Keeping Jesus Number One
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Luke 14:25-27
September 08, 2019

In the Gospel reading for this day from Luke 14, it says this: “25 Now great crowds accompanied [Jesus], and he turned and said to them, 26 ‘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. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple’” (Luke 14:25-27). With these words, Jesus is engaging us in a discussion of self-denial. I would like to pursue this discussion by talking about why self-denial is important, the power of self-denial, and what it looks like in our lives. But first, we need to deal with this word “hate.” How are we to take this? Here is how we should not take it. What do we think of when we think of this word “hate?” I think we would mean having a psychological or spiritual attitude in which we think evil of others and bear such evil in our hearts and also want to do harm to others. We know from other parts of Scripture—and Scripture interprets Scripture—that we should do good to our families and our neighbor. We should also take care of ourselves, appropriately. So Jesus cannot mean here that we are supposed to develop a psychological or spiritual condition by which we imagine evil and feel like and want to hurt our closest human relations and others, and even ourselves. This is not what Jesus has in mind. If you are struggling with this kind of hate, whether against others or against yourself, then seek help from Jesus and those He can use to help you in overcoming it. What Jesus has in mind is more like this. If there is a conflict between what God says is true and right and what the Gospel is and what anyone else says, and even with what my own desires or thoughts and will would want or think, then I should turn away from them and say no to them on that point. With respect to myself, it means despising, not cherishing, the sin and that which is contrary to God’s word that I find within myself. But even here, this despising does not mean wanting to do myself harm, but it means finding repentance and faith in Jesus. And it also means this: that if Jesus and God are number 1, then I owe my absolute loyalty to God, when there is any other conflict on the human plane, even with myself. Let’s take this to be what Jesus has in mind. Now let’s get back to self-denial. Self-denial is important because it is where we find life and blessing. On the other hand, our society teaches us that we find life and blessing in selfindulgence and pampering, coddling, and inflating our egos. Society makes our own egos the ultimate point of reference for what we regard as true and right and for the orientation of our value system; the self is the greatest authority and highest value. But this is not the path to life, but to death and spiritual darkness. Jesus wants us to be on the path of life and spiritual light, of joy and peace. This is the way of self-denial. What is it’s power? The basis of self-denial, its spiritual possibility and power, is Jesus Himself. In this part of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is on a journey. It is a journey to Jerusalem, where

the cross awaits. He has set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), to be on this journey. On this journey, He denies everything that we would consider to be loyalties, affections, and glories of this life, so He is not distracted from His mission and destiny. He denies His own self interest. He does so because going to Jerusalem to die is the mission the Father sent Him to accomplish; to die for sinners and rise again. To die for us He must deny Himself. This is not His losing Himself or us. He rose again. He found His true and eternal existence as He gave and dedicated Himself totally to the Father and to us. He found His true and eternal existence as He died to this world and lived again in the resurrection. As Jesus is our redeemer, we too are on a journey. We are on a journey with Him and in Him. In His own self-denial on the journey, Jesus became for us the source and power of our self-denial on the journey. He is our life, our strength, as He meets us through His word and sacrament in the work and power of the Holy Spirit. What then does self-denial look like in our lives? We must relate the ego to repentance and faith here. In self-denial, the ego is called into question. It is displaced from its throne. We are given a higher vision than having ourselves as the highest authority. We are given a vision that we fit into a bigger picture, defined by God in Christ, in which we are not at the center of the universe, not the highest authority. If Jesus is the power of self-denial, then God in Christ is our highest authority. So self-denial looks like repentance and faith, exercised in relation to God’s Word of both law and gospel. It looks like having God’s Word in our hearts and on our lips and in our ears at church and throughout the week, because God’s Word is the shape and power of the Christian life. But there is another important thing. This thing involves the “where.” Where do we live self-denial? It is lived and exercised where you live and work, in your vocations, at your jobs, at school, and at home. It is the demonstration of a certain character there, a character exemplified by the spiritual view that one’s own ego is not the center of the universe, and other human beings do not exist as means to the end of one’s own self-indulgence. This character first shows itself in being dedicated and disciplined in the disciplines of your vocation, whether at work, at school, or at home. It is exemplified in wanting to excel and do well, not for glory, but for the sake of the good of vocation itself and for how God works good through vocations for the benefit of you and yours and those around you. It is living the saying that we often say: “It is not about you.” But the power that can bring this saying into reality is Christ, apprehended through repentance and faith. Now maybe we think that self-denial looks like being a limp-noodle, having no backbone, being a doormat. After all, it’s a tough, dog-eat-dog world out there. But this is not the case. You will find more strength of character in Christ-centered self-denial than in indulging your own ego. You will also find, however, a genuine humility and willingness to “go the extra mile” and be genuinely concerned about people. Self-denial in Christ means having the character of realizing that true blessing in life comes with a vision of having a greater purpose than just oneself. This greater vision is defined by God’s word and the requirements of vocation. Christ is already doing this work of self-denial in you, and you can find encouragement in that. Of course, we do not live this life of self-denial perfectly, but that is not even the point. If we are keeping track, keeping score, then we have not yet really learned self-denial.


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