Jeremiah 18: 1-11; Luke 14: 33-35
Jesus was a tourist attraction. Wherever he went crowds would gather. He must have been doing something right. You can’t argue with numbers like his, the Jewish leadership establishment and even the occupying Roman government noticed it. Like today’s television evangelists who millions follow and who give millions of dollars; they must be doing something right, too. But considering that Jesus got thrown out of his hometown synagogue when he gave his first sermon, considering his humble beginnings, a little place like Bethlehem, considering he had no formal education, it’s great to see that a career like his could take off.
But in an action that would almost guarantee that the crowd would be dispersed, Jesus began this lesson uncharacteristically harshly. “Whoever does not hate his or her own father and mother, children, brothers and sisters, yes, even his or her own life, cannot be my disciple. So take up your cross and follow me.”
Imaginably some individuals in the crowd likely stopped pushing and shoving to get close to Jesus and became more cautious. Can you of any more shocking words that Jesus ever spoke than these – hate your father, mother, brothers, sisters, your own life. Does this sound like the same Jesus as the one who said? “Love thy neighbor as thyself”?
These words are harsh. That’s only way to speak the truth. Love him more than we love our families, or we can’t become disciples. There will be a cost to follow him, so don’t be surprised when it comes. While speaking these words, we’ve got to remember that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and to his death on the Cross. He knew that. The crowd didn’t. They still thought of him as a conquering hero.
Jesus knew none of those things would never happen. It would be more like the humiliation of carrying a cross through the streets of Jerusalem. He was not to receive honors, but to save souls. And His mission was to tell his disciples that it was their mission too. Disciples must follow their teacher. It was only fair that he tell them, in advance. This is the purpose behind these verses.
Whenever we think of these verses that are so opposite to Jesus’ “love” verses that they sound like “hate” verses. However, scholars point out that any animosity or hatred between loved ones here is not the emotion-filled word we mean when we scream “I hate you!” “Hate” is the Semitic term for expressing detachment, turning away from. Even though the message of theses verses can be more softly interpreted, it doesn’t minimize our responsibility to do what God says.
The crowds followed Jesus, anyway. Everybody wanted a piece of his action. And Jesus turned and said, “Count the cost. Loyalty to me can and will create tensions within you and between you and those whom you love.” Loyalty is the ultimate price. Are you willing to pay it? Perhaps this is the reason spoke these words.
We could easily be critical of these first disciples. He kept telling them what to expect, and they kept failing to listen. How foolish they seem. But people are like that. They hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see, just like we do.
It’s reminiscent of the vows that taken in marriage:
…to have and to hold from this day forward,
for better for worse, for richer for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish, until death do us part.
This is my solemn vow.
Such solemnity. Why, at a joyous occasion such as a wedding, speak of sickness and death? Why not speak of pleasure and joy? Why spoil the joy of the occasion with the thought that “this marriage might not go has we have planned?” We do this because we want to prepare the couple for real life. We want to help them understand the cost before they begin the journey.
Even though we try to prepare them, how many young couples rarely understand those words. They’ll understand more with every year of marriage—with every sickness—with every crisis. When I conduct premarital counseling, I give couples a copy of the service that I’m going to use during the ceremony. I hope, especially when they are experiencing richer and poorer, sickness and health times in their lives, they’ll remember those vows. Then they’ll understand them and what marriage really means.
It’s the same with colleges and universities that describe to parents and potential students about the excellence of their curriculum rather than merriment of their frat and sorority parties. It isn’t that parties are necessarily bad, but that universities have higher purposes to serve.
And so Jesus says: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” It isn’t that Jesus expects his disciples to be masochists, but that he calls us to be willing to sacrifice appropriately for great causes. That is what I have been talking about—the sacrifice for great causes.
– The military seeks young men and women who will sacrifice comfort and safety to protect our freedom and that of the free world.
– Marriage calls us to sacrifice selfishness. It does so to enable us to raise families in a loving, nurturing home.
– Educational institutions of all kinds call us to sacrifice time, money and effort to help us to exploit our potential to make this world a better place.
– Christ calls us to sacrifice ourselves to “save the world from sin and death.” The words sound old-fashioned. “Saving the world from sin and death.” But our newspapers and television screens are full of it. Heroes and heroines are out there of all ages and persuasions. Saving the world is just may be our job. That is what Christ came to do, and it is what he asks us to help him continue to do.
Now I don’t know why you’ve come here this morning. If you are here for the music, or for the beauty of the building, or to visit with nice people or even to think a few high thoughts during an uplifting sermon, then fine! Jesus may not get to you and you can rest easy tonight.
But if you happen to be here (even if you do not know that’s why you’re here) trying to follow Jesus, then be careful. There is a cost. Jesus can be demanding of his disciples. Who knows when some pleasant trip to church may can turn into an opportunity for him to get his hooks into you!
Crowds paraded after Jesus, but he was unimpressed by the numbers. Turning to them he said, “The way is narrow. Count the cost. Take up your cross.
I don’t know the cross you are carrying. I don’t know the cross you dragged in here with you this morning. I don’t know the cross you left outside the church door because you thought it too ugly to bring into this pretty place.
I don’t know who or what you must either take up or lay aside to be faithful.
You know. God knows.
Yet, I do know this.
“To all who receive him,
even as he asks the to renounce all and follow;
to those who receive and believe,
to them he gives power to be children of God (John 1:12).
Consider these words this week, you who are disciples of Jesus Christ. You are bearers of your cross which is his own.
God bless you all. May it be so.