25Now great crowds accompanied [Jesus], 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. 27Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or 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? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33So 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? 35It 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.” (Luke 14:25–35)
In the above Gospel, Jesus says some pretty startling things. He speaks of hating members of your own family, hating yourself, bearing your cross, and renouncing all that you have. If you do not do these things, Jesus says, you cannot be His disciple.
Wait a minute! I thought God gave the commandment to honor father and mother (Exodus 20:12, 4th Commandment). He commands fathers and mothers to love their children (Colossians 3:21; Titus 2:4), husbands to love their wives (Ephesians 5; Colossians 3:19), and, in general, to “love one another” (John 13:34; 15:12, 17; Romans 13:8; etc.). Our Lord also says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
And with reference to cross, isn’t the Christian life supposed to be easier than when one becomes Christian. What does Jesus mean when He says that every disciple is to “bear his own cross”?
At first glance, Jesus’ word, “hate,” might seem to contradict what we find elsewhere in the Bible. But in actuality, it doesn’t. Jesus is not here speaking of emotion. He’s speaking of distinguishing between earthly and heavenly things. It is true—God does command us to love one another—unconditionally, unequivocally, and unselfishly (i.e. 1 Corinthians 13). But our Lord differentiates between what is to be first from what is not.
A related passage is in Matthew 10, where Jesus says, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37, italics mine).
It’s a matter of true worship and honor of God or idolatry. “No one can serve two masters” (Luke 16:13). In the same way, no one can have God first and parent, child, spouse, self or anyone or anything else. It’s an either/or kind of thing. And this is just our problem. God is not first in our lives. If He was, everywhere and all the time, we wouldn’t doubt, we wouldn’t complain, we would willingly suffer the things said against us and the things done to us because we do what God desires. As it is, however, we are not as God desires. We put ourselves first, our families, our finances, our friends, and our time (i.e. on Sundays when we ought to be in the Word).
What these words of our Lord show us is that none are able, of themselves, to be His disciples. Our crosses we want to throw off. Our burdens we don’t want to carry. The Christian life, we think, should be easier, not harder. The Christian shouldn’t suffer as he/she does. In effect, we aren’t able to be Jesus’ disciple because of who we are by nature, because of what we do, because of our sin.
The truth is—none are the Lord’s disciple because of who he/she is. We are sinners—not worthy of the Lord—not worthy to be called disciple. But no disciple who is a disciple is a disciple of themselves, by themselves, for themselves, or in their own strength.
God calls the unworthy, the sinner, the unable—to be His people. It is such that Jesus came to deliver and save. The disciple of our Lord recognizes this—that his/her worthiness is not his/her own, but Christ’s. Therefore does Jesus say, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).
The disciple of our Lord recognizes his need, and looks to Jesus for help and aid, forgiveness and salvation. Thus will he/she also struggle and fight within, that Christ and His Word be first, and not something other. So also does the disciple of the Lord seek to forsake all, for Christ is “all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). Christ is his everything, and where Christ is not, the disciple repents and seeks to do better. And by God’s grace, he does, God giving strength to do so through His means of Word and Sacrament. These, too, the disciple of our Lord seeks and desires, for they are His life, for there, God forgives sins and gives life and strength, and keeps His people in the faith. Those who deny and refuse such gifts and blessings of our Lord show that they are not of the Lord and do not love God above all things, for they do not believe themselves to be in need of such help. By doing so, they show that they are not disciples of the Lord, but disciples of another.
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