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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

The Cost of Discipleship

Luke 14

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. Much on his mind will be the coming crucifixion, and it is time to warn his disciples just how seriously they must take their commitment to Him. He begins in a setting which has produced conflict before: a banquet at a Pharisee’s home.

(Luke 14:1-6 NIV) One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. {2} There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. {3} Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" {4} But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away. {5} Then he asked them, "If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?" {6} And they had nothing to say.

Dropsy, now called edema, is a swelling of the body due to excess fluids. It is often caused by diseases in the heart, brain or kidneys. The fact that the man was in front of Jesus might indicate that Jesus was placed in a lower status section of the banquet, as disease was considered to come as a warning from God. Imagine, then, the look on the host’s face when the man is healed – and the rabbi who did the healing was in the cheap seats instead of at the head table!

There is another point here: the Pharisee took care to put Jesus in the “right” place. Jesus was from Galilee, the “sticks” in their thought, and so was of a lower class. So many of us do likewise – we want to put Jesus in what we think of as his correct place. This is somewhat like the flea telling the elephant to move over.

The Seat at the Banquet

Jesus now takes a common example of the time – seating at the banquet – and turns it into a lesson on discipleship.

(Luke 14:7-11 NIV) When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: {8} "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. {9} If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. {10} But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. {11} For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

 

It was a common example of the time. Rabbi Akiva, a near contemporary, gave similar advice to his disciples:

Go two or three seats lower than the place that belongs to thee, and sit there till they say unto to thee, Go up higher; but do not take the uppermost seat, lest they say unto thee, Come down: for it is better they should say unto thee, Go up, go up than they should say, Go down, go down

We must remember that a banquet in those days was not just a meal. It was a feast, and usually a celebration. Having no refrigeration and no methods of preservation other than salt, it was common to stuff yourself at such a banquet. It was not uncommon to have dozens of men at the banquet, and those at the places of honor got first pickings. {Now tell me you’ve never wanted to hurry to the reception before someone else picks all the cashews out of the mixed nuts.}

The human tendency to overestimate oneself

Josephus and other historians tell us that disputes over place at a banquet were rather common. Evidently this was expected. Human beings do have a tendency to overestimate themselves, often without even thinking about it.

I remember well the day after our wedding. We had spent the night at an expensive hotel, and we attended church the next morning before getting on the plane for Hawaii. We sat with the college class which in that congregation occupied the front pews. At the end of the service the minister announced, “We have a very special couple with us this morning…” (at this moment I beamed with pride, for who could he have in mind but us?) “so let us welcome Dr. & Mrs. So-and-so from XYZ Bible College.” My face must have fallen rather visibly, for the minister then (with a touch of humor in his voice) said, “and we also have with us Mr. & Mrs. Hendershot, married yesterday. And if you got married yesterday, we’ll introduce you too!”

How do you keep your humility?

·         By being honest with yourself. Remember that humility is not self deception. It is not an intelligent man announcing that he is really rather stupid. Humility starts (but does not end) with self honesty. This, at least, should clear out the pretensions.

·         By comparison with the perfect (but not with others). We may use others as an example to aid us to humility, but if we’re going to make comparisons, start with the standard. Start with perfection, for there is no other standard. If I’m only half as dirty as you are, we’re both still dirty.

·         By refusing to compare with others. When I compare myself with someone else, I might come to the conclusion that I have really achieved something. This could be false on two counts: it could be another “half as dirty” comparison, or it could be that my Lord expects more of me than the other person. A servant stands or falls before his own master, no one else.

Exalting and Humbling

Note carefully what the verse says: everyone who “exalts himself” will be humbled. We need to see that this is not meant to someone whom God has chosen and exalted for a particular task; rather, it is for the self-chosen exalted ones – a much more common species. James puts it this way:

(James 4:1-10 NIV) What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? {2} You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. {3} When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. {4} You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. {5} Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? {6} But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." {7} Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. {8} Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. {9} Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. {10} Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

That last verse is the particular key. If we will humble ourselves before the Lord, He will lift us up.

Guest Lists

My wife and I had a small wedding – only about three hundred or so invitations. You are familiar with the problem, of course. You invite cousin thus-and-such, you have to invite aunt so-and-so. Two churches, two families and several friends later, it got a little bit bigger than we thought. Most of us compose our social invitations in much the same way. Jesus has a different view:

(Luke 14:12-15 NIV) Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. {13} But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, {14} and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." {15} When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God."

{The idea that the coming of the kingdom of God could be told in metaphor as a banquet was a common one in Jewish thought of this time.} Jesus gives us the recipe for reverse social climbing. Most of us are accustomed to the idea that some parties are “see and be seen” parties, a place to make useful connections. Those who throw (and go to) such parties have their rewards immediately. His advice is to throw the party for those who wouldn’t be invited normally. In short, to give without thought of gain.

Reasons for giving

There are many reasons people give:

·         Some give out of guilt (which explains the pictures of the deprived on television).

·         Some give from a sense of duty. They know they’re supposed to, so they do it.

·         Some give from social expectation. It’s there place, as the rich, to give. Or at least as those who want to be thought rich.

·         Sometimes giving is done as a gesture of superiority – and the gift is accompanied by a lecture.

·         Some Christians view giving as a form of enlightened self interest – give, and God will reward you. This is a rather crude view of it, but often it is the beginning of a more powerful way of seeing it.

·         Christians should, however, give because they are imitating their Lord. He offers grace to all; should not his disciples be equally uncaring of social status in their giving?

The application of the Imitation

The principle can be turned around, however. It can also be used to show how God treats us:

(Luke 14:16-24 NIV) Jesus replied: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. {17} At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' {18} "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' {19} "Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.' {20} "Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.' {21} "The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.' {22} "'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.' {23} "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. {24} I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'"

The “invited” in the original story are no doubt the Jews. But beyond that it is interesting to see the categories of excuses that are presented to God as a reason to turn away from his grace:

·         The first is business. After all, I do have to make a living, don’t I? As we shall see, the cost of discipleship may indeed include this too.

·         The next is novelty! Any new thing can keep us away from the Lord – hey, I just took up jet skis, and you know I need the weekend ….

·         Indeed, even more deadly is the love in our lives. I will say more about this in the next section, but even love for your wife can get in the way.

 

God’s reaction to this rejection is interesting: such is his character that grace must be poured out, for He is Love. To accomplish this, he does not waste time arguing with those who will not come. Instead, he sends his servants out

·         To invite the poor – in every sense of that word – to his table.

·         To invite them from everywhere in the world.

The rejection of man cannot contain the love of God – as is said of the Spirit, it goes where it wills. And God wills that his love go over all the earth, to all people.

Cost of Discipleship

Having dispensed with our sense of self-importance, and disposed of our reasons for not putting him first, Jesus now tells his disciples: count the cost. It is a principle of life that the more serious a decision is, the more thought and work we should put into it. Which item on the menu may take a few minutes to decide; would you pick a wife in the same way?

 

(Luke 14:25-32 NIV) Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: {26} "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. {27} And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. {28} "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? {29} For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, {30} saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' {31} "Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? {32} If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.

 

This is the most important of all life’s decisions. In it you choose your way for all eternity. If Jesus is indeed God in the flesh, then to reject him is to abandon all hope for eternity. If he is not, if he is a deluded fraud, then you renounce all the world’s ways for happiness. So the decision is not trivial. The Jews were aware that the love of God superseded all love of family:

(Deu 13:6-11 NIV) If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, {7} gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), {8} do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. {9} You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. {10} Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. {11} Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.

This is difficult for us to understand. Americans take pride in their ability to “do it ourselves.” There is a difference, however, between saying, “I am responsible for determining the right way” and “I am responsible for inventing the right way.” The former is true, the latter false. Permit me an example or two:

·         The Lord, in fact, commands me to love my wife. It would seem contradictory here. But that command is only obeyed once I acknowledge Him as supreme lord of my life.

·         Our mediaeval forebears understood this. A knight would swear fealty to his lord, laying his sword in his lap, promising that all the knight had belonged to his lord. The lord would reply, giving it all back to him, accepting his service, promising to reward faithfulness and punish treachery. This process went on up to the king, who (presumably) held all things by divine right. Why? Because in giving everything up to their lord, their own right to hold it was confirmed and supported by the power structure of the day. In giving it all away, all was gained. The knight now had his proper place in society, and all society was bound together with him to keep him in that place. He did not stand alone.

·         If the Lord is supreme in my life, I will obey his command to love my wife. But if I am supreme, the day may come when I decide that this is no longer “right for me,” as the phrase goes these days. In either case I start out by loving her – but if I invent my own right and wrong, what prevents me from changing my mind? Test that concept by its result!

 

So we are counseled to “count the cost.” One reason we don’t is that the cost today seems so little. After all, we live in a free country, don’t we? But there is more to it than that. Sometimes we see the grace of God as cheap because it is just that: cheap. Some thoughts from the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his son: “ye were bought with a price,” and what cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Count the cost, and do not do it by halves. You are either with him or against him, and you cannot sit on the fence without being impaled by the fence post. Our Lord says this at the end of this passage, and I believe it applies to those who are not willing to count the cost, who want the cheap grace and will not seek the costly grace:

(Luke 14:34-35 NIV) "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? {35} It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

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