Pentecost 16a

Preached: September 8, 2013

Give Up on Yourself
Luke 14:25-33

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings us the words of Jesus is Luke 14

A large crowd was coming along with Jesus. He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, and, yes, even his own life, he is not able to be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, is not able to be my disciple.

“For who of you, if he wants to build a tower, doesn't first sit down and count the cost to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise after he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and can't finish it!’

“Or what king, when he goes to engage another king in battle, doesn't first sit down and plan whether with ten thousand men he is able to meet the one coming against him with twenty thousand men. And if not, while he is still far away, he sends an envoy and asks for peace terms.

“Therefore in the same way everyone of you who does not renounce all that's your very own is not able to be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-33).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Before a NASA astronaut blasts off into space, he or she goes through a rigorous program. Peak physical condition as well as the right education is necessary just to start. Then the astronaut candidate goes through nearly two years of training beginning with NASA's Basic Training, then Advanced Training, and finally, for three months before the mission, Intensive Training. To be an astronaut takes total commitment.

A person is either a NASA astronaut or they are not. There's no in between. It's not like football, baseball or volleyball, which you can participate in at many different levels. You may never play volleyball at the Olympics but you could still play in high school. You might never be a professional football player, but you could still toss the ball around on a weekend. You might never play for the Twins, but there's still Little League. But there is no such thing as a part-time or amateur astronaut. If I climb a tree or get in an airplane and make it partway to space, that does not make me partway an astronaut. Either you are one or you're not.

So also, either you are a disciple of Jesus or you are not. And Jesus' words make it clear that following him is much more difficult than any astronaut training. There is no such thing as an amateur Christian or a part-time, Sunday-morning Christian. Either you are following Jesus as his disciple or you are not. And if you are not, then you are not a Christian, even if you belong to a church, have been confirmed, are a nice person, know about Jesus, and tell people that you're Christian. None of that makes it so. To be a Christian means to be following Jesus as his disciple.

But aren't we saved by grace alone? Doesn't that mean I can coast along easy, since Jesus has done it all? Do I really have to be totally committed to following him as his disciple?

Yes, we are saved by grace alone. Reconciliation is free. Jesus Christ's sacrifice of himself on the cross reconciled the world to God, proclaiming peace to us, who had been born as his enemies. Justification is free. Jesus' resurrection is God's verdict that has declared guilty sinners, like you and me, righteous, acquitted, justified, for Jesus' sake. Forgiveness is free. Christ's blood has paid in full the debt of all sin, including yours and mine. Adoption into God's family is free. The Son became our Brother so that his holy life might cloth us with his righteousness as children of the heavenly Father. Salvation is free, a gift from God's grace, unearned, undeserved, based entirely on what Jesus has done for us. Eternal life is free, won for you by the life, death, and resurrection of him who is the Life. Heaven is free, the glorious home of God's elect.

But having the riches of God freely and graciously showered on us in Christ does not mean that following Jesus is easy. In fact, as Jesus' words sink into our hearts, he teaches us that following him is not just hard but impossible. Let's listen to what he 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” (Luke 14:26 NIV84). Maybe the word that first strikes us is “hate.” Doesn't the Bible tells us to love others? But God hates. He hates all that's evil. In Psalm 5 David prayers to the Lord, “You hate all who do wrong” (Psalm 5:5 NIV84). Psalm 45 addresses the Messiah and says, “You love righteousness and hate wickedness” (Psalm 45:7 NIV84). In Isaiah 61 the Lord declares, “For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity” (Isaiah 61:8 NIV84). So also the Scriptures urge us to imitate God's hatred. Proverbs 8 instructs us, “To fear the LORD is to hate evil” (Proverbs 8:13 NIV84). The Apostle Paul implores us, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9 NIV84).

We need to pay attention to this because of the climate we live in. Our postmodern, sultry, pseudo-religious climate claims that love accepts both good and evil. In fact, love doesn't call anything evil, they say. How contrary to God's Word that is! That's why the word “hate” sounds surprising to us.

But the real surprise is what comes next. Jesus doesn't give a list of sins to hate, but rather the closest human bonds of love and affection: father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, even one's own life. Now remember that this is the same Jesus who even on the cross showed great love toward his mother, entrusting her to the care of John. So what's he getting at here?

How easily our human relationships interfere with our relationship with Jesus! How tempting to satisfy a loved one by compromising a Bible truth! Maybe to keep peace in the family we even convince ourselves that the Bible cannot really mean what it says but that's just the church's interpretation. Rather, when it comes to following Jesus, we are to love him and his word above all and hate anyone or anything that gets in our way, no matter how attached we are to them.

Likewise, if following Jesus may bring harm to a loved one or threaten our livelihood, or even our very life itself, we follow him nonetheless, bearing our cross. Love for Jesus trumps everything else. Might this have been on Luther's mind as he wrote: “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Let these all be gone, They yet have nothing won; The Kingdom ours remaineth” (The Lutheran Hymnal 262:4, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”)?

How impossible, even unnatural, such devotion and total commitment to Jesus is! But that's how Christian faith acts. That's what it means to be a Christian. That's what it means to follow Jesus as his disciple. Count the cost.

Following Jesus is no small task. It's not like building a shack or even a house, but like building a tall tower. How foolish not to count the cost and have the unfinished foundation bring you ridicule and scorn! “He says he's a Christian, but Jesus doesn't seem to be all that important to him.” Count the cost.

Following Jesus brings the attack of Satan and his evil hoards against you personally, dear friend. Think about that. Satan doesn't need to attack the unbeliever. They're already on his side. He aims the full force of his might against you who want to follow Jesus. The king in Jesus' story was outnumbered two to one. How can we stand up against Satan's forces? On the other hand, we don't want to make peace with Satan and end up in hell.

As we count the cost, how impossible, how utterly impossible for us to follow Jesus! We don't have what it takes. We don’t have the right stuff. We don't have the resources to build the tower. We don't have the strength to battle Satan. We count the cost and find ourselves wanting. “With might of ours can naught be done; Soon were our loss effected. But for us fights the valiant one, Whom God himself elected. You ask, ‘Who is this?’ Jesus Christ it is, The almighty Lord. And there's no other God; He holds the field forever” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 200:2, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”).

Give up on yourself, dear friend. Give up on your family, your resources, your strength, on whatever is within you. Trust Jesus alone. He is your God, your Savior, your Redeemer and Lord. He says, “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33 NIV84). For Jesus has all that it takes. He has the right stuff.

Give up on yourself. For only then are our hands empty, ready to receive and hold on to all that Jesus freely gives. (Remember that list from earlier?) Reconciliation, justification, forgiveness, adoption, salvation, eternal life, heaven. And along with those comes that deep conviction, that total commitment, to follow Jesus with all our heart, soul, and mind, devoted to him and loving him even more than we love those dearest to us. Along with them also comes that patient endurance to bear our cross, that god-fearing wisdom to build up the Church, that resolute strength to battle Satan and stand firm against his assaults, not by our own power but equipped with the full armor of God.

Give up on yourself. For when we count the cost, we cannot follow. It's too much for us. But in Christ, we do foLuke 14:25-33llow — not as part-time Christians or Sunday-morning believer or amateur disciples, for such are following the path of death to hell. Rather in Christ we follow as his blood-washed disciples, totally committed to him because he committed himself into death to bring us life. Give up on yourself, for Christ alone raises you up farther than any astronaut will ever go. Your risen and ascended Lord raises you to the throne of God to present you washed clean, holy and blameless, clothed with the wedding gown of his righteousness. Give up on yourself and follow Jesus with all your heart. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313