Are You Sure You Want to Follow Jesus? (On the Way to the Cross - Part 15) Back to all sermons

Date: January 19, 2014

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Series: On the Way to the Cross

Category: Cross

Scripture: Luke 14:25–14:35

Tags: discipleship, faith, love, possessions, cost, bear your cross, conflict

Synopsis: Jesus requires that his disciples love him above family, self, comfort, safety, life. and all else. He says plainly that anything less and you are not his disciple. In this sermon, we explore one of Jesus' most shocking and difficult teachings on the high cost of being Jesus' disciple.

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When I was about 7 years old I was living in a small town in Kansas. If you have not been to Kansas, you are not missing much. It is entirely flat, mostly farmland, plagued by tornadoes, and sparsely populated. One of the good things in the small town I lived in was that we had the last drug store/ice cream shop in the USA. (They sold cold medicines and pain killers alongside banana splits, ice cream floats, and milk shakes.)  The man who worked there even wore the pin-stripe shirt, a visor, and an armband.

Whenever I could get a couple of dollars from my parents, I would walk down to the ice cream shop (often by myself), talk to the man there and order a cold malted milk shake. It was the most delicious thing I knew. Being a curious 7 year old who enjoyed trying things out of the ordinary, I asked the man what flavors he could possibly add to a vanilla malt. He said, “I suppose you could have any flavor you want..”

That was an intriguing prospect in my twisted little mind. I tried to think of a flavor that surely no one else had tried. So I said, “I’ll have a lemon malt milkshake.” The man looked at me and said, “Are you sure?” I was sure, and to be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed that very strange flavor.

‘Are you sure?’ is a question that is asked when it seems like someone does not really understand what they are asking for. It gives an opportunity to think just one more time before a final decision is made. It’s a question that I have been asked many times in my life. “Are you sure you want a lemon malt milkshake?” “Are you sure you want to dive from that cliff?” “Are you sure you want to jump from this airplane?” “Are you sure you want to join the Army?”

Strangely enough, for the biggest, most life altering decision I have ever made, no one asked me if I was sure. No one asked, “Are you sure you want to follow Jesus?”

Deciding to follow Jesus is not a decision that can be taken lightly. Following Jesus will demand many things from you, it will significantly change every part of your life, utterly destroying your ‘normality.’ Following Jesus neither easy nor safe.

In our passage today, Jesus lays out some of the hard things required of all who would be his disciples and bids us to consider the question, “Are you sure you want to follow Jesus?”

Luke 14:25-35

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,  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.

27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 

28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,  30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 

31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?  32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 

33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

At this point in his journey, because of his miracles, his teaching, his astounding rebuttals to every test the religious authorities threw at him, Jesus had become very popular. We are told in this passage that great crowds went along with him.

From a purely human perspective this would seem like a successful ministry. It would seem that a lot of people had become Jesus’ followers, and we tend to equate large numbers of people with success in ministry. Jesus, as throughout the gospels, was not interested in having great crowds of followers. Jesus wanted true disciples who would be totally committed to him no matter what the cost.

It makes sense if you consider the context of his ministry. Jesus was journeying toward Jerusalem where he knew he was going to face the cross. He also knew what the future would hold for many of his disciples. Half-hearted, nominal, worldly, sentimentalist followers would not be able to endure the trials that would surely come.

So, contrary to what a lot of modern day ministry building strategies would instruct us to do, Jesus turned on the heat with some very shocking words that were likely to decrease the number of his followers. ‘If you do not hate your family and your life, if you do not bear your own cross, if you do not renounce all you have, you cannot be my disciple.’ These words were designed to challenge these people to ask themselves if they were sure about following Jesus.

You might have noticed that the phrase, “..cannot be my disciple” appears three times in this text. We will use this phrase as our guide in understanding three things that are required of Jesus’ disciples.

If you would be a disciple of Jesus,

(1) Your love for Christ must make love for those dearest to you seem like hate.

We find this requirement in verse 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. 

This sounds like a strange thing for Jesus to say. Perhaps it reminds us that we need to know Jesus as he is in scripture and not as we imagine him to be. Even so, these words seem to stand in contradiction to the things that Jesus said about loving neighbors, honoring one’s parents, etc. So how do we understand the requirement to hate ones family and even ones life to be a disciple of Jesus?

First let’s just assume that Jesus did not contradict himself, but rather had some reason for using such strong language. Second, let’s compare this passage to a very similar one that we find in Matthew 10:37-39:

37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Note the construct ‘If you love [something] more than me.’ This is a comparative phrase. Given the similarity between the two passages, we can validly interpret the word ‘hate’ in Luke 14 in a comparative rather than an absolute way. Jesus' point was that our love and devotion to Him should be so great, so pure, so unqualified, and so unconditional, that the fondest love we have for anyone else will, by comparison, appear to be hatred.

Several months ago I talked about this same passage with the Junior Teens. As an illustration I told them to imagine that their house was on fire, their families were already safe, and they had time to bring only three things with them. I had them write their lists down. The boys all wanted to bring their video games, sports gear, etc. The girls wanted to bring pictures, diaries, and favorite clothes.

 I then told them that the fire was more intense than expected and they would only have time to bring one thing with them. I explained that the things they crossed off their lists were important things to them, and yet they didn’t choose them to be saved in the end. In that sense, the one thing they kept was loved and the things they left behind were hated by comparison.

Honoring and loving your family generally means giving them high priority in your life. You don’t move far away, you take on the family business, you follow the religion, teaching and advice of your parents. These can be good things, but what happens when they come into conflict with your faith in Christ?

Could you leave your parents to do God's work? If someone you love were to die, would you become bitter against God? If your family threatened to disown you would you renounce your faith? If your spouse pressured you would you turn to his/her religion? Choosing Jesus in situations like these and your family might think you hate them.

Loving your own life can similarly be a good thing. If you love your life, you won’t take unnecessary risks. Instead you will work hard and live a normal life. But what happens when a normal and safe life comes into conflict with following Jesus? When society as a whole adopts immoral ways of living, will you compromise your faith to avoid being ridiculed and called intolerant? If the government of your nation required you to abide by laws that contradict God’s laws, would you obey men instead of God? Again, choosing Jesus in situations like these might look, from the outside like you hate your own life.

In any scenario, our love and devotion for Jesus should be such that whenever we face this conflict of interests, we will choose to follow and obey Jesus. Even if that means our families think we hate them, even if that means our lives will not be normal by the world’s standard.  To be a disciple of Jesus, your love for Christ must make love for those dearest to you seem like hate. Are you sure you want to follow him?

Secondly, if you would be a disciple of Jesus,

(2) You must be willing to give up your dignity, preferences, and personal safety.

Let’s look at verse 27:

27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

We have often heard people say, "I am carrying my cross" in reference to hardship and inconveniences in life. Someone might break an ankle and have to walk with crutches and use this phrase. Another person might be having a hard time finding a job and say this. These are certainly real struggles that we as brothers and sisters in Christ should support each other through. However, this is not what it means to bear your own cross.

Let’s take a moment to match up this phrase with the time and place where Jesus said it. If people were not repulsed when Jesus said you must hate you family, they would certainly have been horrified when Jesus said bear your own cross.

It’s difficult for us to understand this because Christians today like to hang crosses all over the place; in our houses, on little necklaces, on keychains, from our car windows, etc. For us, the cross is a symbol of our salvation and identity as Christians.

In Jesus’ time though, displaying a cross as jewelry would have been just as tasteful as the cover of an old Metallica cd called ‘Ride the Lightning’ on which there is a picture of an electric chair. The band’s intention was to be distasteful.

You see, Rome used two crossed pieces of wood as a frame to nail people upon for execution. It was capital punishment, especially for political offenders. Those marked for death were made to carry the tool of their execution up to the place where they would be nailed to it and hung naked for several days until they died.

For first century Jews, the cross was a symbol of subjugation under Rome and a shameful, horrible way to die. Not to mention being a way to die that was cursed by God. When they saw someone bearing their own cross, lead by Roman soldiers they knew it was a one way trip with no more choices. What Jesus said in v. 27 was shocking and repulsive to the crowd that followed him that day. It was not about hardship or inconvenience in life, but the loss of dignity and choices, and the end of life.

So why did Jesus say that only one who bears his own cross can be his disciple? Taking up your own cross is being willing to give up your choices, your public image, and your personal safety for Jesus. It even means accepting the possibility of martyrdom for his name sake.

Are you willing to lose face for Jesus, or will you maintain the status quo? Have you gotten so comfortable in your lifestyle that you would not be able to give it up to be his disciple? Do you pursue safety with greater vigor than you pursue Jesus? Jesus said you cannot be his disciple unless you are able to give up your dignity, preferences and personal safety. Are you sure you want to follow Jesus?

Thirdly, if you would be a disciple of Jesus,

3. You must be able to abandon all you have for him.

This truth is found in verse 33:

33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

There was a period in church history where this phrase was taken to mean that real Christians must live in self-inflicted poverty and solitude. Those people who really wanted to be faithful to Jesus went and lived alone, far from other people and far away from all worldly things in order to be closer to God. Some went to gross extremes, like Symeon the Stylite who sat on top of a pole for 37 years to escape the distractions of worldly appetites and less faithful people.

The problem with this interpretation of renouncing all you have is that you are no longer able to engage the world with the gospel. Think about it, how can you obey the command to love your neighbor when you renounce all neighbors? Now, I don’t think there are many of us here who spend a lot of time sitting on poles. Instead, we tend to withdraw into our Christians only circles. This has the same sad effect of removing us from our primary directive to go into all the world and make disciples.

So how do we interpret this requirement to renounce all for Jesus? We cannot ignore it because we risk becoming just as enamoured with things as the world. We also cannot misinterpret it for the risk of becoming too holy to do any earthly good. I think that the answer has to do with the way we live in regard to the things we have. This includes more than just our possessions.

Following Jesus demands that all your whole being be dedicated to him. Instead of accumulating possessions for yourself, you bless others with what you have been blessed with. Instead of planning how to get rich, you plan how to expand God’s kingdom in your area of influence. Instead of putting your career first, you put serving God first. Our great commission is to make disciples of all nations. How will they count the cost if we don’t use all we have to let them know?

The truth is if you decide to follow Jesus, your life will no longer be about you. If you are not able to choose Jesus over all those you hold dear, even yourself; if you are not able to give up your dignity and personal safety for Jesus; if you are not able to abandon all you have and all your plans, essentially to bend every aspect of your life to love and serve Jesus, you cannot be his disciple. Are you sure you want to follow him?

The cost of following Jesus is high and you must know this in order to make an informed decision for him. Jesus compared this truth to a man building a tower (verses 28-30)

28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,  30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

So many building projects fail because they were started without realistic assessments of what they would cost. It is a basic prudence to think carefully about what something will cost before you start. If you know you can’t afford it, it’s better to not even begin. This same truth applies to those who would be disciples of Jesus. You need the whole truth before you can be sure, before you can make an informed decision about this thing that will alter your whole life. If you are not willing or able to commit yourself completely to Jesus, it’s better not to pretend.

For those among us who want to go and make disciples for Jesus, this has a vital application. We need to be honest in evangelism. Do not cover up the cost of following Jesus when you share your faith with others. It is irresponsible to only talk about the blessings and leave out the trials. We must not give the impression that following Jesus will remove the struggles of this life. Especially when the truth is that their struggles will increase in many ways. Jesus never promised us an easy life, but that he is surely with us in the midst of our trouble. Be honest when you proclaim the good news.

Before following Jesus we must count the cost and decide if he is really worth all this to us. On the other hand, we also need to count the cost of NOT following Jesus. Have a look at the next illustration in verses 31-32:

31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?  32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.

The basic idea here is that a wise king will count the cost of a battle. If this is a battle he cannot win, like 10,000 against 20,000, he will seek peace with the opposing king. The truth is, giving up all to follow Jesus is difficult and costly in terms of our relationships, comforts, safety, possessions, and plans. Not giving up all to follow him is far more costly. It means forsaking eternal pleasure in the Kingdom of God for eternity in the darkness apart from Him. Can you afford not to follow Jesus?

Now I know what some of you are thinking, because I used to think this way too. This stuff about hating family, bearing crosses, and renouncing all you have is for the hard core Christians. Maybe you’re thinking that it’s ok that you are just not that ‘in to God.’ At the end of the day, you’re just a human being and this is just too hard for normal people. If that is how you think today, just have a look at the last thing Jesus said in verses 34-35:

34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

This is a strong warning. You see, salt is salty or it is not salt. In the ridiculous, impossible event that salt is no longer salty, it is worthless. Why? Because it is no longer salt! In the same way, a follower of Jesus that does not follow Jesus is not a follower of Jesus! God does not have a minimum standard of obedience that you can just get by with.

There are differences in our maturity as disciples. None of us start out as perfect Christians, instead we are discipled by those who are more mature than we are. I suppose you could say salt that is full of impurities is less salty than salt that has been refined. At every stage though, it is still salty to some degree. To be very blunt, you are a disciple of Christ on the path toward Christ-likeness or you are not.

A true disciple of Jesus must love him above all others, must be willing to give up normality and safety for his name sake, and must abandon all things for the cause of his kingdom. The cost is high, but the rewards are even higher. Are you sure you want to follow Jesus? Yes I am.