I wonder what being a disciple of Jesus Christ means to you?
What does following Christ mean to you?
Easter is always a great time to consider this as we contemplate Jesus’ incredible act of self denial and sacrifice on the Cross.
‘You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:6-8)
Jesus Chose The Cross
It’s incredible to take on board that Jesus Christ chose to die for us. It’s amazing to me that the Son of God would make that call. It was a wonderful act of selfless denial – He denied the glory of heaven; the opportunity to defend himself against the Jews corruption and his rights to a fair trial, plus at any point he could have simply requested a legion of angels come and rescue him. Jesus denied himself and submitted himself to death on a cross for you and me. Incredible, amazing, wonderful….words are inadequate!
Let’s Go Back A Few Days
I want us to go back a few days and consider some words that Jesus said to his disciples to prepare them for his death.
‘From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life…..Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.’ (Matthew 16:21-27)
I believe that Jesus, when he said these words, was not simply contemplating his death and resurrection but also defining discipleship for His disciples and everyone one of us who would one day be following Christ. Of course, He was leading by example and what an example!
I wonder what being a disciple of Jesus Christ means to you?
We’re going to focus on the precise words of Jesus. These weren’t one off words or we might perhaps find them easier to ignore. He used them on several occasions so they must have been important. He was setting the standard high.
‘Whoever wants to be my disciple – must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’
When you’re dieting or trying to lose weight it is unbelievably tough to deny yourself! (Why incidentally, are all the nicest foods full of sugar and fat?!) Self denial, in any context is tough!
Here’s what I found myself asking as I read Jesus’ words:
- When was the last time I denied myself for Christ?
- When was the last time I made a personal sacrifice for His Kingdom?
- When was the last time I made a real sacrifice of my time, talents, or treasures or shared my faith?
- When was the last time it really COST me to be a Christian?
I am reminded of the story of the time David wanted to build an altar to the Lord and requested the threshing floor of Araunah and The guy wanted to give it to David,
‘But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.’ (2 Samuel 24:24 MSG)
It is so easy to slip into the habit of a minimalistic Christian walk whereby God receives what we have left, rather than our very best. We must never forget that God gave the most precious thing he had – his one and only Son. Naturally we will never be able to pay him back for this, however, surely what we do bring to Him, like David, should cost something? True giving should be sacrificial, involve self denial and should cost something.
The Cross reminds us…that true discipleship means denying ourselves and cost.
TAKE UP YOUR CROSS
We all have our crosses to bear!! For some – illness, troubles, or perhaps a difficult person….and many people believe that ‘taking up your cross’ means bearing burdens and suffering hardships for the Lord.
Such hardships will sometimes be required, but there is a much fuller meaning if we consider the context. The cross wasn’t simply a burden to bear, but rather it was an instrumental of total sacrifice and death. When Jesus spoke of taking up his cross, he meant one thing – death.
‘Taking up your cross’ involves making a decision to die to ourselves and our own needs, desires, ambitions and dreams and give our whole lives to God in the same way as Jesus was about to give His whole life for us.
Luke records Jesus saying ‘And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me – cannot be my disciples.’ (Luke 14:27)
Wow! Jesus’ statements just went up a level! When I read verses like that I’m not surprised that many of Jesus’ disciples deserted Him….
Luke also is the only one of the gospel writers to record the word ‘daily.’ This lifestyle is intended to be lived out daily not occasionally or as the mood takes us.
In ‘taking up our cross’ we are making a willing choice to follow Jesus’ example and die to self in a daily basis. We can’t do this in our own strength – thank God for His Holy Spirit who helps us and strengthens us in our weakness!
The Cross reminds us…that true discipleship means denying ourselves and being willing to die to self….
One of the most popular car stickers when I was younger read, ‘Don’t follow me I’m lost too!’ For most of us, as Christians, we’ve been found. The old hymn goes ‘I once was lost but now I’m found!’ This applies to us of course, however some of us are in danger of becoming ‘lost again!’
I can remember travelling in our car to a wedding reception. We weren’t really sure exactly where the venue was and decided to follow someone we knew was going, only to realise after a while, that we were following the same model & colour of car – but not the car we had started out following!! As you can imagine – we were somewhat late for the reception!
Our problem was this – we started following the right person but somehow ended following the wrong person!
We’re called to ‘follow Jesus!’
I wonder: what does it mean to you to follow Jesus?
What does that look like to you? Does it look the same to Jesus?
Are you truly following Christ?
The best definition of following I can suggest is this: ‘to live as Jesus lived.’
Can I suggest that our following should involve growing in grace, the fruit of Spirit, the gifts, and sacrifice, denial and obedience. Our lives should be fruitful.
Don’t Miss It!
These are challenging words – easier said than done – but we must start somewhere. I’ve been a ‘full on’ follower of Jesus since I was 20 and it’s very challenging, but let me say from my own experience and from what I’ve seen as a pastor over the past 20 years –
‘A faith with out truly following Christ will only end in one thing – disappointment!’
If we are half-hearted or play at our Christian life and if we fail to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him daily – there will be only one result – massive disappointment, dissatisfaction, disillusionment (often leading to backsliding or loss of faith completely), unfulfilled dreams, sadness, containment, frustration etc. This is not what God desires for us!
The Rewards Make It So Worth It!
True following reaps incredible rewards! As I have followed Christ, imperfectly at times; He has taken me on the most amazing adventure of faith. I have a beautiful wife and family. I have visited places I would have never dreamed of, seen all kind of multiple miracles, grown in my faith, met incredible people and now have the privilege of leading the most amazing church and Dream Centre. God has given me the most fulfilling and exciting life!
Can I encourage you today to make a fresh commitment to follow Him?
1. Whatever He wants me to do with my life is what I must do with it.
In fact what I want no longer matters, but rather I make a choice to remain in the will of God in my life.
2. Whatever He asks me to do – I will do
Simple and immediate obedience.
‘This is love for God: to obey His commands and His commands are not burdensome.’ (1 John 5:3)
NB. I wonder which ones you have avoided – because you’ve simply decided they don’t apply to you or you don’t need to do that one?!?!
Have you done what He’s told you too? You will not move forward until you do! Have you fulfilled the promises/vows you made? Are you still putting them off?
3. Wherever He calls – I must go! Moses left the trapping of Egypt, Abraham left the comfort of Haran, David left the comfort of tending his father’s flocks. Don’t forget the lives of Esther, Gideon, Jeremiah, Paul, Peter…..and Jesus himself left the trappings of heaven.
Have you followed Him where He has clearly being leading you? Or have you chosen to take ‘easy street.’
Jesus reminds us again, ‘And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me – cannot be my disciples.’ (Luke 14:27)
Jesus sums it all up!
‘For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.’
If someone holds onto their life so tightly that they use it simply to please themselves, do their own thing, and accomplish their own purposes, rather than denying self and serving God, then they will miss out on so much and ultimately lose their eternal life.
But anyone who loses their life for Jesus’ sake – gives it in service and sacrifice to God by denying themselves…… will not just save their life but discover an amazing, abundant, overflowing life and eternal life!!!
There can be no greater or clearer teaching anywhere on the meaning of being a disciple. This is how Jesus lived, so this is how we, His disciples, must live.
The Cross reminds us…that true discipleship means denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Christ….
It’s Your Call
This is not a popular message. You’ll rarely hear it preached by the world’s most popular preachers – but these are the words of Jesus.
Can I encourage you today – to make a choice NOT to live out the lowest & easiest form of faith but rather to make a choice to live a full on life of faith….amazing, life giving, abundant, fulfilling….You will NEVER regret it!