Discipleship and Salvation
Cost of Discipleship (Luke 14:25-33)
Most religious leaders judge their success by the size of the crowd following them, but Jesus begins telling the large crowd following him about the difficulties of being his disciple. He does this through a literary device called “hyperbole.” E. W. Bullinger says hyperbole “is so called because the expression adds to the sense so much that it exaggerates it, and enlarges or diminishes it more than is really meant in fact. Or, when more is said than is meant to be literally understood, in order to heighten the sense.” In other words, hyperbole states an idea in the extreme to catch your attention, though the extreme is not what is actually meant. For example, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29), is hyperbole. Jesus is stressing the importance of doing all we can to avoid hell, but he is not literally advocating maiming your body.
We can tell hyperbole is being used by the first statement because on the surface it appears to contradict other passages. To be a disciple, Jesus states we must hate our mother and father, but Moses had said, “Honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12) and Jesus scolded the Jews for failing to do so (Matthew 15:1-9). Jesus stated we must hate our own life and a man his wife, but Paul points out “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it,” to illustrate that a husband ought to love his wife as he loves his own body (Ephesians 5:28-29). Jesus states a disciple must hate his own children, but Paul tells Titus that younger women are to be taught “to love their husbands, to love their children” (Titus 2:4).
What we realize is that Jesus is stating something in the extreme. Compared to the devotion a disciple must give to Christ, his relationships to family members and his own wants must come in a distant second. He is not advocating actual hatred, but illustrating the distance between the love for God and the love for our fellow man and ourselves. It is an illustration of the level of devotion a follower of Christ must have (Acts 20:24; Romans 12:11; Philippians 3:7-11).
Similarly, the cross represents the most extreme suffering in the Roman world. Unless a person is willing to suffer anything for the cause of Christ, he cannot be a disciple. Yet, it does not mean that only people who die on a cross will be followers of Christ (Matthew 5:10-12; II Timothy 3:12).
What we see is that nothing in the world must be allowed to come between a person and his Savior. That is why another hyperbole is given: A person must give up all he has to be a disciple of Christ. A Christian cannot allow his wealth to become more important than his Lord. This is the test the rich young man fails in Luke 18:22-24. There can be Christians who have wealth (I Timothy 6:17-19), and Jesus is not stating that only people without a penny to their name can be his disciple, but in the relative priority between serving the Christ and having possessions, the later can be easily discarded as the something that is worthless to the individual (Matthew 19:27).
Because of the greatness of the commitment required, it is strongly advisable that anyone considering becoming a disciple of Jesus first consider whether he able and willing to make the commitment. To start and never finish is worse than not starting at all. Jesus illustrates this as a man who begins to build a home but runs out of funds after the foundation is completed.
However, a person needs to consider the cost of not following Jesus as well. The illustration here is of king about to make war against a superior foe. Realizing he cannot win, he sues for terms of peace before the battle is begun. Jesus would not advocate people making peace with Satan, so the scenario being presented is a person about to choose to oppose God, but then realizes he cannot win. Because the cost of not being a disciple of Christ is too great, he chooses to make peace with the Lord.
Value (Luke 14:34-35)
A person should not expect to become a disciple of Christ without bringing some value to the relationship. As salt is useful only if can perform the duty of seasoning food, so a Christian is only useful if he willing to be obedient to God and productive in His cause (Matthew 3:10; John 15:6-8; 14-16). An unproductive Christian will be cast out. There is no free ride into heaven.
Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin (Luke 15:1-10)
As Jesus taught, he attracted a large number of tax collectors and sinful people to his audience. These were people that the religious Jews had rejected, but they found hope for salvation in the teachings of Jesus. This gave the Pharisees and scribes the opportunity to complain among themselves that there must be something wrong with Jesus and his teachings if he attracts such worthless people.
In response, Jesus tells a series of three parables to explain the value of a person’s soul.
The first parable is that of a shepherd who has a hundred sheep, but loses one. A hundred head of sheep is considered to be a good sized flock. Yet this shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in a safe place and searches for the lost one. When found, he willingly carries it back excited that he found his lost sheep. Because of the recovery, he has more joy over that one found sheep than over the ninety-nine that had stayed with him. This is the same parable that Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 18:12-14 to explain that every person is valuable in God’s sight. Now he is making the same point to the Pharisees and scribes. They had been behaving like the hired shepherds mentioned by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:1-6).
The second parable illustrates the same point, but from the viewpoint of mankind. A woman with ten coins who loses one will put in a extraordinary amount of effort to find that one lost coin. When the coin is found she rejoices with her friends and neighbors over locating the coin. The coin discussed is a drachma, which was the amount, roughly, that a skilled laborer would make in a day. Thus the amount while not tremendously large was not insignificant to a person who only had ten coins. The point is that people will expend a large amount of effort to find something of relatively small value. How much effort should be expended to find and save a soul?
We all belong to God Almighty (Ezekiel 18:4). The lost sheep and the lost coin represents a soul lost in sin. It is God who rejoices when a lost soul is restored to Him and He invites all of heaven to rejoice with him. The point is that no one is worthless in God’s sight and that a person restored is a cause for celebration.
Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
The parable of the prodigal son continues the theme of the first two parables, but in greater detail. The man in the story is God. The elder son represents the Jews who have faithfully served God. The younger son represents those who have become unfaithful to God.
The younger son demands his inheritance. An inheritance is normally given after the father dies, but there are times when the funds are divided and distributed in advance (Genesis 25:6). He then leaves home and wastes all his money. The word “prodigal” means a person who is lavish in his spending of money. Eventually the money runs out. Such is the nature of sin. It produces temporary pleasures, but it cannot maintain those pleasures. Nor does sin leave a person in a better state (Jeremiah 2:13). The younger son found himself in great need and reduced to feeding swine for a living – something a Jew would find disgusting as pigs were unclean animals. The son’s situation became so severe that the food he was feeding the swine began to look good to him.
It was at that low point in his life that the son realized that he was better off with his father as a servant that trying to face life on his own. He knew he wasn’t worthy to be called a son of his father because of his sins, but he returned to ask if he might become a servant in his father’s home. Thus the sinner repented of his sins. But before he came close to home, his father saw him, ran to him, and welcomed him back. It did not matter that he had gone off into sin, what mattered was that he returned (Ezekiel 18:23, 31-32). God is always ready to forgive a person who repents of his sins. When a person is lost in sin, he is dead to God, but when he returns he returns to life (Romans 6:13; Ephesians 2:1).
Often Luke 15:10 is misquoted. Who rejoices when a sinner repents? Jesus says there is joy in the presence of the angels. It isnít the angelsí joy which is the focus but the joy of God which the angels witness.
The older son, however, became angry over the attention being paid to his brother. He doesn’t call him “his brother” but “his father’s son” – he is distancing himself from this one he finds so contemptible. He could not get past seeing his brother as a sinner. He was envious that his father never had a celebration for him. He refused to take part in the celebrations. But his father came out to him (as he had done for the younger son). His father pointed out that for his faithfulness, all that the father had belonged to him. Yet, at this point in time it was proper to rejoice that his lost brother had returned home.
Interestingly, the story ends before we find out whether the older son enters the home or not. The point is that the Jews, represented by the older son, needed to come to a decision. Would they rejoice that sinners were returning to God, or would they reject God in their deluded desire to reject the former sinners? That choice had yet to be made and the opportunity for change remained open for the time.