Take up Your Cross and Follow Me
Take up Your Cross and Follow Me: Mt. 16:24-28
Everton Community Church. Sunday September 30th 2007.
At this time of year, most people have completed their holidays and are back focusing on work. Were your holiday’s what you expected?
The following are actual responses from comment cards given to the staff members at Bridger Wilderness Area in NW Wyoming.
-Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill.
-Too many bugs and leeches and spiders and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the areas of these pests.
-Please pave the trails…Chair lifts need to be in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them.
-The coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals.
-A small deer came into my camp and stole my jar of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed? Please call…
-Escalators would help on steep uphill sections.
-Too many rocks in the mountains.
Citation: Mike Neifert, Light and Life (February 1997), p. 27
These comments and complaints indicate that the people who made them did not really understand what it means to stay in a "wilderness area." They were looking for something convenient and comfortable, but not truly a wilderness experience. In a similar way, many people today do not understand what it means to be a genuine Christian, a true disciple of Jesus Christ. There are multitudes that often follow Jesus or claim to be a Christian but they do so on their terms and not his. They do not truly comprehend the biblical definition of discipleship.
This week starts a new series called The High Calling of Christ. It’s rooted in Christian discipleship. The term "disciples" occurs 269 times in the New Testament, while the term "Christian" only occurs 3 times. In the Book of Acts we’re told that:
Acts 11:26b in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (ESV)
How would you characterise your relationship with God? Is he a concept, a comfort or a conviction? Is he someone that you have yet to come to grips with, someone who says to you that you are fine the way you are, or someone who says that if you want to think of yourself as a Christian and all that it entails, this demands radical sacrifice and self denial.
This series will lay out what God expects of those who would wish to be known as Christians. It is the Christians High Calling. It all starts and ends with the Cross. First:
1) The Principle Mt. 16:24
Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (ESV)
Please turn to John 6
I want to spend just about all my time this morning on this principle. Once we understand that, everything else will fall into place
When Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would/wishes to come after Me,” they were doubtless reminded of the time He had called each of them. Some two and a half years earlier they had left families, friends, occupations, and everything else in order to follow Jesus.
To unbelievers among the multitudes who were present on that occasion (see Mark 8:34), Jesus’ words come after Me applied to the initial surrender of the new birth, when a person comes to Christ for salvation and the old life of sin is exchanged for a new life of righteousness. To the believers there, including the Twelve, come after Me reiterated the call to the life of daily obedience to Christ. The call at this point therefore presupposes one is born again, repented of sin, believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and is abiding in Him.
As the parallel passage to this in Luke says:
Luke 9:23b (And he said to all, )"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
When people truly understand the nature of Coming after Christ, it separates those who follow for personal gain and a supernatural work of transformation:
John 6:63-66 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (ESV)
It is sadly possible for believers to lose the first love they had when they received Christ as saving Lord and surrendered all they were and had to Him (see Rev. 2:4). It is a constant temptation to want to take back what was given up and to reclaim what was forsaken. It is not impossible to again place one’s own will above God’s and to take back rights that were relinquished to Him. It is especially tempting to compromise our commitment when the cost becomes high. But the fact that believers sometimes succumb to disobedience does not alter the truth that the character of a true disciple is manifest in a pattern of obedience. Although imperfect obedience is inevitable because of the unredeemed flesh, the basic desire and life-direction of the true Christian is obedience to the Lord.
Discipleship is on God’s terms, just as coming to Him is on His terms. The Lord here reminds us that the key discipleship principle of winning by losing involves self-denial, cross-bearing, and loyal obedience.
- I am taking great pains of not laying on you burdens that Christ himself has not directed as obedience. To do so would be legalism, that somehow extra biblical actions would earn favour with God.
- This series is attempt to unpack the understanding and action of what Christ requires of one who would follow after Him.
The first requirement of discipleship is self-denial. A person who is not willing to deny himself cannot claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Deny is from aparneomai, which means to completely disown, to utterly separate oneself from someone. It is the word Jesus used to describe Peter’s denial of Him while He was being questioned by the high priest (Matt. 26:34). Each time he was confronted about his relationship to Jesus, Peter more vehemently denied knowing Him (vv. 70, 72, 74). He disowned his Master before the world.
- To deny self is not the same as self-denial, like giving up chocolate for lent or that extra piece of pie. This denial means to yield to His control so completely that self has no rights whatever.
Analogy: Think of it like boarding an airplane and going through security. You must be willing to put everything under examination and let anything go to undertake the journey. Think of your personal items that you may have to put into the screener’s box for examination: your wedding ring to represent your relationships, your watch to represent your time, your shoes to represent where you go, your wallet to represent your possessions and funds etc. If anything is deemed by security to be a threat to the mission of the flight you must be willing to either stay behind or sacrifice the item (mailing it back) for the mission.
- You may not have to sacrifice these things for the Kingdom of God, but God calls you to be willing to if need be, for His sake and glory.
That is exactly the kind of denial a believer is to make in regard to himself. He is to utterly disown himself, to refuse to acknowledge the self of the old man. Jesus’ words here could be paraphrased, “Let him refuse any association or companionship with himself.” Self-denial not only characterizes a person when he comes in saving faith to Christ but also as he lives as a faithful disciple of Christ.
The self to which Jesus refers is not one’s personal identity as a distinct individual. The self of which Jesus is speaking is rather the natural, sinful, rebellious, unredeemed self that is at the center of every fallen person and that can even reclaim temporary control over a Christian. It is the fleshly body,
Ephesians 4:22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, (ESV)
How can salvation be offered to us as a free gift of God, yet Discipleship have a great cost? Consider this analogy:
Suppose you have a desire to climb Mount Everest. Suppose a wealthy businessman heard of your desire and offered to pay for the entire expedition. It costs about $70,000 to do it. He would buy all the expensive clothing and gear; he would pay for your transportation, the guides, and the training. It’s totally free for you in terms of financial cost. But if you accept his free offer, you have just committed myself to months of difficult training and arduous effort. It could even cost me my very life, because many good climbers die trying to climb Mount Everest. It is free and yet very costly.
Source: The Cost of Discipleship, www.fcfonline.org/80199.htm, Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1999,
Our response to the cost of discipleship is often like this:
Poem: If It Don’t Rain
I would climb the highest mountain
Swim the deepest ocean too
I would crawl the hottest desert
I’d do anything for you
I would leap the tallest building
I’d bear any trial or pain
There’s no limit to my love
And I’ll be over Friday night
If it don’t rain
Quote: John Bisagno said: Christianity is a cross, and a cross is “I” crossed out.—
Morgan, Robert J.: Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes. electronic ed. Nashville : Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, S. 167
The second requirement of discipleship is to take up one’s cross. This idea has profound meaning which must be understood. Taking up one’s cross is not some mystical level of selfless “deeper spiritual life” that only the religious elite can hope to achieve. Nor is it the common trials and hardships that all persons experience sometime in life. A cross is not having an unsaved husband, nagging wife, or domineering mother-in-law. Nor is it having a physical handicap or suffering from an incurable disease.
- Don’t use the expression, “well it’s just my/your cross to bear”.
- Jesus didn’t say: “Take up His Cross”. Only Christ could atone for sin.
- Therefore no work of ours could atone for sin.
To take up one’s cross is simply to be willing to pay any price for Christ’s sake. It is the willingness to endure shame, embarrassment, reproach, rejection, persecution, and even martyrdom for His sake. It represents suffering that is ours because of our relationship to Christ.
To the people of Jesus’ day the cross was a very concrete and vivid reality. It was the instrument of execution reserved for Rome’s worst enemies. It was a symbol of the torture and death that awaited those who dared raise a hand against Roman authority It has been estimated that perhaps some 30,000 occurred under Roman authority during the lifetime of Christ.
When the disciples and the crowd heard Jesus speak of taking up the cross, there was nothing mystical to them about the idea. They immediately pictured a poor, condemned soul walking along the road carrying (which is an accurate translation of airō, meaning “to raise, bear, or carry”) the instrument of his execution on his own back. A man who took up his cross began his death march, carrying the very beam on which he would hang.
- If you physically picked up a cross, it would be so large and heavy that you would not be able to carry anything else.
Please turn to Luke 14
Christ does not call disciples to Himself to make their lives easy and prosperous, but to make them holy and productive. Willingness to take up his cross is the mark of the true disciple. As the hymnist wrote, “Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and all the world go free? No, there’s a cross for everyone, and there’s a cross for me.” Those who make initial confessions of their desire to follow Jesus Christ, but refuse to accept hardship or persecution, are characterized as the false, fruitless souls who are like rocky soil with no depth. They wither and die under threat of the reproach of Christ (Matt. 13:20-21). Many people want a “no-cost” discipleship, but Christ offers no such option.
In Lk 14:25-26 Jesus elaborated on being a disciple:
Luke 14:25-26 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, "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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
Jesus was not talking to those who were antagonistic towards him or to those who were uninterested in his life and message. No, these were people who were "traveling with the Jesus." There are positive in their attitude toward Jesus. They were interested in what he had to say. They apparently mistook this positive attitude and interest in Jesus for true discipleship, as many people do today. They considered themselves to be followers of Jesus but in reality they were only casual followers and
not committed followers.
They were willing and even anxious to follow Jesus providing the cost was not to high or the demands too great. They were like many people today who do "Christian things" like go to church, pray, sing Christian songs, etc. but are not really committed to Jesus.
In a sense they were “along for the ride” but were unwilling to give up everything in their lives that conflicted with following Jesus in a committed way. They were like many today who look to Jesus to solve their money problems, relationship problems, health problems, etc. but who quickly grow disillusioned and unwilling to obey Jesus completely when following Jesus doesn’t solve these problems or following Jesus requires real sacrifices in their lives. These "large crowds" were casual followers and not committed followers, which are you?
In verse 26 Jesus says that this commitment level applies to "anyone who comes to me. . ." In other words, Jesus is not speaking exclusively to a special group of Christians such as apostles, evangelists, missionaries, pastors, or even mature believers. He is saying that this principle applies to everyone who would be one of his followers.
Now the word "hate" here is not meant to be taken literally but is rather used figuratively to express a point. It is hyperbole or exaggeration similar to what we use when we say, "That man was as big as a house. . ." In Jewish culture the word "hate" was used to express lesser love, so Jesus is saying that we must love him much more that we love our closest family relationships or even our own lives. We must love him more than our hobbies, more than our goals in life, more than our careers, and more that our self interest.
- To be a disciple of Jesus, you must esteem everything else in this universe so far less that Christ, that it would be considered hate in comparison.
Jesus is not speaking of our emotional feelings toward him or our families but rather he is speaking of our level of commitment. He is saying that our commitment to obey and following him must be greater than any other commitment in our lives. In other words, Jesus must be first in our priorities and loyalties. Is this true in your life?
For instance, if following Jesus obediently results in problems or interferes with your closest relationships, will you still follow him? This is no mere hypothetical situation. In other countries following Jesus can sometimes mean being kicked out of the family, losing your children, etc. In our own country, many relationships have encountered problems because one spouse was a committed Christian and the other was not. In such cases Jesus wants us to know up front what it means to be a disciple. He must come before even your closest relationships.
Please turn to Matthew 10
We must not only love or be committed to Jesus more than to our loved ones, but we must also be committed to him above "even our own lives" as Jesus says in verse 26. This refers to our physical lives which we must be willing to surrender for Jesus’ sake. It also refers to are self lives, which means our personal desires, goals, interests, and even needs. We must be committed to Jesus above our bank accounts, our public image, our jobs, every personal desire, etc.
If following Jesus means forfeiting these things, then we must be willing to do that. Again this is not a hypothetical situation. Following Jesus will many times mean making such sacrifices.
The parallel passage to this summarizes:
Matthew 10:36-38 Mat 10:36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Mat 10:37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Mat 10:38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Quote: Marin Luther Said: A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.
The third requirement of discipleship is loyal obedience. Only after a person denies himself and takes up his cross, Jesus said, is he prepared to follow Me. True discipleship is submission to the lordship of Christ that becomes a pattern of life.
1 John 2:6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (ESV)
If your entire confidence of Salvation is in a prayer you said:
Matthew 7:21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (ESV)
Paul calls salvation the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). Peter describes God’s sovereign saving work in a life as “the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood” (1 Pet. 1:2).
- Every true believer is characterized by obedience to God as a pattern of life.
We have seen 1) The Principle Mt. 16:24 and now:
2) The Paradox (Mt.16:25-26)
Matthew 16:25-26 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (ESV)
Please turn to Phil. 3
Life and soul are here synonymous with each other and with the self (v. 24). All three words represent the inner person, the “real you.”
The Lord Here anticipates two hindrances to discipleship.
1) The first is the natural temptation to save oneself from discomfort, pain, loneliness, or loss
What may here seem to be a complex and contradictory idea is really quite simple. The Lord is saying that whoever lives only to save his earthly, physical life, his ease and comfort and acceptance by the world, will lose his opportunity for eternal life.
But whoever loses his life /is willing to give up his earthly, worldly life and to suffer and die, if necessary, for Christ’s sake, will find eternal life.
Please turn to Phil 3
Illustration: “When James Calvert went out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands, the captain of the ship sought to turn him back. “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages,” he cried. Calvert only replied, “We died before we came here.”
What reflects the perspective of Gain in Christ?
Philippians 3:7-11 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (ESV)
We saw in our Leadership training for Christianity Explored how Jesus explained the situation:
Jesus identified the false professor who makes initial gestures of following the gospel, but will not let go of the world and all its trinkets, as bad soil full of weeds that choke out true spiritual life (Matt. 13:22).
The true disciple is willing to pay whatever price faithfulness to the Lord requires. The price may mean suffering martyrdom as Paul did or enduring physical exhaustion and illness in Christ’s service as Epaphroditus did. Whatever the particulars of a believer’s cross-bearing may be, it requires the willingness to abandon safety, security, personal resources, health, friends, job, and even life.
With the two hindrances to discipleship.1) The first is the natural temptation to save oneself from discomfort, pain, loneliness, or loss.
2) The Second is the temptation to become financially wealthy, as mentioned here in verse 26:
Mt 16:26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Please turn back to Mt. 6
Just like the discussion in Lk 14 in regards to “hate” with our family, here is the ultimate hyperbole. “Imagine, if you can,” Jesus was saying, “what it would be like to somehow possess the whole world. Of what lasting benefit would that be, if in gaining it you forfeited your soul, your eternal life?”
Such a person would be a walking dead man who temporarily owned everything but who faced an eternity in hell rather than in heaven.
How could a loss be a gain of life?
If you have diabetes, the loss of sweets may save your life, if you have emphysema, the loss of smoking may save your life, if you have siroccos of the liver, the loss of alcohol may save your life, if you have a heart problem, and need to lose weight, you may lose the weight and save your life, or save the weight and lose your life.
“Or,” Jesus continued, “what could possibly be worth having during this lifetime, if to gain it you would have to exchange your soul?” To gain every possession possible in this world and yet be without Christ is to be bankrupt forever. But to abandon everything in this world for the sake of Christ is to be rich forever (cf. Matt. 6:19-21).
Matthew 6:19-21 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (ESV)
- This kind of life shows that Christ is more valuable than all the earthly rewards that the people of the world live for.
Matthew 19:29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. (ESV)
Illustration: Jim Elliot said: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
He chose the unexplored frontiers of Ecuador in Latin America. Not content with bringing the Gospel to the civilized people of the country, he and his four companions flew their MAF Piper plane over the lands of the savage Auca tribe. Their first landing meant a tragic massacre, but out of that seemingly senseless tragedy comes a powerful testimony of the call of God on one man’s life.
Poem: HE IS NO FOOL
I’ve lost track of all the Sundays
The offering plates gone by
And as I gave my hard earned dollars
I felt free to keep my life
I talk about commitment
And the need to count the cost
But the words of a martyr show me
I don’t really know His cross
For he is no fool
Who gives what he cannot keep
To gain what he cannot lose
Yes, he is no fool
Who lays his own life down
I must make this the path I choose
Obedience and servanthood
Are traits I’ve rarely shown
And the fellowship of His sufferings
Is a joy I’ve barely known
There are riches in surrendering
That can’t be gained for free
God will share all heaven’s wonders
But the price He asks is me.
Scott Wesley Brown, wrote this after reading “Shadow of the Almighty” (Elisabeth Elliot) and “Lords of the Earth” (Don Richardson). May we be challenged to higher levels of devotion to our God.
“God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you, LORD Jesus.”
We have seen 1) The Principle Mt. 16:24 2) The Paradox (Mt.16:25-26) finally & Briefly:
3) The Parousia Mt.16:27
Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (ESV)
Parousia is a noun form of the Greek verb behind to come and is often used to refer to Christ’s second coming, of which this is the first mention in the New Testament.
A day of judgment is coming, Jesus reminded the disciples and the multitude.
John 5:22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, (ESV)
As it says in Mt. 16:27: When the Son of Man, who is also the Son of God, comes with His angels in the glory of His Father (an event further described in Matt. 24-25), He will then repay each person according to what he has done.
Romans 14:12So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. (ESV)
Christ’s holy angels are the instruments of His service and His judgment, and when He comes to earth again they will come with Him, to raise:
John 5:29 (and come out,) those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (ESV)
Please turn to Romans 2
That general truth had been proclaimed long before by the psalmist:
Psalm 62:12 and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work.
It was also echoed by Paul in his letter to the church at Rome. In 2:5-8, he is specific:
Romans 2:5-8 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. (ESV)
As the Lord reviews the life of each person who has ever lived, He will say, as it were, “There is a believer, I can tell by his works, because they are the product of My Holy Spirit. There is an unbeliever, as I can also tell by his works, because they are the product of the flesh.” It is not that works save, but that they are the product of salvation. James teaches that the only kind of faith that saves is the kind that results in righteous behavior (James 2:14-26; cf. Eph. 2:10).
Those whose works are pleasing to the Lord are those who, by God’s sovereign grace and power, have trusted in Christ as saving Lord, while denying self, taking up their crosses, and following Him. They will receive everlasting life and all the blessings of heaven. Those whose works are rejected by the Lord are those who put their hope and trust in the things of this life. They will receive eternal damnation and all the torments of hell.
The call to salvation is a call to discipleship. Let this not be your life:
Poem: GOD COUNTED CROSSES:
I counted dollars while God counted crosses
I counted gains while He counted losses.
I counted my worth by things gained in store
But He sized me up by the scars that I bore.
I coveted honours and sought for degrees
He wept as He counted the hours on my knees.
I never knew until one day by the grave
How vain are the things we spend life to save.
I did not understand until my loved one went above
That richest is he who is rich in God’s love.