You Can't Do It!



Luke 14:25-33 NASB Now large crowds were going along with Him; 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 carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. (28) "For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? (29) "Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, (30) saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' (31) "Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? (32) "Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. (33) "So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.


A while back Will Willimon, former Dean of the Chapel at Duke University and now Bishop in Alabama, got a call from an upset parent, a VERY upset parent. "I hold you personally responsible for this," he said. "Me?" Will asked.

The father was hot, upset because his graduate school bound daughter had just informed him that she was going to chuck it all ("throw it all away" was the way the father described it) and go do mission work with the Presbyterians in Haiti. "Isn't that absurd!" shouted the father. "A BS degree in mechanical engineering from Duke and she's going to dig ditches in Haiti."

"Well, I doubt that she's received much training in the Engineering Department here for that kind of work, but she's probably a fast learner and will probably get the hang of ditch-digging in a few months," Will said.

"Look," said the father, "this is no laughing matter. You are completely irresponsible to have encouraged her to do this. I hold you personally responsible," he said.

As the conversation went on, Dr. Wilimon pointed out that the well-meaning but obviously unprepared parents were the ones who had started this ball rolling. THEY were the ones who had her baptized, read Bible stories to her, took her to Sunday School, let her go with the Presbyterian Youth Fellowship to ski in Vail. Will said, "You're the one who introduced her to Jesus, not me."

"But all we ever wanted her to be was a Presbyterian," said the father, meekly. Hmm. (1)
I can recall a few of my own students from my youth ministry and their parents who had similar conversations with me.

It is almost a disservice to try and preach on these words of Jesus. It is almost arrogant of me to try and add anything to these words. We can say it is about counting the cost. We can talk about carrying our cross. BUT read between the lines – for I think it is in between the lines that Jesus is saying to us – get ready – you can't do it.

In Matthew's gospel we find the parallel where the words are just a bit different: Mat 10:37 "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. It is the same meaning – nothing comes between you and Jesus. But the truth is you can't do it.

Jesus isn't asking you to give up the worst things in life either. Revivals have loved to hear about those who gave up drugs or alcohol or promiscuity. But really, look at it, what is Jesus asking us to give up? The best things – the relationships and things that we say make life worth living. Do you understand? You can't do it.

Jesus is making people squirm. He isn't blessing the children right here. He isn't talking about feeding the poor. He isn't a consensus builder or a comforter. Jesus is thinning out the crowd. Follow me? You can't. You can't build the tower. You can't win the war.

When you know you can do it, then you obviously don't need Jesus.

When I began to follow Jesus, I left behind family – I would go where God sent. I left behind the ideas of “having it all.” My dad still worries about me.
What has it cost me to follow? It has cost me friends who are pastors. It has cost me friends who are Christians. It has cost me trust in my own denomination. It has cost me my health. It has cost me hair color for sure. BUT that is the point isn't it? What gets in the way has to go. It would all stop if I said I could do it.

Who is a successful Christian? What defines a successful follower of Jesus? Is it Hakuna Matata? Being in a mega-church? Is it being a pastor of a mega-church? Is it salary? Is it exemption from suffering? The truth of being a successful Christian? You get to die.

So just what is lost? I think in part it is this: Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. In these stories and parables – Jesus is on his way to the place where he will lose his own life for you and for me. He is on his way to do what we cannot do – save ourselves.

He takes fisherman and turns them into disciples
He takes Pharisees and turns them into authors of the Bible
He takes a monk and turns him into a Lutheran
He takes an Anglican and turns him into a Methodist
He take Duke Presbyterians and turns her into a missionary
He takes a youth pastor and turns him into Methodist pastor and then a new church start pastor

None of these changes took place because they could it but precisely because they couldn't or can't do it! As long as we tell God what we are to do then we can do it. If we can do it then we don't need Jesus. Oswald Chambers, author of the devotional “My Utmost for His Highest,” once said, "Abandon to God is of more value than personal holiness.... When we are abandoned to God, He works through us all the time."

What is it you're not abandoning? What is it that God is calling you to do that you are saying, “I can't!” That is the place he is most likely calling you.


(1) (David E. Leininger, Collected Sermons, Adapted from William Willimon, Pulpit Resources, September 10, 1995, p. 45.)

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