It struck me today just how amazing it is that 3,000 young people would gather here over a holiday weekend. They have come not just to hear speakers or preachers, but to hear expositors. These people have gathered to hear nine expository sermons and to listen to a panel discussion featuring a bunch of old(er) guys. And what’s most amazing is that these young people seem to be relishing every moment. It’s amazing to me.
After a short break, we were privileged to once again hear from Steve Lawson. I love this man’s preaching. He chose to stand on the shoulders of the message we had just heard from Isaiah 53. He chose to ask where we stand in relationship to the cross. It’s one thing to be in this building, he said, but quite another to be in Christ. He took the opportunity to stand at the narrow gate and urge and call people to come through that narrow gate. He turned to a text of Scripture that spoke directly to what it is to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. He wanted all those in attendance to be radically commited to the Lordship of Christ for all of us need to be ever-more resolved to follow Christ.
The text he chose to speak from is Luke 14:25-33 and the topic is “The Cost of Discipleship (It Will Cost You Everything).”
He began with a football analogy, telling how he played football in college and how, because of scholarships, everything was free. His books, food, housing, tutors and everything else were free so he would play football for his school. But there was a cost: it cost him everything. He had to dedicate himself fully to his team and to contributing to it. This is exactly what it is to be a Christian. Christ went to the cross, our sins were transferred to Christ and He bore them for us. He paid in full the entirety of our sin debt and there is nothing we can contribute to our eternal salvation. But you need to understand the terms for receiving the free gift. If you want to receive this gift it will cost you the total committment of all that you are to the Lord Jesus Christ. “There are many here who think they are saved, but are not; they have never really done business with God.”
Here is what Jesus says about entering the kingdom of heaven. These terms are unalterable and are the same for every one of us. Jesus never tried to induce the crowd to follow Him or to call people to make quick and easy decisions. He never softened the requirements. Every one of us need to do some soul-searching and ask whether verses 26 and 27 are true of our lives. It is easy to be part of a crowd. The larger the crowd, the easier it is to be inconspicuous and just blend it while riding the momentum and without having to make a personal, individual committment. Jesus understood this crowd mentality. While Jesus sees the crowd growing he is not deceived because he does not judge success in ministry by size. So in this passage Jesus stopped, turned around, and spoke to the crowd. He knew that this crowed was a mixed bag of believers and unbelievers. He turned to face them directly and, in sense, told them to stop. He sifted through the crowd (something He would do periodically) as if to say that this crowd is getting too big and it’s becoming too easy to be swept up onto the bandwagon. And now He calls for their total committment.
They key word of this text is the last word of both 26 and 27: disciple. Jesus longs for and died for disciples. Not one drop of blood was shed beyond the disciples. So what is a disciple? It is only a disciple who is inline and following Jesus Christ. A true disciple is a true believer in Jesus Christ. It is one who has come to sit at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ and become a follower of Him. Jesus now tells what the terms are of being one of His followers. What He says is shocking and jolts the crowd. What He said had such impact on their lives and today we should all be shocked as we are reminded of the terms the Lord has issued.
Jesus demands a supreme devotion (26). In order to become a true follower of Jesus Christ, one must love Him more than anyone or anything. There must be no competing allegiances. Following Jesus requires a lifetime, ongoing decision to do this. It is not a one-time decision or a one-time act. Verse 26 is the Lord’s clarification of true saving faith. “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.” Jesus, if he ever spoke what He intended to say, this was it. He uses here a Hebrew figure of speech that we still use called hyperbole – an exaggerated statement to make a point. It sets love and hate side by side in order to convey the point that we must love God so much more than the people and things in this world we love most. What we feel for God should cause the love to have for others to appear to be as hate in comparison to the supreme surpassing devotion and affection for God. In Matthew 10:37 Jesus interprets this, saying that those who love others more than Him are not worthy of Him. The issue is who you love most. To love the Lord Jesus Christ requires the totality of who you are. To love Jesus supremely begins with the mind and with sound doctrine and theology. In order to love Jeuss, your mind must be enlarged and filled with the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Love for Christ never happens in a mindless, mystical experience. It is with the mind that all love begins; you cannot love in a vacuum. It then involves the affections as you behold the infinite holiness and love of God. your heart comes under the influence of this and your heart is drawn so that you love Him with the depths of feeling of your heart. And finally it involves the will for “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If you say you love Christ and do not walk in obedience to Him, it is just religious talk in your life. The will of the Christian is engaged to commit and entrust your life to Jesus Christ. It is a decisive choice of the will. Even today God is calling for us to love Him more than anyone or anything else (including our own lives). The greatest joy and pleasure in anyone’s life is to love Christ with all of their mind, soul and strength and to enter into a personal relationship with Him.
Jesus demands a self-denial (27). it is easy to be a counterfeit disciple while being part of a larger crowd. Jesus follows up in verse 27 with another shocking statement though perhaps we’ve heard it so many times that it has lost some of its thunder. “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” He says this again to stand as a double warning, a double flashing red light. What does it mean to carry one’s own cross? No one in the Lord’s time would have missed this because the cross stood for terrible pain and excruciating death. To carry the cross was the death march where one would stand before the judge and be declared guilty. As a public display of one’s own guilt, one would have to carry the crossbar from the judgement seat all the way to the sight of execution. It was publicly humiliating and this was a public testimony of being under the higher authority of the judge. You were effectively agreeing with the judge’s condemnation. The streets of Jerusalem would be filled and people would line up to watch the criminal carry his crossbeam. Everyone would see that Rome was in charge and had brought them into subjection and submission. This is one more example of one who was under submission and is dying to self.
This is precisely what Jesus is saying in verse 27. he says that we must stand before the holiness of God in our own heart and agree with God’s own estimation of us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, We’ll just have to choke this down. If we are to be saved we must agree with that and come to a place of submission under the Lordship of Christ and come under the higher authority of Christ. To carry one’s own cross is to make an open and public statement to the world that I am guilty as charged before a holy God and that my life has come under His government and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I have come to the end of myself. I am now dead to self and dead to sin and I surrender my life to Jesus Christ and now am a follower of Christ and am carrying my cross every step of the journey. I am willing to do and go however He calls me; what He does will be what I do; what He loves will be what I love. He calls us to follow Him at all times and in all ways. There is no other purpose or passion in our lives. Our lives are to be centered on Jesus Christ for we cannot follow Christ and anything else. He demands exclusivity.You cannot live until you’ve died and you cannot live to Christ until you’ve died to self.
Lawson then became personally and asked some very personal questions. “I want to single you out in the midst of this crowd. Have you taken up a cross in order to follow after Christ? Have you recognized your own sinfulness, acknowledged that God’s judgment is true, have you acknowledged Christ’s right to rule your life? Have you submitted to the Lordship of Christ? Have you really come to the end of self? Because Jesus does not begin until you end.”
Jesus demands a sober calculation (28-32). Beginning at verse 28 Jesus gives two parables. He paints two pictures so we can see what it is that He calls for. He calls for us to think this through before we commit to it. He says that we really need to count the cost. He provides two parables.
The first parable deals with construction. He looks into the eyes of the crowd and asks which one would not first calculate the cost of a building project. Any wise builder knows that you need to figure out the cost before rushing into a construction project without determining whether you can afford it. It is easy to start something, but it is difficult and costly to complete it. If you do not count the cost, after you’ve laid the foundation (you’ve made an easy decision for Christ) all who observe this will begin to ridicule him (and rightly so). There are so many people whose lives are just like this. They go to conferences and get swept up in the preaching, the music and the love, but they can do all this without really making Jesus number one in their lives. The sober calculation we need to make is that a decision to follow Jesus is going to cost everything.
Jesus’ second parable deals with confrontation. With this second parable the assumption is what if you are not willing to pay the price? Will this be an easy way out? Are there implications and ramifications if you don’t step up and say that you are willing to pay the price? Here are two competing kings and kingdoms – only one will win while the other will lose. There is a lot on the table here. As Jesus says this, he means “you are the king with 10,000 soldiers and you are in a conflict.” The other king has far more soldiers and when you come into direct conflict he will utterly destroy you. While this king with 20,000 armed men comes up against you, any sane human would respond by sending a delegation and asking for terms of peace. This other king is none other than the one who is telling the parable for at the end of this age He will come bolting out of heaven. He is coming to conquer and to damn. You need to make terms of peace with this king or you will be subjected in damnation forever. Christ has made terms of peace and you need to settle out-of-court with him. You do not want to go into that final day of conflict with Christ, for He will be ruthless in the execution of justice. He offers mercy today. He will agree to terms of peace and surrender, but they are His terms of peace, not ours. His terms are this: you must love Him more than anything. If you cannot do this, you will meet Him in the final judgement and glorify God in your destruction.
In verse 33 Jesus brings it to the bottom line and demands a total commitment. You cannot put off a decision any longer. No one can be a true Christian who does not give up all his own posessions. Jesus is not backing off, but is increasing the commitment He calls for. He is not saying that we need to buy our way into heaven, but is saying that you must transfer ownership of all that you are and have to all that He is. Your life is no longer your life, but His life. Your time is His time, your possessions are His possessions. This is what it is to meet His terms of peace. In short, Christ demands the total and complete surrender of our lives. Saving faith is coming to the end of ourselves and trusting all that we are and have to all that He is.
Finally, Jesus demands a searching examination (34-35). You’d think that at some point Jesus would soften or lighten up, but this is too important. We need to give strict attention to what God has said through His Son. God has brought everyone of us to this place; none of us are here by accident. It is the goodness and mercy of God that has brought us here to hear the gospel and to hear of Jesus through Isaiah 53. Jesus is calling today for all of us here to come to Him. We need to search our hearts to see if we’ve come to this place of total committment and to see if we’ve yielded our lives to the soveriegn Lordship of the one who died. The gates of paradise have been swung open; the narrow gate is open; come through that narrow gate and commit your life to Him,. Despite the strength of His words, He also says that the one who comes to Him will never be cast out. He calls today for us to come to Him.
I was glad to see an evangelistic message, even three days into the conference. I think it is wonderful that the speakers are not simply assuming that everyone here is saved, but are continually pushing, continually asking people to examine their hearts and to determine if they are truly saved. Lawson’s message was as convicting an evangelistic appeal as I’ve heard in a long time. And what’s more, it was a call for Christian commitment as well. And somehow I managed to write some 2500 words about it. Like I say, somehow Lawson’s style of preaching just reaches me!
We are looking forward to hearing John Piper preaching the Word tonight.