sermon based on Luke 14:25-33
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
September 8, 2019
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
It’s that time of the year again—the season of fall. Though the autumn season won’t officially begin for a few more weeks, summer vacation is now over. The temperatures are beginning to moderate a bit (Praise the Lord for that!), the leaves on the trees are beginning to turn, and, best of all, college football season is back in full swing. (That alone makes it my favorite time of the year!) Fall is great. It has been said that if money really did grow on trees, then fall would be everyone’s favorite season. Wouldn’t that make leaf raking a lot more fun!?…
For many schools, September also marks the beginning of the academic year. (Do you remember the old TV commercial from Staples that featured videos of parents gleefully riding shopping carts down the aisles of the store to the sound of Johnny Mathis singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”? Whenever it came on, that commercial never failed to make me smile!)
That’s because after being out for nearly three months for summer break, school children not-so-eagerly make their way back to school. There they are enthusiastically greeted by their new teachers….And as those children get older, they become college students who return to school to juggle and finalize their class schedules while parents juggle their finances around in order to pay for tuition, and books, and whatever other expenses that arise. (I can see that some of you are giving me a knowing “been there, done that” kind of smile and nod of the head…)
As you all know, introductory college classes are usually given a “101” designation in the school’s curriculum. Beginning English classes are called “English Composition 101.” Basic history classes are “World History 101.” An introductory business class might be titled “Principles of Business 101.” These courses are prerequisites that students are required to take in order to progress to the next level of study in that field. The things that they learn in these classes will be of great help to them as they continue their studies…
In some academic disciplines, level 101 courses also tend to serve a second purpose: to weed out those who may not have what it takes to be successful in pursuing that particular course of study. For example, in college level music studies, the 100 level music theory courses tend to have the effect of separating those for whom music is a hobby from those for whom music is a consuming passion. In my first 100 level music theory course, there were 25 students in the class. Six quarters later, there were only 8 left—and two of those students were auditing the course for no credit. The others had dropped out of the program and were studying something else…
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And I am given to understand that other collegiate disciplines are the same way. For instance, I have been told that introductory 101 level anatomy classes are very difficult. Whether or not it is intended that way, they have the effect of discouraging those who do not really have the dedication that it takes to complete a degree in pre-med. Consequently those classes also have a high rate of attrition. I am sure that examples in other academic disciplines could be cited as well…
So it seems only appropriate that, in today’s gospel text from Luke 14, Jesus offers his disciples and the crowd some lessons. It seems to me that they have some things in common as if he were teaching a course in “Discipleship 101.” He emphasizes some of the basics of faith that he wants his listeners—and us—to learn and to understand. And like certain 101 level college courses, doubtlessly many decided that they could no longer continue with Jesus after hearing these words. But despite their harshness, these are lessons that are crucial to following Jesus. They are things that we all need to consider before we can expect to experience much progress in the spiritual life.
In the sermon last week, the sermon text was taken from some verses earlier in this chapter. You may recall that Jesus was seated at the table attending a dinner party at the home of a leader of the Pharisees. A relatively small group in the house, to be sure, and probably made up of mostly religious types. The scene in today’s passage, though, is very different. Luke tells us in verse 25 that “large crowds were travelling with him.” And to that crowd, Jesus turns and speaks.
This large crowd that was following Jesus was probably a mixed bag of people and opinions. I imagine that there were many who were really not all that interested in seriously learning about the Kingdom of God. No doubt, there were some who were. But like any large group, there also would have been others with different motives and different reasons for being there.
I imagine that there were some people who were acquaintances or admirers of Jesus. They just wanted to hang out with him. After all, the scriptures indicate that Jesus had a magnetic personality and that people were just naturally drawn to him. They likely weren’t expecting much more than perhaps a pleasant afternoon’s diversion with a local celebrity…Surely there were others in the crowd who hoped to witness one of those incredible miracles that Jesus was becoming famous for. Who wouldn’t? I know that I would…Others were likely hobbling along on legs that didn’t work right, blind people being led by their friends, people suffering from many different kinds of diseases—all of them were following along in the crowd in the hope of receiving healing at the Master’s touch…Or maybe some were hoping he’d do that thing with the fish and the bread again, so that they’d be the recipients of another free meal…Perhaps others may have been there for the entertainment value of watching Jesus spar with the scribes and Pharisees. They were eager to see Jesus deliver another one of his verbal smackdowns to them. Could be good for a few laughs…Some were likely hoping that Jesus would start to bring to fulfillment the dominant Messianic expectation in that day—that the Messiah would be raising up an army to liberate the country from the hated Roman oppressors…Maybe some people really did not know why they were there. All they knew is that Jesus was news. They sensed that something extraordinary was happening around him. And they wanted to be perceived as being someone “in the know”…
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So in verse26, our Lord turns to the crowd and addresses them with some shocking words. The ages have not lessened these words’ ability to stun and to confuse since he first uttered them. Jesus tells the crowd, “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.”
The last words of that verse—“cannot be my disciple”—becomes a kind of refrain that Jesus repeats two additional times in these verses. In verse 27, he says, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” And then in verse 33, he says, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Strong words from the Savior…It almost seems as if Jesus is deliberately trying to discourage people from following him. What are we to make of that?
And sandwiched in between those sayings, Jesus inserts two mini-parables to illustrate his point. In the first one, he tells the story of a man who becomes a laughingstock in his community. People mock him because he started building a tower for his vineyard, but ran out of money before he could complete it.
In the second story, a king is going to war. But first, the king consults with his advisors. They have to determine if they have a plan whereby their vastly outnumbered army can prevail or not. And if they determine that they cannot, then they will decide on the wisest course of action and sue for peace.
As we consider these words of Jesus, it occurs to me that they are the opposite of what we often do in church. In extending an invitation to become a follower of Jesus, we try to make it as attractive as possible to those who do not yet know the Lord. Don’t we?
Jesus sometimes spoke in a way that makes the gospel message attractive too. Consider these words that Jesus spoke about what it means to follow him: “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” “I come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” “The one who comes as a little child will be called the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Comforting, reassuring, attractive words from our Lord, aren’t they? Who doesn’t want to have rest for their soul? Who doesn’t want to have a life that is abundant and overflowing with meaning? Who isn’t attracted to a simple, child-like faith in Jesus? These are all things that most everyone deep down desires for themselves.
And while all of those things are true, in this passage Jesus shows us the flip side of the coin. He gives a warning to those considering following him. And why? Well, it all boils down to this: Jesus does not want or need any half-hearted followers. What Jesus wants us to know is that discipleship is not
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based primarily on emotions or enthusiasm. Discipleship instead is an act of the will. It is based on commitment.
As I see it, following Jesus is kind of like being married. In any marriage, emotions and enthusiasm play an important role in the relationship. There is no question about that. They help to make a good marriage what it is. You cannot have a good marriage without those things. They are indispensible.
But a lasting marriage cannot be built solely—or even mostly—on just emotions or enthusiasm. Show me a marriage that is founded primarily on those kinds of feelings, and I will show you a marriage that is not likely to last. The moment when trouble arises in a marriage…the moment when the going gets tough…the moment when things do not go the way that folks think they ought—these are the kinds of stresses that can make a marriage crumble into dust if it is based mostly on feelings. Feelings—even feelings of love, regardless of how intense and wonderful they might be—are simply not substantial enough and are too short-lived to be able to build a marriage that will stand the test of time.
More than anything else, a marriage that will last is built on commitment and trust. Without commitment to the relationship and trust in the other person, no marriage is going to last for very long. Anyone entering into a marriage with a half-hearted commitment to the other person and to the relationship is doomed from the start. It cannot last…
A couple stands before the minister. They profess their love for one another, and then they promise to stick with one another—in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, and forsaking all others as long as they both shall live. With these sacred vows, the couple is making a lifetime commitment to one another. It is as much an act of the will as it is a declaration of love.
Jesus wants us to know that the same is true for being his disciple. Following Jesus takes commitment above all else. And it is not a commitment that can be half-hearted. Just like you want a spouse to be “all in” on the relationship, Jesus wants his disciples to be “all in” as well. Jesus tells us that to be his disciple means to put him first in everything. Forsaking all others—whether they be people, money, power, ambition or anything else. Nothing else will suffice. In each of our lives, Jesus wants to be Lord OF all…or he is not Lord AT all. And before we decide to follow him, Jesus tells us to carefully consider and to count the cost. Because a thing half-done is worse that a thing never begun…1
In the first verse of today’s passage, Luke tells us that “large crowds were traveling with [Jesus].” After hearing these hard words as a part of “Discipleship 101,” I imagine that the crowd suddenly got significantly smaller. Hearing the commitment that Jesus required of his followers, I am sure that many decided that they could not—or would not—be able to do it or be a part of it. And so they departed to return no more…
1 Joachim Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1966), 155.
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It’s really not all that much different today. Witness the fact that all churches—regardless of denomination or theological persuasion—have much larger membership rolls than they have active participants. First Baptist is no exception in that regard…
I realize that, in some measure, I am “preaching to the choir” this morning. Those of you who are here week after week have consistently demonstrated your commitment and faithfulness to the Lord and to this church by your unwavering dedication to Jesus and by your support of First Baptist. You stuck with the church through the good times and the bad. And there have been plenty of both over the years. You are to be commended for your devotion.
But the funny thing about discipleship is that, regardless of how far down the road of spiritual growth that we may have journeyed, Jesus calls us to still more. More devotion…more love…more compassion towards others…more commitment to the kingdom of God in all areas of our lives. We all have more that we can dedicate, more that we can commit to the Lord, more that we can offer in his service. Won’t you resolve to do that this morning—that God will be glorified even more completely in your life?
To God alone be the glory! Amen.