Sept. 2, 1945, June 28, 1919, April 9, 1865 Dec. 24, 1814. What do those dates have in common with the event in our Gospel lesson? An event for which we have no accurate date, only that it took place as Jesus was closing in on the city of Jerusalem and an appointment with death on a hill appropriately known in Aramaic as Gulgulta, “The Place of The Skull.”
Perhaps those dates will become more familiar when a location is attached to them: September 2, 1945, Tokyo Bay, USS Missouri. June 28, 1919, Versailles, France. April 9, 1865, Appomattox, December 24, 1814, Ghent, the United Netherlands. These are the dates on which the articles of surrender were signed by the warring parties in WWII, WWI, The Civil War, and The War of 1812. On these dates the terms and conditions for peace were signed.
In the Gospel lesson for today Jesus is giving His own “articles of surrender” for lasting peace for those who would follow Him. His conditions come in a series of difficult statements and challenges that Jesus levies toward the masses – and His own disciples. And as we have heard in recent weeks, as we walk with Jesus on His final earthly journey, He is not veiling His Words in flowery language. He’s not soft-peddling the message. He is being brutally honest.
Jesus wants the crowd, that had been growing along the walk with Him on the road to Jerusalem, to know that following Him is not just a casual stroll down a country lane. Many, no doubt, are convinced Jesus is the promised Messiah. Some are just curious onlookers interested in knowing more but still straddling the fence, trailing along the shoulder just in case they need to bail out or change their minds.
Some are there for subsistence needs: hungry for another miracle in which Jesus produces food for the followers; hoping that Jesus will heal them or a loved one from a physical affliction. Still others, such as the disciples, have forsaken lives and careers of their own and cast their lot with Jesus, wherever it may lead them. Theirs is a tepid trust; a conditional faith that is hampered by a persistent lack of understanding about their leader, but that is cautiously hopeful in light of what they have seen and what Jesus has taught them.
In one sense, most of the thousands of people in Jesus’ growing flock have made some level of commitment. But on the other hand, among this great crowd of witnesses only one has truly committed Himself fully – Jesus. Everyone else wants conditions attached.
Jesus sees what the crowd cannot, knows what His followers don’t understand despite His teachings: The road they take with Him requires total commitment, a change in priorities and in life, steadfast faith, trust and sacrifice. It’s in this context that the people who have heard Jesus’ words of love, mercy and grace, and have witnessed His miracles, now hear Him speak with words that challenge their senses, their reasoning, their commitment.
Jesus uses words that shock the hearers. In fact, when people today hear words like what was read in today’s gospel, it flies in the face of Jesus’ words of love. It’s unthinkable that our Lord, who espouses love and says we should “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself,” also expects, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.
Jesus is not using the word “hate” (in Hebrew, misseo) in anger or hostility. He’s using a Hebrew idiom that says, “To love one thing and to hate another gives preference to the former.” Or, in times of conflict with the world and others – even members of your own family, our relationship with God must take precedence. God doesn’t expect us to be cruel to the family He has given, but rather to love Him first. To do otherwise cripples a person’s discipleship. ”(LSB p1746, 14:26)
Jesus establishes for discipleship the articles of surrender. The conditions seem harsh, too difficult to follow: Renounce family ties that prevent one from being a disciple. Bear one’s own cross. Forsake earthly possessions. They are, though, a loving admonishment from Jesus, who doesn’t want you or anyone else to be ignorant about what may be the cost of choosing to walk with Him.
When you look deeper into the words you see that Jesus is not asking for that which HE knows is not humanly possible. If He were who would be His disciples? Jesus understands the tension between the sinfulness of human nature that seeks answers and rewards here and now, and the gospel that calls for faith and trust and promises greater rewards in heaven.
In the self-consumed culture of today some churches, preachers and televangelists have blurred any notion of tension between the teachings of Jesus and the hopes and dreams of Christian people everywhere. Consequently, many find “religion” or make decisions of discipleship in Christ based on “feel good” gospel messages that promote you or make discipleship a mere “monetary” commitment, an easy going, no Law convicting, no cross-bearing or visible reminder of sacrifice and separation that might cause tension.
It is, in truth, not that at all. You might say we are the reality check here in the midst of all the fluff. Jesus’ call runs contrary to the world, not in the fast lane OF the world. When we “bear our own cross” it is to be seen as a voluntary commitment to follow in faith wherever God leads us – even unto death. Paul writes in Philippians 2: “Have this in mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.”
In today’s parables, Jesus gives examples of the need for careful planning and consideration before making any commitment. A builder would not lay foundation for a tower unless he had first considered the cost it would take to complete the work. Nor would a king commit his undersized army to fight against an army of greater size without a well thought out plan.
Likewise, God didn’t enter into the process of redeeming His people without being prepared to complete it. Jesus didn’t turn His face toward Jerusalem without being prepared to face the sacrifice required of Him there. For Jesus, His death on the cross just up the road on the Hill of the Skull, is the final act in His earthly life; His unconditional surrender to God.
So today we are presented with the articles of surrender from the One who surrendered His life for you and for me in the cruelest and most inhuman suffering of all. And God our Father signs that article of surrender with an unconditional promise that first raises His Son from the dead and then seals the promise in the water and the Word of Baptism, the righteousness of Christ, as we are joyfully reminded of in celebration with Johan Shan and his family today, “That just as Christ was raised from by the dead by the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life..”
Such is the unconditional nature of discipleship. If or when we are taken aback by the words of Jesus in today’s text, or are hesitant to take the leap of faith, get off the shoulder and onto the narrow road, if we are busy figuring the cost of following Jesus, we are not looking at the demands on our salvation placed on the Son of God Himself who gave up all things for us.
Martin Luther wrote, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.” So is a commitment to follow Jesus that promises “Your best life Now.” With all due respect to such theology, God wants you to live a good and godly life loving one another. But your best life is yet to come. That’s the reward. That’s the promise. That’s the commitment Jesus made when HE took up took up His cross and accepted death that we might have life.
That may well be why many churches today don’t even have a cross in view of those who are gathered to worship. They don’t want to be reminded of the cost associated with their expected reward. They want to believe they have somehow earned it by their commitment.
We are at war. The battle continues. Paul said, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:23-24)
At the center of the life of a Christian is Christ. At the center of the life of Christ is the cross. And we believe, teach and confess that without the cross of Christ we are lost and condemned creatures. Without the cross there is no sacrifice. Without the sacrifice there is no payment for sin. Without payment for sin there is no forgiveness. Without forgiveness there is no reason to carry on with our lives in this world let alone carry a cross. Without the sacrifice of Christ there is no need to surrender for there is only death in our future.
But there was the sacrifice – and for all of us who dare to be called Christian, who dare to be His disciples, who believe in Him, our lives are changed forever. Look at the cross. Count your blessings, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”(Ro. 7:25b) whose unconditional surrender unto death paid the cost for your surrender – the cost of your salvation. Amen.
--Rev. David Brockhouse
“The Articles of Surrender” / Luke 14: 25-33 (Proper 18) / Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 8, 2019 / Mt. Olive Lutheran Church (LCMS)