Between my own high-level interest in worldwide missions and the support we give as a church to a variety of international endeavors, I receive a lot of related mail in my box at church on a regular basis. Some of it comes from organizations particularly dedicated to the cause of suffering for Christ around the world.
Just last week, one booklet sent to me listed the 50 most difficult countries in which to live as a Christian. There was no difficulty in finding so many nations where there is a significant price to pay for identification with Christ and the church. (And some of our own supported people are in these countries.)
A magazine arrived this weekend from Barnabas Aid – a ministry focused upon the persecuted church around the world. The pictures alone are enough to bring you to tears, let alone reading the articles of the severe challenges and atrocities that millions of our brothers and sisters face on a daily basis somewhere on this planet.
Without doubt, Christians are the most persecuted group of people in the world. Martyrs are added every day. But this is not surprising; Jesus said it would be this way. The surprise is how, by God’s grace, we have been able to find our lives stationed at a place of such unusual peace … so long as it lasts, which it surely will not indefinitely. We sense the erosion within our culture.
In today’s reading, Jesus turns to the large crowd following him and speaks to this issue of the cost of discipleship. He knew that they did not understand the realities that would lie ahead if they truly followed him. Instead, they saw only the current good times – the miracles, etc.
Luke 14:25 – Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
We need to understand the Middle Eastern sort of expression here of juxtaposing things. To translate it for us, it might be something like this… “Your commitment to being my disciple must be of such magnitude that your feelings for your family members would be, in comparison, like hating them.”
As we’ve written before about the idea of carrying a cross, this is an expression that would not be foreign to them, though it is also one that would have more meaning and impact after the crucifixion.
Luke 14:28 – “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
There is a nuclear power plant in Indiana named Marble Hill, begun in 1977 but never completed. It was to become a fully functioning, power-generating cornerstone of the nuclear power industry. Then, in 1984, after sinking $2.5 billion into getting the reactors to about the halfway point, the company behind the project abandoned it—they simply couldn’t afford to continue. They ended up selling some of the equipment to recover a few million in lost costs.
Unfinished and underfunded construction projects are memorials to foolishness, and so is a life that does not count the cost of discipleship.
Luke 14:31 – Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.
After the success of the surprise Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor in 1941, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was famously quoted as saying, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” Indeed, it did not end well for the Rising Sun. Likewise, a disciple must understand that conflict will be inevitable with an unbelieving world under the authority of the Evil One.
Luke 14:33 – In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. 34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
A final word on this subject is that of another relative comparison. The follower of Christ does not have to sell and give away all that he owns (as some have errantly taught), but the disciple must give up his rights of ownership. It all came from God, and it all belongs to God… the disciple is a steward.
The overall principle of this passage is for the follower of Christ to have a timeless realization that (to quote a commentary on this passage) “Christian discipleship is not some theoretical abstract ideal, but is indeed a hard reality.” Do we think of it correctly? “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”