In Luke 14:26-35 Jesus turns to the multitude of weary, shepherdless sheep that have been following Him and fires off a Gatling gun of impossible demands. “Set aside your wife, children, mother and father. Bear your cross, count the cost, renounce all that you have.”
The demands of Jesus for loyalty are total. He is the Lord of Lords. But if we try and deal with those demands all at once we are quickly overwhelmed.
How does God expect us to apply such impossible commands?
One battle at a time. One moment at a time.
Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:34)
And sufficient is God’s grace to meet us at each and every turn (Philippians 4:19).
Back to Luke, and to the impossible commands Jesus now makes on those following him.
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. (Luke 14:26-27)
If we read the word, “hate” here with our Oxford dictionary in hand, we are likely to miss the point. Oftentimes in scripture, the word is not used to describe a feeling or state of mind, but to designate someone or something as an enemy.
Abraham was told that he would possess the gates of his enemies (Genesis 22:17). This promise from God was later passed down to Rebekah and her children who were assured that they would, “possess the gates of those who hate him” (Genesis 24:60).
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord. I count them as my enemies (Psalm 139:21)
To hate here is not a feeling of rage or disdain. To hate in this context is to count them as an enemy. I am to count as an enemy anything that would seek to steal my gaze when I should be following Jesus. I am to count as an enemy, anything that would attempt to weasel its way in between me and my Lord and Saviour.
When the television beckons me to come and watch reruns of Gilligans Island, leaving my wife to take care of the bills, there and then the loyalty of the soldier is tested. There and then I am to count Gilligan as an enemy.
When money calls me down to the office when I ought to be at church, there, at that moment, the battle of my heart is to be fought and won—in favour of the Lordship of Jesus over Mammon.
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.’ (Luke 14:28-29)
If I began to contemplate how I am going to feed my family every day over the course of a lifetime the task (and the contemplation of it) becomes impossible. I would not know how to begin to count the cost of such an endeavour.
What makes obedience possible is insuring there is food on the table right now, instead of freezing up trying to work out what I’m going to feed them 10 years from now.
Many of us are tempted and soon exhausted by demands that are not directly in front of us. We are tempted to go on crusades we are not called to undertake and obey commands that Christ has not made.
I am responsible for the Mars bar wrapper on the ground in front of me right now. I am not responsible for lowering the core temperature of the planet. I am responsible to Jesus for the welfare of my kids today. Not wrestling a televised pandemic to the ground.
And when my family is off for an exciting day at the beach and I have the needs of the sheep on my shoulder and the Spirit of God drawing me into solitude and prayer, there, right there, I am to pick up my cross.
There, in front of me, and not somewhere else, obedience to His demands becomes possible (Matthew 13:30).
It is also there, and not somewhere else, that I will find the grace to carry the cross He has given me. And, having lifted the thing up, I am to head toward Jesus.