The Lord's Day Morning
December 5, 2010
“What Will Jesus Cost You?”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to the gospel of Luke to the fourteenth chapter. We’re going to be looking at verses 25 to 35 today as we continue our way through this gospel together. Before we read the Word, I want you to be on the lookout for a number of things. First of all in this passage, I want you to be on the lookout for three “cannots.” Three times in this passage Jesus announces people who cannot be His disciple. You’ll see it in verse 26, 27, and 33. Now that out to get your interest — who cannot be a disciple of Jesus? He tells you in verse 26, 27, and 33. Even more provocatively, when you look at His answers, He tells you that these are the requirements of those who will be His disciples. He says, if I can put these in three, three-word phrases, you must hate your family, bear your cross, and renounce your possessions.
Now I trust Jesus has your full attention. He meant to. The statement are indeed in an idiom of hyperbole because elsewhere of course Jesus commends us to honor our fathers and our mothers. And Jesus of course knows that there will be some of His disciples who will have many possession, some less, some none, but there is no universal requirement on the renunciation of personal property in the gospels. This is clear from the disciples themselves and from the things that they say about our possessions. So Jesus is clearly, in the language that He's using, arresting our attention. But we still have to ask — What in the world is He saying to us and what does He mean? And we’ll give attention to that together today.
Before we read God's Word, let's pray and ask for His help and blessing.
Lord, this is Your Word and we know that our Savior has something important to say to us when He speaks with language like this. So we ask that by the Spirit we would not misunderstand Him, that we would make every effort to understand precisely what He is saying to us, and that by the help of the Holy Spirit we would not only understand it but we would heed it and embrace it and we would treasure Him above everything else. We ask all these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“Now great crowds accompanied Him, and He turned and said to them, ‘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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 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? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 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? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.
Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 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.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
We could spend profitable time together, and really we could spend a lot of time together, having a conversation about why it is that people love the season of Christmas so much. We could perhaps gain some insights on our secular culture by meditating on that and talking about what our impressions are. I think, I think one thing that leads even the secular world around us to like this season of the year is there is an inherent sense on so many of their own hearts that their lives are empty and shallow and there is something about this season that seems more substantial. The supernatural is pressed upon them; the spiritual is pressed upon them; they respond not only to the beauty of the music but sometimes to the very thoughts that are being sung in that music because it points them to something deeper. For Christians, one of the things we love to think about is just how far God has gone to save us, just how far He has gone in the sending of His Son, of the infinite one becoming an infant on our behalf that He might begin a road that goes all the way to Calvary to save us from our sins. And we never get tired, those of us who are believers, we never get tired of that story.
A friend of Jeremy's and Derek's wrote an article for Reformation 21 this week and he's an expert on Martin Luther. And he wrote in that article that Martin Luther, all his life, had in his heart an absolute preoccupation with the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He loved to meditate on that particular doctrine and it's no wonder it's at the very heart of what God had to do to come such a long way and to go so far in order to save us from our sins. And I want you to keep that in mind. I want to bear in mind that the Gospel story is about what God has done for us. Even as we look at a passage today, words from that Man who grew up from that baby in a manger, calling on us to consider what the salvation that He offers so freely and so graciously and has purchased at such a great price for us, what that salvation costs us, what that salvation requires of us, what being His disciple means for the way we live our lives.
I don't want you to confuse those two subjects. In this passage Jesus is not going to be telling you how you become a Christian. Again, if this is one of those passages that, this is how you become a Christian, then there are none. We’re in trouble, because every one of us falls short of what Jesus says a disciple is in this passage. So if this passage is about how you become a disciple, we're in trouble.
But it is about what a disciple is and how you know whether you are a disciple. And for those of you who are not disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is His version of full disclosure. The Lord Jesus, unlike so many scoundrels who purport to be in ministry, does not play bait and switch. He tells you upfront what it is that He's calling you to and He does that in this passage today. This is a passage about the danger of nominal Christianity. It's a passage about the danger of “in name only” Christianity – those who profess to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ but who really aren't followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. And Jesus speaks these words not only to give full disclosure to those who are being called to be His disciples, but to remind His disciples of what the very character of a disciple is so that we may examine our own hearts and see if we are indeed walking in the way of the Lord. It struck me, as Derek was reading from Colossians 1, that this is exactly what Paul is talking about when he talks in that passage, similarly to Philippians chapter 1 and 2, about walking in a way that is worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the Gospel and of our calling. And that's what Jesus is talking about in this passage.
I. Jesus must be more important to you than anyone
And so I want to draw your attention to two or three things. And the first thing is this — look at verse 26. Jesus says that, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, and yes, even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” Now that's a striking saying. He meant to grab your attention because of course elsewhere Jesus Himself rebukes the Pharisees because they were not honoring their father and their mother. So Jesus is not saying that the relationship between all Christians to their other family members ought to be bad. He is not saying that we ought to have a visceral contempt for everyone who is related to us in terms of kinship. What He is saying is that He requires our loyalty to Him to transcend every human relationship, even those relationships that are closest to us. That there is no human relationship in this life, however close, that trumps our loyalty to Him. That our commitment to Him is not constrained by our earthly responsibilities to anyone, even if it's father or mother or husband or wife or brothers or sisters or children or even to our own best self interest in various circumstances. We are called to be utterly loyal to Jesus Christ. In other words, when Jesus says, “You cannot love your family and be My disciple,” it's His way of saying, “You cannot love your family more than Me and be My disciple.” He's saying, to put it positively, you must love Him more than anyone. Jesus must be more important to you than anyone and that is a very, very significant thing.
Some people in this congregation know what that means. Some, who have perhaps come to faith in Christ in the context of families where Christ is not named as Lord and Savior, know what it is to bear the trials of following Christ in a family context where that is looked upon as some kind of religious fanaticism or some sort of a rejection of the family tradition. I love what J.C. Ryle says about this in his commentary on this passage. He says, “Experience shows both in the church, at home, and in the mission field, that the greatest foes to a man's soul are sometimes those of his own house. It sometimes happens that the great hindrance in the way of an awkward conscience is the opposition of relatives and friends. Ungodly fathers cannot bear to see their sons taking up new views of religion. Worldly mothers are vexed to see their daughters unwilling to enter into the gaieties of the world. A collision of opinion takes place frequently as soon as grace enters into a family, and then comes the time when the true Christian must remember the spirit of our Lord's words in this passage. He must be willing to offend his family rather than to offend Christ.”
Jesus is talking in this passage about His priority even over families. And let me say this doesn't just apply in the context where the family is opposed to the Lord Jesus. Sometimes we have a temptation to value our own comfort and security in the context of the family than we do to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes the problem is that we love our families too much, and without a proper love and zeal for the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus is saying, “My disciples love Me more than anyone.”
II. If you follow Me, it's going to cost you.”
Secondly in this passage, Jesus says, and you can see it in verse 27, that those who do not bear their own cross and come after Him cannot be His disciples. What is He saying? He's not telling them that they have to take up His cross. Only He can do that. There's only been one sacrifice offered for the sins of all those who would ever be saved and that is the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, so He's not asking us to bear His cross.
So what does He means when He says that we must bear our cross or that you must bear your own cross and come after Him? Well it's clear here that Jesus is saying that He must be worth anything and everything that you must endure because you are His. In other words, He's telling us that following Him is not going to be necessarily all sweetness and light. It's not going to be a rose garden. Getting to that party that we talked about last week at the end of time, the kingdom party for which He was giving out the invitations — and by the way, that was not a subtle hint that I knew about the party Sunday night. I didn't know about the party Sunday night, even though Jeremy has teased me terribly for repeating the word party seventy-eight times in the sermon last Sunday morning! I had no idea about it. It was just one of those providential, Calvinistic coincidences that occurred in the morning service! But Jesus’ point is — on the road to that great celebration, it's not going to be a stroll in the park. It's going to be a war. He's inviting us to a war and He's saying that upfront. And He's saying that “If you follow Me, it's going to cost you. You’re going to have your own trials and tribulations that you’re going to have to take up, and if you follow Me, it's going to cost you.”
Some of you it's going to cost friends. Young people, I want to tell you, even in this culture, even in this relatively traditional culture, even in a culture that still bears the marks of Christianity in so many ways, I promise you that if you follow Jesus Christ it will cost you friends. And the question is — will you value Jesus more than you value those friends that you lose or will you do what you have to do to keep those friendships with the world and leave off your loyalty to Jesus? Again, J.C. Ryle is so helpful here. He says this —
“It costs something to be a true Christian. Let that never be forgotten. To be a mere nominal Christian, to go to church, that is cheap and easy work. But to hear Christ's voice and follow Christ and believe in Christ and confess Christ, that requires much self-denial. It will cost us our sins; it will cost us our self-righteousness; it will cost us our ease and our worldliness; all, all must be given up. We must fight an enemy who comes against us with twenty-thousand followers. We must build a tower in troubled times. Our Lord Jesus would have us thoroughly understand this and count the cost.”
That's exactly what He's saying when He gives those two illustrations. He tells the story of someone building a monument that he can't complete because he didn't have enough money. You know, you can go to great cities around the world and see things often referred to by the one-word title, “folly.” There's one in Edinburgh. There's an incomplete monument on the hill in Edinburgh, Scotland which is referred to by the name of “Folly” because they started to build it and they didn't have enough money to finish it. There's one on the west coast of Scotland in Oban. You drive into town and you see that big thing up on the hill and you say, “What's that thing? That doesn't look very functional.” Well it's not very functional. It was never completed because the man that started to build it didn't have enough money to build it and there it sat and it got the name “Folly” attached to it. And Jesus uses that illustration. He said same thing with a king. A king doesn't enter into a battle that he's not ready to deal with his opponent in. If he can't handle his opponent, he sends off the state department to try and get a peace treaty. And so He says the same thing to us as His disciples — “Count the cost of what it means to be My disciple.”
Now let me just stop right there and ask — “Why is Jesus saying that?” Is Jesus saying that because He doesn't want you to become a Christian? No, no. He's not saying that to try and make the gate narrower than it is, He's not saying that to try and discourage those from coming to faith in Him, but He is saying that in order to be utterly truthful with you and to tell you what it means to be His disciple. Again, J.C. Ryle says, “Why does our Lord use this language? Did He wish to discourage men from becoming His disciples? Did He mean to make the gate of light appear more narrow than it is?
No, our Lord spoke as He did to prevent people from following Him lightly and inconsiderately. He knew that nothing does so much harm to the cause of the true religion as a nominal Christian.” It's a warning, isn't it? It's a warning to those who might follow after Him easily in a moment of emotional — they’re emotionally moved — and they don't realize what's entailed in following Jesus. It's a warning to others of us who want to name the name of Jesus as our Savior but really our heart is with the world.
III. Jesus must be more important to us than our stuff.
And then, Jesus, if you’ll look down at verse 33, says one more thing. “If any one of you does not renounce all that he has he cannot be My disciple.” What in the world does Jesus mean by that? Does He mean that true Christians own no possessions? Well no, even Jesus had a cloak!
What does He mean then?
He means that He must be more important than our stuff, and that if He calls us to give up our stuff for Him, we must be in a position that we are ready to do that and even if He does not call us to give up our stuff for Him, we must be possessed by Him and not by our stuff. And our stuff, our material possessions, must be subservient to His purposes in our lives.
That's why some Christians, feeling the power of material possessions on them, will give up those material possessions that have a power over them so that nothing has a power over their hearts but Jesus, while other Christians, who have perhaps been given the grace to withstand the temptations that come along with affluence and the holding of material possessions, will utilize those material possessions for God's glory. Some will have to give things away because they cannot handle the temptation. Others will master those things and use them for Christ in a way that glorifies Him. And then there will be everything in between. There have been people with great wealth who have been called off to the mission field who have given up everything materially speaking. There have been others, like Joseph of Arimathea who was a true follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and yet was wealthy, but none of them will love possessions more than Jesus.
Jesus in this passage says, “If you’re My disciple, you love Me more than anything else, you’re ready to bear any trial or tribulation that comes your way in this life because you’re my follower, and you will love Me more than anything else. You will love Me more than any material blessing. There will be no stuff in this life that trumps your loyalty to Me.” He's describing here what a disciple is. He's describing the kind of total commitment that He calls for from His followers. So we need to ask ourselves during this Christmas season as we contemplate His gift to us — have we responded by giving ourselves totally over to Him?
Very often at communion we conclude with the singing of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” which concludes, “love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” That is exactly what Jesus is saying in this passage. That is exactly what Jesus is saying in this passage. He's saying, “Don't just give Me your heart. I want more than that. I want all that you are. I want your total and undivided loyalty. That's what My disciples are like. That's what I lived and died to create — men and women and boys and girls from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation who value Me more than anything else in this world.”
You know, if Jesus isn't who He claimed to be, that would be the most arrogant thing that has ever been said in this history of humanity, that He will accept nothing less than you giving your all for Him. But what we're going to celebrate this month as the Word is read and carols are sung, is a reality that's true, and therefore this call makes perfect sense because the One who has called on us to give Him our all is, as we read in Colossians 1 today, over all.
Heavenly Father, if we were to live in such a way that remotely approached what Jesus has just said in this passage, it would set this town on its ear, and it is precisely the division of our hearts, tugged towards comfort and security and acceptance in this world, that so often keeps us both from being what You died for us to be and doing what You died so that we would be able to do and from enjoying the glories of loving and serving Jesus only and above all. So we ask by Your Holy Spirit today that You would open our eyes to see exactly where we're doing this because every one of us in this room has this struggle somewhere. The most mature believer, the least mature. All of us somewhere struggle in our commitment to Jesus, our loyalty to Jesus. Heavenly Father, by the grace of Your Holy Spirit, help us in that battle against sin. Heavenly Father, others of us here do not have this battle because we're dead to God, we're alive to sin, we're reveling in worldliness, we don't know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we're going through the motions. Whether the name of Jesus is named by those or not, Lord, they’re dead and they’re under judgment. We ask, O God, that You would bring them out of darkness and into Your marvelous light, that they would trust in Jesus Christ and recognize that He offers a free gift that will cost them themselves. They could not earn it or purchase it. There is no need and no possibility for them to do that. He has purchased it and He alone can purchase it, but having received it as a free gift offered freely, they become captivated with Him and desire Him above everything. This is what we want to see happen, Lord. We want lives to be changed like that. Do it, we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now let's sing of this very reality with number 610, “Take Up Your Cross the Savior Said.”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Christ.