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Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez landed his ships on the Yucatan peninsula in 1519. Cortez had come to explore and prepare this area of Mexico for colonization. He had also come to find the legendary gold that the Aztecs were said to hoard in massive quantities.
Cortez gave his 500 troops a rousing pep talk before they left the beach. Legend has it that he finished his pep talk with three startling words, “Burn the ships”. When the men protested he told them, “If we’re going home, we’re going home in their ships.”
Legend or not, this would have been a very effective way of ensuring that your soldiers were fully invested. When your back is against a wall, and retreat is not an option, new depths of will can be found in the human heart.
Jesus also wanted those who followed him to be fully invested. In fact, when large crowds began to follow him around the countryside, he stopped to make sure they understood what they were getting into. He told them that if they were going to follow him, they had better be “All In.”
Luke 14:25-33 (ESV)
25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 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. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 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? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 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? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
The first thing we need to talk about here is the word “hate”. In this context, this word does not mean “hate” in the strong sense that we think of. “But Pastor, it says ‘hate.’ How can you tell us that it doesn’t mean ‘hate’ in this verse?”
Well, first of all, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught people to love others, even their enemies. At the Last Supper he commanded his disciples to love one another just like he had loved them. Throughout his ministry Jesus encouraged people to keep the Ten Commandments. At one point he summarizing commandments 4-10 with the phrase, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
In the New Testament letters, the apostles teach that spouses are to love one another, people in families are to take care of each other, mothers and fathers are to raise their children with gentleness. It’s pretty clear from the rest of the Bible that in Jesus can’t be using the word “hate” to mean “extreme dislike” in this section.
So, what is Jesus trying to say?
There’s a verse in Luke 16 that will help us out. If you turn to Luke 16, verse 13 it says,
“13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13 ESV).
The main idea here is the general truth that you can’t serve two masters. Some of you are probably thinking, “Yes, you can.” And it’s true, in a certain sense you can serve two masters, just like you can work two jobs. But Jesus’ point is that you can only fully give yourself to one. When things get tight you’re going to have to put one above the other by what you say and do.
When it comes to following Jesus, it’s not like being a fan. It’s more like enlisting in the army. There is no “half-way” in following Christ.
If you turn to Matthew 10, verse 34 you’ll find Christ speaking in a similar way, and again, saying some pretty shocking things. He says,
“34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39 ESV).
Jesus warns that following him will change the relationships that we have. It’s not hard to figure out. If a couple has diverging obsessions, two different things that they’re dedicated too, they’re almost definitely going to have problems because of that fact.
But Jesus goes further. In verse 26 of our sermon reading, Jesus says that we should even “hate” our “own life”. In the Greek it’s actually our “own SOUL”, or “SELF”. Those who follow Jesus must be ready to “hate” themselves.
Again, in this context, the word “hate” doesn’t mean to severely dislike. Jesus isn’t commanding us to dislike everyone and ourselves too. He’s expressing the fact that the human heart has ONE pinnacle. ONE highest place. ONE high throne. And only ONE person or thing can sit on the throne of your heart. If you’re going to follow Jesus, then mom can’t sit on that throne. Dad can’t either. You love your spouse, but they can’t sit there either. Neither can your children. Following Christ means even dethroning your self.
If you’re going to follow Jesus, you need to be “All in”. He gets the throne of your heart.
If that wasn’t a strong enough wake-up call, what Jesus told the crowds next was. He said,
“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27 ESV).
Now let’s just back up a second and remember where all this is being said. Jesus is walking across the countryside with huge crowds gathering to follow him. He turns and tells them in a shocking way that following him is not a hobby. If they’re going to follow him that’s going to mean putting him above their loved ones. That’s going to mean putting him above their very selves. And they’ll need to bear their own crosses.
I’m going to venture to guess that “bearing your own cross” was not a common phrase at the time. Especially among the Jews. Crucifixion was a horrible thing used on them by the Romans. Christ hadn’t yet transformed the cross into a symbol of hope and forgiveness. When he said they had to bear their own crosses he was saying that they would have to suffer pain and shame because of following him. Many of the apostles would literally find a cross at the end of their lives.
It’s amazing that some preachers today try to tell people that following Jesus will lead to financial security and all sorts of riches. It’s like they haven’t even read what Jesus says here.
Now, it’s not that Jesus wanted these crowds to leave. He didn’t! But he wanted them to understand that he wasn’t just another Jewish radical promising a glorious earthly kingdom full of pleasures and wealth. The Son of God didn’t become human to get people out of debt and secure them a nice retirement home. The Son of God came to settle our debt to God by taking our sins away through his sacrifice on the cross. He came to make sure that when we leave this world, we’ll have an eternal home in God’s house.
Following Jesus would mean these blessings in the end, but perhaps some very unsavory conditions in this life. Jesus was directing them to count the cost. To fully consider the consequences of following him.
To help the crowds get it, Jesus brings up two examples from daily life. Two examples of how important it is to weight costs and consequences before committing to an undertaking.
The first example is a big building project. You don’t just start adding a wing onto your house without making sure you’ve got the time and money to finish it. If you do, you may end up being extremely embarrassed when your project comes to a screeching halt.
The second example is war. A king shouldn’t rush into battle without weighing the lives that will be lost, the money that will be spent, and the time that it will take. If he does, he may end up losing it all, including his life.
Rashly jumping on the bandwagon leads embarrassment and serious consequences.
Jesus closes off his speech to the crowds by saying,
“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33 ESV).
In other words, you better be “All In” if you’re serious about following me through this life.
So, what does this mean for us today? I mean, we’re not part of that crowd that followed Jesus around Palestine. They had all sorts of motives? We’re Christians who know what Jesus says. We know his promise of forgiveness. We know how he won this forgiveness for us. We trust in him! So, what good is it for established followers of Christ to revisit these words?
First of all, these words lead us to reevaluate our own faith. How strong is it? Where are we weak? Where do we waver? These are good things for Christians to ask themselves. If you open your Bible up to 2 Corinthians 13, verse 5 you’ll see that it says,
“5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5-6 ESV).
Examining our own faith in Christ is like testing bridges BEFORE they fall. If we find weak faith, we know where to go to strengthen it. To the cross of Christ. To the promise he makes to sinners who trust in him—you stand forgiven because of the unchangeable event that is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ your Savior.
Secondly, these words of Jesus redefine for us the requirements he lays on his followers. That ending phrase,
“…any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33 ESV).
That phrase helps to erase our American sense of entitlement. In our rich country we are taught to think that we have the right to all sorts of good things. Jesus reminds us today that the pursuit of happiness isn’t king in the heart of his followers, HE is. Our jobs, and families, and friends, even ourselves come second to Christ if we are his people.
Thirdly, Christ would encourage us by these words, as harsh as they sound. For when we reach inside to evaluate our faith and find that, yes, even though we’ve failed in the past, we wish to put Christ above all, we have the reassurance that Christ does still reign on the throne of our hearts.
At a certain point of his ministry, many people started to leave Jesus. He had said some things that the crowds found hard to accept. At this point Jesus turned to his twelve apostles and said,
“Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69 ESV).
It’s not that we want to face hard decision in life. It’s not that we want turmoil in our relationships. It’s not that we want to endure pain and suffering because of our faith in Christ. But like Peter said, “…to whom shall we go?” We too have come to believe that Jesus has the words of eternal life. He is the Holy One of God sent to wash our sins away forever by the blood of his cross. We will follow him.
Jesus wants to elicit the same good confession of faith from us, that he did from Peter. That’s why it’s good for us to revisit these words.
And furthermore, when we think about how we’ve failed to always put Christ first in our lives, how could we not remember how he NEVER FAILED to put us first in his? He gave up heaven to walk the earth as a man. He gave up justice to be condemned for our crimes. He gave up dignity to suffer in our place. He gave up his LIFE to give us everlasting life.
That’s what puts him on the throne of our hearts. The Gospel is what moves us to be “All In” when it comes to following Jesus as our king.
When Hernando Cortez made retreat impossible for his soldiers, he did so to force them to put everything into winning. Jesus is a very different sort of leader than Cortez, who was by all accounts a piece of garbage. When Jesus paused to address the crowds on that day in Palestine, he wasn’t just trying to back them against a wall in order to get their full effort. He was leading them to put their full trust in him.
And today, Jesus is leading us to do the same. To order our hearts with HIM first. Jesus is leading us to go “All In” with him leading the way because “In Christ” is the only safe place to be—in this life, and beyond.