For the last couple of chapters or so, we have been looking at a running message that Jesus has been preaching concerning the characteristics of the kingdom of God. And perhaps the key to that entire sermon was His pronouncement in chapter 13 vs. 24 that the way into the kingdom of God was by a narrow gate, and few there were that would enter it. Jesus gives a variety of illustrations and examples that show that simply a form of religion, or nationality, or good intentions did not qualify one to enter the kingdom of heaven.
The summation of that principle was found in our last study in chapter 14, vs. 16-24 in which Jesus presented a parable which likened the kingdom of God to a great dinner banquet. And if you will remember, the thrust of this story was that the invited guests found themselves preoccupied with their own commitments on the day of the feast, and so the master invited the lame, blind and crippled, the people of the streets to come in and enjoy his hospitality. But he said about those first invitees, “none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’”
The moral of the story was that those that were initially invited valued their own agenda more than the invitation to the great banquet. They valued their possessions more than the kingdom, they valued their work more than the kingdom and they valued their relationships more than the kingdom. And Jesus is saying that because of their priorities, they were disqualified from entering the kingdom of God. So contrary to the popular idea that the kingdom of God is a great big open door and all you have to do to enter is believe in God, Jesus uses one example after another to divide, to subtract, and to reveal that only a few are really going to be accepted into the kingdom of God. And what Jesus makes clear here is that true discipleship is synonymous with the kingdom of God. You can’t be in the kingdom and not a disciple. It is the same thing.
Now after saying all that, Jesus leaves the Pharisee’s house where He had been eating dinner and He begins traveling again towards Jerusalem. And it says in vs. 25 that great crowds are following Him. Now for most Christians, that would be perceived as a good thing, would it not? I mean, there can be no greater testimony to a work of God than to see a great crowd, or so we’re led to believe. But Jesus consistently goes against the Christian church planter stereotype here. He obviously didn’t read the best selling book “The Purpose Driven Church.” But all jesting aside, Jesus is not interested in building a great church simply on the basis of numbers. Without question, He was the greatest evangelist, the greatest preacher, the greatest shepherd that ever lived. If anyone should have been filling a football stadium every weekend He should have. But Jesus doesn’t seem to be interested in that. Jesus isn’t interested in building a big church – He is interested in building disciples. He knows that most of the people following Him were not committed enough to become disciples. In fact, they weren’t really interested in becoming disciples. They were following Him because for the moment He was a popular figure. He was a novelty. There was occasionally free food that miraculously appeared. There were people that were being healed, even dead people raised from the grave. He was by far the greatest thing to happen in their community in their life times. Jesus was a sensation. And people poured out of the towns to see Him. But Jesus isn’t interested in popularity. He knows that popularity is a fickle thing. The crowd that swelled after Him today would be calling for His crucifixion tomorrow.
We see the same thing in our society today. What’s wildly popular today is old hat tomorrow. My daughter and I were having one of our frequent talks about fashion just the other day and I said virtually the same thing. I warned her not to be a slave of fashion. By the time you get your wardrobe fashionable, the fashion has changed and you are out of style again. I can’t wait for some of our current fashions to change. Unfortunately, they just keep recycling themselves again every few years. I think I’ve lived through at least 3 separate 60’s revivals. It’s starting to feel like groundhog day.
So Jesus isn’t interested in furthering His own popularity. If He lived on earth in our day I seriously doubt that He would have a facebook page with thousands of friends. But He is interested in making disciples. However, He isn’t interested in fair weather disciples, He wants a total commitment. He isn’t interested in superficial followers but He wants them to know what it will cost them. This is not a call to come to Christ so that you can have your best life now. This is not a call to come to Christ so that all your problems can be solved, or so that you can be successful, or so that you can realize your full potential, or even to come to Christ to get out of hell. To borrow a quote from John McArthur, Jesus is not calling for a makeover; He’s calling for a takeover. He is calling to become sovereign Lord, divine dictator, ruler, controller and king of your life. Never did Jesus call for a short, easy prayer to receive eternal life. Never did He call on people to make an emotional decision induced by some pleadings by someone or some music or some moving environment. Never did Jesus offer an easy believism or an easy way to Heaven. What Jesus is saying in these verses is that becoming a disciple of Christ requires a complete capitulation and real discipleship has a real cost involved. And He is warning them that unless they are willing to pay the price, they will never be His disciples.
You know, I’m going to go against my wife’s advice here and make a statement regarding the cost of true discipleship. And that is that I will predict that there are some who are sitting here today that will no longer be here three or four months from now. There undoubtedly are some here today who want to be in the kingdom, may even think they are disciples of Jesus Christ, and yet they have never fully surrendered, they have never fully counted the cost. And one day they will find themselves in a position where they have to choose between a relationship or a complete commitment to Christ, and they will choose the relationship to have first place. Or one day they will find themselves facing a choice between their career or their allegiance to Christ first, and they will choose the career. Or maybe one day they will face the choice between riches and possessions or between putting Christ first, and they will choose what Jesus calls mammon, the riches of the world.
Please understand, I don’t want to see people leave our church. I’m not encouraging someone to fall away. But I am warning you that it regularly happens and that history shows that most people fall away because they are not really, truly committed to put Christ first in their lives, no matter what the cost. The landscape of modern Christianity is littered with half started, desolate houses of those people that abandoned their commitment to Christ for the sake of the things of the world.
And so as Jesus concludes His message He gives them three costs to discipleship. Three separate times Jesus says you cannot be my disciple unless you bear the cost. The first cost is the cost of relationships. He turns around to the crowd that is following Him and says in vs. 26, “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.” Now I believe that Jesus says this in just this way in order to be deliberately confrontational. He deliberately wants to be shocking. There is no other way to understand this statement. This is not a soft spoken, music playing in the background sort of emotional appeal to come to Jesus. This is an extreme challenge to their motivation to follow Christ.
Now how are we to understand this statement? Are we really supposed to hate our family members? Doesn’t the Bible tell husbands to love their wives as their own selves? Didn’t Jesus tell us to love our neighbors? Doesn’t the Bible teach us to even love our enemies? So how do we reconcile this statement with what we know to be true in other scriptures? Well, we understand scripture by comparing it with scripture. And so if those other statements are true, then we must recognize that Jesus isn’t telling us to hate our families. But rather it is a Hebrew idiom. It’s a way of saying that my love for Christ is so great, that my love for my wife is like hate in comparison. That is what it means. He is speaking of the kind of love required in the great commandment, which says you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. When you love God like that, then everything else is subjugated to that love. The love of a wife is nothing in comparison. The love of a boyfriend or girlfriend is nothing in comparison.
That’s why when I give marriage counseling I always use a triangle for illustration. And I point out that their allegiance to God must be first, at the top, their love for God must be paramount. And if that is right, then their love for each other will be right. If you will be a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you must subjugate every familial relationship to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He must have preeminence. He will not settle for second place in your life.
Not only are we to put Christ ahead of our relationships, but we must put Him even above our own lives. And so in vs. 27 Jesus says that not only are we to hate our family relationships, but that we must even hate our own lives. And that principle is fleshed out in vs. 27; “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” I think there is enough of Walter Mitty in most of us that we can imagine ourselves in some dire circumstance where we would be told to deny Christ or die. And if you’re like me, you can imagine sacrificing your life as a martyr for Christ, if it came to that. But if you are like me, then secretly you are relieved to think that the likelihood of that happening is slim to none living in America in this day and age. Though how much longer we can take that for granted is a matter of some concern.
But I think what Jesus was referring to in vs. 27 is not so much a martyr’s death, though many of His disciples would indeed suffer that fate in the near future. But what is of a more immediate concern is that we are willing to sacrifice our lives in the sense of our day to day lives. Our priorities. Our goals, our dreams, our ambitions for the sake of knowing Jesus. He isn’t calling for some morbid, suicidal notion on our part, He isn’t calling for the kind of fanaticism that the terrorists practice where they blow themselves up in the name of God.
What Jesus means is that you consider your life; your will and your ambition and your desire and your purposes as minor, insignificant, unimportant compared to your desire to do what honors your Lord. You’re not just adding Jesus as another ingredient to your personal recipe for success. But you live your life in such a way that each day begins with the assessment that what I do today is for the glory of God. My will is not important, but His will be done in my life.
And there is yet a third cost of discipleship outlined in vs. 33; “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Now how are we to understand this? Are we really supposed to give up everything and live on the street? Are we not supposed to have cars or houses? We have to be careful not to take the teeth out of what Jesus is saying, and yet at the same time carefully figure out how this is to be done practically. God may indeed call you to give up all your possessions. That may be part of your discipleship. That may be the refining fire which God uses to purge away the impurities and make you useful to Him.
I can speak to that reality personally. There was a time in my life when God took everything I owned away. I’m still coming to grips with the difficulty of that sometimes. Especially us men are oftentimes defined by what kind of job we do, what kind of house we live in and what kind of car we drive. They say the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys. Men like their toys. And I liked mine. Furthermore, I viewed them as some sort of proof of God’s blessing on my life. I even thought they were a testimony for God, sort of an example that I could offer others that would induce them to become disciples as well. But God had other plans. He wanted me to become a true disciple. And to do that He first took away everything I counted on, everything I defined myself by. He had to break me before He could remake me. So I can attest to the fact that Christ does in fact many times demands of His disciples that they give it all up.
But that is my story. It may not be the way God deals with you. However I will tell you what it means for all of us. What it means is this. You become a steward of everything and an owner of nothing. You give everything to God and He gives back to you what He wants you to use for Him. Everything that I have belongs to Christ and I become just a caretaker of His stuff. It’s not my money, it is given to me to use for His glory. It’s not my house or my car, it’s loaned me by God to use for His glory. You are a steward. And it’s required of stewards that they are found faithful and that they use it for the purposes of the kingdom of God. Being a disciple means coming to the point where I hate, or despise any possession that comes between me and the Lord. That like Paul we can say, “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Phil. 3:8
Now in Jesus’ preaching, He always presents only two possible choices or two possible outcomes for our lives. Going back to what I said was the key to this message in chapter 13, Jesus said you were either in the kingdom or you were outside the door of the kingdom. There is no middle ground. There is no neutral corner. Jesus said elsewhere that you are either for Me or against Me. There is not a spiritual no man’s land. And the scary thing is that He makes it clear in both chapter 13 and 14 that there will be many who think that they are for God and yet they are not. They think that they are in the kingdom and yet they are not. In 13:25 Jesus says they will bang on the door saying, “Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.’ Only two outcomes, you are either in or you’re out.
And so in our text Jesus illustrates again this terrible tragedy of thinking you are a disciple, thinking that you are a follower of Christ, but in fact finding yourself outside of the kingdom. And He illustrates this by means of two short parables that are closely related. They are both speaking of the outcome of a life lived without full capitulation to Christ as Lord. Of a person that thought that they could hang on to some of the affectations of the world, that they could have their cake and eat it too. But at the end of their life, at the completion, find that though they had gained the world, they had lost their own soul. Jesus says in vs.28, “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
Notice three times the idea of finishing or completing is mentioned in this parable. The principle is simply this; it’s possible to have good intentions to follow the Lord, but it is also possible to fall short, to not persevere unto the end. To not be able to finish. It’s possible to have a reverence for God, to go to church now and then, to even pray and worship God, and yet fall short in your commitment to true discipleship. To one day find yourself at the end of your life and yet not be found in the kingdom of God. This has been the warning that Christ has been giving all along in this sermon. That narrow is the gate and few there be that find it. That not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of God, but they that do the will of God. That God looks at the heart, and examines our motives and God will not accept our hypocrisy. That God will not accept second place in our lives. God demands first place.
Oh ladies and gentlemen, this is why I rail against a soft, easy believism, come as you are-stay as you are style of Christianity that is being taught in so many churches today. I don’t want to see people with good intentions misled into thinking that the way of the cross doesn’t demand that you also carry your cross. That you must die to self and die to the world. I hate to see people duped into thinking that you can add God into your life and improve your life and that is somehow Christianity. I can assure you that by Christ’s standard, that is not discipleship.
Discipleship has a cost and if you don’t consider that at the outset, then the tragedy is that at the end of your life you won’t be counted as a disciple. Jesus will say, I never knew you. What a tragedy to sell short the gospel and peddle a form of religion that only serves to make you the popular church. I have given up on being popular. I just want to make disciples.
There is a solution to this dilemma though, thank God. Jesus gives the second parable to illustrate the solution. Vs. 31; “Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” Listen, the solution for this king was to surrender. He asks for terms of peace. And that is exactly our solution. We were told by the devil and this world that our life would be fulfilling, it would be fun, exciting and rewarding. But we failed to realize that their was a judgment coming against us. That there would be a day when every thought, every word, every action and even the secrets of our heart would be judged by the Almighty God.
There is only one possible solution; to raise the white flag and surrender. To say I give up my priorities, I give up my life of pleasure, my life of self fulfillment and I will do whatever it is you ask of me. I surrender all. Every relationship, every possession, every career decision is subjected to the Lordship of Christ. That is how we have peace with God. When we submit by faith to Christ we have peace with God because He paid the price of our penalty that we might be reconciled to God. Christ is our peace. Listen to how Colossians explains that peace found in Christ. Col 1:13 says, “that Christ has rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
Listen folks, is it not proper that such a One as Christ demands our all? Demands every allegiance. He who gave up all the glories of heaven to become crucified for us, should He not deserve our complete allegiance? Thank God that He has provided a way that we can have peace with God. It is the only way that we might be found in Him complete when the day of judgment comes. That we might stand boldly before the throne on that day, holy and blameless and without reproach because of His sacrifice for us.That is our solution if we are willing to accept it. If we are willing to recognize that in our own efforts we fall short, and ask for forgiveness and reconciliation.
Jesus gives us one final warning in regards to the cost of discipleship. It is related to the cost of possessions found in vs.33, “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” First of all note that the principle of salt is related to the principle of possessions by the word therefore. It ties them together. Now in Matthew 5:13 Jesus says almost the same thing concerning salt, except that He prefaces it by saying that “you are the salt of the earth.” In the next verse He says that “you are the light of the earth.” So we can understand then that this is a reference to those who would be disciples.
But the warning is that defilement from the world makes the salt worthless. Salt in those days was highly prized as a preservative. It was also used as a means of payment, especially for soldiers. That is where the expression “worth your salt” comes from. It meant worth your pay. But the primary purpose of salt was as a preservative against corruption in a arid or Mediterranean climate before the days of refrigeration. And the warning is simply that a true disciple cannot be corrupted by possessions or any of the things that once contaminated them.
Peter said virtually the same thing in 2Pet. 2:20, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”
He isn’t talking about losing your salvation here. But he is talking about a person that comes to a point of hearing the call to discipleship, maybe having the good intention of becoming a disciple, maybe even making a profession of being a disciple, and yet because they did not fully consider the cost of discipleship they fell back into the contamination of sin. And the last state becomes worse than the first. There are going to be degrees of punishment in hell. I don’t know exactly how it will work. But Jesus said in Luke 12:47, “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
Listen, Christ is calling all of us to a true, committed discipleship. The call is as wide as the ocean, it goes out to everyone. But the way of entry is very narrow and there will only be a few that are willing to give up everything to enter it. I hope and pray that all of you here today have made peace with God. That you have counted the cost and realized that you cannot come into the kingdom of God on your own merit. That the only way to enter is by way of the narrow door, who is Jesus Christ. Call on Him today while there is still time and make peace with God. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. Let him take action. The call is to you, to everyone who will take up his cross and follow Christ.