Our Stepping Stones class studied Luke 14:25-33 this week – a passage often called “Counting the Cost.” Here Jesus gives us a picture of radical discipleship. He forces us to make a choice about the priorities in our lives – to place our walk with Him above any other commitment, including that of family. We are called to take up our cross and follow our Master. (See verses 25-27). Jesus then launches into two mini parables, one about building a tower and the other about leading an army into battle: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it…Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand” (vs. 28, 31).
I had always thought Jesus’ point here was that we need to sit down and “count the cost” and prepare ourselves before we commit to the road of discipleship – that we need to take a long, hard look at ourselves and decide whether we are really ready to give what it takes. Do I have it in me? Am I really prepared to take up my cross? As I would reflect on whether I measured up to the task or not, I would find myself completely discouraged by my woeful inadequacy. This parable disturbed me. But then, in preparation for this study, I ran across a mind-blowing article entitled “A Most Misunderstood Parable” by Jeff Dunn. In this article, Dunn challenges our traditional interpretation of Jesus’ teaching: “Since when have made walking with Jesus something that is dependent on our possessions, abilities and strengths?” Dunn then quotes a thought-provoking article in Christianity Today by Andy Crouch:
Make no mistake. The tower builder and the king are not models of discipleship. When does Jesus ever speak of discipleship as if it were a construction project, carefully calculated and accounted for, or a war, in which we marshal our own forces and find them adequate for the battle? Biblical faith is the abandonment of our tower building, the surrender of our ambitions to foolishly fight our way to security…Jesus invites the crowds following him to sit down and count the costs not of discipleship, but of non-discipleship. Non-discipleship means believing that we will be able to complete our insane Babel of self-provision; non-discipleship means blindly rushing into battle as enemies of God, having vastly overestimated our ability to prevail.
I think it’s fascinating how Crouch ties Jesus’ teaching in with the term “Babel of self-provision.” After all, isn’t that exactly what the builders of the ancient tower of Babel were trying to do?! Make a name for themselves by their own self-sufficiency? (See Genesis 11.) And speaking of towers and armies, isn’t it interesting that Revelation 20 also talks about an end-time spiritual battle where the Satan and his angels along with the unsaved of the earth will marshal their forces in a final attempt to do things their way in their own strength? Forget God’s plan; we can do this ourselves! Maybe that’s why Jesus says in Luke 14:32 (my own paraphrase): “and while the opposing army – which is sure to win, by the way – is still a great way off, won’t you send a delegation to ask for conditions of peace?” There’s no hope for you. Surrender now! But you know what the best news is here? There are no terms for peace! Jesus Christ offers us unconditional peace with heaven by the merit of His sacrifice alone! (See Col. 1:20.) In closing, perhaps Jeff Dunn sums it up best:
So what is Jesus looking for if not for those who are ready to buckle up their chin straps and give it their best effort? He is looking for quitters. He is looking for losers who know they don’t have what it will take. He is looking for the poor in spirit-poor because they have renounced all, given up on ever having enough to even make it one second on their own strength…
Do you have what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus? No, you don’t. Not now, not tomorrow, not ever. And that is the best news you could hear.