Three Costs of Discipleship

“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 carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.  (Luke 14:26-27 NASB)

So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:33 NASB)

I may have bitten off more than I can chew here taking all three, but I’m going to give it a shot.  The thing is, “classic” evangelism, the kind practiced in the last 40 years or so has been unbelievably “flies with honey” in its approach.  Jesus really wasn’t that way.  He was unbelievably honest.  He did things like heal or just talk to someone, but also acknowledge the sin.  He didn’t let the sin get in the way of talking to them, or even using them to reach an entire village (Samaritan woman for instance).

Jesus came to begin a process of making disciples, and we have somehow forgotten that.  Some now content themselves with butts in seats and baptisms.  Others with “participation” or acceptance.  We figure if we can get them in the door then the teaching can begin and at some point these lost people will become more like Jesus just by simple association with us, who are so much like Him…oh please.

The problem with this concept is the missing life change, the intentional transformation that leaves so many much like they were before hearing of Jesus.  If I’m no different a year after passing through the water than I was before, what has the “church” accomplished?  It certainly isn’t “making disciples” of Matthew 28.  But it’s uncomfortable to discuss the hyperbole of Jesus’ statements which call us to pay a much higher cost for following Him than we thought.  No one told us it would be so expensive.  Had we known before hand, we probably wouldn’t have signed up.

Jesus lists three costs here.  Jut three, but seriously, they are as if He addressed them to Americans.  Hate your family (and yourself)?  Not very popular today.  In fact it argues against the upsurge of “redefining” marriage and family by minimizing their place in the life of a disciple.  It becomes less about family and more about Jesus.  Anyone a little uncomfortable yet?  Easier to talk about family and make that the issue isn’t it?

And what about hating your own soul?  Just in case the people were a bit unsure what He meant, Jesus goes on to say that we must take up our personal method of execution and follow Him.  Yes, we are to die to ourselves.  I’m supposed to give up my goals, my plans, my ideas of right, wrong, what is important, and so on.  Those are supposed to die, and in their place, I am to allow Jesus to fill me with His goals, plans, ideas of right and wrong, what is important, and so on.  Oops.  He was serious about that?

But again, just in case we get to a point of asking, “everything?”, Jesus goes on to explain that we are to figure this out up front.  Figure it out before hand, because unless we give up all our possessions we’re not going to be able to “afford” to be a disciple.  So possessions are another thing that are supposed to go, they are to to be left behind in our pursuit of following Jesus.  Not very American or even Western of us is it?  Who’s ready?  Let’s get on this bandwagon!  Burn it all!  Well actually no, sell it all, give the proceeds to the poor, and be content following Jesus.

Here’s the point:  To be a disciple of Jesus is expensive.  In fact, it’s so expensive, most people working so diligently to get more people into the program haven’t paid the cost of the program themselves.  No one sees how expensive it is as they are being coaxed to “join up”!  They see people much like themselves doing the coaxing, so it never occurs to them that there’s this cost involved.  Ironically, it rarely occurs to the ones doing the coaxing either.

Let’s make a change.  In Luke 14:16-24, Jesus made a very clear and insulting point about the relative danger Jews were in with God.  And then in verse 25, we have many throngs following Him around.  So, He insults them in a sense, and they flock to Him.  Not a typical approach to “evangelism”, insulting the people you’re trying to reach. It worked for Him though.  So then He sort of “thins the herd” with His explanation of the cost of being a disciple.

I’m sure the disciples were hearing and going, “Yeah, no lie.”  They had given up careers, family, status of one sort or another, all sorts of things.  We sometimes forget that.  They paid a literal cost.  Jesus describes this here, and we think, “He’s exaggerating”.  And then come away from the passage content we don’t actually have to hate our families and give up all our stuff and carry around some heavy thing that we later die on.  I believe if we’re comfortable, we’re missing the point, and do not have ears to hear.

What do you learn from Jesus’ declared cost of discipleship?


He Couldn’t Just Say ‘Thank You’?

And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14 NASB)

When you are invited to dinner at someone’s house, there is certain etiquette dictated by culture (every culture) we are to follow.  Different cultures have different etiquette, but there’s always something.  I strongly suspect that First Century Jewish culture didn’t have an etiquette clause that permitted Jesus to suggest to His host he invite someone else.  On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that by the time Jesus made the suggestion, the host was probably thinking he wished he had; just not the ones Jesus suggested.

Meals are social gatherings, or should be.  We enjoy eating with people we like to “hang out” with, so we invite those people to meals.  Sure, we can use meals for “social climbing” and can expect that the people we invite would invite us to their place for the same reasons we invited them.  It’s part of being social.

In First Century Israel, meals were also religious to a degree, but still retained the social aspects.  I don’t know for sure, but I also suspect that Gentile cultures around the Mediterranean Sea had similar social aspects, though not always with religious overtones.  Today, meals can be social in closed family circles, wider friendly circles, or broad social circles.  In no culture of the day Jesus said these words, nor in today’s Western Culture is it common practice to invite the groups Jesus suggests to the meal.

Jesus knows this. So why would He suggest it?  He makes it a big point too because His emphasis is on the reward for doing so.  There’s reward for inviting according to culture only in that culture.  There is reward for inviting the disenfranchised only in heaven.  He is, in essence, challenging His host on what is of more importance to him, culture or heaven.  Regardless of time or culture, the challenge remains.  What is more important?

Two things: 1) What is more important to you, the culture you live in here on earth, or heaven to which we journey through this life?  2) What do you learn from these words of Jesus to His host?

What About Dumb Animals?

And He said to them, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” (Luke 14:5 NASB)

Read this explanation of Jesus through a few times, and hopefully it becomes clear that oxen falling into wells is probably not a daily occurrence.  What is even odder is the juxtaposition of the son and the ox.  An inside-joke of my wife and I has to do with a comedian we can’t remember and his poking fun at the old TV show Lassie.  Lassie says, “Bark!”  The person looks at Lassie and says, “What is it Lassie? Did Timmy wander down a trail, look down a hole, and is now trapped in a well over at the Johnson Farm?”  And so this example or explanation of Jesus makes me smile a bit.

The word translated as “well” by so many translations refers to the Middle Eastern “cistern” where run-off water from the meager rains was collected.  It was often an open or sometimes covered pit, and often dry.  The King James Version translates it as “pit” as does the New Living Translation.  This is probably preferred, and makes the example a bit less funny.  The term “well” in English conjures up images of a bricked in, roofed, circle with windlass and bucket.  An ox falling into something like this is sort of funny, and I’m fairly certain that was not what Jesus was after here.

Even so, Jesus mentions a son or an ox.  Why these two?  Before (Luke 13:15) He refers to a donkey untied to water.  What I wonder is if Jesus contextualizes His examples.  So, back in Luke 13, the synagogue leader may have untied his donkey that very morning to water it.  Here, I wonder if one or more of the guests or the host even, had a son mishap involving a pit, and another a similar problem with an ox.  Or maybe the son and the ox in the same pit?  Anyway, had that been something commonly known to the guests what it does is serve to punctuate the lesson even more strongly.  Not only does God work through Jesus on the Sabbath to heal, but Jesus knows stuff He couldn’t or that they couldn’t explain how He knew.

I don’t know that.  I don’t know for certain that one or more of the guests had earlier mishaps involving farm animals, children, and pits.  Luke doesn’t include that detail, and without it, the point Jesus makes remains the same.  It’s not necessary to go there.  In a sense, I’m reading into the passage a habit I have in contextualizing my examples/analogies to the person I’m using it with.  But that’s my habit, it isn’t necessarily Jesus’.  I like the thought though.  I like the idea that Jesus does that with these guys, because as you read through the account of his meal no one seems comfortable being around Jesus.  It would explain what it was about Jesus that made the entire company of Pharisees so silent around Him.  On the other hand, we don’t really know if they were all that silent either.  They could have been milling about speaking as they negotiated for the best place at the table.  We don’t know really.  They just never seem to say anything to Jesus.

So, with or without Jesus contextualizing His example, the point remains that a person is more important than an ox.  But how about more than a son?  I think here Jesus is pointing out that they “heal” people on the Sabbath too.  They wouldn’t think twice, but only “their people”, and I think that’s where Jesus has a problem with them.  So regardless of whether this was a personal example using two guests or not, people matter.  And these guys should know that…already.  It’s actually a powerful example to put the son and the ox together because one is obvious, and other is obvious; but together they are powerful in showing the glaring mistake they have made in their assumptions.  Also notice Jesus doesn’t call them “hypocrites”.  He’s not being mean here, but gentle.  Odd don’t you think?

So, what do you learn as you consider Jesus’ choice of example, His choice of demeanor, and His point about people?  It’s kind of a lot to get from a single sentence.

The Silent Majority

And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”  But they kept silent. And He took hold of him and healed him, and sent him away.  And He said to them, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?”  And they could make no reply to this.  (Luke 14:3-6 NASB)

I have been reminded by my wife many times that when I prepare, my sermons are shorter.  I don’t preach any more, but the reminder has always stuck with me.  Now, when I do get the very rare opportunity to preach, my preparation is very different, and my sermon is often long.  So, I received the advice or reminder, but I didn’t necessarily heed it.  The thing is, preachers love to preach.  Getting us to keep our mouths shut isn’t easy.  So why were these dinner guests so quiet?

After the setting of this meal, we have the one-sided discourse.  The weird thing is, all the other guests are Pharisees and lawyers.  These guys make their mark in their society by arguing…and here they’re silent.  And we just glibly zip on by and don’t notice a bunch of silent professional debaters.  I think we should.  Because why they were silent may help us understand how Jesus behaves with them at this meal.  And, therefore, how He would respond to us when we practice such silliness.

First off, the obvious reason is probably the first and best reason for why they were silent: They were watching to see what Jesus would do without offering the “assistance” of their perspective.  I’m sure they thought they knew the answer without doubt, without question, without any option for another opinion.  But they were also pretty sure Jesus didn’t.  It was a trap, a snare, an opportunity for the offense of Jesus to become His downfall.  It was silly.

But I think there was something else going on here.  I believe, to some extent, they were aware they didn’t actually know and wanted to know what Jesus thought.  Think about it, these guys are smart.  Jesus goes about healing, which is a testimony that God is with Him, and even heals on the Sabbath, something they thought was a deal-breaker with God.  Jesus represents a conundrum.  How can it be that He can heal on the Sabbath and be acceptable to God?  And so  the wonder, is it real, does He actually heal on the Sabbath, could it be true that God actually accepts such behavior?  And more than that, if so why?  They have assumed that Sabbath-keeping is one of those things that separates them from Gentiles, rigorous keeping of the Sabbath would be vital to that distinction. So, how can Jesus flagrantly do what would be considered work on the Sabbath and God be okay with it?

They  want to see this for themselves.  They want to hear the explanation for themselves.  They have no idea what they’re in for, but they wander in ignorantly to the arena with Deity.  So, they set the trap and wait.  Their opponent shows up, sniffs about, and then sits down to eat the bait, licks their lips and looks around for more.  No trap.  It’s pretty underwhelming.  Jesus comes in, sees the man, asks a question of them, they don’t answer (it’s a test, no cheating), He heals the man, and sending him away asks about a basic loophole in their own Sabbath rules.  How did they not see that one coming?  I suspect they did.  I doubt Jesus was the first one to ask or challenge the group about what validly fits through the loophole.  Jesus is simply the first “Healer” to do it.

The thing I see here is that these guys were first silent to test, then silent because they were tested themselves.  They weren’t “bad guys” because they tested Jesus, they had, over the course of years and generations, argued themselves into a position that neglected the value of people, even their fellow Hebrews.  The irony is that those people were who they were trying to distinguish from the Gentiles through their interpretation of the Sabbath law. So while they succeeded in distinguishing, they failed to protect and value them.  Oh Dang!  I’m sure “Sabbath Law Discussions” kicked around the loophole of saving someone in well, or pulling an ox from a ditch, or watering the donkey, or whatever.  And clearly Jesus isn’t healing for money, the dropsy-man didn’t pay Jesus before he wandered off.  It wasn’t Jesus “occupation” as much as it was what occupied a lot of His time.  So you can understand their confusion perhaps.

I think they had nothing to say because a light bulb just lit in their head.  It was an “oh-yeah” moment.  It wasn’t revolutionary in the sense they’d never been down that particular road, it was transformational because they hadn’t noticed they had forgotten an important element, caring for and valuing the people.  And I doubt very seriously it was because they didn’t know that was important.  I suspect they got further and further away from it because a line crossed many years ago became blurred and forgotten.  They probably assumed that by distinguishing themselves as a people from Gentiles, they were taking care of and valuing their people.  I can see how it could happen.  I’ve seen people there who, if you were to point it out, would be as silent, and probably, like these people here, eventually react against being called out on it.  But I’ve also seen people change once called out on it.  I’m one.  I didn’t figure this out on my own, I’ve had to be shown where I was ignoring the people’s needs and valuing them.

Have you gotten to that point?  It’s been a while for me, and I’m now struggling against the tide in my church to point out need or encourage service.  But where are you in this struggle?  What do you learn from the silent dinner guests?  Or what do you learn from Jesus’ explanation of Sabbath law?

Answering The Visual Question

It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely.  And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy.  And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (Luke 14:1-3 NASB)

I don’t think anyone reading the Gospels, whether they believe what they read or not, can come away from the experience and think Jesus is not an enigma.  Jesus is an enigma to everyone who meets Him for the first time, and those who spend a great deal of time with Him.  All the people knew is that He did miracles and taught with authority.  The disciples knew that He taught as if He were God.  The Pharisees knew that He taught different than they did, and believed different things about the Scriptures.  What Jesus taught was often impossible to measure or intangible in other ways.  It was a call to authentic belief.

Knowing that, Pharisees can’t leave it alone.  I wonder if there was some internal competition between groups of Pharisees to see where Jesus’ weakness lay.  But they keep repeating their testing.  This is the third time Jesus heals on the Sabbath (Luke 6 and 13 are the previous ones).  Jesus has answered questions from the Pharisees about “work on the Sabbath” in Luke 4.  You’d think by now Jesus’ position on the Sabbath was pretty clear.  But no, not to this group, and so we have with this group another example of why it’s dangerous to have Jesus over for a meal (see my previous blog entries “Giving = Sanctifying” and “Lawyer Drawing Fire“).  This is the quintessential example of Jesus as a dangerous dinner guest.  All the elements are here in verses 1 through 24.

But Luke words this rather interestingly.  The scene is set, an invitation, a host, a “man-test”, and Jesus answers.  Luke is specific, Jesus answers when He asks His question of His host and other guests.  Think that through.  Jesus saw the scene as begging a question, He saw it as the test it was, the setup, the trap.  So He asks the question, in a sense “addressing the elephant in the room”.  But what He asks is the surface question, the one we would expect Him to be asked.  So, if the man before Him with the swollen limbs is a question Jesus answers, and the answer is the question the presence of the man seems to beg, then what is Jesus answering?  Or is it as simple as Jesus simply stating out loud the mute question before Him, He really is “addressing the elephant” everyone else sees but doesn’t acknowledge?  I don’t think so.

What other questions could the man represent?  He could represent, “Will you follow our pattern of practice?”  He could represent the question, “Who are you?”  He could represent the question, “Will you play our game?”  But I think the more likely question answered by the man before Jesus was, “Why did you invite me here?”  The man made clear that the invitation was not a peaceful gesture, but an aggressive one.  The presence of the man was a challenge to Who Jesus was, His role, His validity, His right to teach and lead people, and so on.  I doubt by this time the Pharisees were in doubt about what Jesus stood for, where He stood on various issues, or His interpretations of Scripture.  The man represented a trap, and as soon as Jesus arrived He understood the question, a challenge to Him.

“And Jesus answered and said,” Jesus did deal with the unspoken reason for His invitation, not just the man with a disease.  He entered into the ambush, now knowing why He was invited, and proceeded to dismantle His opponents.  He began by showing them the error of their assumptions about the Sabbath.

The reason I think this is important is that it begs the question from us, “Why do we go to Jesus?”  Why do we?  What do we hope to gain?  I assure you that whatever that is, however you answer that question, all you do is provide the starting point for Jesus, and it will also be the departure point for where He will take you.  It’s at that point that we have a decision to make: Continue to eat with Jesus or find a new dinner companion.  I can tell you that other companions are a lot easier to deal with, nicer, less challenging, and often a lot more boring.  Let’s continue on with this meal.  But I warn you it doesn’t get any easier.

What do you learn so far from Jesus as a dinner guest here?