To Follow Jesus
Wentworth Golf Club – its new owners have changed the terms and conditions for membership making them much more exacting and costly for existing members and even more costly for new members.
The terms and conditions for following Jesus Christ are the same for all, they have and never will change – they are already costly and demanding but also logical and reasonable.
This morning we will examine what Jesus has to say here in Lk.9 about following him and we will do so under the following four headings:
Who can become a follower of Jesus Christ
Three conditions that must be met if we are to be followers of Jesus Christ
Three reasons why it is important to follow Jesus Christ
A final encouragement to follow Jesus Christ
Who can become a follower of Jesus Christ
In the immediately preceding context Jesus had been involved in a somewhat private discussion with his close disciples. He had asked his disciples who the people thought he was and then he had asked the disciples themselves what their own understanding was.
Peter's answer that they believed him to be the "Christ of God" was the trigger for Jesus to explain to his disciples just what that really meant: he would be rejected, he would suffer and then be killed before being raised on the third day.
Luke continues with these words:
v.23 "And he said to all..."
And we want to know who the "all" refers to. Did Jesus simply carry on speaking to the 12 disciples or did Jesus speak to a wider audience at this time?
Mark, in his account of this same event, makes it clear that a much wider group than Jesus' immediate followers was concerned:
Mk.8:34 "And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them..."
So then what follows is information that is relevant and appropriate to all and not to a specially restricted or privileged group. This means that the words that Jesus then spoke are meant to be understood in the widest most general manner possible. And what did he go on to say?
Lk.9:23 "If anyone would come after me..."
So the first thing we need to realise is that following Jesus is something that is open to all and sundry. There is no restriction according to nationality, status, intelligence, wealth or any other sort of privilege you might care to think of. It doesn't matter whether you have been brought up in a Christian home or a non-Christian home; it doesn't matter whether you think you know all there is to know about Jesus or whether you know very little indeed. Anyone means anyone.
Anyone may come to Jesus and follow him the only question is will he, will she, will you? Will you come and accept the one-size fits all "terms and conditions" that Jesus established? While any may come they all must follow in the same basic way – there is no inside track nor are there exemption clauses.
It is time for us to move on and to consider what Jesus declared those conditions of following him to be.
Three conditions for would-be followers of Jesus Christ
In just a few brief words Jesus laid out the terms of Christian discipleship. His words are brief and clear:
v.23 "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."
Are you a Christian believer? Then these words are for you today. You are not to imagine that these words are somehow addressed to others and no longer applicable to you to you. Then this is the way your Lord expects you to order your life today. It is rigorous and demanding, it involves a complete recalibration of our priorities. We are not to imagine that a decision taken at one particular moment in time to associate ourselves with Jesus Christ is all that is meant. "Coming after" Jesus may begin like that but each person who would follow Jesus must go on living this way day after day, week after week, year after year. The person in this building who has been following Jesus the longest is just as much concerned as the person who has only just set out on the path of discipleship.
But perhaps you are not yet a believer in Jesus Christ. Well you need to have a clear understanding of what being a Christian is really all about. Jesus here is telling you what he requires of everyone who would follow him. Men may have tried to water down what is involved in being a Christian but Jesus' words contain the truth you need to understand. Don't be fobbed off with anything else.
Don't be deceived into thinking that it is an easy thing to be a Christian – there is a cost involved and elsewhere Jesus encouraged those considering following him to weigh their decision very carefully. He didn't alter the terms of discipleship for them to make it easier for them and he will not alter them for you. Can you face up to the cost involved in following him? Can you really afford not to?
When Jesus spoke about how he would be treated as the Christ of God he was talking about how he the Messiah would sovereignly act to secure the salvation that we, as sinners, all need. Now in speaking about the conditions of discipleship he is referring to our human responsibility to respond to his grace. We must not imagine that we are somehow able to save ourselves or contribute to our own salvation by striving to meet the conditions of discipleship that Jesus describes here – the only way we will ever be able to meet these conditions is when regenerating grace is at work in our hearts.
Praise God that he delights to save those who call upon him and empowers all such by his Holy Spirit!
The conditions of following Jesus:
v.23 "let him deny himself..."
The self-denial that Jesus declares to be necessary is that which says "no" to our old ways and instead relies solely upon God in Christ for salvation.
Such self-denial is not to be understood as a series of restrictions that we put upon the satisfying of our normal appetites and desires. That would be a denying of certain things to ourselves as when I decide to give up eating chocolate for Lent for example. Christians can very easily slip into this mistake and end up living lives that are dominated by a petty list of dos and don'ts (mostly don'ts). Jesus' command is far more radical. He doesn't call upon us to deny certain things to ourselves but to not live our lives for ourselves at all. Denying ourselves means we live not as we used to do that is for ourselves as number one but that we might live instead for him.
How difficult this is – but God gives us grace and strength to help us!
It is likely in a Christian's life that we will need to be brought back here over and over again. We may well in the past have prayed seriously and honestly determining to life our lives for Christ. We may well have pledged ourselves to undying service and commitment and meant it! And yet with the passage of time we slip back into our old ways of pursuing what we want to do. It's not that we've lost our salvation and need to be converted all over again it is rather that we are discovering just how deceitful our hearts can be and how sinful sin is. So we return to the Lord confessing our sin and looking to him for cleansing so that we can once more press on.
Don't allow slips and slides in your Christian life to so discourage you that you come to think that you'll never make progress and it really isn't worth the effort any more. God has made provision for such stumbles and falls – use them!
v.23 let him "take us his cross daily"
I hope you have taken notice of that word "daily" – becoming a Christian discipleship is just the beginning of things. The Christian life is a life to be lived out on a daily basis.
But what does Jesus mean by saying that a follower must take up his cross?
Sometimes Christians have trivialised all of this and talked about their aches and pains as though these were the "crosses" they had to bear in life. But if you are suffering with a bunion you don't have the option of "not-taking it up" – it will trouble whether or not you want it to. There is no specific link to Christ here at all. You would have to put up with that bunion whether you were a Christian or not.
No the cross stands for something else entirely.
In Jesus' day if a man was seen carrying a cross it normally meant just one thing – the man was condemned and on his way to die. To carry a cross was firmly aligned then with shame and suffering and death.
For a person to "take us his cross" as he follows Jesus means that he identifies with him in his shame and sufferings. So the follower of Jesus is to openly identify with Jesus (not just when it is easy to do so in Christian family or in a church family context) but also when to do so will expose him to ridicule and shame and worse. And this is not something that is done once and then left behind it is to be done over and over again, indeed on a daily basis.
Notice too that each follower has his own individual cross to bear. Our circumstances are all different and associating with Jesus openly will expose us to opposition in different ways. I am responsible for taking up my cross not for yours and likewise you alone are responsible for taking up your cross not mine.
FOLLOW ME v.23.
To follow means to come behind – Jesus is more important and significant than me. He leads and chooses the way to go. It is my task to listen to him and to follow his lead and it is not the disciple's task to decide where to go and then to try to persuade the Master to accompany him and yet how easily we can find ourselves trying to do just that.
To follow sounds so straightforward doesn't it? And yet there are times when we would prefer to lead in a different direction, there are times when we follow but somewhat reluctantly a bit like Peter when he followed Jesus but at a distance, there are times when we seem to stop following completely for a time. None of these scenarios are good and we should repent of each when necessary.
Christian hymnology has often taken up this theme of following in its songs:
Eg. Follow! follow! I will follow Jesus!
Anywhere, everywhere, I will follow on!
Follow! follow! I will follow Jesus!
Everywhere He leads me I will follow on!
And as another old hymn writer put it so well:
Trust and obey!
For there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus
but to trust and obey.
If you wish to be a follower of Jesus Christ you must first come to him and then go on and on following him. To follow is not the same as taking a decision at one particular moment of time it is about being serious about Jesus every day. When you make a mistake you deal with it by returning to the Lord and start following him again. You don't sit down and cry over spilt milk but you rather forget what lies behind and you press on again from where you are.
God gives us the grace we need to do this. As Paul would later say: "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Phil.4:13.
Three reasons why we should follow Jesus
After outlining those necessary conditions that must be fulfilled if a person is to follow him Jesus went on to explain why they were so crucial. As we read on the text highlights these reasons by introducing them each time with the little word "for".
v. 24 "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."
v.25 "For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits
v.26 "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."
If you try desperately to cling on to your life, your old way of life, you will ultimately lose everything. On the other hand the person who, for Jesus' sake, abandons the attempt to secure his life by relying uniquely upon himself will find that his life, his real life is made utterly secure.
When I was a student the Christian Union organised a Mission one year with the title "Jesus for Life". A set of posters to this effect was put up spelling out this poster and we had to have a large supply of fs because other students would keep taking the first f down. To so many students the choice was stark – to them it was Jesus OR life. If you chose Jesus then that meant the end to real life for you.
People often go to extreme lengths to try to hold Jesus away at arm's length, they will do anything and everything to avoid putting their trust in him. In their mind to have Christ means saying goodbye to everything good about life – what a lie that is!
But if you won't have Jesus in your life what will you live for instead?
Many people drive themselves in the pursuit of material possessions, of wealth or of power or fame. But what will any of those things do for you in an ultimate sense. You can't take it with you – none of it! How foolish to seek to fill your life with temporary things that will wear out and prove to be ultimately useless!
If you are a Christian then live your life truly for Jesus Christ and you will have treasure in heaven where no thief will break in to steal it away and where no moth or corruption will destroy it. You would be so foolish to try to have a foot in both camps – you'll never be truly happy that way – a half-hearted Christian is a sorry sight. He has too much of Christ of to be content with what the world has to offer and too much of the world to truly appreciate what could be his in Christ! Many try this combination and their lives are not what they could or should be. Don't be like them.
If you're not a Christian you may have some pleasures in your life – after all God is good and generous and kind making "his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and send(ing) rain on the just and on the unjust." Mt.5:45. But the pleasures of sin are but temporary. Turn your back on Jesus and you turn your back upon he who came to bring you life in all its fullness.
This life that we live on the earth is not the sum total of life. Our lives are not snuffed out by death – there is no annihilation in death but rather an opening of the books and a judgment. What you do here matters, the attitudes you adopt here matter. Do you want nothing of Jesus and his life giving word? Well that is to be ashamed of Jesus himself and his word. Do you want him to wash his hands of you at the judgment? Who would speak up for you then if the Saviour of the World, the Only Saviour of the World is not willing to side with you?
I must press you all to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Call upon the name of the Lord and you shall be saved. Respond to his loving generosity and grace by committing youself by that same grace to follow him all the days of your life. That is the way to be safe, that is the way to life – it is the only way. Will you not take it and take it today?
A Final Encouragement to Follow Jesus
Time has gone but the last part of our text this morning includes an encouragement to press home the wisdom of choosing to follow Jesus Christ.
v.27 "But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God."
The Kingdom of God is bound up with Jesus and with his glory. When Jesus returns he will come in the fullness of his Kingdom glory. All those who follow Jesus Christ have a real and wonderful prospect ahead of them. But we do not have to wait until then before the kingdom and its glory is seen by some at least.
In the immediate context some of those standing listening to Jesus as he spoke would catch a sight of him in a glorious state – Peter, James and John would be present as witnesses at that extraordinary scene that we call the Transfiguration.
A number of months later Jesus would be raised from the dead as a demonstration of the Spirit's power as Jesus is thus declared to be the Son of God. During the following 40 days he would appear in his resurrection body to his followers some of whom were present listening to him that day.
The Kingdom has thus been inaugurated and Jesus' glory revealed in part.
Are you ready for the fulll and complete revealing of that Kingdom? The time to get ready is now and not some remote time in the future. Today is the day of salvation so do not let it close being still unsaved.
And may God have mercy on us all.