Jesus has this large crowd of people following Him. Which seems like a good thing, right? Yet, He turns around and confronts them and lays it on the line. He puts it in their face. He tells them what it means to be His disciple, what it will cost and require. Not just to follow Him and learn from Him, but to live with Him as He lives — and to die with Him as He dies — in faith and love.
To be His disciple means that you must give up all of your own “possessions.” They aren’t really yours to begin with, but the Lord’s, in any case, and He would have you relinquish any claim to them in order to put them to use to the glory of His Name and for the benefit of your neighbors. Whatever you hold in your hand, you possess only by the grace or charity of God, and only so long as He determines. You “give those things up” by not relying on them, but by using them rightly according to His Word. That’s not the wisdom of politics or economics but of the Lord Jesus.
To be His disciple, He asserts, means that you must “hate” your family, your father and mother, your husband or wife, your children and your siblings, all in deference to Him. Yes, indeed, you must hate even your own life — not in the way of depression or despair, but in deference to Him. It’s not a matter of emotions or feelings, but of priorities and commitments, choices and decisions, and your actual behavior. All that you think and say and do is subject to one Lord, Jesus Christ.
And He calls you to carry your own cross. That is the one thing you may possess. In fact, if you would be His disciple, you must take up the Cross and follow after Christ Jesus, to be crucified, put to death, and buried with Him, bearing His reproach, and bereft of everything else on earth.
So, then, count the cost. Consider what it requires of you to be a disciple of Christ Jesus. Consider what it means to be a Christian, to be anointed with the Spirit of Christ and bound to Him in life and death. Consider what it will mean for you and your family, and what will happen to you, and what will become of you and all your stuff, if you hold fast to Him who suffers and dies for you.
Are you strong enough to be His disciple? To give up everything? To suffer all, even death, rather than give up your allegiance to and your reliance on this one Lord, the incarnate Son of God?
He sets before you these two ways — more different than night and day — as different as heaven and hell. He sets before you the way of life and every blessing and the way of death and all evil.
The way of life is to fear, love, and trust in God by faith in the Word of Christ. That is not simply a means to some end. Far less is it a work of yours to achieve or accomplish your own salvation. To fear, love, and trust in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is your life, your length of days, and your salvation, now and forever. Whereas to worship any others gods than Him is the way of death. Not only because they are nothing, but because turning away from God the Lord is death.
So the choice seems pretty obvious and easy, doesn’t it? It really is a matter of life and death, and why should you die, when the Lord has created you for Life with Himself in both body and soul?
But confronted by the choice at hand, you find that your fallen and perishing flesh is unable to follow the Way of Life. Your rebellious heart, mind, spirit, and will are too set upon your false gods and dumb idols, despite the raw fact that none of them are able to give you life or save you. You pursue them with an insatiable hunger that consumes you from the inside-out and kills you.
It is for you as it was for the Sons of Israel, when the Lord had brought them out of Egypt by His mighty arm and outstretched hand, and yet they wandered forty years in the wilderness because of their disobedience and disbelief, their idolatry, and their constant complaining and grumbling.
It was such a clear and simple choice set before them, as well. Fear the Lord your God, and live by faith in His Word and promise. Obey His Commandments. Walk according to His ways. Hold fast to Him, who brought you out of bondage, who became your God by grace, who has fed and clothed you all these years. Just stick with Him, and life and health and every good will be yours.
The Lord thus laid His blessing upon them and set His blessing before them unto life. And yet, time and time again, they chose the curse instead of the blessing, sin instead of righteousness, and death instead of life. Throughout the Book of Judges, and really throughout the history of Israel, they disobeyed the Lord their God. They despised His Word and worshiped the Baals and Asherim of Canaan. They wanted to be like the nations around them — and so they were in many ways — although the Lord, the One true God, had called them to be His own uniquely special people.
In the Name of the Lord, Joshua (that great Old Testament Jesus) brought them through the Jordan River into the Land that God had promised, a good land flowing with milk and honey and all good things, where everything was handed to them by the grace of God. He fought and won their battles for them, He established them in their own place, and He caused His Name and His Glory to dwell in their midst, not for judgment, but for mercy and for life. But they would not heed His Word.
And it is the same with you. The Lord Jesus Himself (the new and greater Joshua) has brought you through the waters of the Jordan into this good Land of His Church, in which forgiveness, life, and salvation are yours by His grace. In mercy He clothes you and feeds you in both body and soul. But you do not live and walk according to His Word. You do not worship Him alone, but you give your heart to other people and to things, and you actively pursue the way of death instead of life.
It is by and because of your sin that you are subject to death and pursue it to your own detriment and disadvantage. That is the heritage and legacy of Adam, your father. You are conceived and born in sin, and in your native sinfulness you are not able to choose life over death.
There is only one Man who is righteous, the Son of God who was also conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who for your sake became flesh and blood, and bore your sins in His own Body on the Cross, and sacrificed Himself for your salvation. He alone is righteous. He alone has built and completed the tower, according to the divine plan and foreknowledge of God. And He alone has likewise fought the war and won the victory — against seemingly impossible odds.
He entrusted Himself entirely to His God and Father, and He gave Himself completely for you and all His neighbors. He gave up all of His possessions and laid down His own Body and Life. In holy faith and holy love for God and Man, He perfectly fulfilled the Law. And so does He pour out His grace for you and all people, all the sons and daughters of Adam, subject to sin and death.
So there is this great irony and paradox about discipleship and the Way of Life. It is the way of the Cross. The Tree of Death is the Tree of Life. So it is by the death of the Cross that you live with God, now and forever. Not by any strength, abilities, or efforts of your own, but by dying to yourself, to your sins, and to the world, and rising from death to life in the Lord Jesus Christ. Not by your peeps or your possessions, but by your Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.
And it is by the daily death and resurrection of repentance, the ongoing significance of your Holy Baptism. For having already crossed the Jordan with Christ Jesus, you now live with Him in the good Land that God has given you, right here, within His Church (on earth as it is in heaven).
And, yes, what that looks like, and what that feels like, is “hating” your own family and even your own life in the world, in deference to your one Lord, Jesus Christ, and relinquishing all of your “possessions,” all your false gods and idols, whatever they may be, to live by faith in Him alone.
It is true, that discipleship of Christ and His Cross can very well put you at odds with your family and friends. It really can. It can be far worse than awkward and uncomfortable. It can estrange parents from their children, put siblings at odds with each other, and divide even husband and wife at the very heart and center of life. For no one and nothing may take precedence over Christ.
But this same discipleship that divides families also makes a brand new family and a fellowship of faith out of strangers, subordinates, and slaves. So it is that Philemon and his runaway slave, Onesimus, were brothers, not only with each other, but with St. Paul and the Lord Jesus Christ.
That discipleship also makes you a member of God’s family and a participant in the fellowship of the Holy Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Lord has made you part of His family by the grace of His Gospel, His forgiveness of sins. The Father has only one begotten Son, but you, by your Baptism, are an adopted son of God in Christ Jesus. And all the children of God are your own brothers and sisters, your family, because you have one God and Father in Christ.
Your Father invites you into this family and this fellowship of His Church, and He sets this blessing of faith and life before you. It is a “choice,” and not by compulsion, because He does not (and He will not) force you or coerce you to fear, love, and trust in Him. He does not rape or rob you, or bind you, or drug you. He does not kidnap you. He does not take you against your will. He does not force Himself upon you. He calls you and invites you, and He woos you, by the Word of His Gospel. And He sets before you this choice of life or death, the blessing or the curse, good or evil. And this, too, is by His mercy and His patient, steadfast loving-kindness.
Of course, the fact remains that, of yourself, you could not make the right choice. You could not make the right choice — to live the life of God — because that choice means the crucifixion of your sinful self, and it means the death of yourself to the sinful world, in which you find yourself so very much at home for the time being. And even the perfect example of your dear Lord Jesus Christ would not enable you to follow His lead and make it on your own. You would continue on a downward cycle of disobedience and self-destruction, just like Israel in the days of the Judges.
Christ be praised that He has built the tower for you, and He has won the battle for you. You are not asked to foot the bill. You are not asked to build the tower. You are not asked to win the war. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, He has done it for you. His Cross and Passion, His Death, and His Resurrection are given to you as your repentance, your faith, and your life.
It is all given to you, and it is wrought in you, by His Word and by His work, by the preaching and catechesis of Christ, and by the Jordan waters of your Holy Baptism — waters you have already crossed with Him, but to which you are daily returned by repentance and faith in His Word.
The Lord thus crushes your self-righteousness with His Law, with His commands and prohibitions, His threats and punishments. To whatever extent you supposes that you are doing fine, and getting along okay, and managing on your own, He crushes you, and pulverizes you, and scatters you as dust in the wind. He crucifies and buries your old Adam by the preaching of repentance.
But with that same preaching of repentance — by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection — like the greatest of Lovers, He woos you backs you to Himself with His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, and He gently, persistently, patiently, and kindly calls you to His Way of Life.
Your dear Lord Jesus Christ raises you up with Himself, from the dust of the ground where He also made His own bed. He raises you up with Himself in His Victory, and He bears you in His Body into the Resurrection and eternal Life. For He has already paid the cost of discipleship for you.
So, if you would count the cost, you can do it with one hand, on one finger. It is hung before your eyes in His sacrificial death upon the Cross, in the voluntary shedding of His holy and precious Blood for your Atonement and Redemption, for your Righteousness and Salvation.
And it is from that tower of His Holy Cross that He calls you to feast upon the spoils of His battle. For it is to His disciples that He gives His Body to eat and pours out His Blood to drink. And so it is to you that He gives His Body and His Blood, that you should not die but live forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.