I was reading Luke 14 this morning and realized that three times in a very short space Jesus specified what would keep a person from being a disciple. He said, “cannot be my disciple”… “cannot be my disciple”… “cannot be my disciple”… I’m not sure of the particular sense of this. Is he saying that these things are prohibitive or illustrative? Is it that someone who wants to be his disciple but can’t be because he isn’t willing to meet the criteria? He’s prohibited from the designation of “disciple” because he won’t give up? Or is he describing someone who claims to be a disciple and yet because he doesn’t have certain qualities he cannot be a disciple? His lifestyle is indicative that he’s not the real thing. Maybe it’s both. Either way, I want to be the real deal and display the earmarks of a true disciple.
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.
27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 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. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—
such a person cannot be my disciple.
The first trait of true disciples is that they put first things first. Their love for Jesus is so strong that their second, third, and fourth loves look like hate by comparison. Loving family and even one’s own life might be second nature but they’ve got to be second place if we want to be authentic disciples of Jesus. Not only do they need to be second place but a distant second, a vastly distant second – a second place that’s so vastly distant that it looks like last place by comparison!
27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me
cannot be my disciple.
The second trait of true disciples is that they’re dying to their own way and living another and better way. Carrying my cross means that I’m in the process of dying to my own way of living. He could’ve said, “Whoever isn’t hanging on their cross,” but instead he specified, “… carry their cross.” And I noticed he didn’t say whether we would be carrying their cross on the way to dying on it or carrying it on the way from dying on it. Maybe it’s both.
Carrying my cross on the way to the place of the skull is terrifying. I remember the horror of being put under anesthesia in order to do a delicate and dangerous surgery on my spine. I recall being bolted to a table a couple of dozen times in order to get the proper dose of radiation to the right place on that my neck. I felt like I was on my way to more death each time when entering the hospital in order to have more poison pumped in my veins that was designed to kill cancer and nearly kill me in the process. With the cross on our back, disciples know that we’re on our way to die to something today. We may or may not know what death he’ll require, but we’re carrying our cross with faith that we’ll bounce back with new life afterward!
If we’re carrying our cross on the way back from our death it means that we’ve survived it – rather were raised from it – and we carry the cross on which we died as an emblem that we’re no longer alive in the old way, but in the new. The cross we carry today is our trophy of the death we experienced yesterday! It’s our badge of honor to be associated with our Jesus whose cross was first and which bade us to follow suit.
33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have
cannot be my disciples.
The third trait of real disciples is that we don’t own anything; we gave it all up and renounced our claim to anything in this world except for our claim to be his followers. Nothing is mine but my Jesus, and he’s only “mine” in the sense that he’s not just Jesus in heaven but Jesus in my heart. He doesn’t belong to me like a butler who comes when I call or as a genie who grants me wishes. I don’t own him, he owns me.
The true disciple “gives up” his bad stuff and his good stuff. His bad things are his ways and habits that Jesus is unhappy with. Most of our attention seems to be devoted to this aspect of “giving up everything.” It’s understandable I guess, since some of those bad habits are awfully adamant about staying in place. But giving up our good stuff is another matter, and might be even more difficult to give up. Giving up my ownership of my family or my job or my ministry seems so counterintuitive. I seem to have a tighter grip on those things. Letting go of my right to worry, of my hopes, or my aspirations for longevity – these are the hardest to pry my fingers off of. None of these things are mine to keep or manage as I see fit. Not only does the bad have to go, but also the good has to be released to his management.
If putting first things first, dying to my way, and giving up the bad as well as the good is what qualifies me for being a real disciple – by grace I’m in!