Summary: An exploration of Jesus’ call to discipleship.
“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
Too many church members profess themselves to be a fan of Jesus; too few are followers. Despite a plethora of “God talk” among church members professing allegiance to the Master, there appears to be little obedience to His commands. Perhaps this is the natural outgrowth of the unwillingness to make commitments in contemporary society; perhaps it expresses a rebellious spirit that refuses to submit to His reign. Whatever the reason, it is high time for the professed people of God to follow Him whom they claim to love.
It was demanding to follow the Master in the early days of the Faith; it is no less demanding to follow Him today—if we follow according to His will. Unlike many who seek to “celebrate Jesus”—whatever the meaning of that phrase—the Master has never lowered the demand for total commitment in order to make following Him more palatable. Thus, there is a dramatic contrast between the call for discipleship issued among the churches in this day and the call for discipleship Jesus Himself issues. I fear that many who proclaim the Word seek to create fans of Jesus—people who seek happiness and personal comfort. The Master seeks followers—people who are committed, courageous and conscientious in service to Him.
In the churches of this day, we sing, “I can hear my Saviour calling, ‘Take thy cross and follow, follow Me’”; but if that involves giving Him reign over our will, we resist. We sing, “I’ll go with Him through the garden,” and somehow avoid praying either corporately or individually. We sing, “I’ll go with Him through the judgement,” but we demur if following entails sacrifice. “All for Jesus! All for Jesus!” we sing, but we cling tightly to the fiction of our own will.
It is Easter, and though presently the churches of our land appear to be captive to a timidity that marked the disciples following the crucifixion, I could wish that somehow we might recapture the thrill of His conquest of death and the courage that infused disheartened disciples after that first Easter. The disciples were dispirited, intimidated into silence, cowed by the religious and civil leaders. Huddled in gloomy enclaves, they silently grieved at His absence. Some of the women who had followed Him vowed to honour His body by providing the funerary rituals expected in that society. Talking in hushed whispers, they wondered who would roll back the massive stone—a stone weighing a tonne or more—so they could fulfil their task.
When they arrived at the tomb, they were astonished to see that the stone was rolled back. Creeping closer, they peered into the dark recess and were startled to see a young man clothed in white sitting on the right side of the tomb. He calmed their racing hearts, addressing their unspoken question, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” [MARK 16:6, 7].
Breathless from running all the way from the tomb, the women entered the room where the disciples had hidden themselves. Intimidated by the threats of religious and civic leaders, the once-bold disciples spoke in hushed tones and sat in gloomy dimness, shielding themselves from prying eyes. Barely able to speak in their astonishment, the women blurted out that the tomb was empty—the Master was not there! The announcement couldn’t be absorbed; startled looks painted the faces of the doubting disciples. Seeming to wake from their astonishment, Peter and John did not wait to hear all that was being said. Rushing out the door, the two men sprinted through the narrow streets, all the while wondering what this could mean even as they raced toward the tomb. As the tomb hove into view, it was apparent that the report the women had brought was accurate—the stone was indeed rolled back from the opening.
John hesitated at the entrance to the tomb, stooping to peer into the darkness; but Peter pushed past him and rushed into the tomb. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he saw the linen cloths collapsed inward on themselves. At almost the same time, he noticed the face cloth folded neatly and laid aside as though the Master had wakened after a restful sleep. Emboldened by Peter’s brash rush into the tomb, John also went in and saw all that Peter had seen. Though they saw all this and believed, they still could not understand—their minds were overwhelmed by information that defied human understanding.