Jesus Above All Else
Most church calendars are packed with activities that keep members busy throughout the year. These fellowship and service events are enjoyable and edifying but we need to remember that they are not the goal or the purpose of our Christianity. The goal of our lives in Christ is to become and remain faithful disciples. These activities help us to grow and develop as disciples but are not in themselves the purpose of our religion.
In Luke 14:25-35 Jesus talks about this idea of discipleship but goes beyond the day to day activities of the Christian life and addresses the sacrifice often required of one who chooses to follow Him.
25Now large crowds were going along with 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. 27Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' 31Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. 34Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? 35It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
- Luke 14:25-35
These verses were spoken at the height of His popularity. In verse 25 Luke says that "great multitudes were going along with Him."
- Wherever He went, there were crowds.
- Wherever He was, there were signs, miracles and teachings unlike any they had ever heard.
Being with Him was exciting and rewarding. It was easy to fall into the trap of thinking that being His disciple meant simply to follow the crowd and observe each day's activities. Jesus was on the verge of His most spectacular public event where He would make His triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the crowds chanting His name and singing His praises.
I suppose that it was for this reason that on the eve of this momentous occasion where He was set to have the entire population declare Him King, that He chose to establish the litmus test for discipleship. Everyone who followed, heard and saw began to claim discipleship, but Jesus presented a sobering challenge to those who truly would follow Him. In this passage He tells them, in no uncertain terms, that in order to be His disciple they must place Him above all else. He then goes ahead and explains to them what placing Him above all else means.
1. Above all else means that we love Jesus more than any other person
25Now large crowds were going along with 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.
- Luke 14:25-26
Jesus mentions some of the closest and most important relationships a person can have (parent, spouse, child) and He says that we should hate these people if they try to stop us from putting Him above all else - even themselves. Jesus demands that His disciples place their own lives below their love for Him.
One would ask, "Is this a parable or is placing Him above all else actually possible?" Look at the examples in the Bible:
- Gideon went against his father in tearing down pagan altars in order to respect and obey God (Judges 6:25-27).
- Abraham was ready to sacrifice his own son in response to God's command (Genesis 22:10).
- Paul the Apostle willingly gave up his life in martyrdom in order to further the cause of Christ (II Timothy 4:6).
- The Hebrew writer speaks of countless women and men who gave up their families and very own lives in order to remain true to God and His promises (Hebrews 11:32-40).
Discipleship is a two-way street: Jesus gives up His life for us, we give up our lives for Him.
Discipleship means more than observing Jesus or talking about Him, it requires us to make Him the being who is above every other being in our lives including ourselves.
2. Above all else means being ready to suffer
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
- Luke 14:27
I saw a sign once that summarized this idea rather well. It said, "Jesus didn't say it would be easy, He said it would be worth it." Becoming a Christian is no guarantee of a better life in this world. It is, however, a guarantee of our eternal life in the one to come. As a matter of fact, Jesus tells His disciples that the only guarantee for this life is that there will be a cross to carry. Some think this passage is mysterious or hard to understand, but to those who are disciples it is quite clear. The cross you carry is the suffering you must endure to follow Jesus. From the very beginning Jesus warned His followers that there would be a heavy price to pay in order to become one of His disciples.
- For some it has meant persecution and martyrdom.
- For many it has meant isolation from an unbelieving family or society.
- For all it has meant the daily struggle to do what the Lord has taught rather than give into the flesh or go along with what's easy or popular.
Putting Jesus above all automatically means that one will suffer consequences sooner or later because of that decision. Jesus requires disciples not to be surprised, discouraged or impatient with the cross bearing required by those who put Him above all.
3. Above all else requires counting the cost of discipleship
28For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' 31Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.
- Luke 14:28-32
Jesus tells two parables in order to drive this point home:
- A man fails to complete the building of a tower because he did not take the time to calculate the total cost. His work is incomplete because of this and he is ridiculed by those who observe his failure.
- A king will consider his options when facing another king in battle, and decide whether to fight or negotiate based on the size of the enemy and chance of victory.
The point here is that neither one had what it took to achieve the task and should have looked ahead before even taking the first step. The warning is that we better carefully examine what Jesus requires of His disciples before beginning because the cost is very high and not everyone understands that what He requires from us is everything.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran priest in Germany who spoke out against Hitler and was put in prison where he eventually died. While imprisoned he wrote a book called, "The Cost of Discipleship," and in it he said, "When Jesus calls a man, He calls him to die." Jesus says that you must be willing to give up all you possess (verse 33). All means all your goals, your loves, your life, in exchange for His goals, His love, His life. Putting Jesus above all else really means above all else, including what is precious to us.
In verses 34-35 the Lord finishes up His warning by reminding them that what gives salt its value is not its appearance or name but its taste and its power to affect other substances. In the same way the value of discipleship is that disciples are exclusively dedicated to Christ above all else. This is what gives them the power to influence the world, glorify Christ and confirm the genuineness of their faith. If they don't put Christ above all else, however, they are like salt without taste. Christians in name only but without the power to affect others for Christ are useless for this world and the next.
Some people say that they don't see where the "invitation" part of a lesson is found in the Bible. If you look at verse 35b Jesus makes His invitation to those in His audience. He said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." In other words, if you understand what I'm saying, pay attention, do something about it!
The invitation is the same today as it was then and for the same reason. Becoming a Christian and being part of a loving congregation is wonderful:
- freedom to worship
- lots of family activities
- enjoyment of Christian fellowship with fellow members
- many services offered by the church
But don't let the image of "easy" Christianity fool you - Jesus still requires disciples to put Him above all else today even as He did then. Discipleship still demands:
- Jesus above everyone and everything in your life.
- A readiness to follow despite suffering or the lure of this world.
- A calculated understanding that following Him may cost you everything you have including your life.
If you are one of those who knows Jesus but has not yet become a disciple by acknowledging your faith in Him as the Son of God and expressing that faith by repenting of your sins and being immersed in water (being baptized - Acts 2:38) then you need to think on these things before going into the water.
If you are one of those luke-warm disciples who has Jesus "well contained" in your schedule so He won't cause you to be disturbed or distracted from your comfortable life in this world, perhaps now is the time to assess the true character of your relationship with Him as a disciple and make some changes.
And finally, if you are a faithful disciple ready to follow to the end, be of good cheer because the reward is sure and will be well worth the effort.