(This is from my current sermon series on the Hard Sayings of Jesus. Feedback welcomed and encouraged)
There is a tendency among us “church-goers” to focus on the kinder and gentler Jesus. We love the Jesus that is kind and gentle because, well, that’s what we really need. For one reason, we live in a world that is harsh and unkind. Another reason is that we recognize our own shortcomings and we need that kind and gentle Jesus to correct us when we’re wrong. So, we focus on the kindness of Jesus and bypass what I can only describe as the Tough Jesus. Jesus was at times Abrasive, and I’m not talking about how He dealt with the Scribes and Pharisees. So I need to begin this series with a, call it, a Disclaimer:
Jesus said some things that can be difficult to handle. Most of us don’t want to deal with that part of Jesus. But if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to teach us the truth about God, then we need to listen to everything Jesus taught, even if it is harsh or difficult to understand. If Jesus said something, I believe that we need to pay attention to those words.
To understand what Jesus says, we need to get a grasp on Jesus the Communicator of The Truth. First, He was a great Story-Teller, using ordinary things to describe the extraordinary truth of the Kingdom. Second, He spoke direct authority, meaning we should take them as having authority over us.
A final communication tool of Jesus was his superb use of Hyperbole. The definition of Hyperbole is an obvious and intentional exaggeration, embellishment or magnification. Here’s an example: “He’s older than dirt.” That can’t be because we came from dirt. It just a way of saying, “Man, they are really old.” Here’s an easy hyperbole of Jesus: (Matt. 7:3 NLT)—“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” We know that a plank won’t fit into an eye socket. Maybe some people’s big mouth, but not their eye socket, OK?
When it comes to the meaning of the words of Jesus, we simply do not have the luxury, nor the authority, nor the wisdom of choosing an understanding that simply makes us feel better about ourselves or about Jesus. Let’s take a moment to lay some groundwork that will carry us through the rest of this series, and through those passages we will not be able to address at this time. How do we sort through what is hyperbole and what is authoratative? Here are 2 steps to guide us in this determination:
- Is It Possible? Back to the speck of dust and plank story. It’s simply not possible to walk around with a plank sticking out of your eye. Not possible? Then it’s hyperbole. If the answer is Yes, then go to Step 2:
- Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? Jesus will never contradict Himself. If it is not consistent with the Kingdom Message, then it’s hyperbole.
If the answer to either of these is No, then there is a very high degree of confidence that Jesus is speaking in hyperbole. If the answer to both questions is Yes, then there should be an even higher confidence that Jesus is speaking literally. Then our response is clear: do what Jesus said to do. But if He is speaking in hyperbole, how do we get to the truth? 3 steps that help us find the truth:
- What Is Happening Just Before Those Words?
- What Happened Or Was Said Right After Those Words?
- What Is The “Point” Jesus Is Trying To Make? What is the Kingdom principle Jesus is teaching? Sometimes it comes with Jesus explaining it directly, sometimes it’s more subtle. This step may take a while.
Our first passage is from Luke 14:25-35 (NIV)
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Wow! Is it just me, or does Jesus come down hard on our concept of family values? Yet there it is, in black and white, unless you have a red-letter edition of the Bible. Here’s the one thing you need to remember, and it’s directly from Jesus: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”
Maybe the NIV translators did a poor job with the Greek and Jesus didn’t really say “hate your family”. But, nope, it’s there even in the KJV. Why would Jesus say such a thing? Maybe He was just having a bad day, or He was just tried of walking, or maybe tired that all those people were following behind Him and He simply wanted to be alone. Or better yet, maybe this is that hyperbole thing going on—He didn’t mean it literally—He was just exaggerating. Hyperbole isn’t meant to be taken literally. But when Jesus uses hyperbole, He really is making a point and we need to understand the point Jesus is making. Is today’s passage a hyperbole or is Jesus saying something literally?
Now, let’s apply the first 2 questions to today’s passage:
- Is It Possible? Matthew 12:46-49—46 As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 47 Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you.” 48 Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 49 Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers.” Now let’s apply the 2nd question
- Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? (Mark 8:34-35) 34 “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.
OK, the answer to question 1 is YES and the answer to question 2 is YES. So, we must conclude that Jesus isn’t speaking in hyperbole, but literally. But why should we love God so deeply, even more than our closest relationships? Why would Jesus tell us to set aside everything, including family, and follow Him? Here’s what I see Jesus saying why we must set our families aside in order to put our love for God ahead of every other relationship:
1) Our God Is A Jealous God!
“For you must not worship any other god. For the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Exo. 34:14 (NLT)
God is unwilling to accept any divided loyalty. Anything can come between us and God. Usually we think in terms of stuff coming before God. Those trinkets called idols—like money, that job, that house, that car—physical things. But it’s not just the physical things that can get between us and God.
Some think it’s the bad stuff—the sinful stuff—like another religion, drugs, pornography, politics. No doubt this bad stuff can become more important than God. But it’s not just the bad stuff that can get between us and God.
Good stuff can AND will get between us and God. Have you ever thought that the good stuff gets in the way of following Jesus? God refuses to play second to anyone and we dishonor Him when anyone takes priority over Him.
2) It’s The Difference From Following Jesus As A Disciple And Following Jesus As A Spectator
Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NLT)
Here’s the approach many people take. “OK, I have this, this, and that to do this week, so where can I fit Jesus into my calendar?” When we look for places to fit Jesus in, we are no longer following Him as a Disciple, but as a spectator. There was this crowd following BEHIND Jesus. But they were NOT following WITH Jesus. Here’s an example from Mark 3:21-34. That woman had a health problem. She decided that if she could just touch the hem of his garment she could be healed—and she was.
Now here’s the point—Were there others in that crowd around Jesus who had problems that had physical contact with Jesus? More than likely she wasn’t the only one with issues. But only she was made whole. Why? She wanted more than to be around Jesus—she wanted the power of Jesus in her life—and that took direct contact of her heart and her faith in Jesus!
We cannot give our families what they really need unless God is more important to us than them. In our culture, we need a realignment of priorities. This is the whole point of what Jesus is teaching then—and especially teaching now! It’s important for families to understand this—because we are the front-line battle formation for the reclaiming and restoration of God’s Creation.
And remember to Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!