The Daily Cross of Discipleship
Topic: Discipleship Passage: Luke 9:18–22, Luke 9:23–26, Galatians 2:20
The Discipleship Journey
Grace Community Church
June 12, 2022
The Daily Cross of Discipleship
Let’s turn together to Luke chapter 9. Some years ago Janice and I were returning from a conference to pick up our kids from friends in Maryland, and since we were retracing our steps from when we dropped them off most of it seem familiar, but when we came to a roundabout we weren’t sure if we were supposed to go north or south. This was before phones talked to us so we were following a printed map.
Janice thought we were supposed to go south, but I was pretty sure we were supposed to go north so north we went. After a while Janice pointed out that according to Mapquest we should have come to the next road already and maybe we should stop and ask for directions. I’m not a big “ask for directions” kind of guy so I pointed out that that would be a waste of time, we need to just keep going.
Several miles later stopping for directions didn’t seem to be such a bad idea. I stopped at a store where two guys were standing outside talking. I told them where we wanted to go, hoping against hope the guy would say, “yeah, you’re almost there, just keep going a few more miles!” but he pointed in the opposite direction – the direction Janice said we should be going in all along.
In our case, going in the wrong direction only cost us a little time, gas and my pride, but when we’re talking about the direction of our lives, going in the wrong direction is far more serious. When I read Luke 9 it seems to me Jesus is telling us the direction our lives are to go, and it’s not the direction we want to go in; in fact it’s the opposite direction of what feels right. Focus on vv. 23-26 but let’s start in vs. 18
18 Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” 20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Luke 9:18-22
Jesus asks the disciples “who do the crowds say I am?” The crowds have different theories: John the Baptist, Elijah, or an OT prophet raised from the dead. Jesus then asks them, But who do you say I am? Peter answers we say you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. You aren’t just some great man from the OT come back from the dead. You’re the Lord, the Savior, the Son of God. Jesus tells Peter in Matthew’s gospel that it was God the Father who had revealed this to him.
The natural assumption is if Jesus is the Messiah and King, then he will rise to the pinnacle of success and power and take the disciples with him! It’s all north from here! But Jesus points in the opposite direction: rather than heading north to the pinnacle of success and power, Jesus says it’s all going to go south as he will suffer, be rejected, and be killed. Then and only then will things go north: on the third day he will be raised.
Then Jesus says anyone who wants to be his disciple will follow him in his direction.
23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Luke 9:23-26
This isn’t what we want to hear. We don’t want to deny ourselves. Who wants to pick up a cross and die daily? Who wants to lose their life? Jesus points our lives in 180 degrees opposite direction from where we want to go. It’s not where we want to go, but it’s where we need to go to find life.
These are hard words and I don’t want to soften them or bend them to make them more palatable for us to hear. Let’s pause and ask God to give us softened hearts that want to hear truth even when it’s not what we want to hear. (Pray)
- This is the fork in the road that divides Jesus followers from Jesus fans
Jesus is pointing out a fork in the road, a dividing line, but it isn’t the dividing line between ordinary followers and ultra-dedicated followers. This is the direction of the discipleship journey – the only direction for those who would follow Jesus. Verse 23 says Jesus said to all: if anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.
This is one of those moments where a lot of people in Jesus’ day said, “OK, I’m out! You lost me on deny yourself”. Think about the rich young man who enthusiastically flattered Jesus (“good teacher”) and asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. This young man was a huge fan of Jesus – few people came to Jesus with more respect and enthusiasm. This guy is already dedicated to the law so he probably expected Jesus to tweak his direction a little bit. Do a little more of this, do a little less of that. Go to church, give a little extra in the offering, put a honk if you love Jesus bumper sticker on your car and you will have eternal life.
Jesus didn’t tweak this young man’s direction, he reversed his direction. He pointed him in the opposite direction of everything that meant so much to this young, wealthy man: sell all you have, give to the poor, and follow me. And you will have treasure in heaven.
He asked Jesus how do I get eternal life and Jesus told him how. But it wasn’t what he wanted to hear and he walked away sad. He was a fan of Jesus but he wasn’t a follower of Jesus. At another point in time when a lot of fans didn’t like what Jesus had to say and walked away, Jesus asked the twelve if they were going to leave him to. Peter answered, Lord where will we go? You have the words of eternal life. Notice what Peter didn’t say. He didn’t say he liked everything he was hearing. But he knew it was the direction towards eternal life.
Jesus fans follow Jesus as long as they like what they hear and hear what they want. But when Jesus says something that goes against their grain, they’re out. Jesus fans are not disciples. Jesus followers might not like what Jesus asks of us; we might struggle to accept it; but we know we’ve got nowhere else to go. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life.
Now let’s try to understand what Jesus means.
- Our cross isn’t Jesus’ cross
When Jesus says “take up your cross” we need to know that our cross isn’t like Jesus’ cross. Jesus’ cross had full atoning power because it was Jesus, the sinless Son of God who willingly gave his life as ransom for us. His blood was so precious, so costly, that it was sufficient to pay for all the sins of the world. Our cross has no atoning power, we aren’t saving ourselves by picking up our cross or by denying ourselves.
Jesus isn’t calling us to a life of asceticism. Asceticism is a life of severe self-denial and avoidance of all indulgences in order to earn points with God. The life of asceticism is as powerless to make us holy as a life of self-indulgence is. We trust only in the cross of Jesus Christ to cleanse us and make us holy in God’s sight. Our cross isn’t Jesus’ cross.
- Taking up our cross means dying to a self-centered life (and living a Christ-centered life)
The Bible says we are born sinners, and one of the things sin does to us is it makes us terribly self-centered. We are all born with a narcissistic nature that wants its way. Our broken compass says the direction towards life is me getting what I want. Our misguided values wants to save our lives in all the wrong ways.
Years ago as a community group icebreaker, the question was asked, if your house was on fire and you only had time to get one or two things out of it (and all your family members were safe), what would you get? I was the first to answer and I couldn’t think, so I said my guitar and our flat screen tv. Then people began to say things like my photo books, or something given me by my mother before she passed away.
And I realized how empty my answer was (especially the flat screen). I saved things, they saved memories, relationships. Sin makes us want to save our lives in all the wrong ways. We want to save things like our pride, selfish living, holding onto bitterness, ambition. These things don’t bring us life, they destroy our souls.
Jesus points us in the opposite direction and says, don’t live for these things, die to these things. Don’t save these things, lose these things. And gain real life.
Jesus said pick up your cross. We each have our own cross because we have our own way of being self-centered. Your cross isn’t the same as my cross. But we all have a cross. We are to follow Jesus in a series of mini-deaths and resurrections. Paul said
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal 2:20
Every day we’re confronted with sinful impulses that we can either give in to or deny. Selfishness, pride, craving for approval, bitterness, greed, lust. The reason it’s a death is because these things wrap around our hearts so tightly that we think our identity is bound up with them.
If I die to selfishness and care more about others there will be less for me.
If I don’t receive the approval of people, I won’t feel complete.
I promote myself because if I’m not a success in people’s eyes then I will be a failure. Two sides of pride. Tim Keller says, if we let success go to our heads, failure will go to our hearts.
On the other side of that death, Jesus says, is life. Real, full, joyful life! Paul saw it: Christ lives in me. My identity, my life isn’t about me anymore, it’s about Christ. If he loves and accepts me, that’s worth more than the approval and applause of the whole world. And if we lose that, it doesn’t matter if we gain the whole world. We come up empty.
This is a hard saying, and it’s one of those points where people stopped following Jesus. But like the rich young man, they couldn’t see that what Jesus was offering them wasn’t death, it was life. They were – as we were before we found Christ – already living a life that leads to death. Jesus was offering them – and us - a death that leads to life.
- Let’s ask for eyes of faith to see past the dying to self and see the abundant life Christ has for us
Paul says the life I live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. Our salvation isn’t achieved by our denying ourselves or dying to ourselves, it was achieved by Jesus who loved us and gave himself for us. Let’s ask God for eyes of faith to see the abundant life Jesus offers us on the other side of dying.
Jesus is the treasure of surpassing worth, Jesus is the life we long for, Jesus is the meaning our souls yearn for. It’s true but we need eyes of faith to see it.
I was driving us in the wrong direction. Going faster wouldn’t have made it the right direction. Taking a different road in the same direction wouldn’t have gotten us where we wanted to go. I needed to humble myself and do a 180 to get us in the right direction.
What Jesus invites us into is abundant life, not death. He calls us to die to death so we can live to life. He calls us to loose our grip on trinkets so we can grip true treasure. Jesus doesn’t just give us life, he is our life. Jesus doesn’t just give us treasure, he is our treasure. As we close, let’s ask God to fan the flames of love for His Son Jesus in our hearts.