37 “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.
What does it mean to be a Christian? Many people believe that being a Christian means attending church once a week but is that a good definition of Christianity? What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ or a follower of Christ? Are all true believers followers of Christ? Did Jesus teach nominal Christianity? Did He distinguish between a believer and a follower? A study of the gospels reveals that Jesus made the same demands on all followers. There is no category for non-following believers. In the GREAT COMMISSION Jesus emphatically stated…”Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The demands of the kingdom are so offensive to a world already convinced of its rightness that they provoke that world’s hostility.
In a moment, we are going to look at three extreme claims that Jesus makes on our lives but first I want to tell a story. Recruiters for all the armed services were given one hour to make presentations to the student body of a certain high school. The Army recruiter went first, then the Navy and then Air Force. The problem was that each one of them too more than their allotted 15 minutes and that left the Marine recruiter with 3 minutes to present. He stood and spoke loudly and clearly: I have less than three minutes to speak but I don’t need three minutes. Most of you can not handle being a Marine; you don’t have what it takes. In a group this size, there are probably a half dozen that can make the grade. I want to see you six at my table as soon as the bell rings. Guess who had the most applicants? The Marine told them the truth and that challenged a select group.
When it came to enlisting followers, Jesus was tougher than a Marine. Three things Jesus says if we are to follow HIM…
WE MUST GIVE HIM PREFERENCE. He must be our highest priority. He can not be given a place; He demands preeminence. If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. Jesus must be your greatest love. No one can come before HIM, no one. Many of us want Jesus to be first in our lives but we have learned as did Peter that sometimes our heart deceives us and we don’t love Jesus as much as we thought. My intention is to put Jesus first in everything. I read a story about a woman who loved Jesus with all her heart. She was married to an unbeliever who was also a jerk. He resented her going to church every time the doors were open but she loved the worship and fellowship of her church and she never missed. Finally on a Sunday morning, he gets fed up with this church business and he tells her as she walked through the den and headed for the garage that she is not going. She hesitates briefly but continues to get her coat and the car keys. By the time she is ready, he is standing between her and the door. “You are not going to church today, you are staying home and spending time with me” he said. “No,” said she, “I will have all evening to spend with you but this morning, I am going to church.” With that he pulls a pistol and puts it between her eyes. In a rather sarcastic tone of voice he says, “Now where are you going?” She said without a blink, “If you pull the trigger, I’m going to heaven; if you don’t I am going to church.” I love that story…I’m cheering her own…you go girl. Jesus has to be number one: your greatest love.
- WE MUST TAKE UP OUR CROSS AND FOLLOW JESUS. Theologically, there is no such thing as a Christianity without a cross. The cross was the Roman instrument for death and of course Jesus took our sins to the cross. Our forgiveness and atonement is directly related to Jesus death on the cross. If you take the cross out of Christianity, our sins are un-atoned for and we have no forgiveness. The cross is not a piece of jewelry or a good luck charm, it is death to the flesh, to our self life. Paul told the Corinthians that he suffered death daily. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. Matter of fact, Paul said to the Galatians that he was a living dead man…I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Paul said I am crucified, that would mean dead but then he says, nevertheless I live but it is not I but Christ in me. So what is Paul, living or dead…he is both. He is a living dead man. He is dead to self and alive to Christ.
- WE MUST WILLINGLY SURRENDER OUR VERY LIVES. The demands of the kingdom are so offensive to a world that they provoke that world’s hostility. JESUS does not want to be a part of our life, not even the best part: he demands our life itself. Whoever counts his life of so much value that he will preserve it by sacrificing his opportunity to follow Jesus, or will renounce his faith to save his life, will find in the end that he has lost his soul forever for the sake of a few fleeting years; while he who gives up all things, even life itself, will find an abundant reward in the life eternal. All self-seeking is self-losing. The Divine law is always to give in order to receive. We keep nothing that we have not given away. The only thing you will retain in the final outcome is that which we did not clink to. It’s not that important that we live long upon the earth; it is important that we be faithful as long as we live. If we want to be followers of Jesus, we must be ready to die. If I value my life in this world more than I value Jesus and the life of the next world, I cannot be his disciple. Admittedly, we are afraid of persecution. We see what the world did to Jesus and we do not want to bear that kind of reproach. We do not want to be marched down main street with a cross on our shoulder while the crowds is mocking and making fun of us. Our very nature instinctively cries out for us to preserve our lives, to clink to our life and that would make sense if this life was all we had.
- If this life is all there is, no more studying all day on Saturdays…I watch football and eat stew.
- No more trips to Guatemala and no more money given to missions…I will use that to buy me a new tractor with a front end loader.
- Sacrifice is stupid if this life is all there is.
- If this life is all there is we should live it up not give it up!
The demands of the kingdom are so offensive to a world that they provoke that world’s hostility. We live in a world that is anti-Christ and the hostility toward Christ and His followers is growing. I think it is very possible that a more severe persecution is on the way, one that I fear the West is not prepared for; one that I’m not sure I am prepared for. All of the 12 Apostles were martyred except John.
- James the brother of John was killed with a sword by Herod.
- James the less was stoned to death by the Jews.
- Andrew was crucified on an X cross in Greece.
- Matthias was stoned by the Jews.
- Mark was dragged to death in Alexandria, Egypt.
- Peter was crucified on a cross in Rome. Upside down by his own request.
- Paul was beheaded by Nero in Rome.
- Bartholomew was crucified in India.
- Thomas was run through with a spear in India.
- Luke was hung on an olive tree in Greece.
- Simon the Zealot was crucified in Britain.
The bad news is that this world will hate anyone who openly confesses Christ and they can kill the body; the good news is they cannot touch the soul.