March 8, 2015
Learning a second language is in some ways life transforming. You can enter into the lives of others in a deeper way. Rosetta Stone advertizes itself as a fast and fun way to learn a language. After reading some reviews I conclude that some find it fun and some find it helpful, but it’s rarely fast and all find it to be expensive.
When it comes to learning a language there are few shortcuts. There is a price to pay. Or to use a different expression there is a cross to bear. And in no way am I trying to cheapen the cross of Christ by using this expression.
As we consider God’s big story, we have seen that the kingdom is the mission. God is seeking to establish his kingdom reign among mankind. Christ is the means. Christ is the King who brings the good rule of God among mankind. The cross is the moment. It was on the cross that Jesus showed the heart of God in loving, humble service. In bearing our sin he opened the door into the kingdom of God for all who desire to enter in. And today we see that the cross is the model.
When we come under the good rule of God in Christ we realize that becoming like Christ our king means following in his path. There is a cost. The pathway to Christ-like transformation always involves a cross.
I. APPRAISE YOURSELF. Mk.8:34b
The question I want to raise is: Why would anyone want to follow Jesus? In fact, why did people in Jesus’ day want to follow him? What is it that Jesus has to offer?
We know that when Jesus walked this earth, there was a renewed hope that the Messiah, God’s anointed king would appear on the scene. Why were people looking for the Messiah? They were looking for the Messiah because they believed that the Messiah, the Christ would overthrow Roman occupation and reestablish the kingdom of Israel. They believed that the Messiah would be a prophet like Moses who would lead them.
Think about the things Jesus did when he began his public ministry. His teachings about God and life were so compelling that crowds gathered to hear him. He performed miracles that no one else could do. He healed the sick and lame. He restored sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. He raised people from the dead. He was able to feed thousands with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. All of this was very compelling. Jesus invited people to repent and believe the good news he was bringing about the kingdom of God, and to show their repentance by following him. And many began to follow him. They attached themselves to Jesus with varying levels of commitment. We know this because there were points along the way in which people stopped being disciples of Jesus. In Jn.6, after miraculously feeding 5,000 people Jesus began to teach using some very strong metaphors. He referred to himself as the bread of life. He spoke about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. A lot of people did not like this teaching and they stopped following Jesus. In Jn.6:66 it says, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” So what was it that Jesus was offering that made many others commit themselves to be his disciple, his apprentice, his follower? What would compel you to become a disciple of Jesus today? What would compel you to come after Jesus?
When I think about Jesus I see that Jesus spoke to the basic aspirations of people. I mean what do people really want? They want life, life at its best. Isn’t that what we strive for? We go to school so we can get a job to earn money so that we can, not just exist, but live a meaningful life that is happy. We want to make a difference in the world. We want to know that we have something meaningful to contribute to others. We want to give and receive love, acceptance, and approval. Rich and poor, young and old, all desire this kind of life.
There’s something else we aspire to. We want to be thought of as good people. We know that integrity and strong character is good. We value kindness and compassion. We teach our children to say, “Please” and “Thank you,” to share with others, and to tell the truth. And when our life is going well, we want it to last a long time.
When Jesus walked this earth and carried out his extensive ministry, he spoke about all these things. He said, “I have come that you might have life to the full.” He claimed that he could give eternal life, not just after we die, but even while we are living. In other words, Jesus said that he could give this eternal kind of life to us immediately.
He also spoke about what it means to be really good or righteous. His life was just that. Jesus was a walking book of virtues. In fact, he saw that righteousness and eternal life go hand in hand. People who receive eternal life from him find that they desire to be like him. Would you like to be like Jesus?
But Jesus also spoke to the deepest need of men and women. He said about himself, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” In other words, there are many people who think they are righteous, but, in fact, are not righteous at all. Jesus came not to call the self-righteous, but he came to call people who already recognize that while they value goodness, they have a pretty difficult time being good. In a tight spot, they are quick to tell a lie. They easily hurt those they love the most. They indulge in behaviors that they know are self defeating and destructive. In their heart of hearts they think unspeakable things. They want to appear as if they love everyone, but they find racist thoughts and feelings within themselves. They are driven by anger and quick to anger. Their desire for approval and recognition promotes selfishness and pride. They want to get revenge. In short, they recognize that they cannot seem to be the people they want to be. It’s a burden. These realities also reveal a heart that lives in opposition to God and his good ways.
The world’s religions all speak to this problem in different ways. But at the core they teach that each of us must somehow rise above our sinfulness and become good enough to merit a better life in the hereafter. If you want to go to heaven you better shape up now.
Listen to what Jesus said in Mt.11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
So Jesus called people to repent and believe the good news he was preaching. He called people to evaluate their current life in light of the life he was offering. When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman in Jn.4, he said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ’Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Jesus was referring to this eternal kind of living that only he can give.
Now if you are completely happy with your present life; if you think you are righteous enough as you are, then you will not desire Jesus. But if you recognize that your current life is not fulfilling and you see that your heart is filled with selfishness, disobedience, and pride (what the Bible calls sin) then you will want to appraise yourself in light of what Jesus is offering today. You will come to Jesus so that your life can be transformed.
II. DENY YOURSELF. Mk.8:34c
Now at the outset this doesn’t seem to be a very compelling way to find life at its best. Taking up one’s cross, living a life of self-denial, does not intuitively seem to be the pathway to fulfillment. But stay with me as we explore this.
Two weeks ago we spoke about how the cross was the moment when Jesus most clearly revealed himself as God the king come in the flesh. Jesus came to show us what living life with God is all about, and on the cross Jesus bore our sins, taking our guilt upon himself. He died in our place. After all, the Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. In other words our sinful thoughts and actions do not contribute to life, they bear the fruit of death, eventuating in hell, which is eternal separation from God. Think about it, if Jesus is the way to life with God, then our rejection of Jesus results in life apart from God. God is loving, holy and righteous. And when a loving, holy God comes into contact with a person who rejects God and his son, Jesus, that person’s experience of God is one of wrath and judgment. Who can stand in the presence of a holy God? Only someone who is holy.
On the cross, Jesus bore our guilt, dying to sin in our place. Now if the life that Jesus lives and gives is the best possible life that anyone could ever live, then it only follows that we must also die to sin so that we can enjoy new life in Christ.
Men and women, when we come to the place where we recognize that Jesus is the only One who can give us new eternal life, and we turn to Him, putting our trust, our confidence in him as our Savior from sin and death, the Bible says that we are in Christ. Our sins are forgiven and we receive the very life of Christ. If the life of Christ is mine then his death to sin is also mine. This is why Paul says that in Christ we have died to sin. If I have died to sin, I no longer want to live in sin.
But how does one no longer live in sin? Jesus says, deny yourself, take up your cross. What does that mean? When I deny myself I choose to no longer live to satisfy the selfish, sinful, destructive desires that have ruled in my life. It means I will no longer give room to pride and self in my life.
People who are married must die to themselves all the time. If not, they will always be in conflict. Or one will dominate the other. College roommates must die to themselves or there will be conflict. Anytime people are working or living closely together they must die to self. I do not have to have my own way. But no one can do this alone. Only Christ can enable us to die to ourselves through his transforming work in our lives. This is what Jesus means by taking his yoke upon us. We live our lives with him, turning away from sin and temptation. But if our lives are being transformed by Christ then not only will we deny ourselves, but we will...
III. APPLY YOURSELF. Mk.8:34d
If self denial is the negative side of being a disciple of Jesus, then following him is the positive side of discipleship. In other words we begin to apply ourselves to do what Jesus commanded.
We have noted how Jesus came not to be served but to serve. Well, instead of having to have our own way, as followers of Christ we will be diligent in applying ourselves to serve others, whether they deserve or not.
Jesus went around doing good to others. He used all the resources at his command to do good. Well, as followers of Christ we will apply ourselves to use our resources to do good to others. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gave some examples of this. In Mt.5:39-45 Jesus says, “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ’You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” These statements are not new laws, but they reflect the righteous life that Jesus himself lived and can enable us to live. Jesus taught us to have a forgiving heart. I mean if God forgives our sins, should we not be diligent to apply ourselves to forgive others?
When we take the yoke of Jesus upon ourselves, we learn of him. We learn by reading about him in the New Testament. We learn by actually taking steps to put into practice what he told us to do. It is counterintuitive to be sure, but by choosing to trust Jesus and act on his good commands we will embrace his life that blossoms into an eternity with Christ in the Kingdom of God.
In the September/October 2007 issue of Today’s Christian, Shirley Shaw tells the story of how the sacrifices of a successful cabinet maker named Terry Lane continue to change a drug-riddled neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida. Terry says,
My business had prospered to the point my 40-man staff needed more space to produce the quality cabinets for which Mid-Lane was well known. We found an ideal location in northwest Jacksonville and in 1985 built a 25,000 square foot state-of-the-art plant that was soon humming with activity. Life was good. But my peace and comfort were short lived.
Almost immediately, problems erupted. Every night the burglar alarm sounded, and I was summoned to the plant by police officers. Broken windows, shots fired, bullet holes in the walls, stolen equipment, vandalism-even incinerated cars in the parking lot.
One night an officer asked me, “What possessed you to build a plant this close to ’The Rock’?”
“What do you mean, ’The Rock’?” I asked.
“The Cleveland Arms apartments,” he responded. “More crack cocaine is sold here than anywhere in Jacksonville, so we call it ’The Rock.’” And he proceeded to enlighten me about my new neighborhood. The 200-unit subsidized housing complex was occupied by drug dealers, prostitutes, and felons, a place considered so dangerous police were hesitant to go there...
As I sat mulling over the situation, from out of nowhere came a thought so clear it was almost audible: If you’ll love those who despitefully use you, I’ll take care of it. Stunned and shaken by God’s admonition, I wondered how I’d obey this gentle command. Then I sensed him say, “Forget about all the shooting and all the garbage. Look at the children.” ...
Days went by as I prayed for my neighbors and tried to figure out how to connect with this community. I bought several basketballs, wrote “Jesus loves you” and “Mr. Lane loves you” on them, and threw them over the fence into the complex. There was no immediate reaction, but at least they didn’t throw them back.
Then one Saturday while working alone, I stepped outside for a break. I heard the noise of children playing beneath a tractor trailer parked on the property. When they saw me, one said, “There’s the man,” and they started running.
“Wait,” I called. “Would you like something cold to drink?” Four or five little kids followed me into the plant where I opened the soft drink machine and gave them a cold soda pop. They went home, and I thought no more about it. Until Monday afternoon when I heard a commotion in the lobby and the receptionist ask, “Can I help you?”
As I walked down the hallway, I heard one little kid ask, “Where’s the big man with the beard?” Turning the corner, I saw 16 kids in the lobby looking for me-well, for the man with the key to the drink machine.
That was the beginning. Suddenly, 35 children adopted me, coming to my office every afternoon after school instead of going home. There was nothing for them to go home to. Day after day, while I worked at my drafting table, I was surrounded by kids on the floor busily coloring or doing other crafts I had brought...
Thus began the journey that would change my world and that of many kids whose addicted parents left them to fend for themselves. Often hungry, unkempt, undisciplined, with no structure in their lives or motivation to attend school or church, these children would be the next lost generation. I felt compelled to do what I could. Years flew by, and the kids I mentored became a part of my life.
Terry Lane’s journey of self-denial continued. Ten years after he first reached out to the kids of “The Rock,” he sold his share of the cabinetmaking business to his partner and started Metro Inner City Sunday School. When the kids got older, they started youth groups and teen programs. It wasn’t long before Terry asked the owner of Cleveland Arms to give him an apartment. In five-years’ time, Lane established a community center called Metro Kids Konnection where the staff feeds over 145 children physically, academically, and spiritually.
Shaw ends her article with these final thoughts from Terry:
There is so much to do, but I’m excited and grateful for the direction God chose for me. My wife and I have gone from enjoying a six-figure annual income to subsisting on $12,000 a year, but God faithfully meets every need. And the rewards are incomparable...
Nothing can replace the joy of having a little child crawl into my lap with a hug for “Pastor Terry,” or for a young man who has been rescued from a potential life of dealing drugs to look me in the eye, shake my hand with a firm grip, and say, “Thanks, P.T.” That’s my reward for “looking at the children.”
Here’s a man who turned to JC, who sought to deny himself and follow Jesus. Was it costly? I guess. But do you sense that Terry Lane is counting his losses? It sounds to me that he is having the time of his life. That’s the life Jesus came to give us, if we’ll have it. Many of you are Christians, but denying yourself and following Jesus is not how you roll. Some of you are not Christians. You have never turned away from your life of self rule in order to trust in Christ and receive his life. Think carefully about this for if you want to really follow Christ's model. Amen.