Sunday Services: 9:00am & 10:45am

Out from the Crowds

Out from the Crowds

Preached by Ben Bechtel

This morning we are going to be in Luke 14:25-35. At the beginning of this text today Luke notes that crowds begin to gather in large number to hear what Jesus has to say. I don’t always love being a part of a large crowd but I do always love it at a concert. It doesn’t matter if it is an intimate venue or a large arena, I love being a part of that musical experience with others. If you were to survey a crowd at any given concert, you would hear many different reasons why people are there. Some are there because they love the band and know every word to their songs. Some are there because their significant other loves the band and knows every word to their songs. Others are there because they like that one song of this band that plays on the radio. And still some are there just because they were bored on a Friday night.

The moment in which we find ourselves this morning, where crowds are gathering to hear Jesus, is a pivotal point in Luke’s account of Jesus’ teaching ministry. Up to this point, Jesus has almost exclusively addressed his twelve disciples, or more recently in the book, the religious leaders. But here we see Jesus turning towards the large crowds that follow him, which is where his focus will remain throughout the rest of the Gospel. 1 In Jesus’ first speech to the crowds in Luke’s Gospel he gives them a crash course on what it means to truly follow him. And in this first Discipleship 101 class, Jesus wants to weed out his true followers from his fair-weather fans. Many of us then and now are simply part of the crowd, coming to Jesus for what he can do for us. We are hanging around Jesus because we don’t have anything else to do on a Friday night and he seems interesting. But Jesus is calling us out of the crowd into a costly life of following him joyfully, even into the hardest areas of our lives. Read Luke 14:25-35 (pg. 994):

Luke 14:25-35

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 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. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Prayer

Jesus’ teaching in this passage can be broken up very simply. Here in his intro to discipleship course, Jesus teaches us how to start well as a follower of Jesus (v. 25-33) and how to finish well as a follower of Jesus (v. 34-35).

1. Starting Well as a Follower of Jesus (v. 25-33)

I find it enlightening and sometimes comical when studying the life of Jesus to stop and compare his leadership tactics with business or political leadership tactics. For instance, let’s take a look at what Jesus says to the crowds again in verses 25-26:

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 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.

A great crowd is gathering as they often did in the life and ministry of Jesus and so Jesus naturally turns to address them. And what does he do? He tells them that they can’t follow him unless they hate their family, suffer, and give up everything they have.

Can you imagine a political leader (at least in our democratic, relatively stable society) saying something like this? Let’s look back to our election cycle, an election which many people were intensely passionate about. Can you imagine if, during their acceptance speeches for their respective nominations, they both turn to face the crowd and say, “unless you hate your family, suffer hardship, and give up all your possessions to my candidacy, we don’t want your support.” Some of you may say, “my relative I sat across from at the Thanksgiving dinner table this year may be fine with that.”

But the point is that Jesus is not functioning under a pragmatic type of wisdom here. He genuinely desires for people not to rush to join his cause but for them to stop and come face to face with what that might mean for them. As one prominent pastor comments about this passage, “Jesus has no desire to trick you into following him with a kind of bait and switch. He is utterly up front about the cost.” 2

Let’s stop and take a moment to address the one word that caught your attention the first time you read this—hate. What does Jesus mean by the word “hate” here? Isn’t Jesus contradicting the fifth commandment, that we should honor our fathers and mothers (Exodus 20:12)? Does he actually want us all who are believers to be walking around without any family, even if we are all believers?

In order to understand this statement, we have to get outside of our relatively Christianized, Western world and place ourselves in Jesus’ world. In the time of Jesus, family was everything. In that society, your upmost allegiance was to your family. Also at the time of Jesus, a Jewish person who made a decision to follow Jesus would directly come in conflict with his/her parent’s Jewish faith. 3 Think about it: if you have been with us in our series on Luke for any amount of time you will know that Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel were not best buds. In fact, they were in direct conflict with one another. To side with Jesus would have been in their eyes to side against Judaism. It would have looked like hate in their society. In a similar way, someone who converts to Christianity from another religion, depending on the religion or culture from which they come, is viewed as hating their family.

The point is, love for Jesus and a desire to follow him may look like hate to the watching world in our other relationships. For instance:

• Choosing to engage with parents in a potentially awkward and difficult conversation about what following Jesus really entails may look like “hating” them.
• Choosing to limit the amount of travel sports games that our kids are able to go to in order to prioritize the local church may look like “hating” our children.
• Choosing to live a life devoted to the Christian sexual ethic may look like “hating” our own self.

Jesus’ point in all of this, the thesis statement of this entire class on discipleship, is that we must love him above all else. Discipleship to Jesus is not just following the advice of a good teacher but it is a radical apprenticeship, one in which we are willing to give up everything for him. In the hierarchy of our hearts Jesus must be unrivalled. Jesus is not a democratic candidate who we vote for and who works for us. 4 He is a King that we submit to. The kingdom of God is not a democracy, it is a monarchy. Jesus does not come soliciting our vote but requires our utmost allegiance. We must love him above family. We must love him above personal comfort and well-being. We must love him above our own material stuff. If we don’t love him above all else, we cannot be his disciple.

Jesus also knows what loving him above all else will cost us. He is no stranger to what he is calling us to, so he encourages those who would follow him to calculate what that will cost them in life. To get this point across, Jesus, as he so often does, tells two stories (v. 28-32):

28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

How many of you know what a pyrrhic victory is? It is a victory in which the negative cost outweighs the benefits of winning the battle. You win but you still lose. One such battle was the Battle at Chancellorsville during the Civil War. General Lee’s troops were outnumbered 2-to-1 by Union General Hooker’s troops but Lee’s military genius allowed them to win the battle. By many, Lee’s victory at Chancellorsville is considered both his greatest victory and a mistake. The South did not have the resources or man power to recover from the losses at Chancellorsville, and thus two months later they were defeated at Gettysburg and the tide of the war was turned. General Lee, although he worked a military masterpiece, did not account for what this victory would cost him.

Jesus wants those who would follow after him to seriously consider what lies ahead. For some it may mean more on this earth than others. But there is a cost to following Jesus and he wants those who would follow him to reckon with that. Friends if you are here and have been following Jesus for a long time but have not actually pondered what cost that entails for your life, I would encourage you to do that today. Do you truly understand the extent to which Jesus has called you to love him above all else? Do you truly know the implications of Christ being your master? Are you just a member of the crowd, who doesn’t pledge allegiance to Jesus above all else?

I do not want to beat around the bush any more than Jesus: following him is hard. It requires daily sacrifice from us. It puts strain on so many other areas of our lives. When he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus counted the cost. And when he saw what was before him, an awful death on the cross and the drinking down of the cup of God’s wrath, Jesus cried out to God to let the cup pass from him. When he, in his humanity, felt the crippling anxiety and fear of this looming death it caused him to sweat drops of blood. Jesus knew what it cost. He identified with us in his humanity. He knows how hard obedience to the Father in all areas of life is. May we all not be naïve about what following Jesus requires but may we somberly reflect upon what it means for each of us to love and value Jesus above all else.

2. Finishing Well as a Follower of Jesus (v. 34-35)

If we start following Jesus well by realizing and considering what it will actually cost us, then how do we continue to follow Jesus well? How do we continue through life, even the terribly hard areas, as faithful disciples of Jesus? Jesus continues his course in verses 34-35:

34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

As many of you are probably aware, salt had many different uses in the ancient world. But the one to which we can most relate in our modern culture is its use as a seasoning. If you are here and know anything about cooking, you know a meal is only as good as how it is seasoned. Even if you are just a one dish wonder kind of person, you recognize that seasoning makes a meal. I remember one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life was last summer while my wife and I were out in California. We ate at this Indian/Thai/Mexican fusion place in this little coastal town and it was amazing. The way in which the chef brought those different seasonings together made me enjoy a dish that to my central Pennsylvania ears and taste buds didn’t sound very appealing at first.

This is what Jesus calls his followers to be. He calls us to be people who show the world how a lifestyle of dying to yourself actually is the pathway to life. We are to show the world by our lives of difficult, sacrificial obedience how good it actually is to follow Jesus. We are called to be the salt that brings these two seemingly contradictory dishes together (Matt. 5:13).

However, it is far too easy to resort back to being a bland disciple who doesn’t follow Jesus into the hard things. Jesus calls this type of pseudo-disciple useless. They aren’t even useful to fertilize the ground or to slow down fermentation in manure. The disciple who has stopped following Jesus into the hard things is utterly tasteless and useless for the kingdom of God. May we not be a church of people who claim to follow Jesus but have not continued in the task of hard, daily apprenticeship to Jesus. May we not be useless disciples because we are unwilling to pursue hard things but may we be a people who display in the hard things the joy of prioritizing Jesus above all else.

The question may still remain though, how do we do this? How do we live up to such a high call on our lives? I know most days I’m not even willing to allow my day to be inconvenienced for five minutes for something Jesus commands me to do. I’m too busy giving my allegiance to other things. How can I ever give him my life and everything that I have? Even if I can, this type of life sounds miserable—giving up everything I have, taking up my cross. And how can this life of costly discipleship be anything more than a death march? How is this good news?

This task of costly discipleship would be a death sentence if Jesus had only been teaching a class on discipleship. But Jesus not only commanded it, he himself went before us on this costly path of obedience. The Son of God, in his humanity, left behind his possessions in heaven and took on a life of suffering as a human being. He counted the cost of what obedience to his Father looked like in the garden, and as he sweated drops of blood, he chose the cup of suffering. Jesus, unlike the man in his story, was mocked and jeered at as he finished the task he set out to do. He literally bore his own cross as he surrendered himself to death. In his death, Jesus was the faithful disciple dying for the unfaithfulness of all of his present and future disciples.

Why would he do this? What motivated him to follow the will of the Father even into death? Hebrews 12:2 tells us:

[Jesus is] the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Did you all catch that? Jesus obeyed the Father even unto death because of the joy that was set before. He saw his future resurrection, ascension, and the glory of God in the salvation of all people and that is what motivated him to keep going. In a beautifully paradoxical way, it is only joy that can lead us into a life of death. Only when we realize that following Jesus not only has a cost but an even greater reward can we endure the difficult task of daily discipleship. Even when he calls us to tragic sacrifice, Jesus loves us and has our ultimate joy in mind through it all. Because of what Christ has done, all who do endure in following him to the end, through the hard times, will enjoy life with God and all of the beauty of new creation both here in shadow and in the resurrection in full, forever. Because Jesus has said it is finished, we can finish our lives devoted to him, confident and joyful in what is to come!

So today, I pray we take a look at Jesus and see him for who he is. May we see the way in which he laid down his life for us and obeyed the Father on our behalf and may we be filled with joy! May we see that the cost of following Jesus is worth it because of the beauty and joy of knowing Jesus. He is worth it. Today, listen to his voice calling you out from the crowds, see who he is and what he has done for you, and follow in his footsteps of joyful, difficult obedience. And as we do this, may others see how such a life is not a path to misery but actually a path to life and joy beyond measure.


1 See Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 1280-1281.
2 John Piper, What Jesus Demands From the World (Crossway: Wheaton, 2006), 73.
3 Bock, 1285.
4 This illustration was adapted from Tim Mackie’s sermon “The Committed Community” which can be found at http://www.doorofhopepdx.org/sermons/fellowship-of-the-burning-heart/.

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