When Jesus left the Pharisee’s house, great crowds followed Him, but He was not impressed by their enthusiasm. He knew that most of those in the crowd were not the least bit interested in spiritual things. Some wanted only to see miracles, others heard that He fed the hungry, and a few hoped He would overthrow Rome and establish David’s promised kingdom. They were expecting the wrong things.
Jesus turned to the multitude and preached a sermon that deliberately thinned out the ranks. He made it clear that, when it comes to personal discipleship, He is more interested in quality than quantity. In the matter of saving souls, He wants His house to be filled, but in the matter of personal discipleship, He wants only those who are willing to pay the price.
A ‘disciple’ is a learner, one who attaches himself or herself to a teacher in order to learn a trade or a subject. Perhaps our nearest modern equivalent is ‘apprentice,’ one who learns by watching and by doing. The word disciple was the most common name for the followers of Jesu Christ and is used 264 times in the Gospels and the book of Acts.
Jesus seems to make a distinction between salvation and discipleship. Salvation is open to all who will come by faith, while discipleship is for believers willing to pay a price. Salvation means coming to the cross and trust Jesus Christ, while discipleship means carrying the cross and following Jesus Christ. Jesus wants as many sinners saved as possible, but He cautions us not to take discipleship lightly, and in the three parables He gave, He made it clear that there is a price to pay.
To begin with, we must love Christ supremely, even more than we love our own flesh and blood. The word hate does not suggest positive antagonism but rather ‘to love less.’ Our love for Christ must be so strong that all other love is like hatred in comparison. In fact, we must hate our own lives and be willing to bear the cross after Him.
What does it mean to ‘carry the cross?’ It means daily identifications with Christ in shame, suffering, and surrender to God’s will. It means death to self, to serve Him as He directs. A ‘cross’ is something we willingly accept from God as part of His will for our lives. The Christian who called his noisy neighbors the ‘cross’ he had to bear certainly did not understand the meaning of dying to self.
Jesus gave three parables to explain why He makes such costly demands on His followers: the man building a tower, the king fighting a war, and the salt losing its flavor. The usual interpretation is that believers are represented by the man building the tower, the king fighting the war, and we had better ‘count the cost.’ Truthfully the builder and the king represents not the believer but Jesus Christ. He is the one who must ‘count the cost’ to build the church and battle the enemy. He cannot get the job done with halfhearted followers who will not pay the price.
Discipleship is serious business. If we are not true disciples, then Jesus cannot build the tower and fight the war. If we will tell Jesus that we want to take up our cross and follow Him as His disciples, then He wants no false expectancy, no illusions, no bargains. He wants to use us as stones for building His church, soldiers for battling His enemies, and salt for bettering His world, and He is looking for quality.
After all, He was on His way to Jerusalem when He spoke these words, and look what happened to Him there! He does not ask us to do anything for Him that He has not already done for us.
To some Jesus says, ‘You cannot be MY disciple.’ Why? Because they will not forsake all for Him, bear shame and reproach for Him, and let their love for Him control them. They are the losers. Will you be His disciple?