Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Road to Discipleship Part 2 - Take Up Your Cross

Today we are continuing on to the second step of discipleship.  To review, let us look at the verse that is the foundation for this series.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."  Matthew 16:24 NKJV
Yesterday we discussed denying ourselves, today we will talk about taking up our crosses.  Note that Jesus said this before he actually went to the cross.  He was prophesying His own death on the cross as an example to us.  But what example is that?  Is Jesus telling us that we should literally carry around a big wooden cross?  Is He saying we all should be martyred as he was?  Some unfortunate people take this quite literally and whip and crucify themselves as some show of obedience.  Those are unfortunate and misguided as Jesus did not mean for us to literally carry crosses around.  We find the real meaning behind what he is saying in his prayer in Gethsemane.
And He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will."  Mark 14:36 NKJV
The cup Jesus was referring to was the beating, humiliation, whipping, and crucifixion that he was about to endure.  More than that, Jesus foresaw what it would be to become the all the sin of all of humanity and even if for a moment to be forsaken by His Father.  We see a perfect example of Jesus first denying Himself in that He had no real desire to be crucified.  Please do not get me wrong, Jesus wanted to save us, He wanted to take the penalty of our sins, and He wanted the fellowship that was to come, but He did not want to be crucified.  Who would really.  It was a terribly painful miserable way to die.  It was extreme torture followed by slow agonizing death.  He was not looking forward to that experience.  I am not saying that Jesus denied Himself in terms of denying who He was, what He denied was His desire to not go through the pain He was about to go through.  Once that desire was denied, he was able to say those glorious words "nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will."  May we have that same heart.  Taking up our cross means submitting to God no matter what that means.  For Jesus, it meant crucifixion.  For many before us and even many of us today it means martyrdom.  For some it means forsaking your safe warm home here in America and traveling to a harsh land facing death, rejection, and hardship wherever you go for the sake of the Gospel.  For some it means giving up a lucrative career and pastoring a small fledgling church.  For some it means giving up all we have to lead a small church of solid believers.  For many it is not that extreme.  It may mean giving up nights of sinful fun for nights of handing out Gospel tracts at the shore.  Too many of our brethren seem to think it only means giving up an hour or two on Sunday mornings to be sit through a sermon and sing to some worship songs. 

Again, taking up our cross means absolute submission to God's will for our lives.  It sounds like a hard calling, for some it may sound impossible.  Perhaps you are thinking that Jesus was able to do it because He was also fully God.  How are we are mere mortals to live in such a way?  Getting past the obvious of the many Christians who have paid the ultimate price before us (I recommend reading "Foxe's Book or Martyrs" if you still need convincing or subscribe to the Voice of the Martyrs website for some modern day examples.)  In the Bible, we have the example of Stephen who submitted to his stoning, even forgiving his executioners.  We have Paul who was beaten, whipped, shipwrecked, imprisoned, stoned, and ultimately executed.  History and God's word has shown us that even if God calls you to make the ultimate sacrifice, He will give you the strength to get through it.  We must all, like our Lord, deny ourselves and say "nevertheless not what I will, but what You will."  Or if you want a mere mortal, let us take the example of a poor teenage girl. Let us look at the example of Mary.
Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible." Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.  Luke 1:30-38 NKJV
This is a great picture of submitting to God and why denying ourselves is so very important.  Mary was given some amazing but also startling news.  She was going to be the mother of the Messiah, but that son was not going to come through Joseph her betrothed.  She was told that she was going to have a child not of her husband to be and was going to be pregnant before she was even married.  That is sadly commonplace in this day and age, but back then that was beyond scandalous.  In fact, if thought to be an adulterer, the law called for her death.  She was faced with the wonderful news and bearing the child of God, but she was also faced with the reality of having to overcome the scandal that was sure to follow.  If she was more concerned about herself, she would have argued, she would have complained, and she may have even tried to refuse.  That is if she did not deny herself.  When you deny yourself, as Mary did, those consequences to yourself are not really of concern.  This is why we must first deny our self as it gives us the freedom to submit to God no matter what He asks.  She denied herself and trusted God that, no matter the consequences, He knew what He was doing.  She first denied herself, which freed her to say those words that we should all have stamped on our hearts "Let it be to me according to your word."  And you know what, God took care of the consequences.  That same angel went and visited Joseph after he learned of Mary's pregnancy to clear things up with him.  Mary submitted herself to God no matter what that meant and God took Mary through what must have started to look like a pretty big scandal.  Now sometimes we do face the consequences of our obedience, but God will get us through .  Some of us may even be called on day to make the ultimate price, and even then God will take us through and give us the strength.  As you take up your cross, you will realize that the work is easy and that the burden really is light.  That is because when we submit to God, we are working not in our own strength but in God's.  We will also be doing what we were created to do.  I can not say it enough: When you were doing what you were created for, there can be no greater contentment and joy.

We begin with denying ourselves and then we are free to submit to God no matter what.  Tomorrow we will address the final step when we are following Jesus.  Today's message flows right into tomorrow's just like yesterday's did into today's.  We saw today that denying ourselves is absolutely necessary to be able to take up our cross.  We must deny ourselves to free ourselves to submit to God no matter where that may take us.  God may ask us to do some scary and dangerous things, God may ask us to do some sacrificial things, and God may ask us to even give up our lives for Him.  To be able to absolutely submit to His will in any of those areas, we must first deny ourselves.  If we are too busy worrying our our own desires, we will not be able to only focus on God's desires for us.  If we are only concerned about what may happen to us, we will be too busy to submit to what God wants to do through us.  And so we have it, we first must deny ourselves, which gives us the freedom to submit to God.  Once we are in submission to God, as we will see tomorrow, we will be following Jesus.  
But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.  Romans 6:17-18 NKJV

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