The Radical Call To Discipleship
January 20, 2019 | Randy Smith
The Radical Call To Discipleship
Sunday, January 20, 2019
Pastor Randy Smith
As we celebrate the sanctity of human life today (something that should be celebrated everyday) I tried to get my mind around the arguments from the so-called “pro-choice” position. Most of them could seem very defensible from the surface. Who am I to determine a woman’s “reproductive rights?” What’s wrong with removing meaningless tissue? Why not stop a pregnancy when you can spare a child the pain of entering this world disabled or subjected to a life of poverty? Why would any humane person willingly deny women access to “health care?”
But when you dig just a little below the surface, you see how ridiculous these claims become. A baby with a face and heartbeat, sensitive to pain (early in the pregnancy) is not meaningless tissue. Taking a person’s life is not “health care.” It’s just the opposite. Personal reproductive rights are between a woman and God, but don’t ask me to fund it in any way with my tax dollars. For a moment leave out the Bible. Leave out what science says about DNA. Leave out a picture from an ultrasound. Can we please just get back to simple common sense? Our society has been so deceived.
But it’s not just society. We in the church are also guilty of great deception. Let’s move from the pro-life arguments to something even more general in nature. How many Christians can actually answer the question what it really means to be a Christian. Before we attack the ignorance of the world, let’s examine the possible ignorance of the church. I come back to the question. What does it mean to be a Christian? Or put another way, how can you know you are a Christian? There is no more important question to ask.
Today we will get that answer right off the lips of Christ Himself.
The Guide To Discipleship (verse 23)
Let’s get started with the first of three sub-points. I am calling it, “The Guide to Discipleship.”
All true Christians are disciples of Jesus. In verse 23 we see Jesus addressing this statement to “all” the people. Mark 8:34 clarifies that Jesus “summoned the crowd with His disciples.” This statement, as to what it means to be a Christian (verse 23) is directed to (look there) “anyone [who] wishes to come after [Him]”.
You get the picture of the Good Shepherd out front and us His sheep following behind Him. This is discipleship. So we (verse 22) trust the work on the cross by faith and that faith is a commitment to follow Him (verse 23) as a loyal disciple. This is the non-negotiable expectation of all Christians. This is the identity of one that is truly saved.
Before I tell you what Jesus wants of His followers, let me take a minute to tell you what many pastors claim Jesus wants of His followers. It’s really the opposite and it’s really not that radical. It is messages of self-love, self-preservation and self-reliance. Did Jesus really die on the cross to get you into that bigger house and grant that job promotion and make you more accepted by others and love yourself more and help you further your dreams? As the pastor of the largest church in America titled his bestselling book, it’s all about “Your Best Life Now.”
Compare that to what Jesus said in verse 23. There’s a bite in these words for all of us. But I submit the more they shock you or the more they offend you it only suggests the more you have been deceived regarding who Jesus is, what He taught and what He demands of all His followers. Look there. “He must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
Let’s look at these three important imperatives one at a time.
The first verb is “deny.” “He must deny himself.”
I believe all of you would agree that when you come to Christ there is a need for a change of behavior. There are certain things we simply need to deny, to stop doing. Maybe it’s denying drunkenness or profanity or lying or complaining, whatever – denying actions and attitudes. But how often do we think about denying ourselves? You see, the fruit of denying ungodly traits stems from the root of a personal self-denial.
Remember the Apostle Paul from Galatians 2? “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Or our Lord’s first Beatitude. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:3).
Coming to Christ means I die to self. It’s allowing Christ to reign as Lord in my heart and desiring to see Him live His will through me. It’s death to the relentless but never-satisfying quest for affirmation. It’s freedom from the vain need to promote self. It’s separation from fight to find personal worth and identity. Fighting less for my rights. Decreasing so He increases in me. It’s finding approval in Him and realizing the true fulfillment in living for His glory.
Trevor Lawrence has become a household name. Having just turned 19, the freshman quarterback led his Clemson Tigers football team to a national title. What teenage boy would not want to be in his shoes?
Yet here is what he said. “Football’s important to me, but it’s not my life. It’s not the biggest thing in my life. I would say my faith is. That just comes from knowing who I am outside of that. No matter how big the situation is, it’s not going to define me.” He went on to say, “I put my identity in what Christ says, who He thinks I am and who I know that He says I am.” Did you hear that?
Romans 7, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me” (Rom. 7:18). The natural inclination of my heart is to resist Christ. The natural inclination of my heart is for self-glory.
Death to self so life might live within us. When the pride goes so does the selfish agendas and the traits like the bitterness, the jealousy, the unforgiving spirits, the critical attitudes. Christ reigns resulting in joy and peace. Eyes are opened to new horizons. Curse is reversed. Life is restored.
These are the people that truly belong to Jesus. Empty of self to be filled with Him. These are the ones Christ can then use for His purposes. As Kent Hughes in his commentary on Luke said, “A crucified Savior is not well served by self-pleasing, self-indulging people.” A choice needs to be made. You cannot share your glory with King Jesus. A – because we do not have any glory. And B – because He is too glorious to share His glory with another so-called King.
The second verb is “take up.” Specifically verse 23 says, “Take up his cross daily.”
I’ve told you before that to rightly interpret the Bible we must always understand the meaning as it was understood by the original recipients. If we were living in the first century this is what clearly would come to mind when we saw that word, “cross.”
Instrument of death used by the Roman government to kill its most vile offenders. The cross meant shame and excruciating suffering. If someone said I needed to “take up my cross” I would understand that as the normal ritual that made the soon-to-be crucified victim carry the crossbar of the cross to his place of execution. Taking up your cross would mean knowing that your life in this world is about to come to an end.
The original audience would not need this interpretation. They saw it lived out in their existence. Radical to us? How do you think they felt when they heard these words fall from the lips of Christ? Especially at a time when it could be argued that no one knew Jesus would die on a cross.
So what does that mean? It’s hard to accept by simple to understand. If we are going to follow Jesus we must be prepared to suffer with and for Him. The world hates Jesus. The world met Jesus in person and the world killed Him. Throughout history they want nothing to do with His call to self-denial. They hate His commands. Just hearing His name makes many people very uncomfortable and mad. And the moment you identify with Jesus through both your words and actions, you can expect the same wrath expressed toward Jesus now directed toward you because they can’t get Him anymore. You are the closest target. The command here is that we are called to suffer with Jesus and if need be, verse 23, on a “daily” basis.
We don’t look for it. We just live our lives knowing 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” And when it comes we understand it and find assurance that we are on the right track.
As Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt. 5:10-12).
The cross was glory for Jesus Christ. And the cross is glory for His followers too.
And let’s be very clear. Toothaches and noisy neighbors and broken dishwashers are not “crosses.” The Bible would call these trials or “thorns.” Crosses are the pain and shame and persecution we face for being a loyal follower of Jesus Christ. Difficulties do not indicate cross-bearing, but difficulties for Christ’s sake do. And these can range from the hundreds oversees that are right now being killed for their faith to the young child ostracized from a group of friends.
Often you will realize you cannot be friends with the world and friends with Christ at the same time. Are you going to show and share Christ or are you an “underground Christian?” That’s when you need to decide. What’s more important? Your reputation or the reputation of your Savior? Willingness to carry your cross stems from the self-denial and is the ultimate test of your loyalty to follow Him (see Luke 9:23).
The third verb is “follow.” In the last of the three imperatives Jesus said, “Follow Me.”
Conversion is the conscience choice at one point of your life when you decisively determine to follow Jesus. Conversion is not inviting Him into your heart or expressing flimsy faith or accepting a “get out of jail free card.” Conversion is renouncing your way of life and trusting fully in our Lord’s work on the cross to remove all of your sin. It’s death to self and Him now living His life through you. It’s accepting the fact that He is Lord and that you will now submit to His ways and His teachings.
Yet discipleship, once we do come to Christ, is in a sense a need to do this repeatedly. It is not that we need to get “re-saved,” it is just that we need on a daily basis to be reoriented.
I need to ask myself in the morning and throughout the day, am I really, verse 23, following Him in everything. In how I make a purchase and what I put on social media and what I think about and how I prepare my taxes and what I say to people and how I react in situations and where I go and what I watch on the Internet. The list continues.
What we are saying here is that truly saved people have a desire and ability to do what Jesus wants them to do. They “follow” Christ. They want to be like Him. Or I could put it this way, they know that when they follow the words of Christ seen in the Bible that they will have the greatest joy and He will receive the greatest glory. Bottom line, if we are not following Him, it’s impossible to say He is our Lord. And if He is not our Lord, it’s impossible to say He’s our Savior.
The Grounds Of Discipleship (verses 24–26)
Let’s go to the second point. My time is limited, but I’d like to finish these assigned verses because it ties together so beautifully.
In the original Greek, the first word in verses 24, 25 and 26 is the word “gar.” Translated that means, “for.” In other words, we need to read these three verses as the “ground” or reason for the three imperatives in verse 23.
First Ground (vs. 24)
Let’s look at the first ground.
So let’s say you do not like verse 23. Hearing the words “self-denial” is like fingernails on a chalkboard. Following Jesus with all your heart sounds more painful than a root canal. Carrying your cross is more offensive than a Yankees fan wearing a Red Sox jersey.
Okay, I get it. Let’s say you ignore the teaching of Jesus and you just keep worshipping the god of self. Let’s say you are a person that everyone adores. Better yet, let’s make you famous, worshipped by many. Millions of Twitter followers. Autograph seekers. Walking the “red carpet.” People auctioning off your used chewing gum on eBay. You are master. You live by your own rules. The fulfillment of all your personal dreams. You don’t lose your life for Christ’s sake. You save your life for your sake – self-esteem, self-exaltation. And you have the life that is the envy of every American.
Now look at verse 24. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”
It’s called “the divine law of unintended consequences.” Are those folks really happy? I don’t have time to read you all the true stories. Are they satisfied and fulfilled? Is it really a life when your whole world revolves around yourself? Living contrary to Christ, the Bible says, is self-suicide through a slow and painful death. And worst of all, it’s spiritual suicide in choosing the temporary “thrills” over the truly blessed destination for all of eternity. Save your life for self and you will lose it. Lose your life for Christ and you will save it.
Second Ground (vs. 25)
Let’s look at the second ground. Verse 25, “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?
Total hyperbole. Jesus sets up the best case scenario. Let’s pretend a person was able to “gain the whole world.” Would it really matter if he enjoyed it for a couple decades, but in the process spent the rest of his eternity in hell?
I think of the rich young ruler spoken of in the Bible. We’ll meet him in chapter 18. It was a choice between Jesus and his money. What a foolish choice he made.
Third Ground (vs. 26)
And the third ground is in verse 26. “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
So you don’t want to identify publicly with Christ. You are ashamed of Him. Consider again verse 23. Your reputation is more important than His reputation. Your comfort is more important than His glory. Your direction in life is more important than following His. Okay, Jesus says, you are ashamed of Him and on the Day of Judgment He will be ashamed of you. In other words, it will be revealed you were never a true disciple of His.
The Glory For Discipleship (verse 27)
Last point. In verse 27 Jesus says, “But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
Verse 26 speaks of Christ’s Second Coming. Verse 27, I believe, is a reference to that glorious Second Coming foreshadowed in His glorious Transfiguration spoken of in the following verses (verses we hope to look at next week). Listen, Jesus experienced shame on earth for eternal glory. His true followers will also experience the same.
It’s a high calling to follow Jesus. No wonder He told us to “count the cost.” We come to Him through faith and we live by faith every day that doing things His way will bring us the greatest joy both now and for eternity.