What did Jesus mean when he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, . . he cannot be my disciple.
Let’s look at a few examples of what I think Jesus was trying to impress on those of us who consider ourselves disciples.
A group of men met together each day for coffee and fellowship. One day the topic of conversation turned to religion. Each man told which denomination they belonged to, until one man said, “We attend a certain church, but I guess in reality, I’m really just a Christian. When my wife and I were married, we had nothing to do with the church. But then my wife began attending with a friend, and she became converted. Now she’ll often say, ÔThat which we used to do, we can’t do. We used to follow our own will, but now we follow the will of Jesus.’ In other words, Jesus has come to the throne, and we have to pass into the shadows.” The man’s comment left the other men with a clear understanding of what the Christian faith entails. No longer is life about what I want, but rather it is about doing the will of and obeying the teachings of Christ our Lord.
Here is another example. Two professors were visiting, when one said, ” So and so tells me he was one of your students.” The other professor answered, “He may have attended my lectures, but he was never one of my students. A world of difference exists between attending lectures and being a student of mine.” One of the truths of the church is that so many people are simply distant followers of Jesus (attenders of church), but very few are real disciples (students of Christ).
Jesus does not want us to hate our family. That is not what He is saying in this passage. In fact, the Bible tells us to love one another. The home is to be one of the most blessed places in the world. What Jesus is saying is this: We may live our lives in the same manner for a long time, but when we become a Christian and Jesus becomes the Lord of our hearts, our lives are also changed. If we have been doing something that is contrary to the will of God, we must turn away from that action. We surrender our will and turn toward Scripture, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us and our family. We may really enjoy doing something in a particular way, even though it wrong. The cost of being a disciple of Jesus comes at a cost Ð denying what I desire, in deference to what Jesus desires for me. Does that sound strange to you?
There was a man who lived out this principle in a powerful way. His name was Dietrick Bonhoeffer. He was born in Germany. His father was not a Christian, but he respected his wife’s convictions to teach the children the Christian faith. When Dietrick was fourteen, he decided to study theology. Some of his siblings were not very favorable to the idea, for they believed he would be wasting his good mind. However, his mother believed in living one’s faith, and she made it clear to her family that if God wanted Dietrick to teach theology, so be it. Christianity was not just a matter of going to church, keeping a few laws and rattling off a few nice scripture passages. Dietrick’s twin sister, Sabine, wrote, “There was no place for false piety in our home, save in Rome.”
Dietrick traveled to New York in 1931 to study and teach at Union Seminary, but he was highly disappointed. Union Seminary taught a liberal theology. He is quoted as saying, “In New York, they preach about everything. Only one thing is not addressed Ð or if it is addressed so rarely it is that I have not as yet been able to find it Ð and that is the Gospel. I do not hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ from these beautiful cathedrals and churches here in Manhattan. I seldom hear the name of Jesus. I seldom hear the talk about the cross where Jesus suffered and died for the sins of the world and every person must accept this and believe it to be a Christian. I have discovered one notable exception in New York: I hear the Gospel in the black church more than in any other place.” He spent much of his time in Harlem and worshiped each Sunday in the Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Yet, things were bad in Germany and Dietrick felt he had to go home. Leaders at Union pleaded with him to stay, for they saw his keen mind, but he could not be persuaded. Before long, he was back on a ship heading to his native Germany. Ten days after arriving home, Dietrick went to Switzerland to visit with Dr. Karl Barth, a man who became a very close friend. They had many good sessions together, and Barth helped Bonhoeffer oppose the Nazis on moral and theological principles. Hitler was thoroughly convinced that the future of Germany was in his hands, but Bonhoeffer protested, “No, It is in the hands of Almighty God.” When Hitler learned of voices like Dietrick Bonhoeffer, there were only two things to do Ð kill them or put them in prison.
Bonhoeffer was put in prison, and he sat in various prison after another for two years before Hitler had him executed only 23 days before the end of WWII.
On Sunday mornings while in prison, Dietrick would often lead his fellow prisoners in worship and prayer. One day they asked him to write a prayer, which he did. This is what he wrote:
“O God, early in the morning do I cry unto thee.
Help me to pray and to think only of thee:
I cannot pray alone.
In me there is darkness, but with thee there is light;
I am lonely, but thou leavest me not;
I am feeble in heart, but with thee there is help;
I am restless, but with thee there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with thee there is patience;
Thy ways are past understanding, but thou knowest the way for me . . .”
Then there was a call at the door: “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, get ready to come with me!”
He did go, but as he left he gave them some closing words as he quoted Isaiah 53:5 Ð “With his stripes we are healed,” and I Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” And as he left the room, he said to his friends. “This is the end Ð for me the beginning of life.” He was then hanged.
A historian writes, “Bonhoeffer’s death was almost certainly by the decree of Adolf Hitler. Why would he want to hurt his man? He could not win any more battles, but there was that evilness within him that said, that if he had to die, they too would die.” And so Dietrick Bonhoeffer learned the price of discipleship.
We will probably not have any experience like this. However, we will have many opportunities to learn the cost of being a disciple of Jesus. While it doesn’t cost much to be a follower, following him as a disciple can mean a great deal.
The cost of discipleship may Ôcome due’ in the family, at work, in school, or in our social life. Whether it is a great cost like the price Dietrick Bonhoeffer had to pay or a simple change in our lifestyle, that is what Jesus Christ requires of us if we are to be His true disciples.