Summary: Jesus calls us not just to live differently, but to die to ourselves and to regard our lives as not our own
Intro: I recently ran across a quote from Richard Wurmbrand, a preacher who spent many years in prison under Rumanian communists because of his testimony for Jesus. Wurmbrand says he was trying to explain systematic theology to a Russian preacher of the underground church – a man who had never even seen a whole NT. So, he began telling him the teaching about the Godhead, the Fall, salvation, the church, and other subjects of theology. He listened attentively, and then he asked a most surprising question: “Have those who thought out these theological systems and wrote them down in such perfect order ever carried a cross?” He went on. “A man cannot think systematically even when he has a bad toothache. How can a man who is carrying a cross think systematically?” He pointed out that Jesus wasn’t overly systematic as He died on the cross. And he ended by saying, “I have the impression that you were only repeating, without much conviction, what others have taught you.”
I hope, today, as we talk about losing your life, that the impression I leave will be a different one. I’m convinced we need to hear this, and I want us to learn from what Jesus said.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.
So, you wanna follow Jesus? You sure? What if I told you it means you might have to give up some things?
Yeah, deny myself some things. I can handle that.
That’s what the season of Lent, leading up to Easter time, is all about. Some people, in an effort to demonstrate their allegiance to Jesus, deny themselves of something. “What are you giving up for Lent?” someone will ask. I have given up boiled cabbage and beets for Lent.
So, if anyone is of a mind to follow Jesus, he has to be willing to deny himself some things.
That’s OK. I’ve been doing that and having that done for me for my whole life! It started with my parents. They said I couldn’t have some things. They weren’t made of money, there were starving children in India, and just because the neighbor kids had it didn’t mean I had to. So, I found that I could be denied of things. I have also learned that my income limits my ability to have things. Although there are plenty of banks who would love to offer me credit, at some point, they’re going to say that’s the limit and deny me of things. Then there’s the government. They say I can’t have certain things too. But it’s not just what’s imposed on me. It’s also what I choose to deny myself – I didn’t take a 3rd dessert at lunch yesterday. I didn’t feel like getting up yesterday morning, but I denied myself more time in bed. Through the years I have denied myself a lot of things. I’m a parent, after all. Hey, I can deny myself things.
Wait, that’s not what it says, is it? Go back to the text. What did Jesus say?
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Deny myself. Remember how Peter denied Jesus? “Aren’t you one of His?” “No, I don’t even know the man!”
Deny myself. It doesn’t mean I’ll just do without. It means I don’t even recognize me.
Deny myself means I say no to me – to my hopes and plans and ambitions, my likes and dislikes, to everything I hold dear, all for the sake of following after Jesus.
To show just how complete discipleship is, Jesus adds that you have to take up your cross and follow Him. Luke includes the word “daily” at this point.
Capital punishment isn’t practiced as openly today as it was 1-200 years ago. It’s also not nearly as swift. Typically, a person may spend years on death row before they’re executed. And right up until the last minute, there’s always the possibility of a delay or pardon of some kind. I’ve read that in 1st century Rome, for the person who was condemned to die on a cross, there was a similar potential for a pardon, until they took up their cross. That was the point of no return. The guilty person would have the cross-piece – the patibulum – laid across his shoulders, and from there he had no worldly hope whatsoever. Then he would begin the long walk to the place where he would be hung on that cross until he died.