From time-to-time we hear about the price that people from other cultures pay when the Holy Spirit converts them to Christianity. A father will declare, “My son is dead to me and his mother.” In other words, as far as this man is concerned, his son no longer exists because he has become a Christian. In recent years, we have heard about the honor killings among Moslems. A father will actually execute his own daughter merely because she has abandoned the Islamic lifestyle.
In this morning’s Gospel 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) Is Jesus also teaching this sort of radically strict sort of approach to His teachings. What about the second great commandment being you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39) How are we to make the transition from loving neighbor to hating family? How do we reconcile what we heard Jesus say today with the message of love for neighbor that Jesus proclaimed at other times?
Before we get ready to accuse Jesus of radical contradictions, let’s remember one of the most important tools for understanding communication. Whenever we communicate in any way, context is important. In order to understand the truth of Jesus’ words, we must hear them in their context.
The context of the preceding chapters of Luke have informed us that Jesus is en route to Jerusalem in order to offer Himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. First, Jesus said to his disciples, 44“Let these words sink into your ears: 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 to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51) Luke has told us that Jesus did not hurry toward Jerusalem. Instead, He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. (Luke 13:22) Finally, as we began the Gospel this morning, we heard, “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 Passover, but also to witness as Jesus offered Himself up as the Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
It is in this context that 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) As we review the context of Jesus’ words, we begin to understand that Jesus is warning about the earthly consequences of becoming one of His disciples. He is warning about the hatred that the devil, the world, and even our own sinful nature has against Jesus.
Jesus warns that Christians will face incredible pressure to abandon their faith in Him. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh will muster all their forces to drive us away from faith in Jesus Christ. Society as a whole, members of our own households, even our own thoughts will betray us. Society may threaten physical, legal, and financial violence. Our families may threaten emotional violence. Our own thoughts may deceive us. Therefore, we must be ready to leave them behind.
Jesus taught, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27) With these words, Jesus taught that the Christian has enemies. Those enemies will attack. They will cause many hardships for the Christian.
The faithful disciple will suffer in this world for the sake of Christ. Our culture has gotten used to the idea that any hardship in life may be called a cross … a sickness … an accident … an unfortunate financial setback … we sometimes refer to all of these and more as crosses to bear. But when Jesus speaks of the cross, He speaks only of the cross that the Christian bears because he is a Christian. He speaks specifically of the hardships that a person bears because he confesses Christ to the world … because the world hates Christ.
There has been a steady stream of blood from Christians down through the centuries. The writer to the Hebrews states that many suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated, … wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:36–38) You may lose all your earthly belongings and even your life for the sake of Christ.
The world has produced many false teachers who insist that the wealth of this world will pour out on those whose faith is strong enough … on those who think positive thoughts. These false teachers claim to be Christians, but they teach you to have faith in your own faith … to believe in your own positive thoughts … to take control of your own salvation by your own outlook on life. They cleverly claim to teach faith in Christ, but they actually teach faith in yourself. In many cases they have conned themselves into believing their own false teaching. After all, aren’t they awash in the wealth of this world. It is to these false prophets that the Lord will one day say, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20–21)
So what is Jesus telling us in today’s Gospel? He is saying that the world hates the Children of God. He is saying that the world will use all its resources against us – even our own families – even our own desire to survive. Jesus is telling us that His disciples must be ready to cut off ties to father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, rather than be unfaithful to Him. He is telling us that we must be ready to lose our lives rather than be unfaithful to Him.
Can you do that? Neither can I … I simply don’t have the resources to conform to Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel. In fact, the parables that Jesus tells after these statements tell us that we don’t have the resources to carry them out. Our attempt to surrender all in order to be faithful is like a man who starts a tower he can’t finish or like a king with ten thousand men who is facing a king with twenty thousand. The world will overwhelm us if we try to carry our cross in our own power. We do not have the power in ourselves to deny our family and follow Christ. We can’t do it alone.
Fortunately, we are not alone. The Holy Spirit inspired the writer of the book of Hebrews to say, “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 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. 21And 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, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34–35) Jesus Himself had to deny His own family in order to remain faithful.
Jesus Christ was also faithful to His cross. His cross was not 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 was one cross we would never have to endure – the cross we earned with our own sin. Jesus Christ endured the cross of our sin so that we don’t have to. He took all our sins onto Himself and paid the debt for those sins. By His faithful suffering and death on the cross, He triumphed over sin, death, and the power of the devil. In His triumph, He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.
Jesus offers His triumph to all people through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith. By faith, we receive adoption into God’s family. He promises us that we shall always be together. Before Jesus ascended to heaven He said, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) He also said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) His triumph means that He is always by our side. He will be always be with us while we live here on this earth, and, when our time here is over, we shall live with Him forever.
Evil has no conscience. It will attack us with all its resources. It will attack us through family and friends – even through our own body. In spite of this, we need not fear, for the Holy Spirit works and sustains faith in us and works through us 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 death because of our faith.
Have you ever reviewed the promises you made at your confirmation? The church asked you 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 ordinary human being can live up to that answer. Instead we answer, “I do, by the grace of God.” For it is only by the grace of God that we can be faithful to God 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 we will be with Him forever in eternity. Amen.
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