Sermon preached on Luke 14:25-35 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 06/26/2022 in Novato, CA.
Discipleship is foundational to Christianity. Every Christian is a disciple of Christ. Today’s passage again shows Jesus calling people to be his disciple. I love how in Scripture there are various ways Jesus calls people to discipleship. Sometimes Jesus’ call into discipleship is very brief, “Follow me.” Other times Jesus’ call into discipleship might emphasize the good gifts we receive in him. Yet other times, Jesus’ call into discipleship might emphasize our response. In today’s passage, there is certainly a lot of that. We are called to count the cost of discipleship and examined ourselves to see that we are truly his disciples. Yet, there are also subtle pictures here of the grace and blessings that we receive as disciples of Christ.
So then, today we’ll consider this topic of disciples in three points. First, we’ll look at verses 25-27 and look at Jesus’ explicit call to discipleship and what he says here that involves. Second, we’ll look at verses 28-32 and see how Jesus illustrates that call to discipleship with two parables. Then third, we’ll look at verses 34-35 and consider this parable about salt losing its saltiness and see how that speaks to this topic as well.
Let us then begin in our first point with Jesus’ call to discipleship. This is certainly one of his more shocking calls to discipleship. It is exceedingly rare to hear anyone today share the gospel to unbelievers and describe things in such terms. Jesus’ call here to become his disciple is not put in words of how to have “Your Best Life Now”. No, it’s more like how to have the most difficult life now! Yet, as we consider Jesus’ different ways he calls people to discipleship, we realize they each teach us different aspects of what it means to follow Jesus. What he tells us here is very important to understand. Yes, becoming a disciple of Christ is the best thing you can do. And it will certainly mean the best life in eternity. And there is absolutely a certain sense that it will be for your best life now to follow Jesus. But Jesus reminds us here that there is also absolutely a sense in which following him will mean a really hard life here and now full of various sacrifices for Christ’ sake. That is what we must understand and appreciate and learn about today.
So, look at how Jesus calls us to discipleship in verse 26. “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.” So, Jesus basically says to be his disciple you need to hate your family and even yourself. This word for hate is the typical word for hate in the Greek, but I think we must understand things in context. Earlier, in Luke 10:27, Jesus said we are to love your neighbor as yourself. If you take today’s words in a woodenly literal and absolutely sense, that would you mean you should hate your neighbor as you hate yourself. Surely, such a line of interpretation would be faulty. Rather, a better way to understand this is to see that you cannot put others before Jesus, not even family, not even yourself. If Jesus is to be your Lord and you are to follow him, then you must love Jesus the most. More than your best friend. More than your family. More than even yourself. Jesus must be your first, your most, your best. To be Jesus’ disciple means you ought to follow him wholeheartedly without reservation and as your top priority. This is a reminder the literal meaning of a word is not always the exact way it gets used. Language also involves context, usage, and even sometimes hyperbole in different forms. A somewhat similar usage in Scripture is in Genesis 29:30 which says that Jacob loved his wife Rachel more than his other wife Leah, and then in the next verse describes Jacob hating Leah. In context, the language of Jacob hating Leah was referring to how he loved Rachel over Leah. Something along these lines is surely what is meant here. We must love Jesus and follow Jesus over all others.
I feel the need to further explain and apply this based on conversations I’ve had in the past. Loving Jesus most over all, and putting him first, might mean that you have to choose between your family and Jesus. What I mean is that if your family says stop being a Christian or I won’t see you anymore, then that is terribly sad, but you need to still be a Christian. But loving Jesus most over all and putting him first, doesn’t mean that you should disregard your obligations to your family members either. Actually, following Jesus affirms those obligations. For example, in Matthew 7 Jesus admonished the Pharisees who supported forsaking honoring their parents in the name of certain religious acts of devotion. So, to hate your parents here in order to follow Jesus is to hear Jesus then tell you that you need to honor and love your parents as the 5th commandment teaches. Hopefully you are getting the point here that Jesus’ bold call in verse 27 needs to be rightly applied. Treat it like wisdom literature and carefully think what true discipleship looks like lived out regarding your family.
Jesus then further explains such discipleship in verse 27 with the call to take up your cross and come after him. Remember that Luke had recorded Jesus already describing discipleship like this back in 9:23. Back then we said that this call tells us that discipleship involves following Jesus. What lies ahead for Jesus is suffering and even his death on the cross. So then, the previous verse said we must be prepared to hate even our own life, so then we must be prepared to follow Jesus even if involves self-denial, personal sacrifice, hardship, suffering, and even death. Again, if you love your life over Jesus, you won’t be willing to follow him into a time of suffering or hardship. And the New Testament repeatedly speaks of how in this life suffering is in store for Christians. The whole book of 1 Peter speaks about it. Jesus mentions at various places the persecutions his disciples will face. Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” To follow Jesus involves taking up our cross and going on a death march because we are following in his footsteps. True, we might not literally die in this life for following Jesus. But to follow him means to sacrifice ourselves for Jesus in the sense of complete devotion to him and his cause.
Let me note that this is one place in our passage where we can subtly see grace and blessing implied. For to take up our crosses and follow Jesus means that we follow him first in his suffering, but then also in his subsequent glory. This is a major teaching in Luke’s gospel that Jesus must first suffer at the cross and then enter into his glory. We then follow him first in suffering but then unto glory.
This leads us now to our second point to consider how this passage calls us to count the cost associated with following Jesus. This is verses 28-32 where he describes this with these two parables.
The first parable is in verse 28 about building a tower. Jesus notes what would have been obvious to people. If you are going to build a tower, you need to calculate the cost. You need to determine if you have enough money to build the tower. You wouldn’t want to start building it and run out of money before you finish. To actually do that, is easier said than done. Our church building project has had to revise our building project budget a few times. There are a certainly various projects in history where people have run out of funds. Sometimes such projects run out of money due to extraordinary circumstance – like if high inflation comes mid-project due to some unexpected situation, that could make you run out of money before you finish. But, projects also sometimes run out of money due to a failure to properly count the cost ahead of time. Jesus warns against that. He said you’d be laughed at if your get caught with a half-finished tower and without the means to finish it.
Of course, Jesus’ parable here about the tower is to teach about discipleship not towers. But he wants people to understand that there is a sort of cost involved in following Jesus. This doesn’t take away the fact that we are saved fundamentally by grace through faith. Salvation can truthfully be said to be from the free grace of God. But as those who’ve turned to Jesus as his disciple, we are looking to live by faith by following his commands. As we grow in faithfulness, we should expect that in this world we will have trouble, just as Jesus said in John 16:33. Jesus told us not to be surprised when the world hates hate us as Christians because the world has hated him, John 15:18. Jesus wants us to understand that becoming a follower of Jesus likely will not make your life here and now easier in every way. In certain ways, it will become harder. You are being called to live morally and righteously in a world that promotes living however makes you happy and largely disregards the Bible’s teaching on sin. You are being called to be a testimony to Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation, and many people will be offended and hate you because of that. You are being called to obey Jesus over everyone else, and sometimes that will make those people angry at you. You need to count the cost. You need to know what you are getting into. If you don’t, you will end up falling away. If you go into Christian discipleship naively thinking that life will be easier in an absolute sense, and then the troubles come, you will give up your Christian discipleship and say “it didn’t work.” But if you have first counted the cost and accepted that cost, then by the grace of God you won’t be surprised and have your faith shipwrecked when troubles come.
Let me give you another related application. When you count the cost on building a tower, if you decide to move forward with your tower project it is because you think it is worth the cost. If you don’t move forward, you don’t end up with a tower. But if you count the cost, and then pay the cost, at the end, you have a nice tower. Well, following Jesus has the “cost” we’ve been talking about. But at the end, you’ll find that following Jesus was totally worth it. You end up with something far better than a tower. You will have eternal life in the glorious and blessed age to come. Have you counted the cost to follow Jesus? It is totally worth it!
So then, the other parable here is similar. It starts in verse 31 about a king being faced with the potential of a war with another king that has a larger army. In the parable, it’s the king who has a king with an army of twenty thousand coming against him, but he only has an army of ten thousand. There, in verse 31 it says that the king would need to deliberate. He’d had to consider if his smaller force is going to be able to prevail in battle against this larger force. This is similar to counting the cost idea. But here, it imagines that if the king deliberates and determines he isn’t going to be able to win the battle, that he needs to take action and try to make peace with the other king while the other king is still a long way off.
While this parable is similar to the one about the cost of the tower, it does seem the direction is slightly different. Here, it presents that the best option might in this case be to not go to war but instead to pursue peace no matter what the cost. In other words, if the king doesn’t deliberate and discern the need to pursue peace, but foolishly goes to war, he could end up destroyed by the other king and his army. Apply that to our discipleship. We need to deliberate and discern that Christ and his army of angels will one day be coming to this earth for judgment and destruction on all his enemies. Yet, before that day comes, we need to find peace with King Jesus. Thankfully, he has offered peace to us. If we will confess our rebellion against God, and turn to him for forgiveness and grace, he will receive us as his disciple. Then we will know his peace. Here is more of that grace that I said was hinted at here in this passage. Just as it pictures hope for a weaker king to find peace from a stronger king, so too in Jesus we can find the peace with God we need for the day of judgment.
So then, this parable looks at this idea in sort of the opposite way that the first parable looked at discipleship. The first parable got us to ask if we’ve counted the cost to follow Jesus? This parable gets us to deliberate on what is the result if we don’t follow Jesus? If we don’t follow Jesus as his disciple, Jesus will come at the end in judgment with his host of angels and he will prevail against us. We need to make peace with him now and become his disciple and follow him.
Realize that is what is the positive picture behind this parable. At the end of this parable there will be a victorious king who is reigning. Applying that picture to Christ, we want to be a part of Christ’s victorious kingdom, not someone conquered at his coming and excluded from his kingdom. So then, as we count the cost of discipleship, we not only realize it is worthy every penny, so to speak, we also realize that the cost of not following Jesus is even higher!
Let us now turn to our third point in verses 34-35 and think about this parable of salt losing its taste. Salt has been used since antiquity to improve the flavor of food. It is what is called a flavor enhancer. It virtually makes everything taste better. It is used not only in savory dishes, but even in sweet dishes. Even ice cream typically has salt in it. But Jesus’ parable envisions what if the salt somehow loses its taste? What if the salt is no longer salty?
A question that is often asked here is, “How can salt even lose its saltiness?” One suggestion I’ve read is that it might refer to how it can get mixed with other minerals which could impart bad tastes to it. Well, that’s an interesting idea, and maybe that’s what is in mind here, but I wonder if that’s not overthinking it. Maybe the idea is that unsalty salt is supposed to be a bit of an oxymoron. It’s like have unwatery water. And so, I suspect that’s the ultimate point. If you have salt that isn’t salty, you don’t really have salt. It can claim to be salt, but if it isn’t salty, then it’s not really salt.
Apply this then to today’s topic about discipleship. Are you truly a disciple? You might say you are a disciple of Christ, but are you actually a disciple? If salt is supposed to be salty, Jesus taught here that disciples are supposed to be disciple-like – as Jesus defines it. Jesus says discipleship should be one where you renounce all for Christ and walk in his way of the cross. It is to be a life where you are sharing in his suffering here and now, and then later you will share in his glorious victory in the future. Is that what your discipleship looks like? Or is not like that? If so, you may be like unsalty salt!
And so, I said at the start or our sermon today that discipleship is foundational to Christianity. Every Christian is a disciple of Christ. So just as unsalty salt is not salt, so too, if you are not a disciple, then you are not a Christian.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, the call today is unto discipleship. If you are not yet following Jesus, do so today. Count the cost to follow him and know what you are getting into. But count the cost as well to not follow him, and be wise and flee to him to find peace and eternal life. And if needed, may today’s sermon even awaken you if you’ve thought yourself a Christian but have not really been a true disciple. And if you have already become a disciple, may you be recommitted today what that involves. And may we be encouraged then at what will come to it. The outcome will be something far better than a tower or even a military success. Come quickly Lord Jesus and may you grant us the grace to follow you each day, gladly renouncing all things for your sake.
Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.