We tend to want to make the gospel as easy as possible for others to accept. Palatable. But Jesus went the other way and often did it without explanation or qualification. We want mass appeal. Jesus wants true disciples.
Hate your Mum and Dad. Hate your own life. Suffer the cross and count the cost before you begin the journey. Let’s face it, these are impossible commands.
Measure the foundation, budget the renovation, and number the troops before you go to war.
I suppose you could come up with a strategy for waging war against 20,000 obstacles, but we have no way of knowing what the obstacles are or how many we will face as followers of Jesus. How can we plan?
It’s Luke 14:25-35. Jesus is en route to Jerusalem and death is not far away. Here we read that unless we count the cost and prepare to give up everything we can’t be a disciple.
These are hard sayings and Jesus leaves the people hanging. He leaves them wondering.
And He will sometimes allow Himself to be misunderstood. He can do this because He’s not banking on our ability to join the dots but on the Spirit of Grace to guide those whom the Father is calling.
We do well to keep this in mind. You don’t always have to explain everything. Jesus left enough wriggle room for unbelieving hearts to condemn themselves and we can be cool with that because the wisdom of the thing is justified by her children and not by a thousand qualifications.
Jesus is not moved by the numbers. He is moved and motivated by the work of God who transforms the human heart in order to make impossible demands possible.
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Here, in the immediate situation, Jesus raises the bar.
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 (Luke 14:26)
Hate? What do you read into that word? Hopefully, nothing. Our humble task is to draw out of scripture what the writer or speaker meant; not read into the text what our own 21st-century feelies tell us.
David, once sang to God, “Don’t I hate those who hate you?” (Psalm 139:21). He then qualified that in the next verse, “I count them as my enemies.” (Psalm 139:22).
Why the rage, bro?
But David was in good company. Earlier, God had promised to Abraham,
Your descendants will possess the gates of their enemies (Genesis 22:17)
This blessing is passed on to Isaac and so we find Rebekah’s family affirming her marriage to Isaac with the same blessing,
And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!” (Genesis 24:60)
Hate here does not mean you’re fuming with murderous thoughts. To hate someone in this context means to consider them an enemy. And to qualify as an enemy for David or Abraham or Rebekah, they had to be enemies of God—those who reject God’s covenant promises.
With this in mind, Jesus’ words (which elsewhere included honouring our parents and loving our neighbour) become clear and not at all contradictory.
We are to count as an enemy anything that would come between us and Christ. Anything that would pull our focus and draw us into idolatry, disobedience or unfaithfulness.
This does not mean neglecting family. Quite the opposite. We serve Christ day-by-day by honouring and serving the family. But where the demands of others would cause us to put Christ back in the tomb for even a minute, we say no.
At every turn, serve Christ and be willing to suffer loss for it.
This can’t take place in your imagination. It happens at the point of testing. Sufficient is the cost for today. When demands come, stop. Count the cost. Follow Jesus.
We don’t forsake selfishness in advance. We forsake it at each turn for the sake of Christ. We don’t love people at great cost in the abstract. We love them at the point where love is commanded, even if it means a sacrifice.
Faith in God and love for His commandments is the key element here. When Jesus raises the bar, so He raises faith. And that faith centres on the cross. (Luke 14:27).
Some may look at the impossible commands at times and lose heart. Jesus says pray. (Luke 18:1)
His Grace really will be sufficient. You remain a faithful follower moment by moment and carry your cross when called upon. In this way you are showing the central, saving place of the cross in all of life.