Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “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. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:25-27
If these words of Jesus don’t make you a bit uncomfortable then perhaps nothing will. These are harsh words—really harsh. And I think they are meant to offend, meant to make us uncomfortable. Jesus goes on after this to talk about counting the cost of following him and so I think this is an intentional lead in to ensure that we can say with Peter that we have left everything.
So I say again, Jesus is intending to offend here. He is looking to find our limits, our boundaries. So he uses words like hate and references our family. He speaks of carrying our own cross; an instrument of torture and a curse. But he is not just trying to offend, he is also speaking truth. He is tipping his hand, letting us in on the secret: following Jesus leads to abundant life, but it does not lead by the high or easy way. It does not follow the path of the casual or the fair-weather. It is real, it is raw, and it demands first place. No exceptions. Not for family or for self; not for reputation or pride. First or nothing.
This is something I love about Jesus. He pulls no punches. He isn’t selling anything. This is just how it is. You don’t need to sell life. You don’t need to sell peace. You don’t need to sell real connection with the real God. These are the kinds of things that self themselves. But Jesus doesn’t want us to start following without getting it; without understanding that the price is high and the life comes at the death of all else.
And I think this is where the church has failed. The church-turned-amusement-park where counting numbers is king and being cool and hip is…well cool and hip. I’m not saying we shouldn’t want as many as possible to come and join us. We should. We have the message of life after all! And I’m not saying we shouldn’t be cool and try to connect culturally and socially. Again, we most definitely should. I am sick of the perception that in order to be a Christian you have to check your clue at the door and become socially irrelevant. I don’t think that’s necessary. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s ignoring an essential part of the gospel all together. We are expected to be in touch and relevant.
But the church today has shied away from speaking harsh words, even though they are true. We’ve bought in to this mentality that the world is right (at least the American world) and being politically correct really is most important.
Now I will say, not all churches are like this. This is a generalization. I am thrilled to belong to one that isn’t this way. And I’ve led churches that strived not to be this way. But I’ve also walked away from ones that wouldn’t speak the harsh words. The disappointing truth however is that far too many are this way. And with so many churches that only want to woo and never rebuke, with so many that only want to attract but never hold accountable, more and more young believers get left in the lurch. It feels like a bait and switch to only speak lovely and lilting words and then try to live that out in a harsh and unforgiving world. It doesn’t work.
And yet somehow we have sacrificed harsh words that help people know that being a disciple of Jesus is hard. Maybe we do it for popularity or because of a fear of rejection. What ever the reason, all too often we as the church we have done this.
There is a multitude of loving and gracious and hopeful words in the Bible. And I love them. I cling to them. But they have to be balanced with the harsh reality that truly following Jesus is only done by making him first. Following Jesus means we die, everyday to everything. Following Jesus means there is only Jesus and those are harsh words.
God, we need strength for these kinds of words. We need courage to speak these words to others. And we need eyes to see where in our lives we still put ourselves first. Help us make you first.