Large crowds were following Jesus as He journied to Jersualem and His appointed cross. Jesus was a celebrity, a religious superstar. People flocked to be near Him; they wouldn’t leave Him alone. He had to sneak away late at night for times of solitude and prayer. And even then, they found Him.
Jesus has a way of thinning the crowds, winnowing the chaff from the wheat, the casually religious from the spiritually committed. The way of discipleship is no easy road. It is a costly road of hard and painful choices. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, if he does not hate his own life, he cannot be my disciples.” Jesus is going to a cross to die, and anyone who does not bear his own cross and come after Him cannot claim to be one of His disciples. Following Jesus is costly. It means dying – dying to self, dying to your loves, dying to everything that is your life, reouncing literally everything you have and everything you are or think you are.
“If anyone does not hate father, mother, spouse, children, brother, sister, his own life, cannot be my disciple.” Talk about difficult texts you don’t want to preach! Jesus clearly doesn’t have His focus on the family! And He says “hate.” I’d hoped it was a different word in Greek, but “hate” it is. Hate is such a strong word. Harsh, cruel, mean, brimming with hostility in the way we use it. “I hate you” is the antithesis of “I love you.” I’m told not to say that word in front of little kids. It gets te Moms upset. “Don’t say hate; say don’t like.”
What on earth is Jesus talking about when He says we must hate father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister? Isnt’t this the antithesis of the very nature of God who is love? God isn’t hate. He hates sin and evil, but hate is not His nature. Aren’t we supposed to love everyone, especially those close to us? Aren’t we supposed to love and cherish father and mother under the 4th commandment? What is Jesus talking about?
“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” There’s a troubling passage that Paul makes much out of in Romans. Love and hate in the same sentence. “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” God isn’t saying that He had warm fuzzy feeling toward Jacob, the two-timing, heel-grabbing opportunistic Momma’s younger son of Isaac twin sons. Nor is He harboring hostile, angry feelings toward Esau, the ruddy, hairy first-born son of Isaac who sold his birthright as the firstborn for a bowl of stew. Love and hate here are verbs of preference and priority. Jacob is chosen to bear the promised Christ, Esau is not chosen. Why? To show that God deals by grace and not by law. The second-born inherits while the first-born is left to stew about it.
Jacob and Esau are a case study and example. And it’s NOT to say that Jacob is saved and Esau isn’t. It’s only to say that Jacob inherits the promise and not the rightful, first-born legal son, which is good for us second born sons and daughters. We inherit what belongs to God’s first-born Son, Jesus. That’s what it means: Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. God’s preference, God’s choice, God’s plan to save through the second rather than the first. The world God loved, the Son He hated on account of our Sin in order to save us.
What does it mean to hate father, mother, spouse, children, brother, sister? It means they cannot take precedence and priority over following Jesus in the way of faith. Even the closest of our kindships. Sooner or later, whether in this life or on your deathbed somewhere in a hospice, God will divest you of everything, of your whole life, of every tie you have to this world, whether your possessions, your loves, or your relationships. Death is the grand finale to everything we hold near and dear in this world when we finally let go. What Jesus is saying to us is that you may as well die to it now, take up your cross (which inevitably kills; crosses don’t tickle), and follow Him through suffering, death, and on to resurrection life. It’s the only way, the narrow way. Hold your life with the dead hand of faith rather than the death grip of your own self-sufficiency. Lose your life in Jesus, and you will save it for eternity.
You love your children, hopefully. But you cannot love them more than Jesus or they will be an idol to you, and your love will crush them. There comes a time when you need to let go of them in order to keep them. You need to stand at the door and wave goodbye as they set out on their life’s journey. You need to walk your daughter down the marriage aisle. You need to let your son leave father and mother to form his own household. You need to cut the old bonds in order that God might form new ones. And sooner or later, death will part even the two become one flesh, husband and wife, and you must stand by them at their dying breath and let them go to rest in Jesus. And in all this letting go, we don’t lose but gain as we are in Christ. Nothing and no one is ever lost in Christ who is our life.
To die in Christ is life; to live apart from Christ is death.
Death and Life. That was the choice set before Adam and Eve in the middle of their garden temple in the wilderness. Death or Life. Which will it be? The way of death is obvious and in some ways an easy and obvious path. It’s the path of self-determination, self-mastery, self-sufficiency. Doing what is right in your own eyes. Being your own gods. Doing things your way. Being in charge of your own destiny. It’s seductive, delicious, enticing, sensible. But in the end, you lose everything. Your life, goods, fame, child, spouse, everything that defined you, everything you looked to for meaning, purpose, safety, and identity. In the end, all there is, and all there ever was, and all there ever will be is Jesus, the Son of God, the Creative Word. Everything that is Life is in Him; everything apart from Christ is Death.
Israel always lived at the cusp of that choice – death or life. Live on your own terms and die; die on God’s terms and live. Death or Life. Egypt or the promised land. The idols or Yahweh. Your way or the cross. Self or Christ. Which will it be? You and I face that choice every single morning when we arise. Will it be the way of Death or the way of Life? Adam’s way or Christ’s way. The way of the sinner, the way of the saint.
Count the cost, Jesus says to the crowds. Count the cost of the road you are traveling. Know where this journey ends. It ends in a cross and a tomb. The builder of a tower counts the cost of his project lest he come up short at the end and his tower becomes a monument to his foolishness. A king counts the cost before going to battle, and if the numbers don’t add up, he makes peace with his enemy before he gets too close.
Jesus counted the cost of His mission of salvation. He had done the eternal accounting. He looked at the spreadsheets of the Law. He divested Himself of His honor, glory, and power as the Son of God. He took on the form of a servant, our humanity, and became the obedient Servant of all, subject to His own Law and death on a cross. He took up our debt, paid the price for our redemption, atoned for our sin.
He left His Father at the throne and His mother at the foot of the cross to be joined to His bride, the church. He looked on you, knowing you from the foundation of the world, and He counted the cost of your redemption – His blood, His life, to save you. He counted the cost, and determined you were worth dying for. He hated His own life in order to save your life. He counted the cost of battling Sin and Death on your behalf, knowing the cross that it entailed. No peace would be negotiated with Sin, Death, and Devil. The devil tempted Him to negotiate peace, but Jesus would have none of it. He counted the cost and went to war anyway. He counted the cost, but built that tower of salvation that reaches to heaven.
To lose your life in Jesus is to save it for eternity. What Jesus means when He says that we must “hate” father, mother, son, daughter,, husband, wife, brother and sister is that the only way we can have and hold our loves forever is to hold them in Jesus. Before anything else, we must become brothers and sisters in Christ. Husbands and wives are first of all brothers and sisters in Christ. Fathers and mothers are brothers and sisters in Christ to their children. Our blood relationships must first be blood relationships in Christ as blood-bought brothers and sisters, purchased and won by the Blood that redeems the world from Sin and Death.
You can see this worked out in Paul’s little letter to Philemon. Philemon has a slave named Onesimus who ran away and sought refuge with the apostle Paul. While he was with Paul, he came to faith in Christ and was baptized. Now Paul is sending Onesimus back to his master, no longer as a slave but as a brother in Christ. He could have sheltered Onesimus and helped him gain his freedom. But that would have done Philemon no good. Philemon needed to exercise his own faith as a slave to Christ, and forgive his runaway servant and receive him back as a brother, a fellow member of the Christ’s Body. Paul even tells Philemon to forgive whatever Onesimus had stolen from him, promising to pay him back himself while reminding him of the debt Philemon owed Paul. This is how we live as free men and women in debt-free forgiveness as brothers and sisters in Christ.
It’s a reminder to all of us that our first relationship to one another has nothing to do with family ties or social status or anything in this world. We live as ones who have died to this world and now live in Christ. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, children of God, baptized, spirit born of Spirit, coheirs of eternal life. Whatever obligation, whatever debt we have to one another is subordinate to the debt of love in Jesus. Before we are anything else to each other, we are members of Christ’s Body, brothers and sisters in Him.
How many of that large crowd do you think followed Jesus all the way to the cross and were willing to die with Him? Not even the Twelve managed to the end of that road. Yes, some of the women watched Jesus die from a safe distance. John was there. Perhaps a few others. But there were no great crowds at the foot of the cross, except the crowd that came to mock Him. The way of life is a lonely and narrow way. Jesus had to do it all by Himself. He had to renounce father and mother, brothers and sisters, friends, neighbors, His own life, in order to save us all. He did that for us and He embraced us all in His death and life. And He chose you. He baptized you. He called you to follow Him, to be salt in this world, to season this world as a sacrifice with Jesus’ death and resurrection. You wouldn’t have volunteered, so He didn’t ask you. He chose you, you didn’t choose Him.
You are salted with Jesus; be salt for this bland and dyingworld. Take up your cross, your death, and follow Jesus, and in following, you will show the world the path of life. Don’t let anything or anyone impede your journey with Jesus to life. The world lives to die; you die to live. The world clings to life; you let go of life. You already know where this path goes and how it ends. A cross, a tomb, a sabbath’s rest, and a third-day resurrection to life in an abundance of life that exceeds all you can possibly hold in this life.
God has given you the ears of faith to hear; let them hear.