The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 25, 2022
Christian— Look to Christ and to Christ Alone!
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 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. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
What does an Olympic athlete, an entrepreneur and an artist all have in common? Each of these individuals have single-mindedly dedicated their lives to one pursuit. The Olympic athlete has dedicated their life to doing whatever it takes to win a gold medal. An entrepreneur has dedicated their life to doing everything they can to make their business a success. And an artist has dedicated their life to taking a vision that they have in their mind and making it reality by putting that vision onto a canvass or sculpting that vision into stone. We recognize that God Himself has given us the ability to narrow our focus and prioritize our lives so that we can accomplish the goals that are important to us.
What is true in our earthly lives is also true in our spiritual lives. That is the truth that Jesus is placing before us here in our sermon text for today. Last week we saw how Jesus gave us the encouragement: Christian— Live a Christ-Like Life! Today let’s see how Jesus gives us this encouragement: Christian— Look to Christ and to Christ Alone!
Since it is always important to recognize the setting in which we find our sermon text, look at what Luke highlights in the opening words of our text for today. He says, “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said….” The words that Jesus speaks in this text were not directed to people who were critical of Jesus, like the “prominent Pharisee” that we heard about last Sunday. (See Luke 14:1-6) Nor were these words directed to people who tried to find a reason, an excuse as to why they couldn’t attend the “great banquet” that God Himself has graciously prepared for all people. (See Luke 14:15-24) Jesus spoke these words to the “large crowds” of people who were traveling with Jesus. These “large crowds” included people who were hoping to become a disciple of Jesus. These “large crowds” included people who had already become a disciple, a follower of Jesus.
It is to these individuals that Jesus explains the “cost” of what it means to be a “disciple,” a “follower” of His. It is to these individuals that Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters— yes, even his own life— he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus’ use of the verb “hate” easily causes us to gasp! Is there any way to “soften” this word? Is there any way to “explain” what Jesus “really” meant so that His words come across more “acceptable”? The answer is, No. This Greek words very literally means, “hate, despise; disregard, be indifferent to.” How do we deal with this word? How do we reconcile what Jesus says here with the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth”? How do we reconcile what Jesus says here with what Jesus says in Luke 6:27, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”?
This is a very good example of how context plays a crucial role in understanding Scripture. Remember that Jesus is here emphasizing the “cost” of being one of His disciples. Anything— and anyone!— who tries to prevent us from following Jesus is to be “hated,” not just disliked, not just disapproved, but “hated.” That holds true even if a member of our own immediate family tries to stand in the way of us being a “disciple,” a “follower” of Jesus. We can love them as our father or mother or sibling or spouse or child, but if they try to come between us and the One who loves us enough to die for us (Pointing to the cross) we are to “hate” them for doing that to us.
Perhaps a good parallel passage that helps us understand what Jesus is saying here in our text is Luke 16:13. There Jesus says to us, “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate (the same word used here in our text) the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” If that passage does not help you, then remember Martin Luther’s explanation to the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” As Christians we are to look to Christ and to Christ alone to occupy the #1 place in our heart and in our life.
Putting Jesus in the #1 place in both our heart and in our life includes embracing Jesus’ words, “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” These words undoubtedly had a far more powerful impact on the people who first heard Jesus speak these words than they have for us. In Jesus’ day the cross was automatically a symbol of— death! Jesus’ love for us, Jesus’ dedication to securing our eternal salvation culminated in His willingness to endure the most agonizing form of death that mankind had ever devised— death by crucifixion. (Pointing to the cross) What Jesus is now telling the “large crowds of people” who were traveling with Him is that if they wanted to be his “disciples,” if they wanted to be His “followers” they need to be willing to carry their own cross and follow Him— even if it results in their own death.
What do these words mean to us, Jesus’ disciples, today? How do we carry our crosses and follow Jesus? Carrying our cross and following Jesus certainly cannot be done to atone for our sins. Only Jesus’ cross could fully atone for all of our sins! Carrying our cross and following Jesus means that we are willing to suffer whatever ridicule and whatever rejection might be heaped upon us as we strive to remain faithful to Jesus and to His holy Word— even if that rejection and that ridicule comes from our own family! Carrying our cross and following Jesus means that whenever we are struggling with our own personal weaknesses, whenever we are stumbling in our daily walk with our God, instead of looking inside of ourselves for guidance and for strength we look to Christ and to Christ alone. We look to the One who willingly carried His cross for us!
Jesus then goes on to emphasize the “cost” of being His disciple by giving us two illustrations. The first illustration is found in His words, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”
The main point that Jesus is emphasizing here is that a major building project— such as building a tower— requires careful planning and complete dedication. First and foremost, before you even start building you need to determine whether or not you have the resources that are necessary to finish the project. If you start such a project and then run out of resources before you finish, well, other people are going to “ridicule” your half-finished and half-hearted efforts.
How does this apply to us— Jesus’ disciples today? Think of it this way: Our entire life as a child of God is to be a grand and glorious “monument” to the grace and the power, the mercy and the forgiveness of our God. While our justification— how we were declared “Not Guilty!” in the eyes of God— is perfect and complete since it is 100% the result of what God has done for us (Pointing to the cross), our life of sanctification— how we openly live the faith that God has created in our hearts— is always a “work in progress.” Our life of sanctification requires careful planning and complete dedication. A half-hearted or compromising discipleship will fail to glorify God in the way He deserves to be glorified. Our careful planning and complete dedication includes the realization that on our own we do not have the “resources” to complete this building project. Our careful planning and complete dedication includes looking to Christ and to Christ alone to supply us with all the “resources” we need! How does Jesus supply us with these “resources”? He freely gives us all of these “resources” through His holy Word and His holy Sacrament. So, my friends, if your building project is stalling out, if your life of sanctification is not exactly a “monument” to God’s grace and God’s glory— examine how well you are prioritizing hearing God’s holy Word and receiving God’s holy Supper. If the spiritual priorities of your life need help— look to Christ and to Christ alone for both the forgiveness and the help that you need!
Jesus’ second illustration is found in verses 31 and 32 of our text. He says, “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 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.”
It is not difficult to apply this illustration to our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. The instant we were brought to faith in Jesus as our only Savior from sin our three greatest enemies declared war on us— the devil, the world and our old sinful nature. This is a war which we cannot avoid. This is a war that we must fight. This is a war where surrender results in eternal condemnation. This is a war where there is no middle ground. There is no truce. This is a war that we cannot win— on our own.
The only way to win this war, my friends, is to look to Christ and to Christ alone. The cross on Calvary’s hill (Pointing to the cross) not only assures us that Jesus has already fought this war, but the cross on Calvary’s hill also guarantees to us that Jesus has already won this war! Jesus’ proclamation from the cross, “It is finished!” is a cry of total and complete victory! By looking to Christ and to Christ alone His victory becomes our victory purely by grace through faith!
While that glorious truth is so sweet and so simple we all know that it is not always so easy to implement in our lives, is it. Even though our spiritual enemies have been defeated all three of them are still waging a guerilla like war against us. The devil is still that roaring lion looking to devour our soul. The unbelieving world in which we live is constantly trying to convince us that it is our “friend” and not our “foe.” Our old sinful nature is daily trying to deceive us into thinking that things such as church, Bible study and prayer are not all that important. How much success have your spiritual enemies had in your life? Whether it is a little or a lot we would all do well to make sure that each and every day we stay focused on Christ— and Christ alone!
Our Lord then closes our text with words that we all need to take to heart. He says to us, “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” When we know the “cost” of building our life of sanctification, when we understand the strength of our spiritual enemies, when we recognize the depths of our own spiritual poverty, and when we admit the breadth of our own spiritual weakness, then as disciples of Jesus there are two things we must do. First, as disciples of Jesus we need to “give up everything” that pertains to ourselves. We “give up” any and all trust in ourselves, in our own worth, in our own abilities. Second, as disciples of Jesus we look to Christ and to Christ alone for everything we need— everything we need to daily take up our cross and follow Him (Pointing to the cross), everything we need to fight the good fight of faith!
To God be the glory!