Many people think that being a Christian is simply a matter of getting saved or being baptized, but Jesus said in Luke 14:27 that it involves so much more. He said, “And whoever does not pick up his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Jesus taught that we exist to deny ourselves and follow Him.
For Luke, what does it mean to carry your cross? It could mean carrying the burdens of those from whom Jesus releases burdens. It could mean carrying the ministry of Jesus forward by seeing those whom the world overlooks. It could mean favouring and regarding the marginalized, even when that action might lead to our own oppression.
The cross is not just a metaphor for burdens or troubles. It is a Roman instrument of death. Jesus doesn’t just call us to leave our old lives behind; he calls us to leave life behind. This is shocking, but if we stop to think about it, we all leave life behind eventually. Do we leave it behind by following Jesus?
God has called us to follow Jesus, be His witnesses, grow in grace, make disciples, work at building His church, seek His kingdom, pursue holiness in the fear of God, and seek His glory in everything we do. Others might try to discourage us or advise us not to be so fanatical about our faith or insist that we not devote so much time to religion. They will say that we can be Christians without having to be so serious about it. We won’t truly love the people in our lives until we love God first at all times. Then we can love others as an expression of God’s calling.
The ancient Near East concept of hate did not involve intense feelings of loathing or revulsion, as the modern Western concept does. To hate something meant to place it in a lower position than something else. Jesus was not telling His followers to hate their families but rather to ensure that God reigns supreme in their lives.
Family took precedence over everything else in the ancient Near East, so the idea that God should be the centre of one’s life held radical implications and required a serious counting of the cost upfront. Hating our parents would be contrary to the fifth commandment, but Jesus tells us that we are to love them less than we love Christ. We are to obey Christ rather than them. We have to forsake them if He calls us to go and preach the Gospel. We are to submit to Him when He takes them away from us.
The word “forsake” means “to give up or renounce, to abandon one’s right or ownership.” It does not imply selling all of one’s possessions or giving everything away but becoming a steward who uses those resources in the service of the Master. When our love is selfish, controlling or rooted in our own need, it is not love at all. When our love is rooted in the sacrificial, other-centered values of God’s Reign, then we learn to love as Jesus did-truly and wholeheartedly.
Jesus calls for an exclusive commitment to Him. Everything else is secondary in nature. Only people who carefully assess the cost and invest everything they have in His kingdom are worthy to enter it. This means more than merely abandoning our possessions. It means absolute and unconditional surrender. Jesus doesn’t want to fight us, and we don’t want to fight Him because He will win every time. We should seek peace with Jesus and do whatever we can to be on His side.
We can’t be half-hearted in our love for Jesus and expect to fully experience His joy and peace in our hearts. In fact, there will be disturbing factors in our lives until we make a full, uncompromising commitment to Him. When we dedicate ourselves fully to Him, we will see His plan for our lives unfold.
Before we jump into anything head first (especially committing our lives to Christ), we need to stop, sit down and pray to God for His guidance. We should lay out our plans in detail from start to finish and find confirmation for these plans in God’s Word. If we seek His will and plans for us, He will show us what to do and how to do it.
The world weighs the odds and counts the costs before undertaking a venture. Disciples should do the same before committing to Jesus. The word “possessions” is used metaphorically to embrace all that we risk in following Jesus: family, wealth, worldly things, even life itself. Those who heard Jesus and wanted to be His disciple had to first consider the cost before they decided to follow Him. Pain and sacrifice are inevitable attached to committed discipleship. There is no such thing as casual Christianity. Are we willing to pay the costs?
In the moment of our decision, God expects us to be ready for doing justice in the midst of oppression, to be ready for peacemaking in the midst of dangerous conflict, to be ready for affirming life and resisting the culture of death. In those times there is no time for hesitation, no time for delay, no time for belated preparation to tidy up affairs back home. God expects wholehearted living in spite of its cost, because God also promises joy to those who follow Him. How many of us have missed the joy of wholehearted living because we have been too afraid of the cost?
When Luke wrote his Gospel, the church was living in hostile, pagan places where Christians faced persecution. He presented Jesus’ admonition to a suffering church. Today, most of us do not live in hostile environments, but what kind of response do we get when we as Christians speak against topics such as poverty, the Indian residential schools here in Canada, or the environment? People may not oppose us verbally, but even some of our closest friends may roll their eyes when we mention these or any other controversial topics.
The general scope of the parable may be expressed as follows:
1st. Every man who becomes a follower of Jesus should calmly and deliberately look at all the consequences of such an act and be prepared to meet them.
2nd. Men in other things act with prudence and forethought. They do not begin to build without a reasonable prospect of being able to finish. They do not go to war when there is every prospect that they will be defeated.
3rd. Religion is a work of soberness, of thought, of calm and fixed purpose, and no man can properly enter it who does not resolve by the grace of God to fulfil all its requirements and make it the business of his life.
4th. We are to expect difficulties in religion. It will cost us the mortification of our sins, and a life of self-denial, and a conflict with our lusts, and the enmity and ridicule of the world. Perhaps it may cost us our reputation, or possibly our lives and liberties, and all that is dear to us; but we must cheerfully undertake all this and be prepared for it all.
5th. If we do not deliberately resolve to leave all things, to suffer all things that may be laid on us, and to persevere to the end of our days in the service of Christ, we cannot be his disciples. No man can be a Christian who, when he makes a profession, is resolved after a while to turn back to the world; nor can he be a true Christian if he expects that he will turn back. If he comes not with a full purpose always to be a Christian; if he means not to persevere, by the grace of God, through all hazards, and trials, and temptations; if he is not willing to bear his cross, and meet contempt, poverty, pain and death, without turning back, he cannot be a disciple of the Lord Jesus.
Jesus is inviting all of us to be His followers-from the most highly educated person to people with little or no education. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Ordinary people have done the most extraordinary things in service to humanity-things such as building hospitals, brokering peace, living among and helping the poor, confronting injustice and accepting martyrdom. They did all of these things in Jesus’ name.
Salvation is a great prize given by God’s grace. It can’t be earned, but it requires effort on the part of those who receive it. The cost to be paid will vary from person to person. Some will be persecuted. Some will leave homes and families to preach the Good News to other people. Some will give generously, even sacrificially, to do the work for which Christ built His church. Everyone must pay a price.
When we decide to follow Christ, we have to count the cost. Jesus counted the cost when He went to the cross for us. He gave His life so we can be forgiven of our sins, so we can know that we will go to heaven when we die. He counted the cost for us. Will we count the cost and follow Him?
The price will be heavy, and we might think that we don’t have the strength, but we do have Jesus. If he asks us to carry our own crosses, we can be sure that He will do the heavy lifting for us-because He has already carried our cross, with all of our sins, guilt and shame-all the way to Calvary.
Luke 14:25-33 makes it clear that to be a follower of Jesus is not for the faint of heart. Christianity is not a system of belief that will make an already pleasant life better. It is not an invitation to an easy and successful existence. It is an invitation to embrace the way of Jesus-an invitation to join Him in having a heart for this world, and reaching out to it, even when this comes at great cost. This will disrupt our lives, our societal systems and our relationships, but the Gospel challenges the supremacy of all these things-not to make our lives barren, but to open us to the joy of an abundant life in Christ.
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