Saturday, May 25, 2013

Is there a cost to bear to be Jesus' disciple?


In the story of Luke 14, Jesus had just left the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees from a meal on Sabbath and had just told the guests of the feast, who were probably well-regarded by the society, a parable to say that they would reject God's supper with excuses so they could go about their daily matters even if they are invited. This is the reason why in the parable the owner of the feast became angry.

15When one of those who sat at the table with him heard these things, he said to him, "Blessed is he who will feast in the Kingdom of God!"16But he said to him, "A certain man made a great supper, and he invited many people. 17He sent out his servant at supper time to tell those who were invited, 'Come, for everything is ready now.' 18They all as one began to make excuses. "The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please have me excused.' 19"Another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I must go try them out. Please have me excused.'20"Another said, 'I have married a wife, and therefore I can't come.' 21"That servant came, and told his lord these things. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor, maimed, blind, and lame.' 22"The servant said, 'Lord, it is done as you commanded, and there is still room.' 23"The lord said to the servant, 'Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you that none of those men who were invited will taste of my supper.'" (WEB)

My Pastor has shared about this before. If you have bought a field, you would have seen it. If you have oxen wouldn't you have tried them out already? If you have a wife, then would you not ask to bring her along to the supper? Thus, they were all excuses and not valid reasons.

Then as the Lord left, great multitudes were following Him. These consisted Jews and non-Jews who probably were not invited to the feast but were waiting for the Lord outside the Pharisee's house. The Lord turned to them and issues 3 conditions for them to be able to follow Him and be His disciple (see numbers 1 to 3 which are added here for illustrative purposes).
25Now great multitudes were going with him. He turned and said to them,
  1. 26"If anyone comes to me, and doesn't disregard his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he can't be my disciple.
  2.  27Whoever doesn't bear his own cross, and come after me, can't be my disciple.   
  3.  28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doesn't first sit down and count the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it?  29Or perhaps, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, everyone who sees begins to mock him,  30saying, 'This man began to build, and wasn't able to finish.' 31Or what king, as he goes to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an envoy, and asks for conditions of peace. 33So therefore whoever of you who doesn't renounce all that he has, he can't be my disciple. 
34Salt is good, but if the salt becomes flat and tasteless, with what do you season it? 35It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear." (WEB)
Conditions 1 and 2 are clear. However, I disagree with the way condition 3 is interpreted by popular commentaries. They say that these verses (verse 28-32) talk about the Lord asking followers to consider the cost of becoming His disciples. That if one tries but fails he may be ridiculed. One commentary even suggested that "better not begin than begin and not complete one's task". I disagree with that interpretation, as it does not seem right to behave as such in service to God.

I believe verses 28-32 (condition 3) do call for the multitudes to renounce all that they have to follow Jesus. But two examples (tower building and war engagement) are negative examples of people who did not renounce what they have. They are not examples for us to follow.  Why do I say that? 
  • In verse 33 it says "So therefore whoever of you who doesn't renounce all that he has, he can’t be my disciple." The word "So" means "in the  same manner". This means the preceding verses are examples of people who are not able to renounce all that they have and thus cannot be His disciple. 
  • The two examples refer to people trying to gain their own personal victories in their daily lives by their own efforts. They are examples of people who go about their daily lives considering only what they have in the natural. They do not consider God. In verse 28, a man desires to build a tower. A tower is something you build so you can hide from the enemies and also keep a lookout on the enemies who come. It is a picture of a man trying to provide security for himself. Yet with what he has he failed and is mocked. Verse 31 is the picture of a ruler trying to get victory in his fight in life, and it can refer to a career (since it refers to a King's conquer and conquering is really the King's job) or in general a victory one tries to gain in life over a stronghold, which can be an addiction or any challenges that one may have. But to the Lord it will always be like fighting 20,000 with just 10,000. The man is always at the losing end of his battle. Building a tower is a defensive gesture. A war is an offensive gesture. Both our offense and our defense will fail when we use what we have and do what we can apart from Him. 
  • In fact, Jesus by saying "which of you" in verse 28 and "which king" in verse 31, makes it clear that they all behave that way. If behaving that way had been right, and since Jesus judged that all of them were behaving that way, then the correction in verse 33 would not have come in. And being Jesus' disciples would not have been a challenge to the multitudes. But it is not so. Verse 28-32 are there to tell the multitudes that it will be hard for all of them to give up their natural way of doing things and start doing things God's way
  • Jesus has never asked any disciples to think about it when He called them. He just asked them to follow Him (Matt 4:18, Matt 9:9, John 1:43,). It seems the Lord has never seen the need to doubt what He is planning to do and He does not leave the decision of His plan with us. He will call us. And it is up to us to respond. But the call is clear and the good purpose of it does not depend on our considerations of it. 
  • Verse 34 to 35 talks about the salt becoming tasteless. These two verses make it even more clear that to Jesus, there is only one way  - be His disciples as any other way means we will lose our flavor. Thus, the Lord would never have intended verse 28-32 as choices that we could make for ourselves. My friend TT has this to say, "In building a tower and war they look at the chances of success based on human abilities: money or human support. They try to derive their confidence from there and  they lose their purpose. The only see lack. Once the purpose is lost, the flavor is lost. Jesus should have been their confidence and their supply." My friend Jach says this, "Jesus is the cost. And He is also the salt". My friend Las says this, "If one tries too hard, one loses his flavor". And I think they are all right. In Leviticus 2:13 you find that salt is added to the grain offering. Grain offering speaks about the perfection of Jesus to the Father. As salt has preserving quality, adding shows the eternal nature of the sacrifice and thus the eternal nature of the covenant the Lord has with the Father on our behalf. This means forever we will exude the perfection of Jesus to the Father as we are now in Him. And surely if we have any flavor of salt, it comes from our Savior. Now in Him, we carry preservation quality of the eternal covenant.
  • So in summary, the Lord is saying that the reason why we still go about finding victory for our own lives with our own efforts is because we had not consider carefully the cost it takes. And the fact is that we don't have what it takes to be able to win the fight of life. We need then to renounce this "I can do it" mindset. According to the Lord, the best way is to give up all that we have, give up all that we hold dear, let go of all our so-called lifelines that won't save us, and just embrace Jesus. We need a mindset change. We need to acknowledge that to have a blessed life, we won't be able to provide for it, and only our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can provide for it. Only He can pay the price. 
In fact, at the cross, Jesus fulfills the 3 conditions on behalf of the believers and God puts the believers in Christ so that all believers can become disciples of Christ! Praise God. My good friend Jach pointed out that Jesus spoke to the multitudes before the cross. How right she is! As the multitudes did not have the hindsight like we do and they had no idea then that Jesus would be crucified, they would be so perplexed at the mention of the cross by Jesus, which is really a Roman punishment and isn't Jewish. At the cross, Jesus left His family and bore the cross, so we don't have to leave our family and bore our own cross. He renounced all that He has at the cross for us. He was made poor that we are made rich (2Cor 8:9). 

His followers were strengthened when Jesus rose again. Remember when Jesus rose again, the net of 153 fish (John 21:11), which is a picture of men being captured into the kingdom of God, no longer breaks, signifying the strengthening of the disciples' kingdom efforts. Isn't it amazing?

So now we can heave a sigh of relief. In Christ we are all disciples. We would want to put Christ first. But it is His work and His obedience that empowers our walk as disciples. Not our self efforts or sacrifices. Praise the Lord!

Shalom.

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