magazine, Tim Stevens and Tony Morgan of Granger Community Church in Granger, IN wrote an article which provide a number of ideas for drawing a crowd to their church which included:
  • Address specific need, such as marriages, raising families, money, fulfillment, etc.
  • Entertain people.
  • Make children a priority. Granger is well known for their incredible children’s ministry. Sponge Bob would be jealous.
  • Raise the energy level of worship. Turn up the volume.
  • Give people hope. Grace, not condemnation. People should leave challenged, but encouraged.
  • Offer multiple services regardless of how full your church is.[2]

Notice that none of their ideas involve preaching the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have to resolve in our hearts that we are not going to serve the needs of the crowds, but we are going to reach people the way Jesus reached people; calling people to repentance and faith in the gospel. Jesus did not try to attract the crowd by appealing to their desires, but by appealing to their true need. They needed the gospel; they didn’t need to be entertained. Beloved, our world does not need to be entertained, they need the gospel. What would Jesus think of the modern church’s methods of drawing a crowd? Jesus wants us to reach people. He tells us to go the highways and hedges to reach people two verses earlier in Luke 14:23. We reach people by compelling them with the gospel of Christ and not the allure of the world. 1 John 2: 15-17,

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Beloved, let us reach people, but let us do it God’s way.

Jesus uses very strong language here in verse 26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate…(his family), he cannot be my disciple.” What does he mean? The idea is not literal, but rhetorical. The call to hate simply means to love less.[3] We see this language in Genesis 29:30b-31,

He (Jacob) loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years. When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.

Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, so Moses described Leah being hated. Jacob did not hate Leah in our
modern sense, but loved her less than Rachel. Jesus is saying that if you do not love your family and even your own life less than Jesus, then you cannot be his disciple. The language is strong, but does not mean we mistreat our family. We are called to love our neighbors, even our closest neighbors, but when we come to Christ, we shift our allegiance from ourselves and our families to Christ. Jesus is the Lord over all.

Remember, for a Jew to become a Christian in the first century, it would have meant abandonment and estrangement from their families. By putting their faith in Christ, they would immediately bring reproach upon themselves. It is hard to understand in our modern southern context, but this is clearly seen in Middle East. When I was in D.C. we were part of a Bible study when our leader and his wife started to read the Bible together with a Muslim woman, Sarai. Sarai, came to faith, and upon putting her faith in Christ, she was kicked out of her home and renounced as a daughter. She made a choice to love Jesus more than her family. This is the calling of all true disciples of Jesus Christ. Our primary allegiance is to Jesus Christ and His Word.

There is a great pressure to please our families. We want to honor them. We want to have them think well of us, but we must never allow the desire to please our families to overtake our desire to please Jesus. Family is a gift from God, but it also is a threat to true discipleship. In a survey done in 2012, 603 women ages 18 years or older who would describe themselves as a Christian and had attended a Christian church service within the last 6 months (excluding holidays) were randomly selected from the 48 continental United States. 

Of those women surveyed, (all professing Christians), 53 % claim their highest priority is their family while only 16% said their highest priority was their faith in Jesus Christ. When asked to define themselves, 63% called themselves a mother or parent first, while only 13% claimed themselves as a follower of Christ[4].

These studies could reveal that most women primarily see their role as a disciple of Christ in their role of a mother, but it also may reveal that family has become an idol. David Kinnamen responds to this survey with a series of questions that would be good to ask ourselves:

Has raising children and doing it well become central to the definition of being a good Christian? What happens to a mom who struggles in her role as a parent or to a woman who wants to but cannot become (or never becomes) a parent? Are these women somehow perceived as less Christian by fellow believers? Could a grace-based theology of faith in Christ be undermined if many Christians embrace a parallel works-based theology when it comes to their parenting[5]?

Regardless of what roles we have within our families, we must heed Jesus’ warning, “if you come to Me and do not love Me more than your family, you cannot be my disciple.” The first threat to true discipleship is the threat of loving family more than Christ. The second threat is that of comfort.

The Threat of Comfort

Jesus continues in verse 27, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” We hear the refrain again, “cannot be my disciple.” Jesus says we must bear our cross. Jesus again speaks to the crowd, not offering them a new ipad for following him, but an object of torture. If you want to come after me, you must bear a public execution to your former way of life. Listen to scholar Darrell Bock,

“Cross-bearing publicly displayed a person’s submission to the state. The criminal rebelled against the state, and so bore the penalty of punishment from it. Cross-bearing was a visible, public affair that visualized a person’s humility before the state. Thus, the fundamental idea is of submitting to the authority of another—in this case God.[6]

Jesus is asking for complete and total submission. He is asking for his disciples to walk the way of the cross. The Christian life is not one of ease or comfort, but it is a call to die.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor/theologian who on April 5th, 1943 was arrested for an assassination plot against Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer was safe in America when the war began, but returned to Germany to serve his countrymen. In a letter to Reinhold Niebuhr, Bonhoeffer wrote the, “finest logic of Christian martyrdom. I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.” 

Bonhoeffer lived out what he preached, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” And die Bonhoeffer did. He was executed on April 9th, 1945 only a few days before the Allies liberated his concentration camp. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. Die to your comfort. Die to your desires. Die to your way of life. God calls you to walk the road of the cross. This is the road that our Savior walked.

Jesus is calling us to submit to His authority whatever comes our way. 1 Peter 2:20-23,

But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Bonhoeffer knew that he was not called to walk any other way, but the way of his master. Jesus did nothing wrong and yet he died in the place of sinners. His bore our sins in His body. And in His death, he purchased our life. We are no longer our own, but belong completely and fully to Christ. We have no rights, but to joyfully and willfully submit to the Word of our Master.

Do we want temporal comfort more than Christ? Do we want temporal pleasures more than eternal glory? Are we willing to walk the road of earthly suffering so we can experience heavenly joy? God has not promised us worldly comfort, but rather worldly strife. This destroys our seeker-sensitive, consumer-driven, crowd-gathering church culture. The call to Christ is not a call to your own way and your own desires, but it is a call to lay down your comforts for the sake of others. Suffering forces us to grow. Suffering and bearing with people forces us to grow in holiness, in love and in patience. Comfort leads to complacency. Our comfort hinders our growth. The entire Christian life is a life of growing into Christ-likeness, therefore we should not desire a comfort which stagnates our growth. We should challenge our comfort so we can grow into Him who is the head. It has been often said that the role of a preacher, “is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Do not seek after comfort, for it is a threat to true discipleship. Heed the warning of Jesus, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” The last threat to true discipleship that Jesus highlights is the threat of possessions.

The Threat of Possessions

Jesus illustrates this point with two parables before offering the application. Luke 14:28-33,

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Both of these parables express the idea of counting the costs before making a decision. The first parable references those who begin to build to make sure that they have enough to complete the building. For if they
do not finish the building they will be mocked by those who pass by the structure. Westminster Abbey is one of the most famous and beautiful churches in all of England. Surprisingly, the mother church for all Catholicism in the country is not held by Westminster Abbey, but the Westminster Cathedral which began construction in 1895 and has still not been completed because the interior work was too expensive. Before you start, you should have a plan to finish. As it is with your relationship with Christ, consider if you are really willing to give up all before you come to him. He would rather have you cold towards him, then to be lukewarm in your devotion. Following Jesus is not a casual decision, but one that deserves serious contemplation.

In the second parable, Jesus points out another situation where a king would first consider his forces and the possibility of victory before entering into war against a stronger opponent. Jesus sums up the parable in the first three words, “Or what king?” It is clear from the parable that there would be no king foolish enough to engage in war without first seriously deliberating over the possible outcome. In verse 33, Jesus drives his point home to the crowd, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Do you see how Jesus is asking people to think about the true cost of discipleship? He does not want half-hearted, band-wagon followers. He wants people who are willing to give up all they have!! Jesus is expecting you to renounce all that you have… so what do you have? What do you possess: Money, houses, clothing, friends, vocations, reputations, status, hobbies, even your life? When you come to Jesus Christ, he expects you to renounce it all. All your possessions are now to be used for God’s glory and God’s mission to make disciples of the nations.

And although it seems like God is asking you to give up a lot (“all that he has”), he offers so much more. You renounce temporal, fleeting pleasures, and receive eternal life with eternal pleasures at his right hand forevermore. You renounce your home that will rust, spoil, and fade, but receive a heavenly home that is unblemished, undefiled and unfading. And Jesus is not asking you to give up any more than He has already given up. He stepped out of eternal glory to take the form of servant to die and be forsaken by His Father…for you. In response to that kind of love, count the costs of coming to Christ, and the choice will be easy. He offers you His “forever,” but you have to give up your “present.”

In 1519, Hernan Cortes arrived with 600 men on the shores of America. Cortes came at the behest of the Spanish King to defeat the Aztec and bring their treasure back to Spain. After arriving on shore, Cortes intentionally sank all of their ships, but one ship which was left for their war plunder. Before sinking the ships, they removed all necessary materials for housing and for war. These 600 men where left in a strange land with no opportunity to escape. They had one option: victory or death. Cortes wrote later that his men, “had nothing to rely on, apart from his own hands, and the assurance that they would conquer and win the land, or die in the attempt. We’re all in and there’s no turning back.[7] Cortes modeled for us the level of commitment that Jesus is expecting from us. The only difference is Jesus wants you to destroy the last ship as well. For if, “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus concludes his warning to the crowd in verse 34-35,

Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Salt had a purpose to preserve and to give flavor for food. If salt no longer could serve its purpose, it was thrown away for it was of no use. Every person is created in the image of God and has a purpose. Every person was created to give God glory (Col 1:16). Jesus wants us to live for his glory, but if we love family more than faith, comfort more than the cross, possessions more than praise, then we cannot be his disciples and will one day be thrown away.

Jesus does not want half-hearted followers. He does not want lukewarm Christians. He wants your all. He deserves your all for He gave His all for you. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

[1] Ryan, Jason; Thomas, Pierre (January 27, 2011). "Color Coded Terror Alerts Retired by Department of Homeland Security". ABC News (ABC News Internet Ventures).
[3] Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke: 9:51–24:53 (Vol. 2). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. P.1284
[6][6] Bock, D. L. (1994). Luke Volume 1: 1:1–9:50. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (p. 853). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.