“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said, ‘If any one comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sister – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-26).
Looking at this passage plainly, it seems rather ‘unreasonable’ for the Lord Jesus to demand such an unrealistic cost for following Him as disciples. Some have preached on this passage with emphasising the need to despise and discard relationships, including close ones, ambitions and possessions if we desire to be true disciples of Christ; this has been delivered in some cases without qualifications and elaboration on what the Lord really meant.
We must take note that here the Lord was using hyperbole – a figure of speech that exaggerates for emphasis. The Lord was in fact setting up an extreme contrast – our love for Jesus should be so strong and so committed that our affection for our families and our own life in comparison would appear to be like hatred. The Scripture itself exhorted us to honour our parents and to love our neighbour; surely Jesus is not teaching us to hate our loved ones, others and our own life. He was in fact establishing clear priorities for disciples – they are to have unqualified loyalty and love for God – nothing can take this place in their hearts if they seek to be genuine disciples.
In a parallel passage in Luke 9:31-36), before laying the conditions of denying oneself and carrying up one’s cross daily if one seeks to follow Him, Jesus revealed that He Himself must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law and be killed. Here we see very clearly that the Lord Jesus was asking all who seek to be disciples to fulfil the conditions which He Himself fulfilled. He, being very God Himself, took the path of giving up His equality with God and making Himself in human likeness in the form of a servant, humbling Himself by becoming obedient to the Father to death on a cross. What Jesus asked His disciples to fulfil were conditions which He Himself fulfilled in His life as the perfect man, culminating in the cross. He denied Himself the luxury of having somewhere to lay down His head; He was born in a manger; He worked as a carpenter; He was despised, forsaken by the very people He came to save; even His own brothers did not believe in Him and He was crucified by His own kin and this was carried out by the orders of the spiritual leaders of His own people.
But for those who are willing to deny themselves and to take up their cross and to follow Him, He gives the gift of regeneration, adoption into His family, union with Him and the privilege of sharing His inheritance and His glory, not just for now but for eternity. In these gift and privileges, there is true joy in HIs presence and eternal pleasure at His right hand, It is no wonder that Paul exclaimed, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”. The Lord’s calling to be true disciples, seen in this light, is no longer unreasonable and a sacrifice; it is in fact a tremendous gift – giving up what is temporary to gain what is glorious and eternal. What gives God pleasure is a disciple whose heart never ceases to be grateful to Him for His grace and who is constantly expressing this gratitude by living to Him through Him and for HIm. This is the wonderful path of discipleship.
Living in this way may involve dying to self-desires (‘deny oneself’), upholding no compromise in our loyalty to the Master, even if it means paying a great cost in relationships, careers and possession in order to obey Him. but such a path may seem grievous when seen from the earthly perspective but it is glorious and pleasing to God from a heavenly perspective.