Say What? (Luke 14:25-35)
Rev. David French
In this morning’s gospel reading, we heard Jesus say, “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” (Luke 14:26). So, is Jesus also applying this sort of radically strict approach to His teachings? How do we reconcile what we heard Jesus say today with the message of love for neighbor that He proclaimed at other times without just ignoring it? But, before we accuse Jesus of radical contradictions, let’s remember one of the most important rules of communication. Context is important. In order to understand the true meaning of Jesus’ words, we must hear them in their proper context.
In the preceding chapters of Luke, we have seen that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem to offer Himself up as a sacrifice for the sin of the world. First, Jesus informs His disciples, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men” (Luke 9:43–44). Then, a short time later, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). Luke tells us that Jesus wasn’t in a hurry, that “He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching as He made His way to Jerusalem” (Luke 13:22). Finally, as we heard in today’s reading, “Now great crowds accompanied him” (Luke 14:25). Jesus was drawing people to travel to Jerusalem with Him. He was drawing them not just to celebrate the Passover, but also to witness Jesus offer Himself as the true Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
Remember, Jesus not only said, “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” (Luke 14:26), but he also said, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). It’s with these words that Jesus warns us about the earthly the consequences of becoming one of His disciples. He’s speaking about the hatred that Satan, the world, and our own sinful nature has toward Jesus.
And so, Jesus warns us that we also will face incredible pressure to abandon our faith. The Devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh all work to push or pull us away from Jesus. You see, the faithful Christian has real enemies because the world hates Christ. My friends, there has been a steady stream of blood from Christians down through the centuries. The world has produced many false teachers who insist that the wealth of this world is poured out on those whose faith is strong. They teach you to have faith in your yourself, in your good intentions and hard work, to be blessed in this world.
But Jesus is telling us that the world hates the children of God. He’s warning us that the world will use all of its resources against us – including our own families. Jesus is telling us that His disciples must be ready to cut off ties with anyone or anything that stands in the way or our relationship with Him. He’s telling us that we must be ready to give up our lives rather than be unfaithful to Him.
So, are you ready? Do you even want to do that? Neither do I. The truth is we simply don’t have what it takes to do what Jesus teaches in today’s gospel. We don’t have it in ourselves to deny Satan or the world or our families and follow Christ. We just can’t do it on our own.
How blessed we are when we come to believe that we are not on our own. We read in the book of Hebrews, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus is our high priest, the One who experienced the same attacks that we do and triumphed over them.
Did the world use Jesus’ family to attack Him? Listen to the words that the Holy Spirit inspired Mark to write, “Then [Jesus] went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind’” (Mark 3:20–21). Later on, Jesus said, “… whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34–35). You see, Jesus Himself had to deny His own earthly family in order to remain faithful to His heavenly Father.
Jesus was also faithful in bearing His cross. And His cross wasn’t just a metaphor, but the real thing. His death was not just persecution for being faithful. His death was the sacrifice that made us part of God’s family. You see, when Jesus endured His cross, He was making sure that there would be one cross we would never have to bear – the cross we earned with our own sin. Yes, it is by His wounds that we have been healed.
With His resurrection Jesus offers His righteousness to all people through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith. By faith, we are adopted into God’s family and promised that one day we will all be together with Him, in whom we are one. He reminds us that He is always with us while we live here on this earth; and when our time here comes to an end, we will live with Him in heaven forever.
But for now, the evil we live with has no conscience and no limits. It will attack you and me with anything it can find, be that family or friends, or TV, radio, internet – even through our own bodies. And yet, we need not fear, for the Holy Spirit works to sustain the faith God has given you and works through His Word and sacraments, as well as your brothers and sisters in Christ, to give us the strength to remain faithful in spite of the world’s persecution – even if it means we lose family and friends – even if it means we lose our lives.
Have you ever reviewed the promises you made at your confirmation? At that time, you were also asked to make promises that you cannot keep. Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death? Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it? A simple “I do” will not be enough of a response because no sinful human being can live up to that answer. Instead, we answer, “I do, by the grace of God,” for it is by the grace alone that we can be faithful, even if the world threatens death or our family and friends ridicule us. By the grace of God, the Holy Spirit will keep our faith strong. It is by the grace of God and His promise that God will be with us here in time and that we will be with Him for all eternity.
In His name, Amen.