May 12, 2024


Passage: Luke 14:25-27, 33

25 Now great crowds accompanied 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 bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
— Luke 14:25-27, 33, ESV

I’m going to do a few things today that I seldom, if ever, do.

This is the first sermon based on my weekly column in the local newspaper.  It’s always the other way around, as most of my columns are synopses of previous sermons.  But the one I wrote for this weekend, “For Mother,” stuck with me, and so I am going to elaborate upon it in this sermon.

Therefore, this is an occasional, a Mother’s Day, sermon.  Being the hardened Calvinist and Puritan that I am, I normally don’t bend the Sunday sermon to suit an American holiday, since America has done for the church about as much as Pee Wee Herman has done for the movies.  I even ignored Christmas and Easter my early years in the ministry, but finally realized you can compromise with other Christian traditions without compromising your commitment to good Christian theology.  Plus, I finally got tired of making people mad.

Also, as you can see by the title, I’m playing fast and loose with God’s gender, but not like our counterparts at more liberal churches.  God is Spirit, after all, but God does prefer gender-based nouns and pronouns.  They are “Father,” “Him,” and “His.”  But elsewhere in Scripture, Paul refers to his pastoral care as being “like a nursing mother” (ref. 1 Thessalonians 2:7).  If Paul can possess motherly love, surely God can, too.

Finally, there is a family secret revealed in the column and sermon, which I have only recently made known to my siblings and a few others.  My parents are long gone, and I’m not a spring chicken myself.  I cannot hold on to these things much longer, and telling them only serves to strengthen my parents’ character and illustrate the love of God.

So here we go with “God’s Motherly Love,” or, “How to Properly Hate Your Mother.”

Mother’s Godly Love

This somewhat strange verse in Luke’s Gospel was the first one I ever effectually heard.  It was at a Sunday morning church service, the first one I had attended in many, many years.  And what did I hear?  God wants me to “hate” my mother!  But she was the reason I was at church that Sunday.  She had invited me to come and witness her baptism.

Mom was in her early forties, struggling through her second marriage.  It wasn’t working out, so they turned to God for a season, about as long as the baseball season of my sophomore year in college.  But mother’s love and God’s providence brought me to the church that Sunday.  Once I was able to cut through the hyperbole and get to the heart of the gospel, I became a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

It is strange and wonderful what a mother’s love can do.  Mom had proved hers to her children over the years.  What she lacked in good judgment, she more than made up for with love.

That she gave birth to me in the first place was an act of great love.  The road most travelled by a poor, unwed mother would have been abortion.  But love compelled her to let the little me inside of her live.  Plus, in trying to track down the runaway birth father, she met his roommate, who became my father, and the two of them gave me a name, and life, and love.

Mother loved the two sisters I didn’t quite get to grow up with.  My parent’s divorce left me with my dad and them with my mother.  One sister would come to live with us while the other was raised partly by our grandparents.  Even in family dysfunction, none of us ever doubted for a minute that mother loved us.  Love can go a long way.  One sister became an enormously successful real estate broker, the other a shelter in the storm for her own children and grandchildren.

Mother had another son with her second husband.  She loved him, too, and proved it.  After warning a neighbor to keep her dog away from him, it came over into their yard and bit him, anyway.  Mother proceeded to beat up the neighbor, and kill the dog, with her bare hands.  Don’t mess with mama!

We all loved her very much, because she first loved us.  Her love was unconditional, even when she or we failed.  Her love was sacrificial, never keeping much for herself, always giving things away.  She’s spend her last dime to make us all a meal of fried chicken, turnip greens, with rice and tomato gravy.  Mother’s love is everlasting, for it made a permanent mark on our lives.  The first and last thing our children and grandchildren know is that like Nanny, we love them.

God’s Motherly Love

The parallels are powerful if not perfect.  Mother’s love was powerful.  God’s love is perfect.  God initiates our love relationship with Him.  His love, like Mother’s but higher, is unconditional, sacrificial, and permanent.

We love the Lord because He first loved us (ref. 1 John 4:19).  We choose to follow Him because He first chose us (ref. John 15:16; Ephesians 1:4; etc.).  He chose Israel to bestow the Old Covenant, based on nothing good about them, but everything wonderful about Him.  He simply loved them (ref. Deuteronomy 7:6-8), as He does the New Testament Christians, who call upon the name of the Father who loves us more than a mother.

God’s love is unconditional, unearned, a free expression of His love and grace toward us (ref. Ephesians 2:1-10).  This is an uncomfortable love for some to swallow, however, because while it is unconditional, it is also exclusive.  It excludes the Esau’s of the world, the unrepentant sinners, the persistent unbelievers, the vast majority of the human race who are totally rebellious and most unwilling to be counted among the children of God.

God’s love is sacrificial, and it is God who makes the sacrifice.  In the person and work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, God satisfied His holiness and sends forth His love to His chosen children (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:21).  The concept of Christ’s blood atoning for our sin is not archaic, not unnecessary, not uncouth.  It is the most loving thing ever done in the history of the world.

God’s love is permanent.  When you are loved by God, you will always and forever be loved by God (ref. Philippians 1:6).  What do you think eternal means (ref. John 3:16)?  With God there is no divorce and death is just a doorway to the visible expression of this great love which has heretofore been invisible in our lives.

Such love and salvation are yours, if God loves you, and if you love God, and if you hate your mother.

Hyperbolic Hate Means Higher Love

Finally, we get to exegete the extremely strange text.  If you have one of those red-letter Bibles, you’ll know these are Jesus’ own words.  He exhorts us to hate the people we are supposed to love the most.

Most preachers I’ve heard stumble around the passage and tell us hate means love less.  No, it doesn’t.  A word stury reveals 40 uses in 36 New Testament verses.  Hate means hate.

But there is a literary device known as hyperbole.  It is exaggeration in order to make a point.  Jesus is a master of it, as He is all things, being the Master.  He uses it here, otherwise God would have contradicted God’s word, which is one of the few things, like lying, God cannot do.

Our Lord would certainly have us love our mothers, especially on Mother’s Day.  Ditto for our fathers, sisters, brothers, etc.  But in order for us to know Him, belong to Him, be saved by Him, we have to love Him.  It must be a higher love, a greater love, reflecting the one He has shown to us.

A Christian’s love for God must be unconditional.  In other words, you cannot put anything, or anyone, above the Lord, if you truly love Him.  Mother’s Day comes but once a year, the Lord’s Day is every Sunday, and every day is a day to put God first in your life (ref. Matthew 6:33).

A Christian’s love for God must be sacrificial.  “Bear his own cross,” Jesus said.  As the Lord gave up His life to save you, you must give up your life to saved (ref. 1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23).  Every devotion, every decision, everything you do in the Christian life, should be filtered through the prism of what is best for our great God and Savior’s name and fame.

A Christian’s love for God must be permanent.  Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (ref. Luke 9:62).  Though salvation is by grace, not works, God simply does not save quitters.  He saves those He loves, and those who love Him, unconditionally, sacrificially, and permanently.

So this is not a Mother’s Day sermon after all.  This is a gospel sermon.  Those of us who have heard the gospel, effectually, know it.  Perhaps you are hearing it today for the first time, because you came to church on Mother’s Day.  It is an amazing grace, really, what a mother’s love, and a word from God, can do.

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