Summary: Are you comfortable in being a follower of Christ? Countless Christians around the world face intense persecution for being followers of Jesus, but they're not alone. We share in the struggles of being a Christian. Why is that? Listen to Jesus' call to deny yourself and follow him.
Each year, a Christian organization called “Open Doors” publishes a list of the top 50 countries where Christians are most intensely persecuted for their faith. Physical violence, death threats, execution, imprisonment, rape, neglect, burning of homes, bombing of churches, abandoned by family, loss of jobs and homes, public humiliation and torture are the stories of Christians living in those countries. According to the statistics, there are 245 million Christians in the world that experience a high level of persecution. During the last year, within just those 50 countries on the “watch list” over 4,000 Christians were killed for their faith, that’s 11 Christians every day, and nearly 1,300 buildings associated with Christianity were destroyed. The list and the stories of those Christians who live in these countries is a sobering reminder of the number of Christians around the world that are daily threatened for no other reason than that the are a follower of Christ Jesus.
As I looked at the list and heard the stories, I couldn’t help but appreciate what I so often take for granted – the relative peace that we experience when it comes to living as Christians. Thank God for that unique blessing – that at this time we can come to worship, own a Bible, talk to others about what we believe about Jesus without the fear of being arrested, imprisoned or executed. When we look at those things, we might say that for us, being a follower of Christ is rather comfortable. But is comfortable what Jesus told Christians to expect? Does comfortable ever really describe the Christian’s life in this world? This morning, Jesus gives us a big dose of reality when it comes to what we should expect as his followers. You heard it in the conversation that Jesus had with his 12 disciples.
Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. Peter spoke on behalf of the disciples and simply says, “God’s Messiah” (Luke 9:20). Peter rightly identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, God’s promised and chosen one sent into the world to make people right with God. Jesus then expands on that thought. Certainly, those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah will want to follow him, right? But then Jesus explains what being the Messiah would mean for him and for his followers. Jesus says, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law and must be killed and on the third be raised to life” (Luke 9:22). And for those who follow Jesus, what should they expect? Nothing different than the one they follow. Jesus explains, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). With those words Jesus pretty much bursts the bubble of anyone who thinks that being a follower of Jesus is going to be comfortable or easy. And there are two words that I want you to focus on this morning as we talk about the struggles that come from being a disciple and follower of Jesus. They are the words “daily” and “deny.”
That word “daily” is a hard one to swallow, isn’t it? The struggles that Jesus says are going to accompany being one of his followers are gong to be “daily.” There is no time off or vacations from the struggles that come from being an active follower of Christ. Yes, the struggles may come in all different shapes and sizes, sometimes they are more intense and visible, and other times might go completely unnoticed by those around you. The reason that the struggle is daily is because of the source of that struggle. The struggle comes from “denying” yourself.
Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves…” Maybe the first question to ask is, “What’s so bad or dangerous about ourselves that it needs to be denied?” After all, the world around us continually tells us that we need to BE ourselves, that we should follow our hearts, that if it FEELS good that it IS good. “Don’t deny yourself, satisfy yourself!” is the mantra of our society. But the Bible paints a vastly different picture of ourselves by nature, a picture that more accurately and honestly reflects the world we live in. the Bible says, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). The sinful flesh that every person is born with and will possess until the day that we die wants to silence God, push him to the back and say, “I’m the one in charge. I can’t trust you. I know what’s best for me, and I’ll do what I want.” The sinful flesh only leads a person down the road of selfishness, exploitation, hopelessness, destruction of self and others.