"Count the Cost"#90-01
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 4, 2022
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2023 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Luke 14:25-35
You probably have someone in your life who says things and when you hear them, it just makes you love them for it. And because you love them, you want other people to love them, too. But other times, loving this person can be a hard sell. It's a hard sell because they'll also say things that you wish they wouldn't. But they said it, and it makes them that much harder to love. Now, we put this program together for you every week. This ship has been sailing for over 90 years with no plans to stop. There's a whole team of people that works together to keep her afloat, and we do it week after week because we love Jesus.
We've heard what He said, and we just love Him for it, and we want you to love Him, too. And if you already love Him, we hope that you'll love Him more. And if you don't love Him yet, we pray that you will see and feel what it is that we love about Him, and doing this we're simply carrying on the work of his earliest followers as one of them said, recorded at the end of the letter to the Ephesians: "Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love." We do it all for the love of Jesus, but sometimes Jesus can be a hard sell. Sometimes He says things that I wish He hadn't.
Take for example this scene from the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus is walking through His homeland, ancient Israel. He's walking south toward the Jewish capital, Jerusalem. And as He's walking, great crowds are following Him. We can picture them. We can imagine them walking, the dusty trails and the Roman roads that connect the cities and the villages. In the cities, there are markets with salted fish for sale. On the outskirts, there's a construction site, a father and his sons building a tower to protect their family vineyard. On the roads, there are Roman soldiers out on patrol, mobilizing for war, executing a rebel, fastening him to die on a cross fixed by the roadside.
And through these scenes of everyday life in ancient Israel, hundreds of people, maybe thousands, stream past, trying to get a look at Him. The prophet, the wonder-worker from Nazareth, rumored to be the Messiah they've all been waiting for. The people crowd around Him, and Jesus turns to them and says, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be My student, My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross cannot be My disciple.
"Can you imagine a person among you who wants to build a tower yet does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it. Otherwise, after he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will start to mock him saying this fellow started to build and was not able to finish. Or what king, when he goes out to engage another king in war does not first sit down to deliberate whether he is able with ten-thousand troops to meet him who comes against him with twenty-thousand. And if not, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.
"Salt is good, but if salt loses its flavor, how will its saltiness be restored? It is of no use, either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear" (Luke 14:25-35).
Sometimes Jesus is a hard sell. Loving Him is no easy task. Following Him, being His student, His disciple, it's difficult. It's like building a tower or fighting in a war or carrying a cross that leads to your death. It's difficult, He says. And if you're not willing to count the cost, then you shouldn't even start. Loving Jesus isn't easy.
Now, to be fair, we should try to understand Jesus on His terms, not ours. First off, we should notice that Jesus is addressing a crowd here in Luke 14. He's addressing them because He wants them to know that He didn't come to put on a show. And to get His point across, He used strong language. We might even say exaggerated language, but His words still have a point, a sharp point. He wants them to know, and He wants us to know that if we truly follow Him and love Him from the outside, it may look like hate, like loving Jesus means, hating yourself, hating the people that should be the most important to you. That's His point.
So, He's not telling us to hate in the sense of nursing resentful feelings toward your family members. No, that would be too easy for us. If you live with anyone long enough, if you live with yourself long enough, vengeful, spiteful, hateful feelings, those come easily; they come naturally, just as easy as it is to love those closest to you, so also is it easy to despise them. I look at my own heart and I notice how easily these feelings have come to me. The natural longing to make my parents proud, and also the childish thrill in making them angry. The deep desire to please my wife and also to get back at her when she upsets me. The powerful drive to protect my children and also to make them pay for how poorly they've treated me. My special proclivity to make myself happy and also miserable, sometimes at the same time. And I think you'll find all that in your heart, too. This sick way of loving and hating, we do this all on our own terms; it comes easily for us. But Jesus is calling us into something different, something difficult. He's not out for a petty competition with our existing feelings, loyalties, and priorities. He is out for a complete takeover.
You sometimes hear the phrase, "hostile takeover," in business. In a business context, in a hostile takeover, there is an acquiring company and a target company. And the acquisition of one company by another is considered hostile if the acquiring company takes over the target company against the wishes of the target company's current management. And this can give us some insight into what Jesus says about loving Him and being His disciple. In no uncertain terms, what Jesus is describing is a takeover. People who love Jesus and follow Him have come under new management. Whatever loves or loyalties or personalities that we're organizing and directing your life before Jesus—all that must go. They are out of a job. They have no more position here, no more authority, no more decision-making power. It's a takeover.
So, you can't come to Jesus explicitly holding onto that old management. You can't say to Jesus, "I'll follow You, but I want You to know upfront that my parents will always be more important than You." You can't say that. You can't say to Jesus, "I'll go with You, but You need to know upfront that my children always come first." You can't say that to Him. You can't say, "I'll try this out, Jesus, but I want You to know upfront that I'm not going to do anything I don't want to do." You can't say that. Jesus won't allow it. This is a takeover, not a merger of equals. This is what love means to Him: no reservations, no qualifications, no holding back. Loving Him is unconditional surrender, a complete buyout, a total takeover.
And when I hear Him say it, when I hear it from His own mouth, there's a part of me that wants to hide this bit about Him, because I'm embarrassed by it. I don't want Jesus to seem unreasonable, unlikable. I don't want Him to seem so demanding. Jesus, how can I sell You to anyone when You talk this way? How can I sell Him to myself? But the more I hear His words, the more I see that He won't be put in a position to be bought or sold by anyone, because He is the Buyer. He sets the terms, not us. And from a certain perspective, it looks like a hostile takeover.
But from another perspective, it is in fact, a gracious buyout. Even in a business context, this can be the case. For example, in 2014, when a German company took over a company based in Finland, it had all the features of a hostile takeover. The two companies were both in the business of building ships, great, steel, ocean-going vessels. And they were fierce competitors. Finland had a long and proud history of building ships, and the German company, a company called Meyer Werft, was a powerful seventh-generation family business that had been building ships for over 200 years. The family patriarch of the German company, Mr. Bernard Meyer, when he saw the opportunity to buy out Finland, he went in and set the terms.
He makes a secret backroom deal with an insurgent Finnish stakeholder, ousts the current management, takes over the Finnish shipyard, and sets up his son as the new CEO. If there is a playbook for hostile corporate takeover somewhere, those Germans had to be running it complete with maniacal laughter, celebratory cigars, and toasts to crushing the competition. But there is more to the story. Industrial ship building in Finland did have a long, rich history going back a couple of hundred years. However, in the last several decades, the companies that ran the largest shipyards in Finland were dysfunctional and unstable, plagued by bankruptcies, political rivalries, and inept corporate hierarchies.
In 2012 the whole business of building ships in Finland was on the verge of collapse, which would mean the loss of thousands of jobs leaving a gaping hole in the Finnish economy. The company that owned the Finnish shipyard at the time was a bloated international conglomerate whose CEO had been charged with fraud. Finland's government was tempted to buy the company and prop up the industry using taxpayer money, but the Finnish bureaucrats had a policy of not investing in failing businesses. So, before going down with the proverbial ship in a last-ditch effort, the Finnish minister of economics led a secret delegation to Germany in 2013, to see Mr. Bernard Meyer, that patriarch of a ship-building dynasty.
The Finns begged him to buy out the other company and save Finland's floundering industry. And it would've been a tough sell to anyone other than a sixth-generation, ship-building baron who took over the business from his father and would pass it on to his sons because building ships is in their blood. So Mr. Meyer agreed to count the cost and deliberate the decision. While the Finnish delegation was there, they marveled at how well everything in the German shipyard was organized, even so that the worker's steps would be saved because they were told this savings adds up. And when they returned home, they were hopeful to see their industry in such capable hands, in the hands of someone who would be truly involved in what he was doing. Even down to counting steps.
After the takeover, Herr Meyer's seven-generation family business cared for the Finns' shipyard as his very own. He invested millions in the property. Secured new orders, partnered with a Finnish university for research and development, hired hundreds of additional Finnish workers, and nearly doubled the shipyard's annual revenue. What looked like a hostile takeover was not only a gracious bailout, it was adoption into a ship-building family. Jesus came for nothing less than a takeover. He's come to bail us out of a sinking ship, and to anyone other than the beloved Son of God, of the loving Creator of the universe, it would've been a tough sell.
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus used words from the prophet Isaiah to describe His mission. In Luke 4, He said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He sent Me to proclaim Liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Jesus has come to bring good news. His takeover is good news because it is freedom, freedom from oppression and corruption and blindness.
To carry the cross behind Jesus, to be crucified and raised with Him in Baptism, that is freedom, freedom from the control of that bloated spiritual conglomerate of the world, the devil, and our own selfish desires that would run this ship aground. That old management has been ousted for good. But every takeover brings about some loss. Those of us who are baptized into Christian households, we don't have firsthand knowledge of what it's like—what it's like for a person who was not raised in a family that loves Jesus, and then is baptized later in life. As one Jesus follower who was baptized within the borders of the former Soviet Union said: "To be a Christian here, to be baptized is to be motherless. When one comes up out of the water, one has lost, country, parents, all."
In every takeover, there is some loss. But there can also be gain, for the baptized, for the one who loves and is loved by Jesus, she has come, he has come into a new disciple-building family, not just under new management, but a multicultural, multinational, multidimensional family secured, not by the blood of natural kinship, but bought by the life-giving blood of Jesus.
There are many things said by Jesus that make Him a hard sell, but He didn't come to be bought or sold by anyone. He came to buy back, to redeem, to take over. His mission wasn't a merger of equals. It was a bailout of a failing business, a gracious takeover. And now, thank God we are in His most capable hands. He sets the agenda; He leads the way.
We become and remain disciples of Jesus by grace, through faith, through trusting Jesus. Trusting is fitting, because we didn't merge with an equal, we were bought back from death by our Creator. And because we're not His equals, and in the final analysis this isn't a business, there is no level of productivity or profitability or morality that we have to maintain to keep Him invested in us. Do we still say things and do things that He wishes we wouldn't? Yeah. But He is still building us into the disciples He made us to be. Even before you were born, even before you knew you needed Him, even before you answered His call and counted the cost and followed him, He already counted.
He counted the hairs on your head, the cost to save you, and the steps, too. So when you count the cost and come up short, Jesus will still come through. You and I would've been a tough sell to anyone else, but God didn't count twice. And because of Jesus, there are no reservations, no qualifications, no holding back. That's what love means to Him. And He's the One who counts.
Would you pray with me? Dear Father, God, You sent Jesus Your own Son to redeem us, to buy us back from sin and death and the power of the devil. And so now send us back by faith, into our homes and neighborhoods, our schools, and shops, into every sinking ship, to be His disciples and build disciples because it's in our blood—the blood of Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.
Reflections for September 4, 2022
Title: Count the Cost
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org.
We're here once again with our Speaker, Dr. Mike Ziegler. And thinking about what we heard in today's message, where Jesus is talking about hating your family, your father, your mother, brother, and sister, this is an example you said of exaggerated speech. Can you cite other examples where Jesus used that kind of hyped-up language in order to make a forceful point?
Mike Zeigler: Yes, Jesus does this often. So the passage we heard was from Luke 14. Another example often referenced is from Mark 9: 43-47. You remember it? He says, "If your hand causes you to sin ..."
Mark Eischer: Cut it off.
Mike Zeigler: Yeah, cut it off. If your foot causes you to sin, if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out because He says it's better for you to enter into life lame or one-eyed or having only one hand than to be thrown into the fire of hell.
Mark Eischer: And clearly, He's not talking about physical amputation here.
Mike Zeigler: That's correct. He is giving a strong warning about the dangers of compromising with sin, that there are eternal dangers associated with this, and that His followers should be committed, not to following their own desires or their own lusts, but to following Him, to following the will of God.
Mark Eischer: So, in this case that we're talking about today, the passage from Luke 14, Jesus is not calling us to be abusive and bitter toward family members?
Mike Zeigler: Right, right. That's the analogy. He's not calling us to physical amputation, and He's not calling us to hateful as normally understood. For one, that would contradict the clear command of Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves. So, He's not talking about hate in that sense. What He is talking about is loyalty. Where does our primary loyalty lie now? It's not with our family. It's not with our government or our culture or even with our own desires. Our primary loyalty is with Jesus. That is, we follow Him. He sets the agenda for our life. Now not someone else.
Mark Eischer: Would you say that sometimes that might look like hate or conflict within the family?
Mike Zeigler: For sure. And He even warns this, that there will be conflict within families—a mother turned against the daughter, a father against the son because of Him. It's not because of our own tendency to be hateful or bitter or resentful toward our family, but rather loyalty to Him or loyalty to something else causes that division. And so Christians experience this in other places around the world. Christians have that sense of being torn from their family out of their loyalty to Jesus.
Mark Eischer: But also, we could say that, in many cases, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God sends us back into our families as renewed people with a renewed capacity to love and serve each other.
Mike Zeigler: That's correct. And we need to remember that family was God's idea in the first place. He created the first man and woman to live together in marriage, and have children, and raise a family. So this is all God's idea. The problem is family has been corrupted by false loyalties. Jesus has come to set that right. And like you said, He often sends us back into those families. But now, with a new perspective, a new power, to sacrificially love like Jesus rather than to treat them like we normally would without His help.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"God's Word Is Our Great Heritage" arr. Henry Gerike. From Jubilee by the Concordia Seminary Lutheran Hour Chorus (© 2000 Concordia Seminary Lutheran Hour Chorus)
"When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" From And My Mouth Will Declare Your Praise by the Children's Choirs of St. Paul's Lutheran Church (© 1997 St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Ft. Wayne)
"How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)