(Preached at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, 4-12-15)
Are you a disciple? When we think of the word “disciple”, a lot of us probably think of 12 guys in robes who followed Jesus around, usually saying or doing the wrong then, and then getting taught about Jesus about what they should have done. (In fact, other than the robes, that’s probably not too far off of the definition of what we are as His disciples!) We have seen that in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gave His Great Commission to go and “make disciples.” We’ve seen that the most important business of the church is to make disciples. But what does it mean to be a disciple? The Greek Bible word “mathetes” means to be learner, or a follower. It means more than just being a “convert” or “making a decision.” It involved much more than just raising your hand, or going forward and filling out a card,being baptized, or being a member of a church. It is a commitment of your life to Jesus to be His follower. Thankfully we don’t have to invent our own definition of what a disciple is; Jesus spelled out the kind of commitment He requires of His followers in Luke 9:23:
“And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.'”
I. To Be A Disciple Means You Deny Your SELF
Jesus said if anyone would come after Him he must “deny himself”. Now, this does NOT mean what a lot of people think it does. For example, when Cheryl & I lived in Southwest Louisiana, there was a big Catholic influence in the area, as it was the religion of choice for most of the people in the area. Every year in February, they celebrated “Lent”, and you would hear of people who were “giving up” certain things for Lent. They would say they are “giving up cokes” or “giving up chocolate” or “giving up red meat”, etc. for Lent. The idea was that they were “denying themselves” of certain things for a few weeks for their religious observance of the season. That kind of thing sounds very “religious” and it is a tenet of many religious systems, but it is not at the heart of what Jesus is talking about.
When Jesus says “deny your SELF”, He means that you are to deny the “big I” that wants to control your own life. God created mankind to know Him, and to be subject to Him as their Lord & God. He gave us commands to follow. But in the Garden of Eden, Adam & Eve saw the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil, which God had commanded them not to have, and they said, “I want that for myself” — and they took it and ate it. God had said not to do it, but they wanted what THEY wanted to do, instead of what GOD had commanded them to do. And they took God off of the throne of their lives, and put “I” on there instead.
And that is the very root and heart of sin. Sin says, “I don’t want God to run my life; I am going to do what I want to do instead” — and every one of us since Adam & Eve have done the same thing.
So to follow Jesus means that we are to DENY this “self”; this “self-centered life.” It means you are going to devote yourself to a life where you are not living for yourself, but for Jesus and others instead. “Denying yourself some little pleasures” is CHEAP AND EASY compared to this!
When Jesus says here that to follow Him you must “deny yourself” means that you take the “I” OFF the throne of your life, and put HIM ON it. That is a whole lot different than just “denying yourself” of some particular things. You can tell yourself, “I am not going to have any ice cream” or “I am not going to watch a certain tv show”, or “I am going to give up a certain amount of money and give it to church” — but still have the “I” on the throne of your life. To really follow Jesus means that you don’t just give up certain individual things, like smoking or drinking or whatever; it means that you take yourself OFF the throne of your life and put CHRIST there. You “deny” your “self” the throne of your life and make Jesus your Lord & Master. He is now the One who is “calling the shots” for everything you have and are in your life.
A few years ago there was a bumper sticker that was popular, that read: “God is my co-pilot.” It came from a book (and movie) by the same name, by a pilot from the Second World War. And I know what people are trying to say with that sticker that God is there to help him. But in a real sense, that sticker is wrong. God does not come into your life to be your “co-pilot.” He comes to be your PILOT! He doesn’t come to “help you pilot your life” wherever you want it to go. He comes to take over the controls and take you in HIS direction.
This is where many of the “pop” forms of Christianity today diverge from Biblical Christianity. You hear the Joel Osteen’s and others proclaim things like, “You can have your best life now”, and “dream your dream for life and God will be there to help you achieve it.” The problem with those teachings is that they make YOU the center of your life, picking out “your dream” or “your vision” for life, and God is like your “little helper” to get you where you want to go. Genuine Christianity is not about God helping YOU achieve your dream. Genuine Christianity is about you giving UP your dream, and following whatever plan that GOD has for your life.
So to “deny yourself” doesn’t mean giving up some little thing for God. It means giving up control of your whole life to God. It means making Jesus Christ the LORD of your life. It doesn’t mean: “I am going to ‘deny myself’ a meal of eating out, and magnanimously put $20 in the offering plate”; it means giving Jesus control of ALL of your money. And so on with every area of your life. To “deny yourself” means that you are no longer in charge of your money, or your career, or anything else in your life. Jesus is. It means that nothing is yours; it all belongs to the Lord. It is not your house; it is His. It is not your money; those are not your children or grandchildren; they are His. To really be a disciple means first of all that your “self” is no longer on the throne of your life — Jesus is your Lord!
II. To Be a Disciple Means To Take Up Your Cross
This, of course, comes right out of the next phrase, where Jesus commanded His would-be followers to: “take up your cross daily.”
The problem is, many of us have heard this phrase for so many years that it has lost its meaning for us. We think of the old expression, “That’s just my cross to bear”, and think of some particular problem, or annoying person, or something like that which we have to put up with.
But we need to remember that in the day in which Jesus was speaking, the “cross” was the instrument of the death penalty. We need to remember the context of this very verse: Jesus had just told His disciples that He was the Messiah, and that He was about to be killed by the Jewish religious leaders. He also just told them: I am going to suffer and be rejected and killed. If you are going to follow Me, you must be willing to do the same thing. It is in THAT context that He spoke those words: “If any man will come after Me …. you must take up your cross” — you must be willing to die, perhaps physically, and at minimum to your own popularity, or goals and plans for your life.
I know that most of you have heard of the tragic murder of Christians in a school in Kenya by the Islamic militant group Al Shabab. They stormed the compound and asked each student if they were Christian or Muslim. If they were Muslim, they were allowed to live, but if they confessed Jesus they were shot on the spot. 147 students were killed as they refused to deny Jesus as their Savior. This is a horrific crime, but in another sense, it is what Jesus has called all of His followers to be willing to do — to take up our “cross”; to be willing to lay down our lives for His sake.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his famous book, The Cost of Discipleship: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
— It was said of Martin Luther that when he came to Christ he realized “this grace had cost him his very life, and must continue to cost him the same price day by day.”
— Sometimes it is not our literal death we must be willing to endure, but the death of our popularity or public perception. George Whitefield, the great English preacher, wrote in the 1700’s “In our days, to be a true Christian is to be a scandal.”
This is becoming increasingly true in America today as well. If you stand up and adhere to Biblical values today, you will be slandered and persecuted by the mainstream media, and ridiculed by many. I have never a man slandered and reviled much as Stuart Cathey, the owner of Chick-Fil-a was a couple of years ago, simply for stating in an interview that he believed in Biblical values, that marriage was between a man and a woman. He was castigated publicly, his business was boycotted, mayors of cities pledged not to let his business in their town: all for merely saying what Jesus said in His word.
This is what it means to “take up your cross”. It means that you are willing to lose your reputation; your standing; your position. It means you are even willing to lose your life. God may well call some of us right here in this room to go on mission to dangerous places, and we are not to refuse to go just because it may be dangerous. “Taking up our cross” doesn’t mean having a back problem which plagues us all our life; it means we are willing to lose everything for Jesus — even our life.
Unfortunately, this is just what we do NOT see from so many so-called “Christians” in churches all over America today. They have “filled out cards” and “gotten baptized” and “joined churches”, but they aren’t willing to sacrifice anything for His cause:
— they don’t want to become uncomfortable for Him
— they won’t change their routine for Him
— they don’t want to hurt their reputation for Him
— they won’t suffer financially for Him
— they won’t talk to anyone about Him because they are afraid of what people might think … much less die for Him!
At some point you have to wonder, when does this stop being called “Christianity”? These are not “disciples.” Jesus said His disciples are those who are willing to take up the cross — the instrument of the death penalty — and follow Him to loss of reputation, possessions, and even death!
III. To Be A Disciple Means To FOLLOW Jesus
“and follow Me”
“Follow Me” is Jesus’ call to all who would be His disciples.
— it is the call He gave to Peter and Andrew: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
— it is the call He gave to James and John: “Follow Me.”
— it is the call He gave to Matthew the tax collector in his office: “Follow Me.”
— it is the call He gives in this verse to anyone who would follow Him: “Follow Me.” If you are going to be His disciple, you must follow Him
We see how vital this call to follow Him was in Jesus’ dealings with the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19. He told him to sell his possessions, give to the poor and have treasure in heaven, “and follow Me.” But the Bible tells us that the Rich Young Ruler would not do this, and “he went away sorrowful.” He would not follow, because of his riches. But Jesus would not compromise His call. He did not run after him and say “I didn’t really mean it; you don’t have to do all that.” If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, you must follow Him. You do not have to follow; no one is making you do it. The decision is ours. But if you want to be a disciple, you must follow Jesus. It is a basic part of what it means to be a disciple.
So, what does it mean to “follow” Jesus? For those early disciples, it meant that they would literally leave where they were and go with Him somewhere. Mark 3:14 says “And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him, and that He could send them out to preach …”. They were to be with Jesus, and learn from Him, and go and do what He did: preach, and heal and cast out demons.
Now we cannot physically “get up and follow Jesus” like the early disciples did. Jesus is not physically here for us to “go with Him.” But He still calls us to “follow Him” in ways which are similar to how His disciples followed Him:
— First, He called His disciples “so that they would be with Him.” When you follow someone you are “with them”. One of the most important things it means to follow Jesus is to spend time with Him; just to be with Him. Jesus is not bodily with us, but following Him still means that we are to spend time with Him. Being with God is what mankind was created for in the beginning — to walk with God in the Garden. Sin separated us from being with Him, but when we are restored to a relationship with God through Jesus’ death on the cross, it is the relationship we are restored back to. Becoming a Christian is not just about “going to church”; it is about spending time with the God you were made to know! And so a vital part of following Jesus is just spending time with Him every day in His word and prayer — not as a “religious thing” you do, but just spending time with Him: singing songs to Him, and telling your needs to Him in prayer; and hearing back from Him as He speaks to you in His word. A time like this with Him every day is vital if you are really going to follow Jesus. “That they might be with Him” is the first purpose of discipleship, and the first way you need to follow Him. (We are going to look more in-depth for the next several weeks at how you can spend time with the Lord every day in prayer and in His word as we continue this “Disciplines of Disciples” series together.)
— Second, when you follow Jesus, it means that you go and do what He did. Mark 3 says He called His disciples to be with Him first, but then that He might send them out to do what He had been doing: preaching and ministering. They were to learn to do what He did. In Matthew 4, when He called Peter & Andrew, He said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus said He had “come to seek and to save that which was lost”. So He was telling His disciples that they were to learn to do the things that He did in the world. we are to do the same thing.
Unfortunately many people don’t really get the idea of actively following Jesus. They are more like “Facebook followers.” I know a number of you are on Facebook, and if you are, I would love to be your Facebook friend; I put a daily devotion up there on Monday through Friday linked to my blog, http://www.shawnethomas.com. One feature of Facebook is that you can “follow” certain people, which means you get pictures and updates and information about them each day. For example, I was able to “follow” Jim and Dewey & Kerri and the others on their trip to Washington, D.C. this week. But my “following” them did not mean that I really went out and “did” anything; I just read about them; I “kept up” with them. I think that terminology is interesting in light of this scripture. One of the problems in American “Christianity” today is that Jesus has too many “Facebook”-type “followers.” Just reading about Jesus, and “keeping up” with what His Spirit is doing in the world today is not following Jesus! When Jesus says: “Follow Me” He means go where I would go, and do what I am doing in the world!
As confessing Christians, each of us needs to ask ourselves: is this what I am doing? Am I doing what Jesus would be doing in the world?
— where would Jesus go in Burke County? Are you going there?
— Who would Jesus be talking to here? Are you talking to them?
— What ministry would Jesus be doing? Are you doing that? Are you following Him in ministry where He would lead you — or are you just going about your same old routine?
*What are you doing with your life that looks like what Jesus would be doing in this world?
*We need to ask this same question as churches too. Are we following Jesus? Are we doing what He would do — or are we just continuing to do what we’ve always done? It is time for the American church to ask: are we doing what we are supposed to be doing in this world, or are we just sticking to the same schedule, the same activities, the same programs, whether they are really accomplishing what the Lord wants us to accomplish or not? Are we following Jesus?
IV. To Be A Disciple Means To Make A Personal Choice
“If anyone wishes …”
Anyone who wants to, can become a disciple of Jesus. The invitation is open to all. We see that in several places in this text: The verse opens with, “And He was saying to them ALL.” Then He says: “If anyone wills” to come after Me. The word “anyone” there is the Greek word, “tis”, which means, “anyone”! And the word “wishes” is the Greek word “thelei”, which means to will or desire or to wish something. Jesus is saying, Whoever wishes or wills to be My disciple, may — and He goes on to say, here is what you have to do. But it is open to all. The choice of whether you will be a disciple is yours.
The next verse, :24, re-emphasizes that. It says “whoever” “os an” = “whoever” wished (wills) to save his life … “whoever loses his life for My sake …”.
Jesus is pretty emphatic in these verses, that discipleship is for “whoever” wills to come.
Not everyone is going to become His disciple — but whether or not YOU do is up to YOU! It is your decision, and no one can make that decision for you.
We recently went “house shopping” with our oldest son Paul as he was looking at several different condos he was considering buying. We gave him some input — we told him we liked this or that feature about each one — but the decision was his. It is his life; his money; he is going to be making those payments, and he is going to be living there. We could advise him, but the decision and responsibility was HIS. I think he made a good decision, but whether he did or not was up to him. It was his decision to make.
There are a number of decisions like that in life, where each of us has to make his or her own decision, and no one can make it for you. But NO decision in life is more personal and important than the decision to be a disciple. It is the most important decision of your life, and no one can make it for you.
— your mom & dad can’t make it for you
— your pastor can’t make it for you
— God hasn’t foreordained it and made it for you
It’s YOURS! It is the single most important decision of your life. It is what it means to be human, to be able to make this choice. It is what it means to be made in the image of God, that we have been given a mind, and will and emotions, and we can make real, meaningful choices that have consequences.
So this is your responsibility, as a human being, to make the choice of whether to be a disciple. Jesus is saying to YOU today just what the Bible says here, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”