Sunday Service Sermons
The Cross and Discipleship
Scripture for today: Matt. 16:24-25
“Jesus said to his disciples, Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
Those of you who have lived longer I ask you have you figured out what your cross might be?
This is a very puzzling scripture, still, all of these years later.
Is every Christian supposed to be killed on a cross?
We have heard people say what they think is their cross to bear.
Sometimes it is their mate, or family member, or life situation or work or something that they find difficult.
I will be using the book: The Message of Matthew by Michael Green published by Inter-Varsity Press.
Matthew 16:21-28 is titled The Messiah’s contest and sufferings.
These scriptures depict a battle that is waging between the world and following God.
To follow Jesus meant conflict with ease and comfort.
It involves following him in suffering and hardship.
It would involve following him in self-denial and forfeiting their lives.
It still does, one must forsake the life in and of the world to be a follower of Jesus The Christ.
It also means taking on the forces of unbelief that refused and still refuse to accept Jesus as Messiah.
Jesus means for his followers to share in Peter’s confession: to share in the suffering and power of the Christian life.
We re called to be willing to forsake the world and follow Jesus even to the cross.
No fight, no victory, no cross, no crown.
The followers of Jesus must not forget that there is inevitably a lifelong battle to fight.
They are called to follow their Master in suffering, but are promised a share in his triumph.
This note of spiritual struggle is often absent from the contemporary church, but it is a mark of authentic Christianity.
And in that war there will inevitably be casualties.
Peter fell for a time himself.
Whatever spiritual experiences we may have had, we remain just as fallible and weak as ever before.
Sin and failure are always with us.
In this lifelong spiritual battle, victory is achieved only through ceaseless vigilance.
The Jewish idea of the Messiah was not one of a suffering servant who suffers and dies for his victory but a warrior who defeats his enemies with a mighty hand.
The Messiah was to usher in God’s victory.
But in what way?
He would conqueror sin and death, his real foes, but he will do so on a cross not on a white horse with an army with him.
The Jewish conception was too small, too nationalistic, to materialistic and earthbound.
No wonder Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
It would have conveyed the wrong message as to the mission of Jesus and how his victory would be won.
His Messiahship involved taking on the role of the suffering Servant.
Son of Man he was, but the Son of Man must suffer.
Why? Because how else could he empathize with the poor, suffering humanity?
How else could he understand what his followers, and indeed all humankind, have to go through?
How else cold he enter into the pain of the world and share it vicariously?
How could he get to the root of the evil in the world, which lies even below the pain?
How could he over come the deadly disease of human sin and cosmic disorder?
Only by taking upon himself all the assaults of evil, allowing them to crush him, and at the Father’s bidding being raised to a new dimension of life, a life that will never end, for it shares the nature of God himself.
This Jesus, this Son of God, must take on the sin of the world and be put to death to conquer death once and for all time.
And to be truly his we must be willing to do the same.
We like the word and concept of disciple.
We interpret it to mean an ideal lifestyle of a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, a lifetime of following and learning from the Master.
Yet contained within the word is discipline.
It is not nearly as attractive to us.
We are born with a tendency toward rebellion against authority.
Yet the way Jesus brought to the world is saturated with discipline.
Moving from the worldly life to a Godly life.
Many who are confronted with the challenge to follow him could not and still can’t accept the discipline.
The cross and discipleship hinged on the concept of discipline.
From this point on Jesus began to tell his disciples of the coming difficulties.
He has turned form instruction to preparation.
Preparation for the suffering and his death on the cross.
He begins to say, if you wish to share in my glory be prepared to share in my suffering.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it”
Jesus said if anyone wishes to follow me.
There is no compulsion, it is a free choice.
Jesus leaves people free to follow him in this intimate relationship or not to follow him at all.
Jesus does not force anyone to follow him.
Their degree of love for the Lord determines their decision.
What is required is self-denial.
And the “self” does not want to be denied anything it desires.
Again Jesus says something distasteful to the Jews.
The cross was an instrument of torture and disgrace.
An accursed thing; and even to touch a cross rendered a Jew ceremonially unclean.
Yet Jesus said that one must voluntarily take up a cross and bear it.
Jesus was explaining how to deny self; self must be crucified, and nailed to the cross.
Then he said, and follow me.
Following Jesus is the inevitable result of denying self.
It is impossible for one to follow Christ and at the same time drag about a selfish and rebellious self.
Then Jesus pressed for a decision.
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? Matt 16:26
What is your soul?
Your existence, your essence, that part that never dies.
It goes on to reward or to punishment.
Jesus refused the rewards of this world to do the will of his heavenly Father.
He wants his followers to do the same.
The world offers to appease self and to allow you to do it your way.
Choosing to follow Jesus requires the same choice he made.
To deny self, follow our Heavenly Father and bear our cross.
Our cross does not take away the sins of the world but it does nail self to the cross so we can follow Jesus wherever he leads.
Here is the paradox of it all: To know real joy in the Christian life, we must feel the pain of death.
And, sadly, it is not a onetime experience.
How wonderful it would be if we could bury self one time and it would stay dead forever!
Instead, we must daily nail self to the cross.
And every time we do it, we strengthen our inner self, our spiritual self, which is controlled by the Lord Jesus “The Christ”.
Disciple is certainly an appealing word.
But within it there is the discipline of the cross, the denial of self, so that Christ may reign supreme as Savior and Lord.
Once again: simple, yet difficult!
Awe, yes, but the reward is out of this world!!
Besides, you will either be a slave to self or a disciplined disciple of the Lord of the Universe.
As always, your choice.