Summary: Jesus calls us to deny ourself completely, and to lose our lives. But He also promises that when we do, we will find them...
What Color Is Your Thumb? – Becoming A Greenhouse pt. 3
Matt. 16:24-28 January 26/27, 2003
These last two weeks I’ve been talking about the vision of the church as a greenhouse – as a place of discipleship. We talked 2 weeks ago about the call and command of our Lord Jesus to “make disciples” – to baptize and to teach people to obey. Last week we talked about a vision of discipleship as growth, as nurture, and as a starting point for fruitful lives in the world. And we reflected on the quality of our spiritual “soil” as described by Jesus in Matt. 13.
Today, in the last sermon on the middle part of our church vision for discipleship, I want to get a little more specific. What does it mean to grow to maturity and fruitfulness? What would that look like, how do we get there?
The Cost/Benefit of Discipleship:
Let’s begin by considering the standard. What does God expect of His disciples?
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his 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 he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."
Familiar words of Scripture, and there is no denying it is a high call. A call to self-denial, to surrender. A call to give up everything, to sacrifice it all for Jesus. And yet, if that is all we see in this text, we miss the main point. If all we see is what we have to give, we are ignoring Jesus’ main point.
Yes, He does talk about denying ourselves. He does talk about taking up our cross. He does talk about following Him, and we know that after He said this He went to Jerusalem to be crucified. He does talk about losing our life. But that is not the main point.
Jesus’ main point is that in doing all of that which I have just described, we gain the most. God is not a cosmic tyrant, demanding we sacrifice everything for Him so that we can sit in misery and poverty, and so that He can enjoy watching us wallow in despair. That is not a picture of God, that is a picture of the devil! The devil is the one who robs us of things and then enjoys our suffering. God calls us to give up things for a greater, personal good. You see, in these verses in Matthew we discover why God calls us to this level of self-sacrifice: because it is the road to greatest reward. It is in our best interests. Why does Jesus call us to “lose our life for [Him]?” So that we can find it. Jesus reverses our priorities, calls us to place the needs of our soul first, and promises that by surrendering our soul to Him, we will know what it means to truly live. Jesus calls us to take an eternal perspective – He says, in essence, “You could have it all – the whole world – fame – fortune – recognition – respect – the love of the crowd. But what good would that be if you lose your soul in the process? Or if, by pursuing those things, you lose your soul for eternity?” Do you see? Jesus isn’t calling us to some morbid standard of service, to sign up for some program that is going to destroy us and make us miserable. The high standard of discipleship He calls us to is for our own good – more than that, it is for our own best!! By following Him, we find life! We find freedom!! And we find the promise of reward from God Himself!!!
This week I had a great conversation with a friend. The question came up: “Why would I want to be a Christian if all it meant was giving up everything for God – putting Him first? How would my needs ever get met that way?” What an excellent question. And it is one I read Jesus anticipating in His call to discipleship. “Whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Putting God first – denying self and all the rest – is the only way to have all of our deepest, most significant needs met. It is the only way to know true reward. It is the only way to truly live.