Summary: Being a disciple of Jesus Christ involves a cost. The cost is the path to abundant living
Matthew 16:24-17:8 “The Cost”
Some passages in the Bible encourage. I love Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Other verses comfort such as, “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want”—Psalm 23:1. There are other places in the scriptures inspire. A verse that I often turn to is Romans 12:1, “Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable.”
Our text today, Matthew 16:24-17:8 scares the dickens out of me.
In verse 24 Jesus says, “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves.”
At the core of our being is a survival instinct. It tells us that in order to continue to live we must look out for number one. We are by nature self-centered people. What Jesus is calling us to is counter intuitive.
Self-denial is not popular in our culture. We are people of the “instant now.” If we see something that we want, we buy it. The fact that we are the country with the largest personal debt of any nation in the world bears witness to this fact. We certainly don’t deny ourselves when it comes to food. Thirty-five percent of adults in America are obese as are seventeen percent of children. If not obese, a majority of Americans are overweight.
To deny ourselves means that we must put others first. We take the focus of our attention off ourselves and place it on others. We become aware of their needs.
• We use our talents—helping a neighbor or friend move, teaching a Sunday school class, participating in the construction of a Habitat for Humanity home.
• We give our time—making meals at Feed My Starving Children, donating a week on the Mission Trip to the Navajo Evangelical Lutheran Mission.
• We share our blessings and financially support ministries that minister to the needs of others.
We discover that the secret of a full and abundant life is a life of service, but this is not an easy calling. It is challenging to live a life of service.
TAKE UP YOUR CROSS
As if denying oneself was not enough, Jesus ups the ante by calling his followers to bear their cross.
One of the goals of Roman crucifixion was to break the person before executing them. They did this by humiliation. They stripped people, flogged them, and then forced the condemned to carry their cross. It was much like digging your own grave. The idea of bearing a cross like a condemned criminal must have sent shivers down the spines of the disciples.
We have trivialized Christ’s call. People say that their chronic health condition is a cross. Parents complain that they have to bear the cross of a teenager, and the teenagers respond that they have to bear the cross of nerdy, nosy parent.
The cross demonstrated Christ’s love. There was nothing that Jesus wouldn’t do the express his love for humankind. Taking up our cross is to commit ourselves to a path of love for others that knows no bounds. Though not likely, we may even need to give up our lives for others.
The motivation for this action is found in verse 26 when Jesus asks the question, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”
TRANSFIGURED BEFORE THEM
Often the story of the transfiguration is separated from its context. We focus on this glorious experience that three of the disciples witnessed. In fact, the call to self-denial and cross bearing is intricately connected to the transfiguration. They are the path to transfiguration.
The disciples see Jesus in his glorified, heavenly body. They hear the voice of God affirming that Jesus is the beloved son and that they should listen to him. From this point on, Jesus will turn toward Jerusalem and never alter his course until the cross.
Jesus’ glory isn’t revealed to everyone. His glory is experienced by those who follow him, deny themselves and take up their crosses. In relationships with others we see Jesus’ glory. We experience Jesus’ power as we serve.
Jesus touches his disciples, in verse seven, and tells them to get up and not to be afraid. The disciples then follow Jesus back down the mountain and resume their ministry to others.
We do not know where Jesus will lead us. We want to follow Jesus, but we do not know in what ways we will need to deny ourselves, or what shape bearing our cross will take. But, we hear Jesus’ admonition get up and not to fear. Keeping our eyes on him we follow. Amen