Summary: Jesus calls his people to discipleship--the daunting response to his love of denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Jesus.
Matthew 16:21-28 “Disciples of Christ”
People say shocking things at times.
• The famous evangelist, Billy Graham, was shocked at the language used by President Richard Nixon on the infamous “White House Tapes.” Rev Graham had believed that that Nixon was a strong Quaker Christian, who would never use foul language.
• The fans of Mel Gibson, who produced and directed the movie, “The Passion of Christ,” were shocked when he uttered a series of anti-Semitic slurs, at the time he was arrested for DUI.
• As a teenager, I had two vocabularies. One vocabulary I used in school in order to be considered kewl and the other vocabulary I used at home. I remember how shocked my mother was when I let a few words from my school vocabulary slip out at home. I also remember the pain of the punishment.
Jesus’ words to the disciples, after Peter had identified him as the Christ, the Son of God, shocked them to the very core of their beings. Jesus told them that the Son of God had to suffer and die, but he would be raised again. He also told the disciples that in order to be a true follower of him people had to deny themselves and take of their cross. The word he used was “crossbearer,” which at that time was the filthiest name a person could call another. There was to be no glory in discipleship. These were not only shocking words, but they were also life-changing words.
The truth began to dawn on the disciples, that the Christian life was more than power demonstrated in casting out demons and healing the sick. The Christian life was more than comfort—enjoying the feeding of the 5,000 or the stilling of the storm.
THE DAUNTING CHALLENGE
We know that as Christians we are called to follow the example of Jesus. We strive to do this—up to a point. We attempted to love others, even our enemies. We try to allow the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self- control, to be a part of our lives. When it comes to imitating Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice, most of us draw the line.
• Jesus calls us to deny ourselves—to be willing to give up our dreams, desires, rights, and privileges. We place these treasures on the altar and offer them to God to do with as he chooses.
• We are called by Jesus to take up our cross. This is much more than a physical ailment or an obnoxious person of whom we can’t get rid ourselves. The cross is a symbol of sacrifice; a willingness to pay the price and to do whatever needs to be done in order to accomplish God’s will.
• We are called to lose our lives; to let go of our self-centeredness and control and release ourselves into God’s hands.
This is a depth of faith that is far beyond my present walk. I might achieve this level of commitment for a few seconds each day, but once I get out of bed it’s gone. The best that I can do is offer a humiliating compromise—“Lord, I’ll try to give you my all, but don’t make me give up too much or to be too uncomfortable.”
MISSING THE TARGET
It is tempting to despair—to give up, because we will never truly answer Jesus’ call to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. I take a small amount of comfort in the fact that the disciples failed miserably at denying themselves and taking up their cross, too.
• Peter denied Jesus when he felt threatened. As a leader of the early church, he was rightfully accused of treating the Jewish Christians better than the gentile Christians.
• The other disciples ran for their lives when Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified. A few days later they were found huddled in a second story room.
• Even the greatest saints of the church failed to fully answered Jesus’ call upon their lives.
• Certainly such a call to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus is contrary to mainstream Christianity in the United States. People, who identify themselves as Christian, flock to congregations where the pastor tells them that God wants them to be happy, successful and comfortable.
The disciples may not have answered the call of Jesus to the extent that either they or Jesus would have wanted. Still, they continued to seek to live out their faith and be as truthful to God’s call as they could be. Their lives give us clues as to how we can live out our lives as disciples of Jesus.
• We can hear Jesus’ call to discipleship and offer our lives every day as a living sacrifice. We respond to that call for the same reason that the disciples did—Jesus’ love. God’s love motivates us to discipleship.