This is the hardest thing about being a disciple of Jesus

May 26, 2020

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Following Jesus is costly. In Luke 14, Jesus says that if we don't count the cost from the beginning, we won't be able to be his disciple. This message is rarely heard in Western Christianity because we've lost the hope and expectation that first century Jews had for the future.


Hey everyone, it’s Josh. I want to talk for a few minutes about being a disciple of Jesus. There’s certain passages in the Bible that are really challenging and I want to talk about one of those today. Words like this expose our “self-protective” reflexes, but I hope they cut you to the heart as much as they have for me. In Luke 14 starting at verse 26 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.“

As people living far away from the world of Jesus, both in time and in place, this sounds pretty strange to us, but that’s because the idea of “hate” in this context is not what we think it is. The parallel passage in Matthew 10 says “if you love your mother or father more than me”. So hatred in this context is not bitterness or unforgiveness, but rather to be loyal or love something or someone less. And there are other examples throughout the scriptures that make this clear, like in Genesis 29 when Jacob is said to have “hated” his first wife Leah, but in reality he just loved Rachel more than Leah. Interestingly enough, in the first century, loving Jesus more than someone’s own family had financial implications, because of inheritance and land and these kinds of things were passed down. So you’d potentially be setting yourself up for a really difficult future if you were loyal to Jesus above your own family.

But the next phrase that Jesus says is pretty important. He says “if you don’t love me more than your family or even your own life, you cannot be my disciple.” Again, in English this is a bit difficult, but Jesus is not saying “I won’t allow you to be my disciple”. The Greek word here is related to the word “power” like in Acts 1 when Jesus says “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you”. The word in Greek here in Luke 14 means “ability”, so it’s probably better translated as “you are not able to be my disciple”. So Jesus is saying “if you don’t love me more than your own family or even your own life, you are not able to be my disciple”. Why? Because Jesus showed and embodied for his disciples the path to walk - which is to disavow loyalty to this present evil age and set your hope fully on God’s vindication in the resurrection.

Now Jesus goes in in verse 27: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

This is familiar language to a first century Jew because they lived under Roman oppression, and the Romans had invented crucifixion and made it a common death for insurrectionists and anyone who would stand up against the authority of the empire. So the idea of carrying your cross is referencing you actually bringing it to your own public crucifixion. Of course this what Jesus himself does later in Luke’s gospel. So what’s Jesus’ point here? He’s saying “if you don’t accept martyrdom, if you don’t accept that being my disciple is going to cost you everything, you won’t be able to be my disciple.” He’s not saying that they should go be suicide bombers by any means, but that there will be a massive cost to someone’s life in this age if they want to actually be his disciple.

Jesus continues in verse 28:

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.

So what about this guy who builds the tower? He starts to build it, everyone of his friends and family and acquaintances see him building it, then he builds the foundation but couldn’t finish it because he hadn’t counted the cost from the beginning. This would have been pretty impactful for Jesus’ hearers in the first century because culture back in the day was an honor/shame culture, and it would have been socially shameful to have others seeing you fall short of what you set yourself to do. So Jesus is saying that if you didn’t make the commitment to begin with, then you won’t be able to finish. Again, “you’re not going to be able to be my disciple to the end unless you accept from the beginning that it’s going to cost you everything.”

So what does this matter for a 21st century Gentile who wants to be a disciple of Jesus? Well, we can read the apostle Paul’s letters to Gentiles back in his day where he writes things like “imitate me as I imitate Christ”, from 1 Corinthians 11. Or “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus”, from Philippians 2. We can look at Paul’s life and the life of those early Gentile disciples of Jesus and expect the words of Jesus in Luke 14 to have significant meaning for us today as well. To be a follower of Jesus and to run the race as Paul says in 2 Timothy 4 is to expect what he said just a chapter before in 2 Timothy 3: “that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”. Peter also would say in one of his letters to some Jewish disciples experiencing persecution: “why are you freaking out as if something strange is happening to you? This is what we told you from the beginning, that it would be costly to follow Jesus.”

Friends, this isn’t radical, this is normal, and this has become so lost in Western Christianity. It seems absurd in the West that there is any sort of cost to follow Jesus, and often times when the gospel is presented, it comes across as “Jesus loves you so much, just invite him into your life and you can be free and go to heaven when you die”. It’s like we just say a prayer and have some Jesus in our heart and expect our circumstances to be better or our body to be healed or life to just get a lot easier. But we can’t domesticate these words, we have to ponder them and let them have their intended effect in our minds and hearts. That if someone wants to be a disciple, it means counting the cost now. And it means that if you don’t decide that it’s going to cost you everything, then you won’t finish or you’ll be offended and angry when you discover that there’s a cost involved. Like when the breakthrough you’ve been looking for doesn’t come, when your friend group rejects you because of your stance on this issue or that issue because of your loyalty to Jesus, or when suffering comes your way as a result of your obedience, or people mistreat you or slander you or falsely accuse you, that you don’t fight back to regain your reputation or your lost money or whatever or you don’t seek to bring vengeance on those who did you wrong, but instead you commit yourself to him who will judge righteously on the day of the Lord. And even when things are going well and life is easy, you realize that there’s no formula to preserve that awesomeness and you remember that this age is full of sin and wickedness and brokenness and it will be until Jesus returns. And so in both situations, you set your hope fully on the age to come, embracing the difficulty and pain and stigma of living for that day, and you deny your fleshly lusts of pride and greed and sexual immorality and bitterness and position and power and influence and contentment and ease for the sake of bearing witness to Jesus. Guys, Jesus said that difficulties in this age would come. Some will even lose their lives because of their loyalty to Jesus. Everything on the scale of misunderstanding to martyrdom is fair game for a disciple. If we don’t accept that it will cost us everything, then we won’t finish. It doesn’t matter what this pastor says or that pastor says, Jesus is the one who sets the standard. And if we don’t embrace this from the beginning, we’ll get to a point when the cost is shoved in our face and we won’t finish. We don’t want to get to the end after having said “I’m all in!” and have to give up on it all because of the cost.

We just need to let Jesus’ words pierce us here. But may we also let what he said in Matthew 19:29 reassure us:

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.

As I’ve mentioned on some of my other videos and as I’ll say on more in the future, eternal life should be seen here as a first century Jew would have understood it - not floating on a cloud playing a harp in an endless singalong in the sky, but as having a resurrected body that never dies living on this earth with the Jewish messiah Jesus reigning from Jerusalem over the rest of the nations in righteousness and justice. The more that this certain hope is clear and defined, the more it makes sense to live for that day and anticipate our resurrection and vindication on the day of Christ Jesus. And so I think one of the main reasons why this message of costly discipleship is not often understood or taken seriously in the West is because we’ve largely lost this first century perspective on the future, and we’ve left “hope” as a general expectation of something good without really defining what that hope is. The Day of the Lord and the age to come was the driver for discipleship for the apostles. Without a real day of judgment and a real reward of eternal life in a resurrected body in the age to come, to repent and live as Jesus calls us to loses its urgency quickly. So in future videos I want to talk about this a lot. It only makes sense to give up everything and count the cost in this age if we have a clear hope of vindication and reward and resurrection for the age to come.

Amen. If this was helpful or encouraging, hit that like button, and subscribe to my channel if you haven’t yet because I’ll be talking much more on this. I made an earlier video on discipleship and self-denial that might also interest you, so check out the link in the description below. Well, God bless, and maranatha.

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