Picking Up Your Cross
Glenville 2/3/2013 Esther 4:1-16 Mark 8:34-38
We are in week 5 of our Insanity For Christ series. We have looked at Who Is God--Why Jesus, Who Am I-- Why Am I Here, What’s The Cost, Fanatic or Fair Weather Fan and today we look at Picking Up Your Cross. Let me ask you something, have you ever pretended to be a part of a group or of something, but you knew inside that you were just trying to pass yourself off as one of them. You knew all along who you were, but those around you couldn’t tell.
One person who did a brilliant job of passing herself off as something she was not in the bible, is Esther. Esther was an orphan. Her mother and her father had both died. She had an older cousin by the name of Mordecai, who took Esther and raised her as his own daughter. But then the nation was conquered by another country and Mordecai and Esther were carried away from their country into this foreign nation. You can read the story in the book of Esther, but through a series of events, this foreign immigrant becomes the queen of the empire. Mordecai had told her not to let anybody know that she was a Jew. He wanted her to pass herself off as one of the people from the country.
Esther had everything going her way. As the queen, she knew the best standard of living with the finest of everything life had to offer in the empire. Then came that day in which Esther was going to have to come clean as to who she was, because a law went forward that all the Jews in the kingdom were to be destroyed. The person who pushed for the law had no idea that the queen was a Jew. Only Mordecai knew that Esther was a Jew.
Mordecai told her, go in and plead for the life of your people to the King. Esther said, “I would if I could, but I can’t.” I have to wait for the king to call on me. If I go in to him, I could lose my head. That’s the rule. Mordecai said, “it’s a risk you need to take. Maybe the reason you are the queen is to be able to help us out. If you don’t rise up, don’t think your position will save you. Somebody else will be chosen to save us.”
Esther said, “There is one chance. If the king reaches out his scepter when I enter his presence, I won’t be killed. So fast and pray for me for three days. After that, I will go and see the king. If I perish, I perish.” Esther made the decision to throw in her fate, with the fate of her people. She chose to risk losing everything in order to find something much more significant. She did not really know what was going to happen if she followed Mordecai’s advice.
All of us are here are following somebody or something. The question is, who or what or we following. Some of us are following after a dream. What we do is based on us trying to get that dream fulfilled. It may be obtaining a cell phone, a new Mercedes, a college degree, or a boyfriend or wife. It could be trying to look like a certain person, sing like a certain person, or live like a certain person. It affects the decisions that we make. Who or what we follow determines our behavior and it also determines our destination? Sometimes we might get everything we seek and then be challenged to let it go. It’s easy to talk about “I do love God.” When in fact all we mean is that “I want to go to heaven when I die.”
Jesus recognizes more than anyone else, that everybody is following somebody or something. He ran into a guy that was following his money. He ran into a woman that was following after men. He ran into a guy that was following traditions. He ran into some guys who were following after careers. He gave them all the same message, “come follow me.”
In our reading today, we find the words “Whoever wants to be my disciple, must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Now Jesus does not discriminate against anybody. Whoever includes anybody and everybody. It covers age, sex, status, orientation, sin condition, education, race and community standing.
It is an option and not a command. The person has to choose to want to be a disciple of Jesus. If you do not choose Jesus, it does not deny the reality of Jesus or the truth of Jesus, you simply put yourself outside of Jesus’s promises. So if you are a whoever and you have a desire to become a disciple which is a follower of Jesus, then here is what you must do.
Following Jesus is not about everybody having their own opinion. You can have your own opinion, but there is no debate over whether or not Jesus is going to be in charge. Jesus uses some very strong language. In the NIV instead of saying whoever wants to be my disciple, it says “ if anyone would come after me. The words “wants to be” or “come after” in the NIV is actually a phrase in the context of a romantic relationship. Our pursuit of Jesus has to be more than a, “well that’s kind of interesting.”
You know what it’s like when you fall in love with someone. You change your thinking, you change your actions, and you even change you. To some people you look as though you have lost your mind.
To want to come after Jesus is to have the desire to pursue a close relationship with him. We all know when you pursue after someone you have fallen in love with, the pursuit has to be single minded. It would be insane to be pursuing three different girls or guys at the same time if your motive was true love. It’s insane to think you can pursue Jesus and be just as committed to other pursuits at the same time. Jesus discourages us from even attempting it by telling us there are three things you must do.
He uses the term must. He says there are three things you must do to become one of his disciples. The desire for Jesus is never enough. If you desire a relationship with a guy or girl but never take action, its questionable just how strong your desire was if both of you are available. After you have the desire to follow Jesus there is something concrete which needs to take place.
The first is to deny ourselves. When we first here this, we are thinking, oh no Jesus wants me to stop doing such and such. That may be true, but the idea here is much deeper. The thought is recognizing that you no longer exist. You are actually turning yourself over to the authority of another.
When you say something like , the Lord Jesus Christ. You are not saying “Mr. Jesus Christ.” The word for Lord, literally means Master as in a master/slave relationship. To be a disciple of Jesus is to recognize his complete ownership over every area of your life in the way a master is over his slave. Slaves give up what they had when they become slaves.
Esther came to a crossroad in her life in which following God’s will meant giving up her wonderful lifestyle. From a worldly point of view, she had it all. But to risk giving it up, with no guarantees of what is going to happen in the future.
Remember I told you that Esther was passing for something she wasn’t. Some of us have admitted to trying to pass. Isn’t it funny that we have non-believers trying to pass themselves off as Christians, but what is even weirder is that we have Christians trying to pass themselves off as non-believers. Jesus doesn’t like it when we’re trying to pass. That’s why he speaks of denying ourselves.
Denying ourselves is bigger than I’m not going to watch that program anymore. Denying ourselves is the positive step of choosing Jesus. I choose Jesus. I choose Jesus over my boyfriend. I choose Jesus over my family. I choose Jesus over my money. I choose Jesus over my career. I choose Jesus over looking at porn. I choose Jesus over spending my money there. I choose Jesus over what others think about me. I choose Jesus over what I think is going to make me feel good tonight.
A disciple makes the decision every day to deny himself or her herself and choose Jesus even if it costs everything with no guarantees. That’s not a comfortable place to be. We have to keep in mind, our purpose is to prepare us not for comfort in this life, but to prepare us for the life to come.
There is no exception clause to what we must be willing to deny ourselves of. You’re either with Jesus all the way, or you’re just trying to pass.
The next must thing is to pick up their cross. For us ,the cross is a beautiful silver, golden or wooded object that we wear on our ears, our clothing, our bracelets and our necklaces. Some of us are afraid to wear the cross because it would keep us from passing in certain circles. But the image of the cross that these people heard when Jesus spoke these words were quite different.
The image they would see would be a bloody mess. They would see themselves as having been beaten with a whip, and then told to pick up these wooden beams and carry them to the place where they would be nailed to the beams. Why on earth would Jesus say such a thing?
Has Jesus lost his mind? Jesus is inviting you to not only deny your existence, but He is also giving you the opportunity to attend your own funeral. He’s saying come choose to die. In today’s translation it would be “ let them deny themselves, and voluntarily get in the electric chair.” That’s how they would hear, pick up their cross. The cross was a symbol of humiliation. It was a statement that a person had no power and is nothing. It was the symbol of suffering. You were beaten almost to death, before being crucified. To take up your cross and follow Jesus will bring you some pain and suffering. Jesus wants you to know that up front. He knows not everyone is tough enough or strong enough to be one of His disciples.
We looked down on all the fair weather fans that left Jesus last week after they said, his statements were difficult to accept. Man of them turned away from him. Is it possible that they had a better understanding of what it meant to be his disciple than we do?
Were they more honest in that they made their decision knowing they would not pay the cost? Many of us still do not understand denying ourselves and pickup up our cross. We actually think we can follow Jesus on our own terms, with a minimum change and sacrifice. God is thrilled that we simply want to be on God’s team. The whole point of us dying is so that Jesus can actually live in and through us.
At some point, everybody confronts the issue of whether they will deny themselves and pick up their cross or not. Most of us don’t mind Jesus making some minor change in our lives, but Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. We’re thinking if I give Jesus 2 hours a week in church, I’ve done my Christian thing. Jesus is thinking my claim on your life is 24/7 and frankly I don’t like where a lot of your time is going. You are running out of it and don’t even know it.
Some times we don’t mind Jesus doing a little touch-up work, but Jesus wants complete renovation. We’re thinking if I just be careful with not cussing every once in a while I’ll be doing okay. Jesus is thinking your once in a while in a while cuss is not your only problem with your mouth. I want you to stop gossiping, I want an end to you talking down to people and making fun of people. I want you to stop turning people against each other by saying things you ought not to say. I want complete control over your tongue.
Some people come to Jesus thinking tune-up, but Jesus is thinking overhaul. We’re thinking I’m not really that bad of a person. If Jesus would just help me cut back on my drinking or how much I’m spending on weed, or help me to cut down on the amount of time I spend on some shows, I’ll be happy. Jesus is thinking, I am to be the Lord of your life. Let go completely of this stuff that’s keeping you from being surrendered to me. That person needs to be out of your life today. That circle of friends is destroying my plans for you. That program keeps your mind from focusing on things that are pure and praise worthy.
Some people think a little decorating is all that’s required. We allow Jesus to work in the living room in our lives and maybe even in the dining room. But we will not allow any changes in the bedroom, the closets or the basement of our lives.
But Jesus wants a wants a complete remodeling. He says, we are turning on the lights in every room, and we are cleaning house and repainting. Some of the closets are going to have the doors taken off so that everybody can see what’s in there at all times. We are going to throw away some of the music you have regardless of the price paid for it. By the way, how did you spend more for this music than you put in the offering.
Too many people simply want Jesus to inspire them. Give us messages that tell us how we can believe and achieve. Tell us how God wants to bless us. Preach on how to be happy. Give us more motivational stories. Show us miracles that we can tell others about. But Jesus wants to interfere with our lives. He is literally trying to kill us and wants us to help him out in the process.
There is no such thing as giving your life to Jesus and still living the same way you use to live. If you’re thinking, there’s nothing I need to change, it’s only because you do not realize how far away you really are from giving God your all. God put it this way, these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
Some of you have already said, no thanks Pastor Rick. I’m not going to be a disciple. Some of you are struggling with the cost. But for those who have gotten past denying yourself, and picking up your cross, the final leg is to follow Jesus. The biggest problems with following Jesus is you don’t know where he’s going to take you, how long you’re going to be there, who you’re going to have to deal with, and when you’re going to have to leave.
Do you understand now why we have to walk by faith and not by sight. All the time we are following Jesus, we’re supposed to still be carrying this cross ready to die at any moment so that Jesus can shine through. Do you understand why there are so few disciples in the church today? We know how many members we have at Glenville, but how many disciples do we have.
Disciples have to say “okay Jesus wherever you lead me I’m willing to go. Whenever you want me to do it, I’m willing to do it. Whatever it is you have in the plan for me today, I’m saying yes.” Wherever, Whenever, and Whatever is a lot of what it means to pick up your cross and follow Jesus.
Jesus did not go running after those who turned away. It’s interesting that in the gospels, Jesus says “believe in me” about five times. He says “follow me” about 20 times. To believe Jesus is to follow Jesus. We like to try to pick and choose our belief system. But Jesus is not asking us to put our faith in a system. He’s saying be a fanatic and put all your hope and trust in me.
There is no forgiveness without genuine repentance. You demonstrate repentance not by the amount of tears you shed in service, but by the steps you take when the service is over. There is no salvation without surrender. You cannot say I accept you as my Lord, and then live as though you are the master. There is no life without death. If you insisting on trying to live as you please, you will never experience eternal life.
There is no believing without committing. So many people put their trust in simply saying, well the Lord knows my heart. Jesus knows all of our hearts better than we do. He knows when we refuse to give him first place in our lives. He’s not interested in serving somewhere down the line in our list of priorities.
One thing we all have in common is that we have one less hour to live than we did an hour ago. That means we all moved closer to our day of death, but even more importantly we moved closer to standing in the presence of God to give an account for the decisions that we are making today.
Are you dying enough to demonstrate that you have decided to follow Jesus? Do you have your cross with you, or have you laid it down in a safe place somewhere to keep from having to die to yourself.? If you’re not choosing to follow Jesus, who are you following and are you confident it’s leading you where you want to go. If you’re not picking up your cross for Jesus, who or what are you giving your life to.
** A few of the ideas in this message came from the book “Not A Fan” by Kyle Idleman