Jesus turned and said to [the crowd]: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. . . . So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.”
Moses teaches the way of discipleship to the Israelites. He gives them final instructions as they begin a new stage of following the Lord: entry into the Promised Land. Prior to the conquest of
Moses shows the Israelites two ways: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.” Those are the only two options. They are mutually exclusive. A person either follows after life and good or after death and evil. But the way of life is demanding, full of constraints. The way of life that Moses sets before the people is not his way, but the Lord’s way. And the Lord has set the requirements: love of Him alone, walking in His ways alone, keeping His commandments and statutes and just decrees alone. Those who follow must keep their hearts, minds, and souls focused on that way. Wandering from it would cause major disaster: “you shall surely perish.”
What Moses declared to the Israelites is analogous to the statement Jesus makes to those following Him. Like the thousands that Moses led to the Promised Land, “Great crowds accompanied Jesus.” Jesus is leading people into salvation, into the promise of life everlasting. Like Moses, Jesus sets out what it necessary to be His follower, what His way requires of them: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. . . . So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.” Those are the terms of discipleship, the only way to the Promised Land that Jesus acquires for His people.
But what do these terms mean? What is required? Jesus’ way is demanding. It calls for complete allegiance and devotion to Him. To follow such a way is difficult: total allegiance and devotion to Jesus requires rejection and renunciation of anything that would draw people from His way or stand as impediments. Jesus is so clear about this. He doesn’t talk in general terms or euphemisms. No, He goes right to the heart of the matter: family, possessions, your own life are all on the chopping block. They become objects of hatred and renunciation.
Why does Jesus call the people to hate family, renounce possessions, and even reject their own lives? Because these intimate things can all stand in the way of allegiance and devotion to Jesus and His way of life. They can become gods and idols—the objects of fear, love, and trust that should be shown to Him alone. As Luther says in the Large Catechism: “Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.” And you heard what Moses said about devotion to other gods: “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.”
So Jesus says: “None of that for My disciples. Devotion to anything besides Me and My way of life that I lay out for you disqualifies you from discipleship. You have to put aside anything that impedes your following Me.” That demand is placed on all those who would be Jesus’ disciples. But what Jesus requires of His followers is what He Himself fulfilled. He does not expect anything of them that He had not done.
Think about Jesus’ life, what you know of Him. Did He show hatred to His family? Recall an incident earlier in Jesus’ life: “Jesus was told, ‘Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You.’ But He answered them, “My mother and My brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’” Did He bear His own cross? Indeed, carrying it out from
Why does Jesus make this sacrifice? Because He follows the way to bring you salvation that His Father set out. That way of life required His death. That way of blessing required His bearing a divine curse. Jesus takes up His own advice, calculating the purchase price of your salvation. What will it cost for Him to build not just a tower, but a Church? What will it cost for Him to go into battle not with an earthly king, but with the cosmic forces of sin, death, and Satan? Obedience and devotion to His Father in all things, hating His own life, bearing His own cross, renouncing all His possessions: that is the cost. Did Jesus have enough to complete it? The answer is what He declares from the cross: “It is finished/completed/fulfilled/done!”
The requirements to bring salvation to you have been met by Jesus. He calls you to receive it by following His way of life. Receiving that salvation requires your devotion and allegiance to Him alone. It requires being brought into fellowship with Him. You heard Jesus’ statements: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. . . . So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.” But you respond: “Yes, Lord, but I could never do such a thing. I could never do what You have done. I could never meet such requirements.”
However, Jesus does not leave you in despair. He says: “I know that you cannot do this. But I cause it so that it is done for you. I make all that I have accomplished yours.” That is what Holy Baptism does. You are connected to Jesus, incorporated into His Body, the Church. You bear your cross with Jesus, dying with Him as you are baptized. You declare allegiance to Jesus, renouncing the devil and all his works and all his ways—or as the old way of translating it said “all his pomps.” You reject anything that the old evil foe could offer to you, just as Jesus did. Remember Satan’s offer: “’To You I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If You, then, will worship me, it will all be Yours.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written: You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’”
But all this cannot be accomplished through your own abilities or powers. It is only what your renewed hearts, minds, and souls desire and the Spirit of God in you effects. Hating family, hating your own life, hating your possessions: these are not choices that any of you would make. Bearing your own cross? Suffering for someone else’s sake? What a ludicrous suggestion. And yet, that is what you do as Christians. It is the way of life that your Lord has established and has assigned to you. It is the way of life that the Holy Spirit brings you to love and cherish and leads you to follow.
But even in your new lives as disciples, you never fully meet Jesus’ demands. The desire to obey may be there, but as Jesus says: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” So your Lord grants you what you need, whatever is lacking in you. He calls you to remember your baptisms, repeating the statements of renunciation and the vows of allegiance to Him that you earlier made. That remembrance is done in Confession, so that you receive Jesus’ words of absolution that removes all your guilt, overcoming all your faults. He calls you to eat with Him, to partake of what He gave into death, so that you may live. You eat of the fruit of the cross, remembering how Jesus bore it for you and your salvation. Receiving these things from your Lord, you are made blessed again.
Blessedness and righteousness are never achieved by you. The requirements that Jesus fulfilled and places on you are too great for you to meet. But they are met for you by your Lord, so you can rightly be called blessed. His work forms you to meet the description found in today’s psalm. Jesus calls you away from “the counsel of the wicked, the way of sinners, the seat of scoffers.” He makes “your delight in the law of the Lord.” He places you “like a tree planted by streams of water,” so that you “yield your fruit in its season, with leaves that do not wither.”
That is what Jesus accomplishes for you, bringing you from the way of evil to the way of good. He suffered death and curse, so that you may have life and blessing. Without His works, you would surely perish. Through His works, you live eternally. Because of them, you may “choose life, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him.” May you always do so, receiving what Jesus gives, knowing that “He is your life and length of days.”
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.