esus had many fans during his earthly ministry. Some were dazzled by his amazing miracles. Others were entertained by his captivating parables. Still others were impressed by how cleverly he refuted the challenges of the Pharisees and other religious leaders. A few hoped for a free meal. More hoped for a revolutionary leader who would overthrow Rome. It’s hardly surprising, then, that Luke 14:25-35 opens with the statement, “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus.”
Jesus continues to have many fans today. The church is full of people who see Jesus as a solution to their troubled marriages, a fix for their financial failures, or a cure for their health problems.
Jesus, however, does not want fans. He wants followers. Fans sit passively on the sidelines, content to cheer Jesus on, but followers proactively pursue becoming Jesus’ disciple—becoming like their master in every way.
To be a disciple of Jesus is no easy matter. Rather, discipleship is demanding: Jesus demands that his followers make him the absolute top priority in their lives. We see this clearly in Luke 14:25-35. Three times Jesus makes a demand, then says unequivocally that if anyone cannot meet that demand, such a person “cannot be my disciple” (vv. 26-27, 33).
What’s more, Jesus introduces those three demands with a reference to “anyone” (vv. 26-27) and “any of you” (v. 33). The discipleship that Jesus demands, therefore, is not limited to a select few—to ministers and other church leaders, to a few holier-than-thou types. No, Jesus’ demands are for everyone who desires to be his disciple.
1. Love Me More Than Your Family
Jesus’ initial demand is, at first blush, surprising and shocking: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even life itself—such a person cannot be my disciple” (v. 26, TNIV).
Christians understandably hesitate to take this demand literally: Are we really to hate our family members? And what about dear old Mom and Dad—the ones who gave us life, changed our dirty diapers, clothed and fed us for years, faithfully attended all our sporting events and school recitals, and supported us financially until we were old enough to take care of ourselves—these are the people we are to hate?!
That this is not what Jesus means is clear elsewhere in Luke from Jesus’ general affirmation to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (10:27) and his specific command to “Honor your father and mother” (18:20). Thus, we should not take his language of “hate” literally but instead understand it as a Jewish way of saying “love less.”
For example, we read in the Old Testament that Jacob “loved Rachel more than Leah . . . and Leah was hated” (Gen. 29:30-31, KJV). The reference to “loved more” in the first verse is restated in the second as “hated.” Another example occurs in Malachi 1:2-3, cited by Paul in Romans 9:13, in which God says: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (KJV). God did not actually “hate” Esau but rather “loved him less” than Jacob (see also Deut. 21:15-17; Judg. 14:16; Prov. 13:24; Isa. 60:15; Luke 16:13).
Many Bible translators fear that modern readers will not understand this Jewish way of speaking, so they’ve replaced the word “hate” with words that capture its real meaning. The New Century Version, for example, translates Jesus’ first demand in Luke 14:26 this way: “If anyone comes to me but loves his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, or sisters—or even life—more than me, he cannot be my follower.”
Understanding “hate” as “love less” does not diminish the difficulty of Jesus’ first demand for discipleship, however. In a Palestinian first-century context, family members would reject any relative who followed Jesus. Such a person would be seen as a traitor to the Jewish faith and one who brought shame to their family. The situation would be like that today in many Muslim countries where, if someone becomes a Christian, their family members want nothing more to do with that person, sometimes even seeking to kill their relative. Our commitment to Jesus must be so intense that we love him more than we love even our closest family members.
2. Love Me More Than Your Own Life
Although we are shocked initially at the first of Jesus’ demands for discipleship, the hearers of that day would have been more stunned by his second: “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (v. 27, TNIV). That’s because they understood all too well what Jesus meant.
For contemporary Christians the cross is a symbol of life: it reminds us of Christ’s death by which we gain eternal life. In fact, the cross is such a positive symbol that we frequently wear it as a piece of jewelry or sing stirring hymns about it. For the people of Jesus’ day, however, the cross meant only death. The Romans used the horrific practice of crucifixion to ensure that victims would not only die as slowly and painfully as possible, but that they would hang publicly like an ancient billboard, advertising the gruesome consequences of challenging Roman power.
Many people today complain about their boring job, ongoing car troubles, or some other mundane problem, then state naively, “I guess that’s the cross I have to bear.” But there’s nothing mundane about this second demand for discipleship.
To bear our cross means that we follow Jesus even in his suffering. To bear our cross means that we are willing to endure the persecution that will surely come to those who follow Jesus. To bear our cross means that we love Jesus even more than our own lives.
3. Love Me More Than Your Possessions
Jesus’ third demand in Luke 14 concerns our possessions: “Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (v. 33, TNIV).
After the difficult requirements of hating family members and bearing one’s cross, this third demand can seem anticlimactic. But we shouldn’t underestimate the danger to discipleship that our possessions play.
Too often we seek true joy in life not by following Jesus but by following our culture’s consumer mentality that equates possessions with happiness. Later in Luke we see the danger that our material goods play when a rich man who wanted to obtain eternal life left Jesus “very sad” (18:23) because it was too difficult for the man to part with his possessions. True disciples, however, willingly renounce all material goods, recognizing that such temporary possessions pale in value compared to the eternal blessings that come from following Jesus.
What About Grace?
We should not hear Jesus’ demands for discipleship as requirements by which believers earn their salvation. Rather, we need to recognize two things. First, Luke is writing not to unbelievers about how to get saved but to believers about how to be faithful. Second, the grace by which we sinners are saved may be free, but it is by no means without cost to those who receive it.
Suppose I have a lifelong dream to sail solo around the world. Right now that would be impossible to fulfill because I do not have enough money for the kind of boat, equipment, support team, and free time required to complete such a feat. But suppose a rich donor gets so excited about my plan that he pays for everything I need. One the one hand, the trip would be free. On the other hand, the trip would cost me a great deal: hard work, months alone at sea, separation from my wife and family, and possibly even my life, given the dangers of such a trip.
So it is with grace. On one hand, it costs me nothing: it is a free and undeserved gift. On the other hand, grace costs me everything: it requires that I become a disciple of Jesus—loving him more than my family, my life, and my possessions.
What about you? Are you merely a fan or a follower of Jesus?