On any given Sunday, if a pastor asks by a show of hands how many in the congregation consider themselves followers of Christ, most would raise their hands. But if he followed up that question with: “And how many of you know what it means to be a follower of Jesus today?” – the number of raised hands would drop considerably. Maybe even to none. Why? Because our view today of following Jesus is a far cry from what it meant in the time of Jesus. Think about it for a moment. Today, following Jesus means agreeing to a set of doctrinal facts, going to church regularly, tithing, volunteering for some service ministry, adhering to a moral code, and reading and praying as often as we can. But in the New Testament, following Jesus meant something quite different.
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Note the components of His invitation. First, it begins with a conditional clause, if, like a classic if / then statement. “If you desire to come after Me, then these are the conditions.” Next, we have self-denial or self-subjugation to God. “If you desire to come after Me, the first condition is to deny yourself.” And finally, we are now privy to the degree to which self-denial must take place. “If you desire to come after Me, the first condition is to deny yourself even to the point of death, and a horrific death at that.” And only then does Jesus say, “and follow Me.” First, meet the conditions, and then “follow Me.”
Exactly. The entire invitation of Jesus hinges on the word, desire. If you desire, then do the following. If you don’t desire, then this message must not be for you. Which begs the questions, what is your desire regarding following Jesus? And is your desire great enough to pay the price necessary to meet His conditions? Ouch. This is where it often gets personal.
In order to fully understand all of what Jesus said when He revealed His conditions of following Him, let’s look at this invitation from all three Gospel accounts. Only then can we fully understand all the implications and the Cost of Discipleship (to quote Bonhoeffer). The following is from Matthew 16:24-25, Mark 8:34-35, and Luke 9:23-24:
Then Jesus (MK) called the people to Himself (LK) and said to them all, (MK) with His disciples also, (MT) “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross (LK) daily, (MT) and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake (MK) and the gospel’s (MT) will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul (LK) and is himself destroyed or lost? (MT) Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (MK) For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes (LK) in His own glory, and (MT) in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”
Today, we will primarily focus on the issue of desire.
• What is your desire regarding Christ?
• Have you counted the costs of a deeper relationship with Him?
• Are you ready to pay the price? No matter what that price might be?
• Are you paying any price right now for your commitment to the Lord?
• Do you know if it will be much different in the future?
Are you tired of taking two steps forward and then losing ground once again because you desire something less than all of His fullness manifested in your life? If so, then keep listening.