“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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”Luke 14:26-27
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”Matthew 16:24-25
Many of us — like those described in Isaiah 58:2 — genuinely desire to seek God. Why is it, then, that we constantly miss the mark?
Even the disciples — who seemed to give up everything to follow Jesus for years — struggled with this. The passage above from Matthew comes after Peter reprimands Jesus for saying he would soon be killed, and Jesus replies, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” This is the same Peter who was the “Rock” of the church, and only verse earlier heard from the Spirit that Jesus was the Son of God.
Our problem is that we base our faith on “Jesus and _____”
Perhaps Peter’s faith was based on “Jesus and freedom from the Romans.”
Some disciples were lead by “Jesus and power.”
Judas seemed to be guided by “Jesus and greed.”
The disciples on the road to Emmaus had held to “Jesus and their understanding of Jesus’ purpose.”
Thomas wrestled with “Jesus and certainty.”
What about you? What is in your blank?
Jesus and your career? Jesus and your reputation? Jesus and your denomination? Jesus and politics? Jesus and a stance? Jesus and comfort? Jesus and security? Jesus and happiness?
This is what is hard; the blank isn’t always bad. Sometimes it’s a good thing. But if Jesus isn’t the only thing — if he must share your devotion with something else — even the best things can misalign the relationship.
Does Jesus, then, not care about those things? After all, he did say, “hate [your] own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even [your] own life.”
We know from Scripture that he does care about such relationships. Jesus is emphasizing that following him must be ALL, even at the cost of all else.
Beginning in Luke 9:57, we hear of several people who wanted to follow Jesus, yet each had a “but first…” contingent to following Him. It’s not that Jesus was anti-burying-fathers, but He recognized what the potential disciple didn’t: there was a barrier in his heart that would keep him from being able to follow Jesus when the road got hard.
Jesus knew the “and ____” would one day lead the disciple to turn away from Jesus, when that “and ____” was inevitably threatened. A prime example of this is in John 6:66. Jesus is nearing his death, and gives a hard word; as they begin to grumble, he says “Do you take offense at this?”
And then: “after this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” For these disciples, Jesus wasn’t “all”, but shared with something else; and that something else — comfort, ease, reputation, logic, power — was threatened. So they left.
We’d be lying if we said we’ve never been offended by something Jesus has said. The reality is that when we fill in that blank, our understanding of and engagement with Jesus will be tainted. At worse, we will reject him to protect the other.
Here’s where we need to be brutally honest: each of us has a blank that we are filling alongside “Jesus”.
If we are prone to seek and serve more than God alone, and if we constantly fail to hate/deny all as the opening passages state, what hope do we have to authentically follow Christ?
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Jesus’ response to His disciples is relevant to us today, as we struggle to “love God and love others” amidst current events, stances, and politics.
Can we muster the honesty to say, “I can’t do this in my own power,”? Can we must the humility to say, “I repent for believing I could, and for operating in that space of arrogance,”? Can we muster the courage to say, “Though I will fail, I want to strive to seek God first, and to die to all else, even myself, even good things,”?
Dependence on God is not weakness; it is just the opposite. Through God, we have access to wisdom and power far beyond our capacity; the impact God can have through us will look unlike anything we could produce, as will the fruit:
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”James 3:17-19
In the most intense of political arguments, those qualities — purity, peace, gentleness, reason, mercy, impartiality, and sincerity — are often perceived as weakness. What a frightening example of the failing of human wisdom! In the depth of our broken humanity, we will reject the fruits of the Spirit for the sake of defending our stance. We will reject the methods of the Son of God, believing they lack power, or worse, they dishonor God and His Truths.
Of course, there were times Jesus did not speak with gentleness, but force, and said “Woe” instead of “mercy”; and we may be invited by God to speak boldly at times as well. However, too often, this is our default approach, and frequently not guided by the Spirit, nor balanced by the fruits of that Spirit. What we convince ourselves is “righteous anger” akin to Jesus’s, may be “religious anger” akin to the Pharisees’.
Why do we do this? Our “and ____” has such a prominent position that we fear it will be at risk if we don’t fight for it. And since its security is more precarious than that of Jesus, we shift our energy and focus to the latter part of “Jesus and _____”, taking up our sword to fight, and neglecting our Savior and the “wisdom from above” in the process.
The opportunity to follow Jesus is not forced, it is an invitation. Jesus is clear on what is required: “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”
It is not wrong to care about something, nor to fight for it, but we must own our propensity to prioritize such things alongside — or above — Jesus. It is not wrong to care about something, nor to fight for it, but if we “seek first” and “die to all”, we may find a heightened capacity and equipping to face injustice.
Because God cares far more about His creation than we ever will. He has called us to to stand, to be ambassadors, to lead, to protect, to defend… but through Him, not as “spiritual vigilantes.”
We are welcome to accept the invitation to die to all but Jesus, or reject that invitation and stick with our “and ____”; however, Jesus has made it clear that “Jesus and _____” is not an option.
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