Summary: Following Jesus can be difficult, but all who choose this path will be greatly rewarded in the end.
Many people’s attitude about following Christ is “What can I get?” not “What can I give?” They view Christianity as only a free ticket to heaven. But what did Jesus teach about discipleship? Read Matthew 8:34-38.
“If anyone would come after me” means “If anyone wants to be my disciple (in other words, a believer or a Christian).” The basic requirement of discipleship is complete commitment (full devotion) to Him. Jesus is making it known that discipleship is not easy.
The Big Idea: Following Jesus can be difficult, but all who choose this path will be greatly rewarded in the end.
I. Three Demands of Discipleship
“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (v. 34).
Jesus addresses two groups of people:
• “The crowd”: He is inviting them to become His disciples—evangelism.
• “His disciples”: He is instructing them about their commitment as disciples—edification.
Our mission statement: Our mission is to help people become fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We want to help the uncommitted become committed and the committed become more committed.
A. You must DENY yourself.
Denying yourself means that you have decided to exchange YOUR will for GOD’S will.
This is what Jesus did. He prayed, “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus tells His disciples to follow the way He has chosen, not the way they would choose for themselves.
B. You must take up your CROSS.
Some people have the wrong idea that the cross they bear is some physical affliction, some problem in their family, or some tragedy that strikes.
Taking up your cross means that you are willing to make any SACRIFICE for Christ.
When James Calvert went out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands, the captain of the ship tried to turn him back. “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go,” he cried. Calvert only replied, “We died before we came here.” (Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes, p. 244).
C. You must FOLLOW Jesus.
Following Jesus means that you make a daily commitment to IMITATE Christ’s life and OBEY His teachings.
In the Greek, the verb “follow” is in the present tense. This tells us that we are to live out our commitment to Christ every day. Following Christ is not saying a prayer and then living an uncommitted life. Christ expects to be obeyed.
Christ does not ask for a modest adjustment in our lives but a complete overhaul of our behavior. God refuses to accept a minor role in our lives; He requires a controlling place. We have to learn to say, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
II. Three Reasons for Discipleship
A. You will gain real LIFE.
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (v. 35).
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” But Jesus says that you have to win in order to lose. Live a comfortable life (don’t follow Jesus) and lose eternal life. Live a committed life (follow Jesus) and gain eternal life.
In the early days of Christianity (and still in some places today), to follow Christ meant ridicule, persecution, and sometimes even death (examples, Stephen, Paul, Jesus).
The words of Jesus in verse 35 remind me of the story of Jim Elliot. Elliot was a missionary to Ecuador who, along with four others, was killed on January 8, 1956, attempting to share the gospel with the Auca people. His journal entry for October 28, 1959, contains his now famous quotation: “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Some probably do consider Him Elliot a fool, but know he doesn’t feel foolish as he stands in the presence of Christ at this moment.
I don’t believe that Jesus’ statement means that we should seek death. Again, He’s saying that we should be willing to make any sacrifice for Him—even the sacrifice of our lives. When we exchange our will for His will (even when it means facing opposition), we demonstrate that our commitment to Him is real.
B. You will not be DISAPPOINTED in the end.
“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (vv. 36-37).
We come into this life with empty hands, and we will go out just as empty.
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).