Posts Tagged ‘Christian discipleship’

When you read the Gospels there are two things that stand out in how they present Jesus to us. First, Jesus is supremely giving. He is full of compassion and love. You constantly see his concern and care for people as he serves and blesses others; as he teaches, heals and delivers.

Second, Jesus is clearly demanding. He speaks the truth with clarity; he speaks radically and absolutely in terms of what God requires. He makes bold claims on every part of everyone’s lives.

This is an interesting mix of qualities – he is fully giving and he is fully demanding. Sometimes we get ourselves in trouble and misunderstand and distort Jesus when we emphasize just the one side or the other – Jesus is only giving or Jesus is only demanding. But Jesus is both, at the same time. This is who Jesus is. He is fully giving and at the same time he is fully demanding.

I want us to look at this and we begin with –

What Jesus gives

1. He gives freedom from our old lives. This includes forgiveness for our sins – all the self-centered, hurtful and even shameful things that we have done. Through his death on the cross Jesus provides for our forgiveness. As he said in Matthew 26:28, “my blood . . . is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Our sins can all be wiped away! We can be clean and pure! We can leave our shameful past behind!

Freedom from our past also includes deliverance. Jesus sets us free from all the powers of Sin and Satan and anything that would seek to keep us back in our old lives and away from God. As he said in John 8:34, 36, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.  . . . (But) if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Jesus frees us from our old lives so that we can start fresh with a new beginning.

2. He gives us new life – even now. Jesus said in John 7:37-39, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit . . ..” The Spirit is the life, power and presence of God. Jesus gives us the Spirit so that we can have new life.

We only have to ask, as he said in Luke 11:13, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

And we are not just made new within:

  • He gives us a new identity and purpose. We are now followers of Jesus, who are gifted to serve him (Matthew 25:14-30).
  • He gives us a new community, the church, which is his new family (Mark 3:34-35). A community where we love, care for and support each other.

Jesus gives us the gift of new life.

3. He gives us life in the age to come. Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” He gives us the gift of eternal life with him in the kingdom of God forever.

Jesus is full of love and compassion. And gives us everything that is good; he gives us new life.

Now we look at –

What Jesus demands

1. He demands our total allegiance. “Jesus said to them, ‘. . . who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’” – Matthew 16:15-16. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, the one anointed by God to rule and have all authority.

And Jesus wants all of us to acknowledge him as the Messiah. As he said in Matthew 10:32, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven . . ..” If we acknowledge him now as the true Lord over all, he will acknowledge us then before the Father on the final day.

Jesus demands our full and complete allegiance to him as Lord of all.

2. He demands our total obedience. We are to do God’s will just as Jesus teaches us what this is. As he often said, “You have heard that it was said, that is by Moses, but I say to you.” (Matthew 5). And he also said in Matthew 23:1, “You have one instructor, the Messiah.” Jesus guides us into God’s perfect will.

By way of summary he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” -Matthew 22:37-39. We are to love God and love and serve others.

Here a just a few specific examples:

  • only worship God – Matthew 6:24
  • love your enemies  – Matthew 5:43-48
  • remain faithful in marriage – Matthew 19:3-9
  • be generous with the poor – Luke 12:13-34
  • don’t condemn others as beyond God’s mercy – Luke 6:37-38
  • accept social lowliness – Luke 14:11
  • serve God in the work of the kingdom – Matthew 25:14-30

We are to give our complete and total obedience to Jesus.

3. He demands that we put him above all else. Our allegiance and obedience to him is to be above even what we give to our family. Jesus said in Matthew 10:37, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

And our allegiance and obedience to him is to be above even regard for our own lives. As Jesus said in Mark 8:34, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” To take up a cross is to die.

As we saw before, Jesus gives everything, but as we see here, Jesus also demands everything.

Several observations before I give you a chance to respond. First, notice how –

This is a summary of the whole message of Jesus

Mark 1:15 tells us that Jesus preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” “The kingdom of God” is a way of talking about God’s coming salvation.  Jesus is saying that it has begun; the time is fulfilled. The kingdom then, is what Jesus gives – freedom from our old lives, new life now, and life everlasting in the resurrection.

To “repent” is to have a change of heart and mind that leads you to do God’s will from now on. This then, is what Jesus demands – our total allegiance, our total obedience, and our putting him above all else. What Jesus gives and what Jesus demands summarizes the message of Jesus to us.

Notice also that –

This explains the place of Jesus’ cross and also our cross

Jesus said in Mark 8:31, “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be . . . killed” speaking of his cross. Jesus’ cross is what provides all that Jesus gives us – freedom from our past, new life now and the resurrection

But Jesus also said in Mark 8:34, “take up (your) cross and follow me.” Our cross is all that Jesus demands from us – our total allegiance and obedience to him above all else.

And then finally,

Mark 8:35 brings this all together

– and shows the relationship between what Jesus gives and what Jesus demands. “For whoever would save his life will lose it . . .” If we refuse Jesus’ demands, we will lose our lives in the coming judgment of this world and its evil.

“ . . . but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” If we lose our lives, that is, give Jesus all that he demands, which is everything, then we will save our lives. We will receive all that Jesus has come to give us.

Where do you stand this morning in relation to what Jesus gives? Have you received his gifts to you? Where do you stand in relation to what Jesus demands? Have you given him everything?

William Higgins

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[An earlier version of this message was preached in May 2004 in a Church of God congregation in Zurich, Switzerland.]

I want to talk to you about what it means for us to take up our cross and encourage you in your practice of this. Turn in your Bibles to Mark 8:34-35 – Jesus said,

“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.”

First of all, there are a couple of misconceptions about what it means for us to take up our cross that falsely limit its application in our lives. The truth is that –

To take up your cross will affect every part of your life

Let’s look at these misconceptions. Some people say that taking up the cross is a only an inner, spiritual experience, something that takes place in our hearts – an inner cross where we die to our selfish desires.

Well, there is some truth in this, for there is something called an inner cross. For instance Jesus had to struggle within at Gethsemane in prayer, when he prayed, “not my will, but yours be done.” He had to deny himself and put God’s will first.

But it wasn’t just about his inner attitudes. Because after Gethsemane came Golgotha. No, Jesus had to take up his cross with real life actions – his suffering and death on the cross.

Yes, the cross has to do with what goes on within you, but it is also about your outward behavior. For if you die to your desires within this will show up in cruciform behavior and actions without. As Jesus said, a “tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). What is within your heart, is what will come out in your deeds.

Some people say that taking up the cross is only about suffering persecution, so that it only applies to a particular part of our lives, when we suffer for our faith.

Well the cross certainly does refer to persecution and followers of Jesus must literally suffer and do at times literally give up their lives.

But Jesus himself connects his call to take up the cross in Mark 8 with self-denial, something we are to practice in everyday life. Also in Luke 14 he connects the cross to something as practical as surrendering our earthly wealth to God. No, the cross has to do with all that we do in this world as followers of Jesus. Suffering for sure, but also helping a neighbor, doing ministry, serving someone a meal, etc..

Now I want you to get a sense of what it looks like to take up your cross. I want us to look at the –

The cruciform pattern of Jesus

 Paul talks about this in Philippians 2:5-11 and I want us to read this.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

There is in these verses a “cruciform pattern” to Jesus’ life – in two stages:

First of all, there is a downward movement. Jesus lowered himself. And he did this in two steps:

First, Jesus became a servant. Though he was at the highest place in all of creation, he lowered himself to serve the needs of others. He denied himself, he lost his life by setting aside his place, his privileges and his prestige in order to lower himself to serve. He did this as he healed others, taught, set people free, loved them, and in general gave of himself to others.

But not only did Jesus serve, when his humble service was rejected he lowered himself even further. Jesus endured suffering and death. In this case his self- denial led to the literal loss of his life as he sacrificed himself on the cross for others.

Then, there is an upward movement. When he was as low as one can go, Jesus waited upon God and God raised him up. God raised him from the dead and seated him at the highest place in all of creation – at his own right hand. He was blessed and honored.

So this cruciform pattern has two stages – a lowering stage and a raising stage.

Now let’s look at –

How this works out in our lives

We are to live out this cruciform pattern. As Paul says, “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” – 2:5. It is not just about Jesus, it is about us following Jesus. “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus said.

  • We are lower ourselves to serve others’ needs, and we are to accept suffering from those who reject this. As we do this, we sacrifice and die to our life here on earth; we deny ourselves and lose our lives.
  • And then we are to wait upon God to raise us up to new life.

– This is to be the pattern in our life considered as a whole – that we lowered ourselves and then God will raise us up at the resurrection.

– And this is to be the pattern of our daily walk, as we take up our cross “daily” (Luke 9:23) and “die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:21) to ourselves, and God makes us new in our heart and actions.

This then is what it means “to take up your cross.”

But as this phrase indicates, our focus in to be on the downward movement. Jesus focused on the lowering stage. Paul said, “he made himself nothing.” The raising stage was left for God to accomplish. Jesus trusted that God would raise him up.

We too are to focus on the lowering stage – serving other’s needs and choosing to endure suffering and rejection for this. And then we trust God to raise us up from our lowliness at the right time in this life and then at the resurrection.

The downward movement is necessary. Everyone wants the second stage, right? Who doesn’t want to be raised up, to be honored, to be recognized, to be blessed?

But the first stage, the path to this – lowliness, who wants this? We want to skip right to the second stage. But you can’t have the one without the other. Without the lowliness, there is no exaltation.

In Jesus’ words in Mark 8:35, if we seek to save our lives, that is, to hold on to what we have in our earthly lives; to have earthly honor now, we will lose our lives. We have to lose our earthly life – the lowering stage – before we gain our lives, being raised up by God.

Since this is so, you can see that –

The way of the cross is not easy

It takes real humility to put others first, to lay aside your privileges, rights, status and comforts for others. And to suffer rejection and ridicule for this.

It takes real love for God and others to deny yourself and to sacrifice in this way for the needs of others day in and day out, not heroically (being noticed by others) but obscurely.

It takes also endurance. Enduring lowliness, times of despair and times of weakness. It involves waiting upon God when it doesn’t seem that he will act. Remember Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

So let me end with –

Some words of encouragement

When you feel like giving up, remember we have Jesus’ clear words of promise from Jesus that we will one day be raised up. As he said:

  • Those who are last, will be first
  • Those who humble themselves, God will raise up
  • Those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, will find life in the Kingdom of God
  • Those who lose their lives, will find their lives

And not only do we have Jesus’ words, in the midst of our lowliness we must remember the clear example of Jesus’ life. He proved his words and promises to be true through his own life and actions, because God came through for him.

He endured the greatest lowliness, despair and weakness, but God raised him up. And just as God came through for him, God will come through for you as well.

And so in the words of Galatians 6:9 – “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

William Higgins

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