In the second half of Luke 14, we find Jesus making many extreme statements which can easily be misinterpreted to mean that He is impossible to please. And yet when you know that you sincerely care about pleasing God, and something you read in the Bible makes you feel like a spiritual failure, that’s your cue that you’re letting demons guide your application. Demons always lie, and when it comes to souls who sincerely care about pleasing God, their top goal is to beat such souls down into hopeless despair. The basic strategy of demons is to constantly push a reversal truth. When they see a soul is pleasing God, then they heap on the condemnation. When they see that a soul is being rebellious, they heap on the encouragement. So which group are you currently in? You know whether you care about pleasing God or not. If you do care, and all you’re hearing in your head is an unending refrain of how displeased God is with you, is that message really coming from Him? Nope, it’s demons trying to sell you a reversal of truth. Demons are very good at accurately assessing your soul’s attitude towards God. They know who He’s pleased with and who He is displeased with. So if you want to know the truth about how God feels about you, just listen to what demons are telling you and reverse it. If they’re telling you that you’re a total spiritual zero, then you’re probably doing very well. If they’re telling you that you are a spiritual superstar, then you’re probably neck deep in rebellion. Demons always lie, and we can use their consistency to our advantage.
RESPECTING CULTURAL CONTEXT
So then, in this post, we’re going to unpack the second half of Luke 14 and demonstrate that Jesus really isn’t saying that He’s impossible to please, even though He is demanding things that are quite impossible for any human to do. If you’re going to avoid sinking down into hopeless despair, you need to learn to separate the principle that Jesus is promoting from the literal meaning of His words. But wait—how is it ever acceptable to not take God literally? Because God exaggerates to make a point—especially when He’s walking around in the costume of an ethnic Jew.
Ancient Jewish culture was extremely exaggeratory. When God is talking to Jews, He talks like a Jew—and that means He repeats Himself a lot and He exaggerates to ridiculous extremes. If you were a Jew living in Bible times, you would expect another Jew to talk in crazy extremes, and you wouldn’t even consider taking him literally. When Yahweh talks about cracking the earth open in the Old Testament, turning the moon to blood, and blotting out the sun and stars, it wouldn’t even cross your mind to think He was being literal. Instead, it would be obvious to you that He was using wildly figurative language to make the point that something big was about to happen, such as some military attack on your homeland. You see, when you’re a member of God’s target audience—when you’re one of the folks He was originally speaking to—then you find Him to be much more clear than the folks who come along thousands of years later trying to understand what God meant when He was talking to you.
Today in the modern Church, you find a bunch of Christians arguing and freaking out about the extreme language that Yahweh uses in the Old Testament. Turning the moon to blood? What on earth does that mean? Is He talking about some kind of eclipse? He must mean the moon will literally turn red, and there are only so many ways that could occur, so here’s a plan: let’s all freak out when the next “blood moon” happens. You see, this is what we do when we don’t respect the fact that we are the ones intruding on a conversation that God is having with someone else. When we don’t stop to think about how different our own cultural priorities and style of communication are from the folks God was originally speaking to, we end up totally misinterpreting what He’s saying.
If God were to speak to a modern day American about mountains falling into the sea, then it would be reasonable to wonder if He was predicting some kind of mega earthquake. Americans don’t talk about mountains falling unless they mean mountains are actually falling. But ancient Jews did talk about islands fleeing in fear, mountains moving, celestial objects plummeting down, and the whole planet splitting apart when all they really wanted to do was say, “Hey guys, something big is about to happen.” Such imagery was never intended to be taken literally, and in a culture where it was considered normal and good to go through the streets wailing at the top of your lungs or throwing dirt on yourself, it’s hardly surprising to find that the Jews exaggerated to crazy extremes (see Distinguishing Between the Real End Times & the Day of Yahweh).
So were the Jews wrong to be so dramatic? No. There is no one right style. God loves variety. He designed Jewish culture to be highly dramatic. Other cultures He designs to be more sober and reserved. God loves variety, and there was nothing morally wrong with Jews going spastic in public every time they felt a surge of emotion. But when we don’t acknowledge what theatrical people they were, and then we try to interpret their language and actions according to the rules of our own cultures, we end up in a mess.
Today when one American says to another American, “That woman talked my ear off,” everyone knows the language is exaggeratory. The fellow doing the complaining isn’t really missing an ear. He’s making a rather ridiculous claim in order to make the point that he felt overwhelmed by the verbal barrage he just received from someone else. “That woman talked my ear off” is his way of saying, “In my opinion, that woman talks way too much.” These are radically different statements, aren’t they? And yet in every culture, there are phrases like this—times when we say something very different than what we actually mean. The Jews did this sort of thing all the time, and since Jesus is roleplaying a Jew in the Gospel books, and since He spends most of His time talking to other Jews, we should expect Him to use some very exaggeratory language. We should expect Him to say things that sound ridiculously extreme. We should expect Him to make claims and demands that are literally impossible. After all, can you really make a person’s ear detach from his skull simply by talking at him? Of course you can’t, but we Americans talk as if this is an actual possibility. We’re just exaggerating to make a point. Every culture exaggerates. Every culture has ridiculous sayings that shouldn’t be taken literally. If we’re going to glean anything useful from what Jesus says in the Gospels, we need to sift out the element of cultural exaggeration and identify the spiritual principle He’s talking about. Then we need to remember that Jesus is always going to be teaching people to have certain soul attitudes, and in Luke 14, the soul attitude Jesus is talking about is that of submission.
Submission is one of those four critical soul attitudes that we’re always mentioning in our material. Reverence, submission, dependency and trust are soul attitudes which God is going to be developing in you for your entire existence, so it’s always to your advantage to learn more about them. Submission is when your soul says to God, “I recognize that You are the Supreme Authority over all created things, so I yield to Your will for my life.” God grants us eternal life in response to our souls sincerely submitting to Him. Submission has always been a key requirement for salvation.
Now as you interact with other humans in this world, you practice varying degrees of submission. When you want to roar down the road at 100 mph, and the only reason you don’t is because the posted speed limit is 45 mph, you are submitting to the laws of your society. You are putting the preferences of human authorities above your own. You’re letting them have their way in a situation even though it means not doing what you want to do.
Submission only comes up when there is a clash of wills. When your friend Chan says he wants to go to your favorite restaurant for lunch and you agree to do what Chan wants, you’re not submitting to him because you and he want the same thing. Submission only comes up when someone wants you to do something that you do not want to do. If you find their request a mild hassle, then giving them their way won’t be such a big deal. If you intensely hate what they are asking you to do, then going along with them will require a much deeper level of submission. Just as there are many financial levels between having no money and being a billionaire, there are many degrees of submission for you to choose from. You can choose to never submit to someone, you can choose to give them total submission, or you can pick one of countless positions between those extremes.
Now when it comes to your relationships with other humans, it is never appropriate for you to give any person total submission. Total submission is only appropriate in your relationships with your three Creators: Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. As you spiritually mature, God will teach you how to treat Gods and creatures appropriately. We are not supposed to be treating these two groups of beings the same. Worship, for example, should only be given to Gods, not humans. The same is true when it comes to absolute trust, complete dependency, and total submission. When it comes to our Creators, we learn to develop extreme forms of reverence, submission, dependency and trust. With humans, we learn to keep these things limited.
So why did we go over all of that? Why is it important to understand that there are very different rules for how you’re supposed to treat Gods versus humans? Because in Luke 14, Jesus is talking about how humans are supposed to be treating a God, not a human. While Jesus certainly looks human to the people He’s talking to, He is in fact God Almighty, and this is why He is demanding an extreme form of submission from His followers. It is only because Jesus is God that His demands are appropriate. If Jesus were just another human, then He would be totally obnoxious to demand that His followers give Him total submission.
What’s tricky about interpreting Jesus in the Gospels is that He moves back and forth between talking as a God and roleplaying a human. In Gethsemane, for example, Jesus is role playing a human (see Know Your Bible Lesson 67: Fully God & Only God). To properly interpret His famous prayer of “Not My will but Yours be done,” you need to realize He is roleplaying how a human should submit to God. In Gethsemane, Jesus isn’t talking to Yahweh as His Divine Peer Equal. When we eavesdrop on His prayer, we don’t hear an accurate portrayal of how two of our Creators talk to Each Other. In real life, Jesus doesn’t give Yahweh total submission, nor does He view Yahweh as superior to Himself. Jesus and Yahweh are Equals, not one mega God and a lesser God-human hybrid. What made Gethsemane such a powerful example, is that the disciples Jesus was performing for viewed Him as a human being. So when they heard Him pray to Yahweh, they heard a human fully submitting to God in the face of a truly horrible trial. To learn the right lessons from Jesus, we need to understand what “voice” He is using—is He talking as God Almighty, or is He roleplaying a human to show us how we ought to relate to all three of our Creators?
In Luke 14, Jesus is speaking as a God and making demands that are only appropriate for a God to make. And now that we understand what role Jesus is playing here, we need to identify who He was originally speaking to.
Timing matters, and by the time of this speech in Luke 14, we’re well into Jesus’ brief public ministry in New Testament Israel. By now He’s done a boatload of miracles, and it’s become well known that He is claiming to be Yahweh’s Messiah. The Jews were expecting their Messiah to rise into a world-conquering king who would oust Rome, rule from Jerusalem, and turn Israel into a global power. At first Jesus sounded pretty heady when He claimed to be the Messiah. But after witnessing His power, many Jews have gotten onboard. By the time of Luke 14, we find that Jesus has become quite popular among His fellow Jews. Jesus is cocky, confident, independent, and impossible to intimidate. The way that He’s always lipping off to the current Jewish authorities and taking constant potshots at His enemies seems to prove that He really does have the pluck to become Israel’s greatest monarch. Who doesn’t want to side with a winner? Jesus’ fan club has grown quite massive as more and more people are putting their lives on hold to follow Him around and see what He’ll do next. With Jewish holidays requiring annual trips down to Jerusalem, it’s only a matter of time until Jesus turns south and heads to Israel’s capital city and the seat of her governing officials. Surely that’s when He’ll make some big move, and the crowds don’t want to miss it.
In America, we like our sports, and we also like being fickle fans. When a team is on a winning streak, we wear that team’s colors, wave team banners and boast of what devoted fans we are. But the moment that team starts to lose, we ditch them and find another winner to follow. It was the same for the folks in Jesus’ fan club—He knew that they were only following Him because He was on a winning streak. He was cranking out the miracles and delivering sermons filled with zingers. But while everyone was enjoying the show and the anticipation of what shocking thing renegade Jesus would do next, no one was cultivating true devotion to Him. Even Jesus’ twelve disciples were dreaming of the powerful political positions Jesus would assign them in His new government. Everyone was in it for the goodies and the perks—no one was in it for Jesus.
The purpose of the passage we’re about to dig into is to smash the delusion that we can please God by valuing Him just for the perks He can give us. God is not just some vending machine of blessings. He’s not just a hookup to power and glory. Jesus is God Almighty, and that fact alone should be enough to drive us to our knees in reverential submission.
The kind of submission that pleases God is when we bow to Him because He is the Supreme Authority—not because we’re trying to manipulate Him into blessing us. Jesus will still be the Supreme Authority whether He blesses us or not. The question of whether we should yield to Jesus is answered by understanding the vast difference in rank between us and Him. It really has nothing to do with how much He blesses us. Now because Jesus is a generous Being who enjoys blessing His creatures, if we do submit to Him correctly, then He says He will delight in heaping blessings upon our heads. That’s certainly something we can look forward to, but before we can have any hope of being in line for those kinds of rewards, we first need to give Jesus the right kind of submission—the kind He says He wants. That kind of submission doesn’t involve any mention of blessing. Correct submission does not say: “God, I’ll respect You if You agree to bless my socks off. I’ll obey You as long as You make it worth my while.” Correct submission says, “God, I’ll respect You no matter what because You are my Creator. I’ll obey You because You outrank me. I’ll serve You because it’s Your due as the Ruler of all.”
In Luke 14, Jesus is educating His fickle followers about what correct submission to a God looks like. He is giving His fawning fans a slap across the face and saying, “If you think your insincere compliments are pleasing Me, you’d better think again. I know the difference between real devotion and kissing up. If you want to be approved of by Me, you’ll have to make Me your top priority in life.”
It’s critical that you understand who Jesus is addressing here. These are not people who are pleasing Him. These are people who are irritating Him, which is why He speaks to them so harshly and uses such negative, disturbing metaphors. Whenever you see Jesus acting this aggressively, remember that God always responds to our soul attitudes. If you are currently in a place where you sincerely want to please God and if you are trying to give Him all the submission you can muster, then you need to realize that the tone Jesus uses in Luke 14 is not a tone He would use with you, because unlike the folks who are hanging all over Jesus in Luke 14, you are not some insincere twerp who is just waiting for God to entertain and bless you.
Today Christian leaders set you up for major disillusionment when they teach you to crack open the Bible and pretend every word you read is a direct message from God to you. No one is talking to you in the Bible. When Yahweh and Jesus speak in Scriptures, They are always speaking to other people, and in most cases, those other people have rotten soul attitudes. Once you are in a place where you are pleasing God with your soul attitudes, you will find very few passages in Scripture that will come anywhere close to matching the kind and gentle way that God is actually talking to your soul as you go through life. The Bible simply isn’t a good illustration of how God talks to souls who please Him because the Biblical records are primarily focused on observing how God deals with rebels.
So now that we’ve explained who Jesus is talking to in Luke 14, are you a member of that group or not? You need to understand the difference between yourself and the folks Jesus is chewing out before you start reading this passage, or you’ll just end up feeling discouraged by lectures that aren’t directed at you.
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:25-27)
This is classic Jesus style. He starts right in with launching those verbal grenades. In Jewish society, there was a strong emphasis on family units. Parents were supposed to be respected and treated as the highest authorities in the home. Relatives were supposed to remain close together. Pride in the family name and ancestry were major themes in Jewish culture. So when Jesus whirls around and shouts out that anyone who wants to be accepted by Him has to hate their families—that was very shocking indeed. How could an ethnic Jew promote such a horrible idea that was so backwards to His own culture’s values? Jesus clearly doesn’t have a lot of respect for His culture’s values—He seems to think He ought to be first in everyone’s lives. In fact, He says that He will only accept disciples who are so committed to Him that they’re willing to die for Him. Well, if people die for Jesus, how will they get to enjoy the perks of power and glory that He could so obviously give them? No, Jesus’ fans don’t want to hear this kind of talk at all. Die for Jesus? Chuck their families, spouses, and kids aside for Jesus? And what’s this rot about carrying a cross? The only people who carry crosses in this culture are those who are on their way to be executed by Romans. No one in their right mind would volunteer for such misery. Who does Jesus think He is to demand such an insane degree of loyalty?
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’” (Lk. 14:28-30)
This parable is easy for Jesus’ fans to identify with. No one wants to experience the public humiliation of having everyone see them fail to complete a project that they started. But what’s troublesome about this story is the context. Jesus seems to be saying that if people aren’t all the way in—if they don’t fully devote themselves to Him right from the start—then they’ll end up cast aside like pathetic fools. A lot of smiles are turning into frowns as these fans listen to Jesus talk. They don’t like what He’s saying. They don’t like the lofty standards He’s setting. They want free food and miracles and they want to watch Him tell off the snooty Pharisees and Sadducees. They want Him to freely bless them without making any demands of them.
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be My disciples.” (Lk. 14:31-33)
Here’s a second parable that uses a very familiar concept to drive home the disturbing point that Jesus is not going to accept anything less than true, unlimited devotion from His followers. He’s demanding total submission—that His followers give up everything they care about to sign on for a life with Him which He seems to be guaranteeing will be rough. Chuck the joys of family to go hauling around a cross? No, thanks. Maybe following Jesus isn’t worth it after all.
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Luke 14:34-35)
Salt was gathered from around the Dead Sea, and it was one of those essential items in the home that could be used for things like food preservation, flavoring, and even weed killing. When it was first gathered, the actual salt—sodium chloride—was mixed in with other minerals that were considered useless. Sodium chloride never loses its saltiness, but here Jesus is saying that anyone who refuses to give Him full devotion will be like those other minerals surrounding the chunks of sodium chloride. They’ll be cut away from the good salt and thrown out like garbage. Hm. Jesus really isn’t leaving any room for half-hearted devotion here. He’s saying that anyone who refuses to put Him first is going to be utterly rejected by Him.
As we move through the Gospel records, we find that Jesus keeps returning to this idea of Him sifting through His followers and cutting off all those who fail to meet His requirements. Here in Luke 14, He pairs the idea of failing to please Him with themes of public humiliation, military slaughter and utter rejection. The builder who fails to plan well ends up publicly mocked. The general who is too proud to surrender to his stronger foe ends up having his army slaughtered. The minerals which prove to not be salty end up thrown on the garbage heap. Clearly the consequences of rejecting Jesus are grim. But so is the picture He paints of obeying Him. After all, He requires that His true disciples cut themselves off from their families only to sign up for a life that will involve misery and humiliation. If Jesus is the sort of Leader who might order His followers to be executed by crucifixion, who needs Him? If Jesus is the sort of King who would make a proud general bow down in total submission in order to spare his own life, who wants Him? The folks Jesus is talking to here are only following Him for the earthly perks—perks which He is now telling them aren’t going to happen. Rather than boost their hopes of future glory, Jesus is warning them that signing up to be His disciple is not going to be a some blissful vacation. Serving Him is going to be costly, painful, scary, and at times heartbreaking. Unless these people are willing to face these harsh realities and fully commit themselves, Jesus warns that they are heading for disaster. You’re either all the way in with Jesus or you’re eternally damned—these are the two choices that Jesus will keep revisiting throughout the Gospels. It’s certainly not what anyone wants to hear.
Now earlier we said that what Jesus is demanding here is humanly impossible, and it is. Take that business about accurately assessing the cost of following Him. Is this really doable? No, it’s not. Because we humans can’t see the future, we often fail to accurately assess the cost of small construction projects like the one Jesus mentioned here. If we can’t even do that, how are we going to accurately assess the cost of a process that we don’t even understand? We can’t. Jesus is using extreme language to make a point. He knows that the people following Him are clinging to their own delusions about what He’s about while they intentionally tune out things He says that they don’t want to hear. Just as He did with His famous Sermon On the Mount, Jesus is using extreme, negative language to shock people out of spiritual rebellion and motivate them to get serious about pleasing God.
Besides demanding that people make assessments which they’re not capable of making, Jesus demands total submission from people. This again is an impossible demand. When we first come to God, we are all giving Him very limited submission. We might sincerely think our submission is complete, but the truth is that we’re not even aware of how many areas of our lives we’re still holding back. It is during the long process of maturity that God helps us cultivate deeper submission to Him by drawing to our attention new areas that we have yet to surrender to Him. This is how it is supposed to work: submission is a process that we grow into. Total submission isn’t even a possibility when we’re first getting started with God, and yet in Luke 14 we find Jesus demanding total submission right from the start. Should we be taking His command literally? No. Once again, we need to recognize that He’s using exaggeratory language to make a point. We also need to remember that He’s speaking in a cultural context which expects exaggeration to occur. So when these Jews hear Jesus say they must “hate” their family, they would correctly assume He’s being exaggeratory. His language would certainly disturb them, which is what He wants, but in the end they’d do a much better job of interpreting His actual meaning than we do today.
So what is the takeaway for us in this passage? If Jesus isn’t demanding that His followers do the impossible, what is He saying? His point is simple: He’s saying that sincere submission to Him is critical to pleasing Him. He’s saying that if we don’t take submission to Him very seriously and put our hearts into it, we’re going to end up totally rejected by Him.
If you are already someone who sincerely cares about pleasing God, then there’s nothing to feel bummed about. As long as you can sincerely agree with the statement, “Jesus, I want You to have Your total way in my life,” you are already giving Jesus the kind of submission He’s talking about in this passage. He’s not giving a new command here—He’s simply repeating a concept that Yahweh has been teaching from the beginning. The big change Jesus is making is in the number of Gods He’s promoting. Before the New Testament, Yahweh demanded that people submit to Him alone. But in the Gospels, Jesus is teaching people to submit to Yahweh and Himself. Jesus is adding His Name to the list of Divine Beings who we are supposed to be submitting to, serving, and worshiping. By the end of His ministry, Jesus will add the Holy Spirit to that list as well, thus completing the shift from a monotheistic (single God) religion, to a polytheistic (multiple God) religion. Judaism is a monotheistic religion. Christianity is a polytheistic religion. Once you realize that Jesus is God, you can’t keep practicing Judaism. You have to throw out the Old Covenant and embrace the New.
There is no salvation without sincere, intentional submission to our Gods. This is a major theme in Scriptures, and it’s certainly a critical point to understand. But before we go pitching into fear and angst, we need to remember that Luke 14 isn’t the only time God explains what He wants from us. If we read through all of the things that Yahweh and Jesus say, we’ll learn that They are very kind, merciful, gracious Beings who take full responsibility for educating us about who They are and what They want. They also say that we can do nothing without Them, which means They do not expect us to just pull submission out of the air.
By the time God is convicting you to submit to Him, He is also going to give you the resources you need to give Him what He wants. This is how it always works with God: He doesn’t just set us up to fail and then laugh as we go down. He is a good and kind Shepherd—One who breaks down our journeys with Him into doable steps that we can handle. Whenever you find yourself fearing that you might not be giving God enough submission, the simple solution is to ask Him to help you be all that He wants you to be. Spiritual maturity is a process which God helps us through, it’s not something we have to figure out on our own.
For those of you who are sincerely seeking God, Luke 14 should be an encouraging reminder that you’re on the right track. As you see Jesus warning fickle fans that following Him isn’t a game, you should feel affirmed because you’re not treating your relationship with God like a game. To you, it’s a serious thing, and towards souls with that kind of attitude, Jesus is very pleased indeed.
Understanding Jesus: Take Up Your Cross
Understanding Jesus: All who Exalt Themselves will be Humbled (Luke 14)
The Parable of the Great Feast (Luke 14)
Cultivating Submission: The Impact of Reverence, Dependency & Trust
Salvation: How do you know when you’ve met God’s requirements?