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25. And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,
26. If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
28. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
29. Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
30. Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
31. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?
32. Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.
33. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
34. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned?
35. It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
The Lord Jesus has a great amount to say throughout this gospel in regard to following Him or being a disciple or what it really takes to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Our lesson tonight looks very closely at special conditions that have to be considered and observed in order to be a true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the main message that we need to learn from this lesson text tonight that, indeed, being a Christian and following Jesus Christ may be filled with many, many great joys and many kinds of excitement and many acts of faith and many experiences of high-soaring faith and revelation. There is also a very sensible, down-to-earth kind of teaching that the Lord does in this passage that lets us know that there are conditions that we really have to take seriously if we are going to be considered followers of Christ or disciples. I’m going to talk about these “Conditions for Discipleship” tonight.
I have summarized this passage into three special conditions that we need to seriously consider if we are going to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and really be His disciples. I think we will see just how serious and down-to-earth Jesus is in so much of His teaching, very practical teaching, that causes us to take stock of where we are and what we are doing in this world as we attempt to follow the Lord.
I want to talk to you first about the disciple of Christ must bear his own cross. There is indeed a cross to bear. He introduces this idea by talking in very strong terms, actually using the word ‘hate’, meaning that it is absolutely necessary for us to put Jesus Christ first in our whole lives and let nothing or no one stand between us and following Jesus. Any hindrance that may come up to us, whether it is father or mother, or sisters or brothers, or companion or whoever, any hindrance that comes to us that would sidetrack us and keep us from following Jesus, He says you have to put that aside. In a sense, you have to hate that. You push it aside so that Jesus Christ stands in the forefront. Now that is not easy to do, but a lot of people have known the experience of what that really means of laying aside ties with family, cutting loose from familiar surroundings.
I think of the call of Abraham, for example, a tremendous example of what this is like and what all he gave up. He gave up the familiar for the unknown. God told him he wanted him to come and He would lead him. Abraham asked where they were going and God just said ‘I will show you.’ He gave up his family and family ties to go into what would become a hostile land where he would be faced with trials. He gave up his present, which was very comfortable no doubt, for the future which could be very, very uncertain. In all of this, he trusted God and had faith. Now, that is what it means to really be a disciple: to follow the leading of the Lord and set aside anything that stands in our way of following Jesus Christ. That’s what He is talking about.
Then He zeros in closer to talk about taking up our own cross, denying self. Not only would that be outside hindrances from family and friends and circumstances and other things, but there could be inside hindrances having to do with our own desires and our own likes and dislikes and our problems from within. So, He keeps saying we must deny self: the selfishness of our own lives that would hinder us from being obedient to Jesus Christ. He uses the illustration of taking up your cross.
I don’t know if we all come to understand very early in our Christian experience really what it means to deny yourself and take up your cross. I think perhaps it was quite a little way in our Christian life and ministry before I came to grips with what that really means. But when the Lord revealed it me and helped me to understand it and see it, it was something like this. Just like when the divine will of God, shining down from on high in a vertical dimension, when His will cuts across our will on the horizontal plane, where His will cuts across our will, that’s where our cross is really raised up. That’s what our cross is all about; surrendering our will to the will of God, absolutely saying yes to God. Regardless of how you come to that place, that’s what He is saying. If you are going to be my disciple, if you are going to follow me, then I must be at a place where I can make any demand upon your life and you are willing to obey and accept that challenge without shrinking back in fear, without fussing, and without arguing with God. I want to tell you that the most gracious moment of your whole life is when that absolute surrender comes and you say an eternal ‘Yes’ to the will of God, regardless of what it is.
That removes a lot of troubles. It removes a lot of problems in making decisions. It removes a lot of doubts and worries, because along with the surrender to God’s will comes a peace and a faith and an obedience that helps you to walk steadfastly and be unmovable in your faith and obedience to Him.
Some people have figured that the troubles of life were the cross they had to bear. But I don’t think so. It may be part of it. But everybody has troubles. Everybody has problems. Everybody has sicknesses or hindrances, whether they are Christians or not. That’s not really the cross. It’s like Jesus, in John chapter 12, when He says ‘Father, the hour is come that the Son of man may be glorified.’ What he means by ‘the hour is come’ is three times in that gospel He said ‘My hour is not yet come.’ He is talking about the hour when He will surrender His life. Finally, He says the hour is come. He doesn’t say the hour is come that the Son of man may be killed or crucified. No! He says the hour is come that the Son of man may be glorified. Hallelujah! Because, you see, that’s where the glory comes, when you yield to the will of God. Jesus went on to say in that passage ‘…except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.’ It is by itselt. It doesn’t reproduce. But if it is planted in the ground and it dies to itself, its own identity, then it reproduces. Anybody knows that when a grain of corn sprouts, it dies to itself, to its nature – what it was like. But it comes alive in a new form that brings life and multiplies. That’s how we need to see what it is like when we surrender to the will of God.
When we take up our cross, it is a time for our glorification, not necessarily suffering, but suffering that brings glory. Simon Peter understood that finally. He didn’t at first, but when he wrote his letter to the saints, he understood it because he used the word suffering fourteen times in that letter. Seven times it has to do with the sufferings of Jesus Christ and seven times it has to do with the sufferings of us, the saints. Some of those sufferings are voluntary. Both what Jesus suffered and what we are to suffer are voluntary. They set examples.
Some of those sufferings are vicarious. They are in behalf of others. But they are redemptive because when you are suffering for Christ’s sake and it brings redeeming love to somebody else, that is when the glory of God is really seen in weakness. Some of those sufferings are victorious and triumphant, the sufferings now for the glory that shall be revealed. No wonder Jesus could say ‘The hour is come when the Son of man must be glorified. He is talking about taking the seed of His own life and throwing it – planting it – in the black hole of death and giving Himself for us and for the sins of the whole world only to produce new life.
So no wonder Jesus said if you are going to follow me, if you are going to really be Christian, you have to come to this place of denying yourself and taking up your personal cross which means that your will has to be under submission to the will of God. That is your cross. Every time self tries to wriggle off that cross, that’s when turmoil and trouble really comes in our own lives. That is when problems really occur and we start losing glimpse of our Lord. But when we focus our attention on Him, then it is far better no matter where you are in this world to be in the will of God than in any other place. When you know you are in the will of God, you can go through all kinds of trials. You can go through all kinds of problems because you know God has placed you there and His hand is upon you. So that is the first serious condition. Let nothing hinder you from following Jesus Christ and you take up your own cross and deny self and follow Him. Now that is serious business. That means that Christianity may be a little bit more down-to-earth and realistic than some of our Christian friends would think as we see them and hear them talk. When some people come face-to-face with the reality of what it means to deny self, then it is easy to start shrinking back and saying ‘Oh, Lord, not me, not there, not this place, not do this or not do that.’
The second condition He talks about is literally counting the cost. There is a cost to being a disciple. There is a cost to following Jesus. There is a price to pay. Some people say you can’t earn salvation. That is true. You can’t buy it. That’s true. You can never have enough money to pay for your salvation, but once you start following Jesus and being His disciple it will cost you something in this world. We’ve heard the great testimonies of people and the cost that they were willing to pay.
I have a young man who is my student assistant at the School of Theology from Kentucky. He is preparing himself as a missionary to Haiti. He and his wife are trying to understand the price they are going to pay to follow the will of God and what the cost really is.
Jesus used two outstanding illustrations. They are so realistic. I don’t know why sometimes we can’t see the reality of the teachings of Jesus. He says, first of all, in terms of building a tower. He said if you are planning to build a tower, (and I don’t know exactly what kind of tower He was talking about – maybe a watchtower for a vineyard or a prayer tower or it may be something connected to a synagogue or a temple, but it was some kind of structure to put you up on a high position, no doubt) you don’t start to do that unless you first sit down and count the total cost. If you don’t do that and you start out and you can’t finish it, you are going to be the object of ridicule and rebuke and criticism and laughter as people see your tremendous efforts that you could not follow through and carry out. We hate to see anything that’s done in the name of the Lord and for the cause of Christ in this world just become a witness to failure. There is no fun in that any way you look at it and it’s just sad. Jesus said if you’re going to be my disciples you have to count the cost and don’t plunge into some big deal and then come to shame and failure.
Then He uses another illustration. He said no king is going to launch on attack in warfare unless he first count the cost and see if his particular size of his army is able to go out and meet an army twice his size. No, it would be better for him to send an ambassador and make peace and quit talking about launching a great warfare.
Jesus is saying to us here that the Christian life is indeed facing a warfare. You don’t start out and you don’t hold out and you don’t success unless you really assess and understand and not underestimate the enemy that you are facing. You have to come back and understand your resources and what is backing you up and the hand of God upon your life before you launch out into great warfare.
I’m glad that Jesus made it absolutely possible that we have the resources behind us to do any task that He challenges us to do. It means sometimes He challenges us to do the impossible. Sometimes the odds are against but when we’re standing in faith upon His Word and we know for certain His divine direction and His hand is upon us, then we launch out in faith. I suppose a lot of things about the church would never get done if you just had to put pencil to paper and figure it all out from a rational reasonable standpoint. I’m not advocating that , but I’m telling you that vision and faith have to be founded on a solid foundation with God standing there with His great hand of provision and power ready to direct.
We have seen many other kinds of towers that couldn’t be built. We have seen other groups that launched a great attach, so to speak, only to be defeated and to return or run in shame. What a realistic kind of teaching about Christianity.
“So,” He says, “likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” He has to count the cost and then be able to say, “Yes, Lord.”
I remember when once we did our very best to follow the leading of the Lord and we rolled into a town and our hearts sank when we saw the town and we saw the church and the situation. We had left a beautiful church building with air conditioning and went to a church that looked like a barn. I had seen a lot of barns that looked better than this one did. And, oh, you begin to think, ‘Oh, did we miss it? Is this the leading of God?’ It takes some time to come to grips with whether or not you are really in the will of God. When you begin to see that the Lord is with you and He is there, and where He leads you can follow, and when you know you’re in His divine hand and leading, you don’t have to fear a thing in the world. When you have the fear overshadowing your life and it’s motivating you, then you don’t have to be afraid of anything else.
The third condition of being a disciple I want to mention is verses 34 and 35. It has to do with being the salt of the earth. This is the great illustration that Jesus used on the Sermon on the Mount to talk about how Christianity is to spread and the kind of work it is to do. Here He is saying, if there is failure, if the salt has lost its saltiness, then it becomes good for nothing. I don’t know what it would be good for. He said it was not good for anything but just to be thrown away. If you don’t deny self, if you don’t count the cost, then your ability to be the salt – that preserving, penetrating salt that brings about purity and cleanness and preservation – it loses its force and power. Christians can lose their preserving, saving, penetrating power by not allowing God’s will to be done, but allowing self to be in charge. By operating in the power of the flesh or in carnality, and God just does not work and perform in conditions like that, the salt loses its savour, its ability, its power to preserve.
You’ve heard many sermons on the salt of the earth and what all it does and what it can do. That is the goal of being a disciple. It is to so live in following Jesus in this world that His life is flowing through you a divine energy that acts like salt, reaching out to purge and preserve. I think you would agree with me that I believe that what’s holding our world together is Christian people who are in harmony with God and His will. Christian people who are saying ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’
I try to comprehend what’s happening in this world. I wake up at night and I think of it and get up and pray about it. Our world is so mixed up and so confused. There is so much turmoil and so much trouble. I can’t understand why a nation as rich as ours would have people starving to death here and poverty and the violence and the troubles that we’ve got. I can’t understand why a nation like Somalia would have such fighting forces at each other’s throats and totally ignoring the common people who are starving. I can’t comprehend this. I can’t understand it. As I thought about the news this week and tried to make some sense of saying ‘God, where are you in this whole thing? Where is your will? What are you doing? Let us see. Let us understand. We know you are the divine, sovereign, almighty God and your hand is on the nations of this earth. You know what is needed.’ I have only felt peace sometimes when I have backed away and prayed ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’
As I compared that with this message, I came to something deep in my heart that the greatest thing this world’s got going for it is people who will deny themselves and live unselfishly and surrender their lives to the will of God, who will be willing to pay the price to follow Jesus, be willing to pay the price to be the salt of the earth. That is the only thing that is holding it together.
I’m going to ask you to stand to your feet and let us pray.
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