In August of 1960, a young couple was preparing for a two week vacation. They packed their suitcases and with three children in tow, closed the door to their house, said goodbye to their friends and family and left. They spent a few days in the capital city before boarding a plane to their final vacation destination of Miami, Florida. They would not see their home again for over 40 years! You see this young family was actually fleeing the communist revolution in Cuba and when they arrived in Miami sought political asylum. This couple was willing to leave behind family, friends, house, possessions, career and everything they had known for the promise of a better life.
And yet this type of commitment is what Jesus asks of anyone who would be one of His followers. Listen to what He says as recorded in the Gospel of Luke.
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to 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. (Luke 14:25-27,33 ESV)
These are very strong words and especially the word “hate” trips us up. In this context though the word “hate” does not refer to the emotion of hatred and wishing ill upon someone, but “hate” is used as a comparative word. Our love for Christ must be much greater than our love for others – our families and ourselves included. The passage means we must love them less than we love Him. He is asking for complete allegiance and nothing or no one must stand in the way. This echoes the words that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.” It even echoes the words we say in our marriage ceremonies when we vow to “forsake all others.” So the fact that Christ would ask for that kind of commitment is not strange or unreasonable. It just seems so to us because it is so starkly stated.
He asks us to make sure that the decisions we make and the priorities we pursue are centered on Him and nothing else. It means that our own comfort and our own well-being must be submitted to Him. We must even be willing to carry the very instrument of death to ourselves. Too often we’ve re-cast the phrase, “to carry our cross” as meaning putting up with the nuisances, pains, or discomforts in life. Instead, Jesus’ hearers would have understood Him to mean that they must die. To be His follower means there will be death and while perhaps it may not result in physical death – though in some parts of the world today that is certainly possible – we will need to die to our own self-will, self-interest and self-determination. Jesus wants it all – to our very core. And He simply wants us to know that if we are to be His disciples, his followers, if we are to call ourselves Christians, this is what He expects. Understand this and don’t start down this road until you understand what you are getting yourself into.
Still, this is very difficult and this is not one of the most pleasant passages in the Bible, but as I reflected on this I understood something else. We are making a trade here. We are giving up everything we hold dear in this world, everything that our society saying is important and valuable, in order to gain a better life. Our life in Christ results in unimaginable peace and soul-rest unlike anything the world can offer. Our life in Christ results in the fulfillment of our purpose in the universe. Our life in Christ results in joy – not transient happiness – beyond our wildest dream. And our life in Christ results in an eternity living as we were intended to live – in unimpeded relationship with God.
Yes, we must give everything up. Christ asks no less than everything. He asks for total abandon to follow Him wherever He leads. I just know that where He leads is exactly the place I want to be. So just like the young couple I told you about earlier, are you willing to pack up you spiritual bags, shut the door to your old life and go on a permanent vacation with Jesus?
Oh, by the way, this young couple I told you about, they are my parents. I was the youngest of the three children to leave Cuba that day and I am very grateful that my parents had the courage to leave everything behind. I hope to show the same courage in following Christ.