Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Cost of Discipleship

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Luke 14:25-35

See, today your Lord sets before you life and death. And what will you choose? Will you immediately say you will choose the good that your Lord offers? See, your Lord sets before you today a blessing and a curse, good and evil. Will you know in confidence that you desire nothing from your Lord but His gracious blessing? That there is nothing evil you would seek from Him but only good? Do you seek nothing else than to obey His voice and hold fast to Him? Is your Lord the one you do in fact love with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind?

See, this is what your Lord sets before you today—Himself or eternity apart from Him. It is all or nothing. Your Lord is the Lord alone and He calls you to place Him as such in your life. In all your thoughts. In everything you do. When others see you. When you’re alone and there is no one else to know what you do or don’t do. In your good, bad, and ugly moments. In your life. In the waning moments of your life as you prepare to die.

See, your Lord is your Lord in your ordinary moments and your moments of glory. He is your Lord when you honor Him as such and when you forget about Him. He sets before you today a call. It is the call to discipleship. It is a matter of life or death. Of blessing or curse. Of good or evil.

See, your Lord brings before you all His glory, honor, majesty, and immortality and sets Himself before you as a man. He is the Lord, there’s no question. But He’s a man. He’s one who comes unassumingly. First in a womb of your common Jewish girl. Then in a feeding trough among your common barn animals. Then as a guy who’s walking toward the crowd in such a way that no one would have known who He was had not John the Baptist announced “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Then as one who speaks to some people on a particular occasion. See, this is your Lord, standing there in front of some people. Luke tells us they were crowds accompanying Him. They weren’t following Him. Jesus is going to talk to them about that. They were merely accompanying Him. Much like we often do when we think we’re such faithful followers of our Lord and Savior. After all, we’re here week in and week out. We help those who ask of us and we’re pretty decent people, which is a fantastic witness to that world of people out there who don’t always act so decent.

So we’ll see ourselves today for who we are—as those among the great crowds that accompanied Jesus on that day when He turned and called them to discipleship. What does the life of discipleship consist of? The life that has been set before us is this: life or death, blessing or curse, good or evil. Does it consist of being here week in and week out? Of being those good people we think of ourselves as being?

Or does it consist of something more than just accompanying our Lord? Putting Him above all. Everything. Everyone. Ourselves. Does it, perhaps, consist of something we wouldn’t expect to hear from our Lord—of hatred? Not just of sin and evil and the devil and all those things that are no-brainers for a well-trained Christian. But of hating those we care most about. Who, in fact, are gifts to us from our Lord Himself. Our father and mother. Our wife and children. Our brothers and sisters. Our own selves.

See, our Lord is not just here saying, I have come that you may have life—so come along for the ride. It’ll be fun! Just kick back and watch Me go. I’ll do all the work. You just so show up every week, make sure you do some good things during the week and make some time where you think about Me in the midst of your busy schedule. Your Lord is talking here about a brutal choice. It’s Him, or nothing. His way or the highway. But really we shouldn’t trivialize it in such a way. It’s His way or damnation. He truly is talking about life or death, blessing or curse, good or evil.

Which will you choose? Will you forsake all, even death, for your Lord? Your father and mother, your spouse and children, those you love the most, for your Lord? Accompanying Jesus sounds pretty good right now. Just being along for the ride. Why would our Lord call us to such a demanding choice? What is our Lord who is the author of the Ten Commandments and specifically the Fourth Commandment that we are to honor our father and mother getting at in calling us to the kind of discipleship that has at its base the hatred of those we are to esteem and love?

Perhaps we could translate the word Jesus used and remind ourselves that that’s not what He really meant. That when He said “hate” He meant something much softer. That would fit in much better with what we know of our Lord who is loving and kind and has given us our loved ones as people we are to love and cherish, not hate. But that won’t do much for those who seek to be disciples of our Lord. Because then we run into the problem of taking the words of our Lord and turning them into something other than His Words.

See, He says to you today: Hate. He didn’t say that they might have to take the back seat once in a while. He calls you today to bear your cross and come after Him. Don’t just come along for the ride, where you can have your cake and eat it to. Where your family can be every bit as important to you as your Lord is. Where your very own life can be at the forefront of your thoughts when it comes time for you to die.

Should we think that we should not have to bear a cross? Should we think that we should have things better than our Lord Jesus Christ? And why should we think that if we were to refuse our Lord’s will of hating our father and mother and those most precious to us that we would actually be following His will? Do we really think we can love them in the most loving and best way? Do we think that we really know better than our Lord? If bearing our cross is what our Lord is calling us to why would we think it would be easy? And why should we think that His words would be easy to digest?

See, our Lord is calling us to something that He knows will be hard for us to swallow. That is why He is doing it. So that we may see that we really do fall short in our love and devotion to Him. We think that we should love our father and mother and those dearest to us? Then why do we not love them as we should? Why do we sin against them? Why do we treat them shamefully at times? Why do we place our own desires ahead of theirs at times? We should talk about how strange it is that our Lord is calling us to hate them! We do a pretty good job of that without any coaxing on His part!

But no, He is not calling us to hate them in such a way that would break the Fourth Commandment. He is calling us to love Him above all things. If we place anything above our devotion to our Lord, even the people most dear to us, then we are not really loving them at all. How could we truly be loving others if our Lord is not first in our lives? We can be kind to others without being a disciple of our Lord. But are we showing them kindness for their soul? Are we sharing with them the greatest love of all—the love of Christ? No, Jesus knows very well what He is calling us to. He knows very well that our love falls short. That’s why He calls us to forsake all and cling to Him alone.

In that discipleship then is a new world in which we see with new eyes. A new vision opens up before us in which we see our loved ones not just as those we love and that are precious to us—but as very souls for whom Christ died.

See, we don't even know what hatred is that our Lord is talking about. He knows. He understands. He talks about things He knows about. We’re content to watch on the sidelines. He willingly chose to be the recipient of hatred. He Himself was forsaken by His precious Heavenly Father. He Himself was at the receiving end of the hatred of God’s wrath against those who sin against Him. This is righteous anger, just hatred against those who spite Him by refusing to acknowledge Him as Lord over all. Our Lord wasn’t the recipient of ill will against God Almighty but of damnation. He was turned away by His dear Father. He wasn’t just left for dead, He was damned by the eternal God.

Our Lord knows something about bearing the cross. He counted the cost beforehand—and chose it anyway. He knew what was set before Him: life or death, blessing or curse, good or evil. Not life, not blessing, not good was poured out upon Him but death. The curse of sin was laid upon Him. Evil was His lot. He suffered as no one could imagine and we see in Him that there is no cross that can be borne that is beyond what Christ Himself has borne.

We see that there was no standing idly by by Him. When one does not count the cost and determine whether or not he can complete his task he is ridiculed if he can’t complete it. Yet our Lord was ridiculed because He went through with His task. Because He completed it. When a king must fight against an army that is greater he asks for terms of peace rather than face a battle he can’t win. Our Lord went into the battle, however, as one against the devil and the host of hell. He laid down His life, appearing to have been defeated by His enemy. But in that act was our peace, our Lord laying down His life so that we may not die.

See, your Lord is calling you to discipleship. To renounce all that you have. Because without your Lord there is nothing that will be of lasting value. If you cling to those things you will simply be accompanying your Lord. But if you see that your Lord has set before you life in His suffering and death; if you see that He has set before you a blessing in your Lord Himself becoming the curse for you; if you see that He has set before you good in your Lord breaking under the weight of your evil—then you will see that the cost is great, but never beyond what you can bear. For, you see, your Lord has borne it all. He is your Lord and Savior. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Come unto Him all ye who are weary and heavy-laden and He will give you rest. Do not think He has called you to misery or despair, for your Lord disciples you into life.

You do not merely accompany Him. You are His disciple. You are His beloved. You are one with Him. There is weeping for a time but joy comes in the morning. You bear your cross but the resurrection follows the suffering. You are united with Christ, you have new and eternal life!

Our Lord has given you ears. Use them! Hear what He says to you, that He has given His life to you that your life may be in Him. Amen.


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