Fan or Follower?
FAN OR FOLLOWER?
Turn with me to Luke 14 if you would. If you’re joining us for the first time, we are going through the book of Luke one verse and chapter at a time, and here are a few cliff notes of where we’ve been to catch you up to speed:
Luke Chapter 9 tells us Jesus is headed to Jerusalem, where he knows he will face rejection, crucifixion and resurrection.
Chapter 13 ended with Jesus' mourning or lamenting over Jerusalem, saying about the leaders of Israel that so often he wanted to just gather them up like a hen gathers her chicks, but they refused to come to him. They wanted nothing to do with him.
Then Chapter 14 began with Jesus eating in the home of a Pharisee, where through the course of events, a discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees took place over who would be at the heavenly banquet in the kingdom of God. The Pharisees were pretty sure the banquet seating depended on who followed the rules the best - which of course was them. Jesus informed them that was not actually the case, but that entrance to the kingdom simply depends on who will come, and that’s what we’ll see more of today as we wrap up this section of Luke.
LUKE 14:25 Now great crowds were traveling with him.
We’ve already determined that they are headed to Jerusalem. It is very likely that they are all headed there for a week-long Jewish festival called Passover – we know Jesus is only going to be in Jerusalem for one week before he is crucified, which happens one night after eating the Passover meal with his disciples. So it’s possible that here in Luke 14, Jesus is just a few days out from Jerusalem.
The crowds are picking up around him because news has spread… There has been a celebrity sighting. Crowds are gathering around him, watching his every move. Will he do a miracle? Will he heal someone? What will he say next? Will he notice me? Talk to me? Will he teach us something? Will he scold a Pharisee? Will he raise someone from the dead? He’s done that before.
The closest I can get to picturing this scene happened a few years ago when a professional golfer named Tiger Woods came back to playing golf after several surgeries on his back, on his legs, and was in position to win another golf tournament. I tried hard to get a video of this scene, because it’s pretty wild. But all I could get was a picture.
I don’t know how accurate that is to what Jesus is experiencing, but he knows his actions have made him famous, he has a large crowd traveling with him, they all think they are going to Jerusalem for the Passover, but only he knows the true Passover that is about to happen. I imagine them all sort of jostling to be where they can see him, just in case he does something or says something.
I hope by now you’re getting the hang of Jesus. He never lets a good opportunity go to waste. Who knows what all is being said while they are walking along, but Luke records that all of a sudden, Jesus puts on the brakes. The whole thing comes to a stop.
So Jesus turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, and even his own life — he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
Let’s be honest, those words still suck the air right out of the room today. Either your heart drops into your stomach and your gut hurts because the words are so strong, or you sort of shrug and say, well, it can’t mean what it looks like it means.
Well let’s take a closer look. First of all, Jesus mentions the word “disciple'' two times. You cannot be my disciple if this and that is true. A disciple is a student who intentionally follows a certain teacher, in order to become like that teacher. We might call it an apprentice today, where in order to become a plumber or an electrician, you follow around a master plumber or electrician, and learn from them. The goal, of course, is that someday you will be the master and be able to do the teaching yourself to another apprentice.
In Jesus’ statement, there are some requirements for being an apprentice of his. This thing of following him isn’t the same as just crowding around him to see if he does a miracle. You will not become a good golfer simply by crowding around Tiger Woods to watch him play.
In fact, Jesus said many who miss out on heaven will argue that they had lunch with Jesus a time or two, and that he taught in their streets! They were there!
But Jesus isn’t looking for fans. He’s looking for followers. Apprentices. Disciples.
He begins with the obvious:
If anyone comes to me – You can’t be an apprentice from a distance. You can’t be a follower of Jesus and not want to actually be with him. This is an invitation for anyone to follow him. “If anyone comes to me…” Anyone.
- In a couple of chapters, Luke 18, we’ll see Jesus say little children can come to him. In John 6, Jesus says he will never cast out anyone who comes to him. In John 7, Jesus says “if anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.”
- So the prerequisite to come to Jesus is that you are thirsty for what he has to offer!
- It’s pretty clear, NO ONE is disqualified from coming to him.
- But He’s not looking for more fans who just like the idea of following him. If you’re going to come to him, you must Hate your immediate family – your dad, your mom, your wife, your children, brothers and sisters - yes, even your own life…
At this point you might be wondering if Jesus isn’t actually a terrible salesman. It’s like, wow, he’s not really selling this whole discipleship thing very well if he actually wants anyone to do it. Is he trying to keep people from being disciples? Wouldn’t John 3:16 work a little better?
To us in Western culture, this is enough to give you a heart attack, because the way we talk about hate refers to a violent anger or resentment toward someone, like you want them dead. But elsewhere Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us. It would be odd of him to say “love your enemies but hate your family,” right? So what does he mean?
I’ve coached basketball in the past, and one particular year we had a player who was a great three-point shooter. If he was wide open when he took the shot, you could almost count on it to go in. But during his senior year, instead of improving as the season went on, he got worse. Especially during those last 2 weeks of the season. And it wasn’t because he was physically exhausted. He was also a runner, and he loved running cross country and track more than any other sport.
Those last two weeks of basketball were starting to overlap with the beginning of training for track and field. He got worse at shooting the basketball because his heart was already running track before basketball season was over. I remember in one game pulling him aside during a timeout and basically asking him if he remembers what sport we’re playing. We wanted him to act as if he hated track and field until basketball season was over. Make sense?
Jesus doesn’t want you to violently resent your wife or children, or your parents. But like we wanted our 3 point shooter to be fully focused on basketball, if you’re going to be an apprentice of Jesus, he expects you to be able to say no to them if Christ requires it of you.
Some of you might really struggle with this and think that being a dad or a mom or a husband or a wife or a good son or daughter is your primary calling in life, and everything else comes second place to your family.
Being a dad or mom is a high calling in life, but it’s not the highest. Being a husband or a wife is a high calling, but it’s not the highest. Being a good and obedient son or daughter, a great employee, employer, etc is a high calling but your highest, primary calling in life is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. That’s the first and greatest commandment. And even your closest family cannot get in the way of that calling.
The people Jesus was talking to knew this full well. For them to leave traditional Judaism and follow Jesus would bring rejection and distance from their parents, their home synagogue, friends… maybe even spouses.
Anyone in this crowd who wants to be his apprentice would have to consider that cost. He’s not saying you can’t miss them, can’t shed some tears, or that you can’t be bummed that you’re going to miss out on some things. But, as one commentator points out: “When conflict arises between family desires or personal desires and Christ’s mission, the disciple has no problem in knowing what to do. Christ’s mission always takes precedence, no matter how serious the need of family. Nothing can be used as an excuse to refuse to do what Christ has called you to do” (Butler, 242).
Starting off the morning by recognizing veterans actually puts us in the right frame of mind for this. I don’t think any commanding officer wants to send someone into combat who isn’t prepared to give it all for the sake of the mission. You don’t want that person freezing up in the middle of an assignment because all of a sudden they changed their mind about wanting to be here because they miss home. You want that person next to you on the front lines to be prepared to see this mission through to the end, and if they must put themselves in harm’s way for that to happen, they are prepared.
In the same way, Jesus isn’t looking for fans - he’s looking for wholehearted apprentices. Which leads to the next statement…Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
You might hear this phrase being used from time to time, where we say, “That neighbor keeps mowing on my side of the property line, or I just can’t lose that last stubborn 20 pounds, or I have crazy allergies in the Spring – but I guess we all have our cross to bear.” Usually when we’re talking about a cross to bear today, we mean we have to tolerate something that is unhandy and there’s nothing anyone can do to help. But that’s not what Jesus has in mind.
Everyone following Jesus would know exactly what he means by bearing a cross. They’ve all seen a Roman crucifixion. They all know that a condemned criminal is forced to carry part of his cross to the execution site. Jesus isn’t suggesting that they will all end up being crucified. Some will. But he is suggesting that an apprentice of his has to be willing to follow him into suffering.
We might all be okay with Jesus asking us to follow him to certain places. Some parts of discipleship aren’t all that difficult or demanding. But when Jesus picks up the cross of suffering and says follow me here too, a true disciple picks up their own cross and follows after him.
Salvation is free, but following Jesus is costly. And he wants us to count the cost before we just dive in. Jesus wants wholehearted followers. You can’t follow him halfway.
28 “For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, after he has laid the foundation and cannot finish it, all the onlookers will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man started to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
Jodi and I recently purchased a building on main street here in Riverside, and part of the process was her and I sitting down together and calculating the cost. We spent a lot of time getting bids from various contractors on roofing, electrical, plumbing, brickwork, windows, etc. We added it all up, and then had to make a decision – do we have enough money to make this work?
Because one sure way to have people shake their heads and assume all kinds of things about your intelligence is to start into the project, only to run out of money before the roof gets put on.
The point is: Following Jesus takes precedence over every single other obligation you have in life – even your own family, your future, and your own life. So before you casually raise your hand to say, sure I have decided to follow Jesus, you must think it through. Ask yourself, am I willing to pay the price to follow him?
31 “Or what king, going to war against another king, will not first sit down and decide if he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If not, while the other is still far off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.
The builder had a choice. Build or don’t build. This king does not have the luxury of choice. He is under attack. So he sits down, takes his time, and looks at his resources: 10,000 men, against 20,000. If he decides to go ahead and defend himself, he knows it will be deadly. They are outnumbered 2-1. It’s going to leave him with a lot less than 10,000 troops, less resources, who knows what else. If he decides he doesn’t have the resources to win, he doesn’t just climb into a hole in the ground and wait for defeat – he immediately sends out a delegation and asks for peace, probably offering up some of his land, his possessions, his financial resources, etc
The point of the tower story is this: Consider what it will cost you to follow Jesus.
But the point of the story about the king is that you should also consider what it will cost you to oppose the call to follow Jesus; What will it cost you to say “NO” to what he is calling you to do? What will it cost you to let your family get in the way of loyalty to Christ?
What will it cost you to let your job, your children, your future, your marriage, your relationships, your reputation, your desire for control, your desire for comfort, get in the way of following Jesus? What will it cost you if you decide to let your bank account get in the way of your allegiance to Jesus?
The answer is that it would be like a king going to war where he is heavily outnumbered – it would be deadly! Jesus said, “whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
So don’t just crawl in a hole and wait for judgment to come – call out to God and offer him everything! God, My family is yours, my life is yours, my job is yours, my health is yours, my home is yours, my future, my dreams – it’s all yours. I want to be wholeheartedly yours, so
I give everyone and everything to you, Lord.
Then he wraps up this whole section of Luke with this:
34 “Now, salt is good, but if salt should lose its taste, how will it be made salty? 35 It isn’t fit for the soil or for the manure pile; they throw it out. Let anyone who has ears to hear listen.”
In other words, when an apprentice of Jesus, a disciple, a follower, allows suffering or family or possessions or control or fear or finances or vocation to hijack their commitment to Christ, the salt has lost its saltiness and it is useless as far as the kingdom is concerned.
And that is Satan’s goal in every one of our lives. He may not be able to keep you from coming to Jesus, telling your salvation story and getting baptized. But that’s when he cranks up the battle. If he can’t keep you from being saved, he will try to keep you from being effective.
But here’s where it gets good: God the Father counted the cost before he started building the plan of salvation. He knew that to redeem fallen humanity he would have to give his only Son for those who were perishing. Jesus Christ, as Revelation 13:8 says, is the Lamb who was slain “before the foundation of the world,” which means God did not start creating the world without first considering if he had the relational capital to finish the job.
Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who eternally existed in full and overflowing love from the Father, came to earth, put himself in our shoes, becoming human, even to the point of picking up his cross and carrying it all the way through rejection from even his family, rejection from his religious leaders, even his closest followers all deserted him – but God raised him from the dead so that anyone who believes in him would be saved! Not just saved from a future in hell, but saved FOR being a new creation right here and now! Empowered and filled by the Holy Spirit to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
God the Father counted the cost, and he absolutely will not leave the kingdom of heaven halfway finished. He who began a good work in us will see it through to completion. But what keeps him motivated to finish the job is love! In John 15, Jesus tells his disciples: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” Meaning that if you are a wholehearted disciple of Jesus, he loves you with the same love that God the Father has for Jesus.
So by Jesus telling us to hate our family, he is not a terrible salesman trying to sell you lousy fire insurance. To invite us to pick up our cross and come after him is to say, “Come, die with me to every lesser love, even loves that are good and wholesome and necessary like family.
But on the other side of this death to self is a newness of life that is the exact same life that I had with my Father for all of eternity; a resurrection into the same Joy that I had; the same peace that I had, filled with the same Holy Spirit that I was filled with!”
So when we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we are once again being invited to come and die with Christ. To pick up our cross and follow him, no matter what it costs us. We’re once again being reminded that long before we decided to follow Jesus, he decided to move toward us in the same kind of love that his Father had for him. In the Lord’s Supper, we do not champion our own commitment to Christ – we’re once again told that God is so committed to us, that he gave his one and only Son, who literally picked up his cross and faced suffering and death, so that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.
Set the table…
Hang onto the elements…
As the band comes up to lead us out, we’re going to sing that old hymn I mentioned, I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. Frank told me about the song’s history, and so I looked it up and here’s what I found:
About 150 years ago, there was a great revival in Wales. As a result of this, many missionaries ended up in NE India to spread the Gospel. The region known as Assam was made up of hundreds of tribes who were primitive and aggressive head-hunters.
Into these hostile and aggressive communities, came a group of missionaries from the American Baptist Missions spreading the message of love, peace and hope in Jesus Christ. Naturally, they were not welcomed. One missionary succeeded in converting a man, his wife, and two children. This man’s faith proved contagious and many villagers began to accept Christianity.
Angry, the village chief summoned all the villagers. He then called the family who had first converted to renounce their faith in public or face execution. Moved by the Holy Spirit, the man said:
“I have decided to follow Jesus.”
Enraged at the refusal of the man, the chief ordered his archers to arrow down the two children. As both boys lay twitching on the floor, the chief asked, “Will you deny your faith? You have lost both your children. You will lose your wife too.”
But the man replied:
“Though no one joins me, still I will follow.”
The chief was beside himself with fury and ordered his wife to be arrowed down. In a moment she joined her two children in death. Now he asked for the last time, “I will give you one more opportunity to deny your faith and live.” In the face of death the man said the final memorable lines:
“The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back.”
He was shot dead like the rest of his family.*
Now, the story ends really well, with the chief and the rest of the villagers eventually becoming followers of Jesus, and with a song written about the man’s final words. But the point isn’t that the man was so courageous, or that he was so brave, or even that he had counted the cost – the point is that Jesus was such a treasure to him….
Trent C. Butler, Luke, vol. 3, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000)
Klyne Snodgrass, Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Group, 2018)
R.C. Sproul, A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1999)
Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996)