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Will the Real Disciples Sign Up

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Luke 14:25–35

Being Jesus’ disciple is not a matter of saying the right words but of having the right attitude, perspective, and commitment. And nothing about it is easy!


During World War II, the United States commissioned the construction of a pipeline to deliver oil from a remote Alaskan oilfield to a refinery some 1200 miles away. This would ensure a fuel supply for trucks and planes if other sources were cut off. A contractor hiring workers for this project posted a sign at recruiting stations that read as follows:

This is no picnic. Working and living conditions on this job are as difficult as those encountered on any construction job ever done in the United States or foreign territory. Men hired for this job will be required to work and live under the most extreme conditions imaginable. Temperature will range from 90˚ above zero to 70˚ below zero. Men will have to fight swamps, rivers, ice and cold. Mosquitos, flies, and gnats will not only be annoying but will cause bodily harm. If you are not prepared to work under these and similar conditions, do not apply.[1]

With that advertising strategy, you might be surprised to learn that many men signed up to serve.

Well today, as we sail into Luke’s Gospel account and watch what happens next, Jesus is just a few short months from His crucifixion; He is ministering east of the Jordan River in Perea. And we are told here in Luke 14:25 that “great crowds accompanied him.”

He is literally surrounded by a mob of people—and frankly, they are following Him physically but not spiritually. And Jesus is not interested in making friends; He is interested in making disciples.

So, at this point, the Lord stops and begins to deliver a message to those who truly want to follow Him. They must consider the very real cost of being His disciple. Are they willing to completely commit themselves to Him? It is no picnic! Let me break down the Lord’s message here into four challenges.

First, the Lord challenges the crowd to arrange their love life in order of priority. He says in verse 26:

“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.”

That is quite a dramatic statement. Not only is it shocking to our ears, but it also seems to contradict earlier passages about loving your enemies and honoring your parents and loving your children. Now He is saying we have to hate them all!

In our world today, the word hate refers to dislike and hostility. But in the literature of the Near Eastern world, hate was a word that referred to priorities.[2]

That is the idea in Romans 9:13, where we are told that God loved Jacob and hated Esau. That is not a statement of emotion but of determination.[3] God determined that Jacob would be His priority in carrying out the Abrahamic covenant, and not Esau.

What, then, is Jesus saying to this crowd? Is He telling them to tear up their Christmas lists and stop calling their parents? No, He is saying that all other relationships are lower on the priority list—Jesus takes first place. So, we have to get our love life, so to speak, in the right order.

Here is the second challenge: They need to accept the ridicule and rejection of the world. Jesus says in verse 27, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” The phrase here, “come after me,” literally expresses the idea of getting in line behind someone.[4]

This multitude is following Jesus on His way to Jerusalem, and they think they are in a parade. Jesus knows it is a death march—it is going to take Him to Calvary. It is going to include ridicule and mockery and rejection and suffering. Jesus says—quite literally—“If you want to follow Me, get in line behind Me and expect to be handed your own cross.”

Now beloved, be careful that you don’t make this passage a list of requirements for salvation, as some have. Salvation is not justification by faith plus works. Jesus is not giving us a checklist in order to be saved; He is giving us a checklist on what life means now that we are saved.

And Jesus is making a statement that His generation would immediately understand. The cross represented the most humiliating death in the Roman Empire. It was the death no one wanted to die. The cross was not only the tree of torture but also a symbol of shame.

Taking up your cross in the first century would have been the most dramatic way of announcing that your life was no longer your own—that you are no longer in charge of your destiny.

Jesus is not handing out crowns; He is handing out crosses, as it were. We are invited to get in line behind Him—to declare that we are not in charge of our destiny and we are willing to accept the ridicule and rejection of the world.

Jesus goes on to deliver a third challenge to this mob of people: they need to anticipate the cost of their commitment. The Lord uses two illustrations to make His point. The first one comes from a construction site.

“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.’” (verses 28-30)

He may be referring here to a watchtower set in a vineyard or to a barn. In either case, someone who starts building without calculating the cost is foolish. He only sets himself up for ridicule if he’s unable to complete it.

The second illustration comes from the battlefield.

“Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” (verses 31-32)

No king is going to rush into battle without doing a headcount. And this king realizes he is outnumbered two to one. So, the wisest thing to do is write up a peace treaty.

In other words, building a life for Christ—going out on the battlefield for Christ—is not a matter of emotion but of calculation. Think it through, and then trust the Lord as you walk with Him to provide what you need.

There is one more challenge here as the Lord summarizes His teaching; here it is: assume that expectations will change along the journey. Jesus says here in verse 33, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

The word “therefore” goes back and basically summarizes everything Jesus has already said in this encounter.[5] Therefore, be prepared to renounce everything as you pick up your cross.

The word for “renounce” is the word used often in the New Testament for saying farewell—saying goodbye.[6] This crowd of people had high expectations for following Jesus. They expected miracle lunches on the hillside and miraculous healings when they got sick. Jesus is effectively rewriting their expectations, telling them what it really means to walk with the Lord.

Being a disciple just might involve:

  • Saying goodbye to other relationships that hinder your walk with God
  • Saying farewell to the approval and acceptance of others
  • Saying farewell to some activity or enterprise that does not put Christ first
  • Saying goodbye to some expectation that God chooses not to fulfill

Being a disciple means simply saying this: Nothing matters more to me than belonging to and walking with my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.[7]

[1] Jane Haigh, The Alaska Highway: A Historic Photographic Journey (Wolf Creek Books, 2001), 50.

[2] Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Luke (Zondervan, 2012), 373.

[3] J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Zondervan, 1981), 332.

[4] Swindoll, 374.

[5] Dale Ralph Davis, Luke 14–25: On the Road to Jerusalem (Christian Focus, 2021), 27.

[6] David E. Garland, Luke, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2011), 603.

[7] Davis, 27.

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