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June 25, 2017 If Anyone Would Come After Me...Part Two

[I. Introduction] Our last time together we began to consider the terms of discipleship that were given by the Lord Himself. There are many people who assume they are Christians because they were either raised in a Christian home, were baptized, or may have said some kind of a prayer and then were told by a well-meaning person that they were Christians. However, our Lord laid down the terms of being a disciple that are at variance with the watered down gospel that is often heard today.

 

The Savior is not looking for men, women, and even children, who will give their spare time to him. He is seeking those who will give him first place in their lives.

 

There are people who go to church regularly but may not have been born again. When one is born from above they gladly enter into a relationship with the Lord Jesus where He is the Discipler and they are the disciple. Anything less than this reflects a mere profession of faith without the reality of genuine, saving faith. And, there are those who have been born anew but have lost their way.

 

Did you know that a true follower of the Lord Jesus may get lost? They cannot be lost for eternity because the Lord has promised that this would never happen (e.g., John 10:27-30; 17:12; 18:9; I Cor. 1:7-8). But a follower of the Lord may get lost in this life and the consequences can be disastrous both in the present life and for the age to come. This is borne out throughout the Bible, where we see many of God’s own people falling down (sometimes in a big way) and paying the price. The possibility of getting lost is shown in great relief in that marvelous book, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, where the main character gets lost several times in his journey and suffers much because of it.

 

The modern gospel (sometimes called the “free grace” gospel) lacks repentance and discipleship. The true gospel includes both.

 

Turn to Matthew 16:24.  In the ESV verse 24 reads:

 

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

 

When he uses the phrase, “If anyone would come after me,” all he is saying is, “If anyone wants to be my disciple.” And so, the NIV has:

 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

 

The first thing a person must do, if they wish to be a disciple of Jesus, is to deny themselves. We spoke about this last time. There was a man of God who had a dream wherein he was able to speak to the Lord Jesus in person. The lord asked him three questions. The first question was “Would you rather be cold or kiss?” The kissing to which the Lord referred was neither kisses of friendship upon the cheek nor kisses between married persons. Rather, it was kisses of passion between unmarried persons. The denying of self includes the denying of our passions.

 

The Lord then asked the man, “Would you rather take up or put down?” If we had not read our verse then we might not have any idea what this question was all about. Take up what? Put down what? If it were things in general then we would be tempted to answer, “I don’t need any more things, responsibilities, or problems in my life. I want to lay them down. So, I would rather ‘put down.’”

 

We can see, though, that the Lord was referring to the cross. The second term of discipleship is:

 

[II.] We must take up our cross to be a disciple of Jesus. What did Jesus mean by “cross?” The cross was the means of execution administered by the Roman government. It was a familiar sight in Israel. Criminals would be required to carry their own cross to their place of death, as Jesus would do when he would be crucified.

 

The cross represents the suffering that we must undergo. But see that Jesus says that we must take up our cross. Some versions have “pick up their cross.”[1] Our cross is something that we can pick up or leave down. In other words, we can often choose to avoid suffering. Yet, if we follow the path that the Lord has for us, the path of righteousness empowered by His life, then times will come when we must choose to suffer.

 

Madras, now called Chennai, is the most visited city in India. It is considered the best city in India and is characterized by both wealth and safety. The Anglican Bishop of that city was visiting the kingdom of Travancore about a hundred years ago. Travancore was located in the Southwestern tip of India. He was there introduced to  a little slave girl called “The Child Apostle.” She had won this title by the zeal with which she talked of Christ to others. Her quiet, steady persistence in this had won several converts to Christ. But she had suffered persecution at the hands of Hindus too brutal to relate. When she was introduced to the Bishop, her face, neck and arms were disfigured and scarred by stripes and blows. As he looked at her, the good man’s eyes filled, and he said, “My child, how could you bear this?”

She looked up at him in surprise and said, “Don’t you like to suffer for Christ, sir?”

 

Do not the life and words of this little girl put us to shame? They should also remind us that our children, even at young ages, can be resolute and committed to the Lord Jesus.

 

This little girl suffered because she talked to others about Christ. She was willing to suffer beatings and whippings for her sharing the gospel. Some of us are not even willing to experience just a little embarrassment for sharing the gospel. What a shame this is!

 

Sometimes we will suffer for simply choosing to do the right thing. We must be willing to take up such a cross. This is our calling. At the same time, almost all suffering is temporary. The Lord grants relief and comfort in his time.

A preacher tells a story from his childhood. He was raised on a small farm in Alabama. “One hot summer, as an eleven year old boy, I was hoeing corn in a field adjoining a neighbor’s farm. I was overjoyed to see a dark cloud approaching. I knew if it rained I could go to the house!

The rain did come—on the neighbor’s field and right up to the fence between his farm and ours. Only a few drops fell on our field, so I had to keep on hoeing.

I learned a lesson that day that has helped me through many storms of life. A storm cloud ends sometime, somewhere.”

 

It is true. The storms of life end. There are times of trials and times of rest. We must take both. Do not avoid the trials. Neither avoid the rest. The Lord will give you rest. When it comes enjoy it.

 

The second term of discipleship is to take up our cross.

 

[III.] Then Jesus says, “… and follow me.” This is the third term of discipleship. We must follow Jesus to be a disciple of Jesus.

 

Unless we first commit to denying ourselves and to picking up and carrying our cross, we will be unable to follow him. Oh, we may follow him for a while when everything is fine and dandy. But when trouble comes, we stop following.

 

[A.] We must follow Jesus persistently.

 

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” [2]

 

 

Anyone who sets out to follow Christ can be sure that many escape routes will loom up before him. He or she will be given numerous opportunities to turn back.  This passage of Scripture relates the account of three would-be disciples who each had a reason not to follow.

 

The first man may be called Mr. Too-Quick. He enthusiastically volunteered to follow the Lord anywhere. Jesus answers him by telling him that his ministry is such that, as he travels throughout Israel, he will have no place to sleep. He will not even have the privilege of a bird, which at least has a nest to sleep in. In effect, Jesus was asking him, “Are you willing to do without the material comforts of life? Comforts that even foxes and birds have?” The frame of reference to these and other accounts of the cost of discipleship indicate that he was not. We never hear more from this man.

 

We must be persistent in following the Lord in the face of inconvenience and want.

 

The necessity of perseverance or persistence in following the Lord is seen in the Parable of the Sower as well. In fact, this is the theme of the whole parable. Some seed falls along the road and is eaten by birds. Some dry up. Some begin to grow but are chocked out by thorns.

 

Following the Lord calls for persistence.

 

[B.] We must follow Jesus preeminently. In verse 59 we read: To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”

 

It may have been that this man’s father was already dead and he was asking permission to attend to his burial at that time. I think it is more likely that this would-be follower was communicating to Jesus that his father was aged and had very little time left on earth. Therefore, he was asking if he could spend his father’s last days with him and then bury him. When his father was gone he would then follow the Lord.

 

This second man we may call Mr. Too-Little. His desire to follow the Lord was too little in relation to the desire for his family. This man reminds us of a verse we looked at last week – Luke 14:26:

 

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (ESV)

 

We must follow the Lord supremely. We must follow the Lord preeminently – above our father, our mother, our brothers, our sisters, and our children. Our love for him will be reflected in the preeminence of following him.

 

Jesus answers him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” In other words, “There are certain things that the spiritually dead can do just as well as a disciple. But there are other things that only a disciple can do.” Any other member of his family can spend time with the father and bury him. What was this man supposed to do? Proclaim the kingdom of God! Had this man been to seminary? Was he a clergy member? Was he an elder? Was he an professional evangelist? No on all accounts! He was just an average person. Jesus was calling him to proclaim the kingdom of God! Every disciple is called to proclaim the kingdom of God. You and I are called to proclaim the kingdom of God.

 

But this man, like the first, seems to have placed something else before Jesus.

 

In verses 61 and 62 we see the third man who we may call Mr. No-Heed.

 

Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62             Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

 

Unlike the second man who, whether his father had already died or whether he was aged and was soon to die, this third would-be disciple merely wants to say goodbye to his parents. He neither had to attend to a burial nor was he asking to take much time with his parents. He is only asking to say goodbye! Doesn’t the Lord’s answer to him seem rather harsh? In one sense Jesus is saying, “If you want to say farewell to your parents you are not fit for the kingdom!”

 

Does this request remind you of anything? We very recently considered the calling of Elisha. When Elisha was called to follow Elijah (I Kings 19:19-21), he asked Elijah if he could kiss his parents goodbye. Elijah gave him permission to do so. But now someone greater than Elijah has come. The commitment and devotion for Jesus must be greater than Elisha’s commitment to Elijah.

 

Consider Jesus’ reply. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” When one plows he must pay attention to where and how he is plowing, not where he has been. If he does not pay attention to his task and looks backward then his plowing line will not be straight. Our plowing line needs to be straight!

 

[C.] We must follow Jesus practically. What do I mean by “practically?” It has to do with not looking back and plowing straight.

 

Theologian and author R.C. Sproul tells of the time that he was having dinner with a friend. He had a concern about the gentleman because he knew that he seldom attended church and he was aware of some things in his life that were contrary to our Lord’s words. As they spoke R.C.  began to share the gospel with him. The man said that Jesus was already his Lord and Savior.  R.C. Sproul, always one to get to the heart of a matter with a penetrating question asked him, “How does Jesus convey his will to you if he is your Lord?”

 

You see, this gentleman may have said a prayer. He may have been baptized. He thought that he honored the Lordship of Christ. But how would he answer R.C.’s question? Because of the way the man was living it was obvious he did not read nor study his Bible.

 

This was the point of R.C.’s question. The only way Jesus can be our Lord practically is if we heed his will. In order to heed his will we must know his will. In order to know his will we must either read or hear his words.

 

We must follow Jesus practically. This means to read and know the words of Jesus and his apostles. This means to read the New Testament. To be a practical follower of the Lord we must read and study our Bibles.

 

[IV. Conclusion] Let us not be Christians in name only. Some of us may have gotten lost on our journey. Whether we have never understood the gospel in its completeness or whether we did and have lost our way, we must embrace Jesus’ terms of discipleship.

 

  • We must deny ourselves.
  • We must take up our cross – be willing to suffer for the Lord, not taking the easy way out.
  • We must follow him.
  • We must follow him persistently
  • We must follow him preeminently.
  • We must follow him practically – living according to his words in the Bible. This means we must make his words a priority in our lives.

 

“Lord, O Lord Jesus! Help us to follow you in the way that you taught us! May you have mercy on us and enliven us with your very life so that we joyfully take our discipleship as the only path that we wish to have. In your precious and holy name do we ask!”

 

[1] The Voice, NTE, God’s Word translation.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 9:57–62). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.