Friday, February 5, 2010

Taking up your cross, a call to die or a call to "give Jesus a chance"?

I saw an incredibly frustrating bumper sticker the other day. It read "Give Jesus a chance, He died for the opportunity." Could there possibly be a more frustrating characterization of the Gospel?  Did the Creator of the Universe, Almighty God REALLY clothe Himself in humanity and walk the earth, suffer the cross and, most importantly, take the full wrath of God on Himself for the sins of the world JUST so we could give him a chance?  A chance?  Are you kidding?  Jesus paid the price for lost sinners and He did it so that we could just give Him a chance...

I've got to be honest.. I think this bumper sticker is flat out blasphemy.  It mis-characterizes Jesus Christ!  He didn't die for an opportunity.  He died to redeem those who were chosen before the foundations of the world! Ephesians 1:4-8 NASB - "Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love  5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,  6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace  8 which He lavished on us."

What do you think it means to carry your cross? It doesn’t JUST mean bearing burdens through life. Think about it logically for a second. Put yourself in the shoes of the disciples and see the cross the way they saw it.

In v38 Jesus says that those who want to follow must take up their cross and follow Him. Now when we hear that and get that visual image of the cross we see it differently than they did back then. To us the cross symbolizes our Lord. To us it means love because it was the way in which God showed His ultimate love for us in sending His son to die.

But since this was BEFORE Christ died on the cross they wouldn’t have gotten that picture. To them this would have been a scary statement. It would have brought to their mind images of a violent, degrading death. He was demanding total commitment even to the point of physical death. This same call to life or death devotion to Christ is for us today as well.

Matthew 16:24-25 – 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

This passage says nothing about improving your self-esteem or making you wealthy rich and successful. Christianity isn’t a matter of opinion. It is a matter of truth. What you want it to be, what I want it to be or anybody else makes no difference. It is what it is – by God’s sovereign will.

When Jesus said “take up your cross” to them, they thought of a cruel instrument of torture and death. In the Roman world, when you took up your cross to be put to death you might as well say goodbye to family, friends, everything you knew… because you weren’t coming back. They thought of dying in the most agonizing method known to man. They surely thought of poor, condemned criminals hanging on crosses by the roadside. Maybe they were picturing friends and people they had known who had suffered death by the cross.

Regardless, Jesus’ listeners understood that he was calling them to die for him. They knew he was asking them to make the ultimate sacrifice, to surrender to him as Lord in every sense.

Luke 9:23 records similar words of Jesus: 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. Notice the addition of the one word: “daily.” The life of a disciple invites persecution and therefore must be a life that is completely lived for Christ. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, 31 I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. (1 Cor. 15:31).

Paul exemplifies what Christ was talking about. Paul was so given over to our Lord that he didn’t care whether he lived or died. That’s an attitude practically unheard of in our materialistic, self–centered, selfish day. Most people today live for everything except what Paul was focused on.

Paul remained joyful as long as his Lord was glorified, even when he was threatened with death. All that mattered to him was that the Gospel was advanced, Christ was preached, and the Lord was magnified. The source of his joy was entirely related to the glory of the kingdom of God.

The idea of dying to your sinful ways and selfish desires does not mesh with the contemporary belief that believing in Jesus is a momentary decision. A true believer is one who signs up for life. This idea that Jesus is something we “Try” is ridiculous… and not only is it ridiculous folks. It isn’t Biblical. Jesus isn’t some product that you bring into your home for a 30-day free trial and if it doesn’t work for you, you can send it back. How insulting to our Savior. Let’s gain some perspective. That’s not real discipleship—faith is not an experiment, but a lifelong commitment. It means taking up the cross daily, giving all for Christ each day. It means no reservations, no uncertainty, no hesitation. Luke 9:59–61 – 59 And He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." 60 But He said to him, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and (B)proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." 61 Another also said, "I will follow You, Lord; but (C)first permit me to say good-bye to those at home."

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