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Luke Chapter 14 verses 25-35, English Standard Version*
Now great crowds were following him and he turned and said to them, ‘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 bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
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? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.”
What king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not first sit down and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand men to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And of not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 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.’
*The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
The parables of the tower, the king going to war and the salt
Be careful! A health warning!
“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 bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
These very serious, very weighty and indeed, very frightening, words introduce the parables of the tower, the kings and the salt. They do not fit modern comfortable and respectable Christianity. They do not fit at all with ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’. And yet they are words recorded as coming from the lips of our Lord.
James Steward in his book Heralds of God, urges young preachers to, ‘Preach Christ today in the total challenge of His high imperious claim. Some will be scared, and some offended: but some, and they the most worth winning, will kneel in homage at His feet’. ‘His high imperious claim’? – The claim of One whose power and authority is absolute; One in total command. Such is the claim on our lives that we are compelled to face as we look at these verses.
The setting of these parables
Over several chapters Luke records the Lord’s journey to Jerusalem and the cross of Calvary. The journey, on foot, is told in three sections. In Luke 9 verse 51, we read, ‘He set his face to go to Jerusalem’. In chapter 13 verse 22, Luke records, ‘He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying towards Jerusalem’. It is in this middle section that we find the famous parables of the narrow door, the marriage feast and great banquet, the prodigal son, the dishonest manager, the rich man and Lazarus together with these very demanding claims and the three short parables associated with them. The claims and their parables are so demanding that it is easy to see why, unlike the other parables, they are not found among a preacher’s favourite texts! In fact, they are very rarely spoken about.
The immediate setting is given in Luke 14 verse 25 where Luke records, ‘Now great crowds were following him and he turned and said to them . . .’ and then follows this very challenging teaching on the essential conditions of discipleship, which he illustrates with the parables of the tower, the king and the salt.
There was a great misunderstanding. The people had heard him speak with great authority, they had seen him heal the sick, restore sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and they had seen him set free those enslaved to demonic forces. Rightly, they had become convinced that here among them was the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the long-promised Anointed One, the Messiah. However, the Messiah they had in their minds and longed for was one who would rid them of their Roman overlords and restore Israel to the glory days not seen since the reigns of King David and his son Solomon. It seems that they imagined they were following Jesus to this kind of national glory.
In part, the crowd was right. He was indeed Emmanuel, God among them, come ‘to visit and redeem his people’. He was, indeed, Israel’s promised Saviour and Redeemer. But he was also ‘the suffering servant of the Lord’. Ultimately, to him every knee will bow, for God has anointed him King of kings and Lord of lords. But first, it was necessary for him to suffer; to be despised and rejected, and put to death on a cross.
So, very dramatically, the Lord Jesus turned and said these very strong words to them, setting down the most severe demands on those who would be his disciples.
Our Lord spoke in dramatic terms of ‘hating’ family members and even life itself, but, of course, elsewhere in the Bible we are commanded to love our neighbour and to honour our parents. His point is that, where there is a clash of loyalty and obedience, he must take first place. Matthew 10 37-39 makes this even plainer, ‘He who loves father or mother . . . son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.’
Conquering kings promise houses, lands, grand titles and great honour to their faithful followers. The Lord Jesus, on his journey to Jerusalem and the cross, confronted them with loss, great suffering and death. The terms are hard, but he made it absolutely plain that he must take first place – over family, over possessions, even over life itself. The way to glory was the via dolerosa, the way of tears; the way of the cross.
If they, or we, would be a disciple, it is not enough to be carried along by the enthusiasm of the good folk around us – each of us must ‘be prepared’. We must count the cost.
Such loyalty to the Lord Jesus may drive a wedge between us and those around us and make us in their eyes very odd. It may result in us being shamed, thrown out or persecuted – even by our own family. The picture the Lord gives us is that of carrying a cross through jeering crowds, as he was so soon to do.
The parable of the man building a tower verses 28-30
‘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? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.”’
‘What an error!’ ‘What a foolish man!’ ‘He’s built a folly!’ ‘Magnificent foundation, a grand start, but can’t afford to complete it!’ ‘What a joke!’
‘Which one of you . . .’ These words tell us that the tower the Lord had in mind was not something exceptional, a great monument, but an ordinary tower and lodge. The kind any person in that age might have built to keep watch over sheep, or in his vineyard to keep watch over his precious crop at harvest time.
Matthew Henry suggests that, to help us understand, we could think of it as a house. In our own times this is even more sharp and painful. ‘He’s put the deposit on a grand house, but he can’t afford to pay the mortgage!’ ‘He could have bought a smaller place, but the bailiffs come in tomorrow. Repossessed, with nothing left!’ Or another case, ‘The amount he fell short in mortgage repayments would have been covered if he had not installed that huge TV with surround-sound speakers and subscribed to all those glossy magazines.’ ‘He didn’t do his sums. He didn’t count the cost. He didn’t get his priorities sorted out.’
To the eager crowds flocking to ‘follow the Lord to glory,’ he turns and says, ‘Do you really understand? Are you serious? Do your sums, count the cost, sort out your priorities.’
As in everything, the Lord Jesus is the pattern for disciples to follow. He was not on a ‘glory walk,’ he was journeying toward Jerusalem on a terrible mission given to him by his Father; to ‘lay down his life a ransom for many’.
As he freely submitted to his Father, so he challenges these would-be disciples to submit to him; to put him first in glad obedience, and in determined loyalty – even if that cost everything; even life itself.
How this applies to ourselves
‘Come on old fellow, this is all a bit extreme!’ Well, yes it is at present in this God-blessed land, but for a moment just look back and reflect. What did faithful discipleship cost those first disciples and those who joined their number in the early days of the Christian church?
For that faithful witness Stephen it meant martyrdom by stoning. For the apostle John’s brother, James, again it cost him his life as Herod had him put him to death by the sword. John himself suffered imprisonment, and almost certainly slave labour, on the isle of Patmos and Peter is believed to have been crucified.
For so many other early disciples it meant leaving everything as they fled for their lives throughout the Roman Empire, carrying the gospel with them. Years later, the apostle Paul lists lashings, beatings, toil and hardship, hunger, thirst and shipwreck – and all that before his attempted assassination and final long imprisonment in Rome.
In our own country, and throughout the English speaking world, the Christian freedoms we enjoy were bought at a very high price. The God-fearing Pilgrim Fathers sailing to America; sailed leaving all for the sake of gospel freedom. Godly Reformers like Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, facing Queen Mary’s determined hatred, were imprisoned and then burnt at the stake. John Bunyan whose Pilgrim’s Progress is still so loved and valued, wrote it from jail, imprisoned for the gospel’s sake.
Even with our great Christian heritage, disciples today are called submit to the Lord Jesus; put him first – even if that costs the great displeasure, the scoffs and slurs and cold shoulders of those we hold most dear, ‘What! Son, have I spent all this time and money training you up to follow me in the business and so be wealthy and successful – and you dare to tell me that you want to utterly waste your life? You want to become a preacher! You want to become a missionary!’ Even if it means laying down our dearest hopes and ambitions, ‘We cannot offer this person this post as it is clear that, in all conscience, he would not be able to . . .’ Even if it means laying down life itself, as indeed it has for so many Christian disciples in other lands in our own times; imprisoned, sent to labour camps, beheaded.
It is salutary to discover that there have been more Christian martyrs in the last hundred years than in all the running centuries before.
We, in our day, are called to be prepared to lay down our lives for his sake and the gospel’s . . . . as our Lord has done for us.
Wise advice from those who have run the race before us
John Calvin notes that our Lord is not calling us to lay aside human affections and responsibilities. However, the reverence, loyalty and devotion that is due to the Lord Jesus must not be over-powered by any other human ties, be they family, brotherhood, lodge, union, association or even church.
Calvin also notes that we should not bring on ourselves rejection or persecution. It is perfectly possible to gain the hatred of those around us and make ourselves quite unnecessarily ‘martyrs’ by our ill-judged or inflammatory words or deeds. For example, in France some well-intentioned but perhaps unthinking Huguenots posted a true but contentious notice outside the king’s bedroom! Was it surprising that they gained his disfavour? We are called to give a reason for the hope that is in us, but to do so with courtesy and respect. The apostle John records that our Lord was full of grace as well as of truth, would not his followers be well advised to follow his pattern?
John Bunyan’s picture of the great difficulties faced by his pilgrim, Christian, as he prepared to leave the city of destruction and as he journeyed to the celestial city, absolutely accords with our Lord’s warnings here. It is not a gentle picnic – but the way of the cross.
To direct our thinking away from the self-centred question, ‘In the light of such great demands, can I afford to be a disciple?’ – G. Campbell Morgan suggests that we see that our Lord is describing the calibre of the people he is seeking to be his faithful soldiers and servants. He is stating the level of loyalty, devotion and obedience required of disciples as he builds his church and extends his kingdom. Like the people in the great crowds following him, our hope of sharing in his glory is a vain hope – unless we are also willing to take our share of the labours, hardships and tears.
Finally, J.C. Ryle urges no one to hold back from being a true disciple for fear of what it may cost. The Lord is calling us to think seriously . . . so that we are not taken by surprise. Only then, we will pray daily for grace to be faithful and to hold fast to the end.
The crown of life
The Lord’s words of warning to his over-eager followers were dramatic and arresting, they were meant to be so, but the Lord is no man’s debtor. We put in second place our loyalty to our own brothers and sisters and our own treasured hopes and plans – and find that we are given, as our Lord promised Peter, so many more brothers, sisters, houses and . . . life which not even death can snatch away.
Our Lord did not promise that it would be easy, but, again, for encouragement, hear the words of that faithful disciple, Paul the apostle, ‘But whatever gain I had, I counted it as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.’
Here is one of the strange paradoxes of the kingdom of God. If we cling to everything for ourselves, we will ultimately lose the lot. If we hazard all for Jesus sake we will be given so much more, together with life both abundant and eternal.
Therefore, the Lord calls us to take heart, do our sums, set our priorities, be resolute in both prayer and practice, take up our cross and follow him.
Questions for group discussion or personal reflection
- In your experience have these claims of the Lord Jesus and these parables often been spoken of? Can you see reasons why they might not have been?
- Have you ever found yourself in difficulty because you stood by godly principle?
- Have you read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? If so can you relate to some of the scenes he describes?
- Regarding John Calvin’s warning, how do you think family, social or even church loyalty might overpower the reverence loyalty and devotion that is due to the Lord Jesus?
- Again from John Calvin, have you ever seen other people bring upon themselves rejection and some level of ‘martyrdom’? How could we lay ourselves wide open to, or ‘court,’ such hostility?
- What certain and glorious hope does the true disciple have?
- Sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, Luke 7:21&22
- Visit and redeem his people, Luke 1:68
- Suffering servant of the Lord, Isaiah 52:13- 53:12
- Give his life a ransom for many, Mark 10:45
- Stephen, Acts 7:54-60
- James, Acts 12:1-3
- Early disciples fleeing, Acts 8:1
- Paul: Toil and hardship, hunger and thirst, 2 Corinthians 11:23-28
- Reason for the hope that is in us, 1 Peter 3:15
- Full of grace and truth, John 1:14
- As our Lord promised Peter, Luke 18:28-30
- Surpassing worth of knowing Christ, Philippians 3:7&8 (RSV)
- Life abundant and eternal, John 10:10 and Luke 18:28-30