The passages that we have studied during “The Parables of Jesus” series have all come from one or more of the synoptic gospels - Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These are called the Synoptics because they are similar to each other, each sharing several common elements. The gospel of John is notably different in its composition, and contains no parables. While there are many likenesses between Matthew, Mark, and Luke, there are some important differences as well.
John Mark was an associate of the apostle Peter, and his book was written first. It is the shortest of the gospels, and was likely based mostly upon the testimony of Peter, seeing as Mark was just a boy during the time of Jesus’ ministry. Mark was written for a Roman audience. Of the 40 parables we will study in this series, only 10 are mentioned in Mark.
Matthew was one of the 12 apostles of Jesus. He was a Jewish tax collector who wrote primarily to a Jewish audience. As such, Matthew often quoted passages from the Old Testament which would have been familiar to his Jewish kinsmen. He sought to show that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah that Israel had been been promised. 24 of the 40 parables that will be covered in this series are found in Matthew.
Luke was a physician and a traveling companion of Paul. He was a Gentile and, fittingly, his gospel was directed towards the Gentiles. Luke did extensive research, likely interviewing several witnesses, in order to compile his gospel. He placed particular emphasis on Jesus’ kindness to the Gentiles and Samaritans. He also focused extensively on the teachings of Jesus, and therefore included more parables in his book than the others did. There are 30 of the 40 parables we’ve included in this series recorded in Luke.
Anyway, this morning we will discuss 2 more short parables. Jesus told them together during the same lesson as he was teaching large crowds of people. They both stress the importance of counting the cost when it comes to discipleship.
I. DON’T START IF YOU CAN’T FINISH - Luke 14:28-30
“The Parable of the Tower Builder” is a brief illustration presented in the form of a question. It describes a man who wishes to build a tower. Before he begins the construction, it is critical that he consider how much the entire project will cost. If he does not have enough money to complete the whole job, he shouldn’t even start. Jesus warns that, should he not be able to finish the work, his adversaries will ridicule him.
Over the years I have seen this story played out in real life on numerous occasions. I have come across building projects, including new churches, that were only partially completed. Apparently the funds ran out before the construction was completed. Each time I encounter such a structure, it makes me sad to think that the work was abandoned before it could be finished. It makes me wonder what might of happened and how much was wasted as a result.
When it comes the following Jesus, prospective Christians are challenged to count the cost of discipleship up front. When those who claim to be followers of Jesus lose hope, give up, and walk away from the faith it brings shame upon themselves and the church at large. The Lord’s enemies - and there are many of them - find great delight in seeing the those who were once believers turn from their former faith in God. So… don’t start if you can’t finish.
II. DON’T FIGHT IF YOU CAN’T WIN - Luke 14:31-32
“The Parable of the Outnumbered King” is another short illustration told in the form of a question. It describes a king on the verge of battle. Before the conflict begins, the king should evaluate the strength and size of his army relative to that of the enemy. He must determine if his army is strong enough to overcome the adversary. If he goes into battle hopelessly outnumbered and/or outgunned the results will be devastating. Jesus states that if the king doesn’t think that he can win the fight, he should seek to negotiate terms of peace instead.
In the early summer of 1876 Lieutenant George A. Custer led a small column of the US Cavalry into battle against a camp of Sioux Indians. He greatly underestimated the size of his enemy and found himself outnumbered 3 to 1. Another group of Indians rallied to the battle after it had already begun making Custer’s situation even worse. When he realized his mistake and saw that there was no escape, he ordered his men to shoot their own horses hoping to build a barrier with their bodies. In less than an hour, Custer and all of his men were killed. The Battle of Little Bighorn was a fight that Custer couldn’t win.
Satan and his minions are waging all out war against the children of God. Living for Christ is a constant battle. The enemy will strike time and time again, relentlessly seeking to inflict as much damage as possible. Those who have been Christians for many years often carry the scars of a faithful soldier. While Jesus assures His followers of the final victory, in the meantime many battles are won and lost. Through them all, believers are called to be conquerors. That said… don’t fight if you can’t win.
III. DON’T FOLLOW IF YOU CAN’T COMMIT - Luke 14:26-27, 33
In the verses immediately before and after these 2 parables, Jesus names some of the costs of discipleship. The first has to do with relationships. Disciples are commanded to value their relationship with Jesus more than any other - including those with their own parents, children, other family members, friends, spouses, and even themselves. This doesn’t mean that Christians are to callously neglect or forsake the ones they love. It simply means that Jesus must always come first, even if it requires that earthly relationships be severed.
The second cost deals with personal will. Disciples are expected to carry their own cross as they follow Jesus. No one else is going to carry it for them. In New Testament times, carrying a cross meant only one thing - that death was imminent. With this statement Jesus is commanding His would-be disciples to “die to themselves”. This means absolute surrender to the Lordship of Christ. Every selfish dream, ambition, and desire must be submitted to Him. The will of the true disciple is to faithfully do the will of Jesus.
The third cost involves material possessions. Disciples are required to give up all of their “stuff”. This doesn’t literally mean that they can’t have anything, but rather that they desire the Lord more than anything and everything they have. Sadly, many people long for money, property, mansions, cars, and other earthly possessions more than they do for Jesus. Such people spend more time chasing the dollar than they do chasing the Lord. Here’s the bottom line… when it comes to Jesus, don’t follow if you can’t commit.
Salvation is free, but discipleship is costly. Jesus expects His disciples to love Him more than anyone else, to place His will above their own, and to desire Him more than any material thing. This is a steep calling - one which should not be entered into lightly. As such, people are advised to consider the costs of discipleship before making any commitment to Jesus. Half-hearted or unthoughtful decisions will inevitably lead to ridicule and ruin. Following the Lord isn’t easy, nor has it ever been. But let me close by saying… it is so worth it!