Friday, April 5, 2013

Follow Me

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” – Matthew 16:24-26

I’ve often wondered what Jesus would say when retelling the story of the Crucifixion from His perspective.  We’ve only heard it from those that stayed at the foot of the cross.  But what would Jesus have to say about his arrest, beating, and crucifixion?  I wonder if He would shed tears in remembering His mother, Mary, crying as she watched Jesus die.  I wonder if He would mention the disciples that were afraid to come to the cross.  And I wonder what He would say about Simon, the one who helped Him carry His cross.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, knowing that we could not understand the greater things of His life until time passed, gave parables to help illuminate what He taught.  He gave us the story of the ten virgins to help us understand the urgency of being ready for death and His second coming.  He gave the story of the seed sower to explain why so hear His words and do not follow.  Even in His crucifixion, God provided the image of Simon bearing Jesus’ cross to help us understand one of His teachings.

In Matthew 16, Jesus had just asked His disciples “Who do you say I am?”  Peter, having full belief in Jesus answered “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus told Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.  And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Jesus specifically says that it’s on faith like Peter had that His church would be built.  He went on to day that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it”, referring to the victory that would come from His own death.
But as Jesus goes on to explain that He would suffer at the hands of the chief priests and scribe, be killed and rise again in three days, Peter opposed Jesus’ words!  He spoke up, saying “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”  We know Peter spoke from a heart of love for Jesus, but it is apparent that He still did not fully grasp the victory of Jesus’ death.  Jesus then turns to Peter, I suspect looking him in the eyes, and says “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

What was Peter’s sin?  “You are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.  Peter was living short-sighted, not wanting to be without Jesus on earth.  But God’s plans for Jesus were long term, giving Peter eternity with Him.  Jesus then goes on to tell Peter, and the other disciples present that “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
Peter, the “on this rock I will build My church” Peter, was representing the entire church of believers then and to come as Jesus spoke these words to him.  Jesus gave three instructions, all relating to how we should receive the benefit of His death and resurrection.

First, Jesus said “let him deny himself”.  When we seek to follow God, we have to become like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, saying “not my will, but yours be done” to God.  Life is no longer controlled by our flesh and our wants.  We give up anything that hinders our service to God, seeking to please Him above ourselves.
Secondly, Jesus said that the believer must “take up his cross”.  Many believe this to be the sufferings of life as a Christian being compared to the sufferings of Jesus.  Truly, we do endure hardships.  Being a Christian isn’t meant to be a walk in the park, but a trial by fire.  But “take up his cross” means more than suffering; it means sacrifice even unto death.  Jesus was going to the cross to die, to leave all of life behind.  In Luke 9:23 the words of Jesus are a bit different, saying “take up his cross daily”, saying also that it’s not just a one-time gift of your life in death, but a continual, daily, self-sacrifice.  Repentance isn’t just saying you’re sorry for your sins.  That’s only part of it.  True repentance means turning from the sin, dying to self, daily.

Lastly, Jesus tells the believer to “follow me.”  This is where so many of us fail.  We can deny self, we can repent, and we can daily push towards cleaning up our own lives.  But Jesus wants more.  It’s not about YOU.  His life was given for ours, and likewise, our lives are to be given for others.  Follow means to “move behind in the same direction, to accept as a guide or leader, to imitate or copy”.  We are to let Jesus’ life be our guide, imitating him. 
What did Jesus do as He travelled from place to place in His ministry? He fed the people, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, brought the dead back to life, and created believers through His teaching.  He didn’t go from town to town repenting, sacrificing, praying, attending Bible Studies, and working on all the committees and projects of the church.  He tended the sheep.  Jesus got up close and personal with people that were not believers.  He took care of others needs before His own. 

You can’t just fix yourself, and expect to please God.  His gift of salvation isn’t supposed to be deposited in the bank of Heaven, and withdrawn at the time of death. One of Jesus’ analogies to teach us was that of the master who gave money to each of three servants (Matthew 25:14-30), and then went on a trip. While he was gone, two of the servants used the money to earn more for their servant, while one hid his money in the ground to safeguard it.  When his master came back he said “Look, there you have what is yours.”  But the master wasn’t looking for what he already owned, but for more.  The master was angered that he had nothing more to offer, and called him a “wicked and lazy servant”.  
The gift of salvation, as the money from the master, is meant to return to God more than what He has already purchased through your redemption.  Jesus said “If anyone desires to come after Me”, he has to not only deny himself, not only take up his cross, but also “follow me”.  Anyone who doesn’t, according to His parable, is a “wicked and lazy servant”, burying the value of salvation in the ground. 

We know nothing more about Simon, the man who helped carry Jesus’ cross except that he helped Jesus, and walked the hill of Calvary with Him.  That single act of helping Jesus fulfill His ministry brought Simon honor.  We can choose to be like Simon, and follow Jesus, or we can choose to be like the “wicked and lazy servant”, accepting His gift of salvation with nothing more than a thank you, returning to Him only what He already owns. 
But if we refuse to follow Jesus, we take on the same sin as Peter in objecting to Jesus’ death, and are “not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”   As we decide, we should remember Jesus’ words to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me.”



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