IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 3, Number 42, October 15 to October 21, 2001

A Sermon on Luke 14:25-35

by Rev. Randy C. Oliver


Surprised to see an empty seat at the Super Bowl stadium, a diehard fan remarked about it to a woman sitting nearby. "It was my husband's," the woman explained, "But he died." "I'm very sorry," said the man. "You know, I'm really surprised that a relative or friend didn't jump at the chance to accompany you to the game in the seat reserved for him." "Beats me," she said. "They were all stuck on going to the funeral."

The call of the gridiron is very attractive to some. But let's be honest — aren't we more like that woman than we would admit? We prefer to seek our own comfort, our own enjoyment. We resent anything, or anyone who would call us away from our own pleasure.

In Luke 14:25-35, Jesus calls out to those who would be his disciples. He calls them, commands them, compels to make a choice — who will be first in their lives? Who will be the priority? As we hear what Jesus had to say to the people of that time, we will also hear that same call going out to us.

Will you hear him? How will you respond?

A PRICE TO PAY (25-27)

As we read the book of Luke, we realize that Jesus is now on his way to Jerusalem. He knows what awaits him — hostility and violence, suffering and death. However, it seems that those around him are oblivious to his fate. In fact, you could say that Jesus finds himself in the midst of a church planter's dream — he's being followed by a huge multitude of people. They probably saw themselves as participants in the victory march of the Messiah, desiring to be on hand as he claimed his throne, desiring to enjoy a reflected glory. The crowd may have been enthusiastic, but it was an uncomprehending enthusiasm. Jesus knew that the crowd was not a sign of success in ministry, but a problem that needed to be addressed. The crowd was walking with him — but were they really walking with him?

Jesus wasted no time — he knew it was necessary to make the crowd aware of the commitment required to walk successfully as his disciples. He sought recruits, not spectators.

Discipleship is not an easy task. It is not without cost. In our day, it seems that, to many, the greatest sin one can commit is the sin of "offending." We guard our words, our actions, our attitudes, lest others be offended and turn away. We make our requirements for membership as simple and painless as possible.

Yet we can imagine that Jesus' words to the crowd astonished and offended them. His words were a blatant, frontal attack upon that which they treasured: "If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters — yes, even his own life — he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). Jesus refuses to spare the feelings of anyone who would claim to be a follower of him. The call of discipleship is, fundamentally, a call to allegiance. Jesus refuses to be an afterthought, a diversion, or a hobby in the lives of those who claim to be his disciples. In the midst of that crowd, a crowd which lived in a society that valued family ties and commitments above all else, Jesus proclaims that a price, a heavy price, is to be paid by those who would follow him.

But — did Jesus really want the crowd to hate their fathers and mothers, their wives and children, their brothers and sisters? Weren't there times where Jesus commanded his hearers to love one another —to love one's neighbor as oneself? How did those concepts jibe with the shocking words they've just heard? We must realize, however, that Jesus was not calling his disciples to despise their loved ones. The word hate used in this instance is used rhetorically, comparatively. He spoke of the priority of the disciple's commitment to him, a commitment that was to far outstrip all other commitments. As the light given off candle or a match seems like darkness compared to the light of the lamps on a lighthouse, so the love of the disciple for his Lord should be so great, that love of family would seem, by comparison, to be hatred.

Jesus is not talking about feelings of animosity, but of priority. We see a mother and father, at the bedside of their critically ill child. The doctor has given the parents an antibiotic, one that the child must take if she is to recover. However, the little girl hates the taste of the medicine, and refuses to take it. Do the parents follow the desires of their beloved little girl, or do they follow the orders of their physician? What is the priority here? As loving, concerned parents, the priority is to administer the necessary medicine, regardless of how their child feels about it. Their loyalty is to a principle — an authority — greater than the child's feelings at that moment.

The disciple cannot afford to cave in to the whims of parents, of spouses, of children, of siblings, but must pursue the life that God requires of them. Jesus challenged the crowd to find their identity not in family ties, but in relationship with and submission to him. Remember, however, that Jesus was addressing in his day a culture in which the family was the absolute arbiter of all social interaction. The family was the center of the economy, the means for access to land and ownership, the mediator of church membership, even the matchmaker of marriage partner. Family influenced everything. It is in that light that we are to hear Jesus' words, and feel the sting that accompanied them: "if anyone comes to me and does not hate…he cannot be my disciple." The price for such a commitment would be costly — it would even call for the despising of one's own life! For one in the crowd to make that ultimate commitment, they would actually risk alienation from their family, their community — the social community, even the religious community. Most likely, others would not receive the commitment of discipleship with gladness. Many disciples would have to pay for such a decision with their own lives. Discipleship is not periodic volunteer work on one's own terms and at one's convenience.

As we look about the world today, we can name countries where a choice for Jesus brings ostracism, isolation, persecution, or death. Even in our own increasingly post-Christian culture, the price of being a disciple of Christ seems to grow costlier by the day. Our allegiance to Christ places us increasingly at odds with our society and culture. In the Parable of the Great Banquet, remember the flimsy excuses offered by those who were invited to the banquet, yet refused to come? Jesus will not wait until your new property is surveyed. He will not wait until your new acquisitions are inspected, he will not wait until your new marriage is seasoned. The cross, you see, waits for no one!

Jesus calls us, as he called the crowd in his day, to "carry (our) cross and follow (him)" (27). The cross is an instrument of grief, of suffering, of pain, of death. It is not some delightful piece of jewelry to be worn around the neck, or on the lapel. It is not some handcrafted artifact of wood, or metal, or fiberglass to be displayed on a wall.

Clarence Jordan, the author of the "Cotton Patch" New Testament, was once given the red-carpet tour of another minister's church. With pride, the minister pointed to the rich, imported wood of the pews and the luxurious decoration of the building. As they stepped outside, darkness was falling, and a spotlight shone on a huge cross atop a tall steeple. "That cross alone cost us ten thousand dollars," the minister said with a satisfied smile. Jordan replied, "You got cheated. Times were when Christians could get them for free!"

Remember where Jesus was headed — to Jerusalem. To suffering. To death. He invited — he invites — those who would follow him to identify with him in the fellowship of dishonor and suffering. A true disciple of Christ gives up his claims to that which others would say they deserve — claims to comfort, claims to companionship, claims to life itself. All disciples will not be called upon to die for their faith in Christ, but all disciples must be prepared to die. Discipleship is not cheap — it is infinitely costly. As Martin Luther said, "A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing." Are we willing to pay the price?


Please — don't answer that question right now! While our Savior does require a definite response to his call to discipleship, he does not seek a rash response. In his exhortation to the crowd, Jesus has brought us to a point that, for me, brings to mind the words of the Episcopal wedding service, the place where the minister says that marriage "is not to be entered into unadvisedly, or lightly, but reverently, discreetly, soberly, and in the fear of God." I'm sure that, among the crowd, there were those who, upon hearing Jesus' call to discipleship were positively itching to respond — like Arnold Horschack on "Welcome Back Kotter"! "Ooh! Ooh! Yes, Mr. Lord — I'll hate mother and father; it'll be a pleasure to hate my spouse — I can hardly stand her as it is! I'll give up everything — I'll be your disciple!" Jesus is not inviting the crowd to an ice-cream social, to a day on the beach. Their commitment could not afford to be spur-of-the-moment. It was essential that the crowd not recklessly resolve to follow him before they have first realized the utter seriousness of the matter.

To drive that point home, Jesus uses twin parables. One is of a man who builds a watchtower over his land or over a city. To engage in such a task was an expensive undertaking, one "not to be entered into unadvisedly, or lightly." The wise builder would not impulsively start to build without considering how much money it would take to complete the job. Wisdom involves reflection rather than reaction.

During World War II, General Douglas McArthur asked an engineer how long it would take to build a bridge across a certain river. The engineer replied, "about three days." The engineer was then told to go ahead and draw up the plans. Three days later, McArthur asked for the plans. The engineer seemed surprised. "Oh, the bridge is ready. You can cross it now. If you want plans, you'll have to wait a little longer; we haven't finished those yet!"

Despite the recklessness of the engineer, the bridge that General McArthur desired built was successfully built. However, we know that such haste does not normally end in success. As my grandmother used to say, "Haste makes waste." During the time Jesus was on his earthly sojourn, watchtowers were built for the safety, the protection, of those who lived near them. In that context, the intention of the builder of which Jesus spoke was good, honorable. Yet he approached the job ineptly, not considering whether or not he had the funds to complete the job. What good is a half-built watchtower? Can it protect anyone? Does it even begin to accomplish the purpose for which it was designed? No — such a fiasco would bring only ridicule, scorn, and embarrassment. Rather than a mighty tower of strength, the builder would be saddled with a monument to his own foolishness.

Jesus tells also of a king, preparing to embark on a campaign against another king. The king has fewer troops than his enemy — in fact, he has only half the troops! If the king has any competence at all, he would not rush into battle, despite the odds. To do so would be utterly, idiotically rash. Even if he determines that his army is not meet for the challenge of the battlefield, he does not merely sit on his — throne — and wait to be conquered! The wise king has planned appropriately. He sends out a delegation, says Jesus, "while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace" (32).

These two parables are parallel, but they approach the issue of the deliberation required for discipleship from slightly different perspectives. In the first parable, Jesus calls the crowd to sit down, to consider whether they could afford to follow him. Moving toward discipleship requires reflection; it is not an automatic exercise. A testimony abandoned because of failure to assess the cost is not positive, but tragic! In the second parable, he calls the crowd to sit down and consider whether they could afford not to follow him! The disciple, after due consideration, takes the wise approach of pursuing peace with God, on his gracious terms. The disciple realizes that nothing less than unconditional surrender is acceptable.

It is in the context of surrender that Jesus speaks in verse 33: "In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything cannot be my disciple." The one who would be a disciple can ill afford to maintain a death-grip on people, or position, or possessions. The disciple, as he considers the plan laid out by Jesus, realizes that there is no greater person to love; no greater position to pursue; no greater possession to procure.

The disciple also realizes that he does not possess, within himself, the resources necessary to pursue the call he has received, apart from divine enablement. He knows that he does not have enough money to build the tower. He knows he does not have enough troops to win the war. The disciple does not count upon what he possesses, but, rather, renounces what he possesses, reckoning all but loss for the sake of him who calls, and utter dependence upon his resources. The disciple realizes that salvation is by grace, and the gifts God gives us are the resources than make possible and enable us to be what he calls us to be.


Jesus knew that the crowd would run the risk of mishearing and misapplying what he was saying. The distinctive qualities of discipleship could not be self-manufactured. While we must display them, they cannot be created by us. As he has before in his ministry, Jesus uses the object lesson of salt. Salt was one of the most valued commodities of that time. It was used for seasoning and preserving. However, if the salt looses its distinctive character of saltiness, what good is it? When food was bland, one would reach for the saltshaker to impart flavor. But if the salt itself is without flavor, what good is it? Living during a time when there was no refrigeration, it was imperative that the meat necessary for one's diet be preserved. But, it the salt could not preserve its own saltiness, what good is it?

As salt bereft of its saltiness is useless, those who seek to be disciples, yet fail to make Christ and his cause the priority of their lives are not worthy to be called "disciples."

One who refuses to pursue the call to discipleship in the manner that God requires is as useful as un-salty salt! Such a one is subject to God's righteous judgment: "It is nether fit for the soil, nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out" (Luke 14:34).

Heed the Savior's warning. The only way to be his disciple is to do it in his way. This could be your final warning.


A lighthouse keeper along a dangerous coast was given enough oil for one month and told to keep the light burning every night. One day, a woman asked for oil so that her children could stay warm. Then a farmer came, needing oil for a lamp so he could study. Still another farmer needed some oil for a tractor, so his fields could be plowed and planted and his family fed.

The keeper saw each as a worthy request and measured out just enough oil to satisfy all. Near the end of the month, the tank in the lighthouse ran dry. That night the beacon was dark and three ships crashed on the rocks. More than 100 lives were lost. When a government official investigated, the man explained what he had done and why. "You were given one task alone," insisted the official. "It was to keep the light burning. Everything else was secondary."

The call of discipleship is the call to make Jesus first. Everything else is secondary. To respond rightly to this call is not easy — friends and family may not understand — they may even do things to hurt and hinder us. However, we can respond to such a call knowing that the One who calls us is our Supreme Example and Divine Enabler. He perfectly obeyed the will of his father, allowing no one and nothing to deter him. He promises to give to all who respond to his call the Holy Spirit, Who leads and guides into all truth.

As Jesus called the crowd to a lifestyle of discipleship, he now calls us. He says to us, as he says to the crowd, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Luke 14:35)

Do you hear him? How will you respond?