This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Luke 14:25-35
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ:
We live in a society that loves bargains. Everybody loves a bargain. It is a great feeling when you pay very little but you get a lot. Bargain hunters are everywhere. They go to garage sales. They search the classified, they wait for the sales in big stores, they use e-bay. And the basic mantra of the bargain hunter is, “What is the least amount I have to pay in order to get as many benefits as possible. How do I sacrifice a little and still get all the good stuff?” Everybody loves a bargain.
Now sometimes the bargain we are looking for isn’t always a material thing. Sometimes we search for bargains in or spiritual life. What I mean is this. There are times in our spiritual lives when we want all the blessings of heaven, but with the least amount of sacrifice possible. There are times when we lives our Christian lives are lived in such a way that we seem to be saying, “What is the least amount that I have to do and still receive all the good stuff of heaven?”
Now this kind of attitude is nothing new to our generation. This kind of attitude has been around for thousands of years, including the time when Jesus walked on this earth. Luke tells us in chapter 9:51, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51) Now Jerusalem was the place where Jesus would ultimately die on the cross. So when the Bible tells us that Jesus was going to Jerusalem it is saying that Jesus was choosing to go to the place where eventually he would give his life for those he loved.
Now most people had no clue that Jesus was going to Jerusalem to give up his life on a cross. To them Jesus was a
-A powerful Teacher and preacher
-Someone who would lead them out of the oppression from the Romans and into freedom. And so thousands of people followed Jesus.
Now you would think that Jesus would have been thrilled with the number of people following him.
As the Bible says, “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus.” (Luke 14:25) But numbers didn’t matter so much to Jesus. What mattered to him was commitment. And so Jesus stops in order to thin out the crowd. And his method of doing this was to use several images and parables to drive home the point that in order to be a follower of Jesus we need to be one hundred percent commitment to him. It’s all or nothing. There is no bargain hunting here.
Now the first thing that Jesus says to the crowd in his attempt to thin them out is this, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life –he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) Now it would seem strange that Jesus would say that we have to hate those we love. Especially since everywhere else he tells us that we have to love everyone. .Love God. Love others. This is what we are commanded to do.
So what does he mean in this passage when he says that we have to hate those we are supposed to love the most? Somehow this command seems a little out of place. It seems a bit weird. One of the reasons why this is a weird saying to us is that it is a literal translation of a figure of speech or a “saying” from a different language. And what sometimes happens when you translate figures of speech from one language to another is that something gets lost or confused in the translation.
For example, we have interesting figures of speech or sayings in English that would probably sound odd in a different language if it was translated word for word. Sayings such as, “You are driving me up the wall,” or, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” In a different language these sayings make no sense. This is what has happened with this particular phrase. So how are we supposed to understand this?
Well when we look at the history of this particular saying in the original language, to hate something is ”to give less priority too.” Actually Matthew captures the heart of this saying when he says, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37) So when Jesus says that we aught to hate those who are closest in relationship to us he is saying that we are to love him more than our most important relationships. That means we need to desire him more than we desire our spouses and our children.
But what does this mean? Well what it means is that more than anything else we need to pursue the character of Christ (his love, his forgiveness, his grace, his understanding, his joy, his gratitude, his servant attitude). It means that when we wake up in the morning, we need to make the pursuit of Christ and his character the number one item on our to do list. And to display that character in everything that I do: In my marriage, in my job, at my school, by business practices, my entertainment. Everything. Jesus says, if we do not love him more than life itself, we cannot be his disciple.
Another image that Jesus uses to thin out the crowd is the image of the cross. He says, “And anyone who does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27) Now people in those days knew what crosses were, and they knew that a cross was not some cute medallion you hung around your neck or some nice church ornament. They knew that a cross is where people died for crimes they had committed. And these crosses lined the roads to deter people from breaking the law. And in a little while Jesus himself would be hanging on one of those crosses – executed like a criminal. So a cross was a symbol of death. And Jesus says that if we want to be his disciples we must bear our cross.
Sometimes we misunderstand what it means to carry our cross. Sometime we think that a cross is something that happens to us. For example, we experience some misfortune, or we have some physical ailment, or have to deal with some cranky relative, and we say, “I suppose that this is the cross I have to bear.” But Jesus isn’t speaking of carrying our cross in this way. He is not talking about a cross as something that happens to us. He is speaking of a cross as something that we choose. It is the choice that we make to put things to death. And those things that we need to put to death are those things that hinder us from displaying Christ’s character and love to those around us.
And what are these things? Well Paul gives us some clarity to this in Colossians 3:5 and following, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: Sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourself of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10) So what Paul is talking about is sin. Sin prevents the character of Christ to grow in us. And if we are not willing to take our sin to the cross where it can die, we will not experience the joy and the wholeness of the empty tomb. Jesus said, unless we are willing to sacrifice everything, we cannot be his disciples.
To drive home the point even more, Jesus uses three word pictures. The first is that of a tower builder. Now a tower in those days represented security and comfort. It is something that all of us want. So this guy, says Jesus, wants comfort and security. So he sets out to build it. So he starts with the foundation, and he gets his footings in place. Then he begins to frame the building. And things are going along quite nicely when suddenly he realizes that he has to put bricks and plumbing, and electricity and a roof and everything else to make this building secure. And he puts his hands in his pockets and decides that all this stuff is going to cost him more than he is willing to give. So he stops building. So there he sits with a foundation and a partially built tower. When people walk by they ridicule him saying, “This fellow began to build and wasn’t able to finish.”
This says Jesus, is what people who don’t count the cost of following him, are like. In other words, what this parable says is that there are a lot of people who call themselves followers of Jesus and they want nothing more than to have comfort and security in life. Now as they are going along living their Christian lives, they encounter a situation that challenges them spiritually. And it demands of them more than they are willing to give. For example: Someone hurts them deeply, and they are challenged through the Bible that they have to forgive as Christ forgave. And they think, “That is more than I am willing to give. I am not going to do it.”
Or they have been confronted with some sin or wrong doing, and they are in a position where they need to confess and say those very difficult words, I’m wrong and I’m sorry. And I will do all that I can to make it right. But doing this is more than they are willing to give. And rather than push through and keep following Jesus, they stop. And they say, “I can’t do it, because it is going to cost me more than I can give.” So they quit. And when this happens, says, Jesus, people notice. And some of these people will point their fingers and say, “Hey, I thought you were supposed to be a Christian. Don’t you go to that church over there? Well how come you are still so bitter? Or how come you are still so angry, or how come you are still so selfish? Where is your comfort? Where is your security? You see Just going to church isn’t comfort or security. True comfort and true security comes when we are willing to follow Jesus in all things. But if we are not willing to follow him in every way then we cannot be his disciples. We may as well pack our bags and go home. So the first word picture is that of a tower builder.
The second word picture that Jesus uses is that of a warring king. And this king has an army. And this king wants peace. Just like we all want peace. Now says, Jesus, suppose another king comes along and he’s got an army twice the size. It would be foolish for the king with the smaller army to try and establish peace by trying to conquer this guy. It would be much wiser for the king with the small army to look for a way to negotiate peace? Or in plain English, if the king with the small army wants peace, the wise thing to do would be to surrender.
Now basically what Jesus is saying to the crowd is this. Listen. You represent the king with the little army. And God represents the king with the big army. And God is on the move to transform us, with his Holy Spirit. He wants to change us into people who love like Jesus loves. Now the foolish thing for us to do would be to fight against God. The foolish thing would be to resist the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It would be foolish for us to say, “No God, I will not confess, I will never say I’m sorry”, or “No God I will never forgive him,” or “No God, I will not think of you first with my income.”
This kind of resistance to the Spirit of God is foolishness, because anyone who finds himself resisting God and fighting against him will find himself on the loosing end of things. And as a result you will end up feeling, restless, empty, frustrated, anxious, tired, and joyless. To fight God is just plain foolish. The wise thing to do is just to surrender and negotiate peace before it becomes a battle. The wise thing to do is to come before God and say, “God here I am. I fully surrender to you. Take my unforgiving attitude, take my selfishness, take my pride, my lust, take it all Lord. And as you do this Lord, I ask that you fill me with your peace.” You see, without a fully surrendered heart we will never not know this peace. So the second word picture is of a king who negotiates peace.
And the final word picture is that of salt. Now among other things, salt was used to add flavor to food. In other words it had the power to transform things and make it better. Now over time, if the salt was not used, it would eventually loose its saltiness, and its ability to flavor food would be useless. It was good for nothing. As a matter of fact, Jesus said, it was good nothing more than the manure pile. Basically Jesus uses this word picture to tell us that if we are following him, and surrendering all to him and allowing him to change us, than we become like salt. And we have this power to make our world better. But if we are not willing to follow him in everything, if we are resisting him in any way, and if we are not willing to let him transform us, than we are not making this world better. And then all this faith we profess is useless. It is not even good for the manure pile. It is worthless crap.
You see the only way that we will truly impact this world is if our desire is be like Jesus in everything we do. It means complete surrender and then asking him to help us become what he wants us to be. It means being willing to give whatever it takes, to let his love transform us.
You see Christianity isn’t for bargain hunters. It is not for people who want the most for the least. It’s a place for people who are willing to surrender all. Which are we going to choose? Amen.
Let us pray.
Lord, thank you for giving everything for us. Thank you that you held nothing back but you surrendered all, in order that we could have peace and security and comfort. We ask, Father, that you will help us as we live our lives for you. Help us to give everything that we have to you, in order that we may live the lives that you have called us to live. We pray this in Jesus name, Amen.
Hymn #288“Take My Life and Let It Be”
God’s Parting Blessing. Holy God as we leave this place we pray that you may be gracious to us and bless us and make your face to shine upon us so that your ways may be known on the earth and your salvation among the nations. Amen.
Hymn: #291“May the Mind of Christ My Savior”
Suggested Order of Service
Welcome and Announcements
Call to Worship: Psalm 66:1-4
God’s Greeting: Heavenly Father as we gather to worship you this morning, may your love, mercy and grace surround us, we pray, in your name. Amen
Silent Prayer followed by: #62 “Worthy is Christ”
Hymn of Praise: #547“Fill Thou My Life, O Lord My God”
God’s Will For our Lives: In order that we may know how to live as Christians we need a standard by which to follow. This is why God gave us the law. Now the law is like a mirror. And as we look in mirrors to see if we have any flaws, we also look to the law to see where we have fallen short. Jesus said that the summary of the law is that we are to love God and others and that we are to do this perfectly. This morning we read 1 Corinthians 13 to hear a description of what this love looks like. Read 1 Corinthians 13.
Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardon: Obviously as we read this passage, we must admit that there is not one of us who has this kind of love. We all fall short. This is why we need Jesus. Because he helps us to live the life that we can’t live on our own. The Bible tells us in 1 John 1:8-10, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and he will forgive us of all of our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Prayer of confession: Let us pray. Holy God, we come before you acknowledging our need for your grace. As we read the description of what love looks like in your word, we confess that we fall far short of displaying that kind of love in our lives. Forgive us, O Lord, for hurting you and hurting others by how we have lived. And we ask that you may help us, by your grace to be the people that you have called us to be. We thank you for your love and for your forgiveness and we pray these things in Jesus name. Amen.
Hymn: #557 “My Jesus I Love Thee”
Offering: Because God has blessed us much and has even given us his own son, we now have an opportunity to show our love to him by giving to him our tithes and offerings. Today our offering will be for . . .
Hymn: #287 “Have Thine Own Way Lord”
Scripture Reading: Luke 14:25-35
Prayer of Understanding (before the Sermon): Lord, we thank you for your word, and that in it we find life. We pray that as we open it today, that your Holy Spirit would open our minds and our hearts so that we may be receptive to hearing what you would want us to hear. We pray these things in Jesus name: Amen
Some other Suggested Songs:
From “Sing a New Creation”
#81Cry of My Heart
#267Will You Come and Follow Me
#11Be Still For the Presence of the Lord
#17Step by Step (Can be sung after the assurance of pardon)
#47Lord Most High
# 49Create in Me a Clean Heart (appropriate for after the sermon
#71Good to Me(also appropriate for after the sermon)
Jesus All for Jesus (appropriate for after the sermon)
I Surrender All(appropriate for after the sermon)