Each of the gospel writers had his own style. They all tell the same story. But they don’t tell it the same way. Each brings to light different nuances of Jesus’ life. Each was written to a different group of people in a different time. We tend to think of the 1st century as one time period. But think of our own past century. Think of the differences in our own society. The differences between the 1960’s & the 1990’s! The gospel writers framed the material to meet the needs of each new era.
Mark wrote to a group of Christians who stood at the brink of the destruction of Jerusalem. You can hear the language of war. You can feel the tension in his words.
John wrote at the turn of the century when the Christians needed hope and reassurance that Jesus really was God!
The Gospel of Luke has its own emphases. One interesting thing about Luke’s gospel is that it has a very definite and deliberate structure. In the first half of his gospel, which centers in Galilee, Jesus is the hero! He could do no wrong! He was raising little girls to life. He was healing people. A large crowd was gathering behind him—building momentum! But about half way through the gospel, a noticeable shift takes place. And I can tell you exactly where it happens.
Luke 9:51 says:
"When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem."
As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set His eyes toward Jerusalem. And from that point forward there is a change in Jesus’ ministry. He has His sights on Jerusalem and everything that comes with Jerusalem: Rejection, Trial, Cross.
After that moment, a noticeable change can be seen in Jesus’ message. The first thing He says to the people, “It’s going to cost you something to follow Me. You won’t be rich. You won’t be famous. You might not even have anywhere to lay your head at night.”
We’ve been following Jesus and His disciples on this journey for a few weeks now. But here is something to remember: You and I can see the change. We have this text in front of us. We have scholars who have studied this text for centuries, and they alert us to the shift. We can see that Jesus now turned His attention to Jerusalem. But no one in these pages understood that yet! So, when we find Jesus again in Luke 14, large crowds are still gathering and they had differing ideas about the nature of this journey.
Was it a military march? Some thought so. They had invested a good bit of emotion imagining the projected clash—Galilee vs. Jerusalem; Peasants vs. Power; Jews vs. Romans; Jesus vs. the Establishment.
Maybe it was a parade? Obviously, the crowd thinks so. The crowds were swelling. Everybody loves a parade!
Only Jesus realizes that their journey is not a march or a parade—it’s a funeral procession. And He’s the guest of honor. Only Jesus knew this. The Twelve certainly had not grasped it yet. They were still arguing about who was the greatest. But they would soon find out what being a follower of Jesus really meant!
Luke 14:25-35 (NRSV) says,
"Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
Jesus says, “You want to follow me…hate your family!”
Well for a group of people who were expecting to join a parade, Jesus really hit them between the eyes:
“You have to hate your mother.”
“You have to hate your father.”
“You even have to hate yourself.”
Now, we do miss a little of what Jesus is saying here, because well…we aren’t Jewish. “Hate” sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it? Well, our understanding of “hate” would sound a bit harsh to them as well. To “hate” is a Jewish expression meaning, "To turn away from; To detach oneself from." There is nothing of that emotion we experience in the expression, “I hate you.” Jesus does not call us to go around with an angry grudge against our family.
So, what is Jesus asking His disciples to do? In our great network of many loyalties… Mother, Father, Spouse, Children....the claim of Christ takes precedence over everything else. When this happens, there can and, necessarily, will be some detaching. There will be some turning away from our former relationships. Only to make room for our ultimate relationship. And this new relationship will redefine all others. And—in the end—make those relationships (believe it or not) even stronger!
After Jesus tells them to hate their families, He introduces two parables. Interestingly enough, they both center around the same questions.
1) Are you sure you want to follow me?
2) Does this cost more than I am willing to pay?
These same questions come into play when we consider our own discipleship. Many of us chose to follow Jesus at some point in our lives. But do we have the stamina to carry through to the end? Jesus finishes His pronouncement by reminding them of an image He has already used. Just as salt can lose its saltiness (savor), you can lose your initial enthusiasm. However sincere you were in the beginning, however strong of a Christian you may have been, your desire for God can still fade over the course of time. On this journey toward Jerusalem, commitments will be severely tested.
Once Jerusalem (and everything represented by Jerusalem) is no longer a distant goal but a very present and painful reality, what does your faith look like then? We applaud the Golden Rule ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you") when we read that sentiment in the Bible, but do we live by it when people do things we do not like? Do we abandon our commitment to this high ideal when it would feel so much better to talk behind her back? Unity sounds so perfect when there aren’t any real-life situations attached. But what happens when people do things we do not like? What happens when their actions hurt us? What happens when they believe differently than we do? Are our lives governed by God, or not?
What these disciples (like Peter) will soon learn is that their enthusiasm… The enthusiasm that placed Jesus before all other commitments…It has a tendency to cool when following Jesus costs us something. I bet you’ve noticed that too. Often times, other things come before God in our lives: Our jobs, our position in life, our family, our emotions, our anger, and whatever else. And sometimes that process is so gradual that we hardly notice.
At the end of the day, this text teaches us two extremely important things. First of all, God has a better life in mind for us! He never called people to serve Him half-way. He never intended for us to put other things before Him. When God & job collide—God wins! When God and family collide—God wins!
Why does God demand so much? Because God knows that a life filled with divided loyalties is chaotic and messy and unfulfilling. God wants all of you! And when you give all to God, you will experience the life you’ve always wanted! That is the first thing we need to understand from this text.
The second thing is this: It is never too late to turn your life around. When salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? By making a commitment to be salty again. By saying, “Today is the day. I will give everything. I am making the decision to follow God!”
Instead of following Jesus’ parade, you jump in line knowing that you are really following His funeral procession. You jump in line knowing that you are actually walking toward your own funeral. But your funeral leads to a life you’ve only dreamed of!
God leaves this decision up to you! God is not going to force you. The church cannot make you. You have to decide to follow Jesus. So, here’s the million-dollar question: Will you do it?