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“IFANYONE WOULD COME AFTER ME…”

Matthew 16:24-16:28
Key Verse: 16:24

We thank and praise God for blessing 2011 SBC abundantly. He first loved us through his Son Jesus Christ who gave his life for us. It is not easy for even to say first, “I am sorry.” But God first loved us. He loved us when we were unlovely and most miserable. His love is sacrificial, unconditional, true and will last forever. In this love our Lord Jesus wants us to remain in him and his love and bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit, especially fruit of love. We can remain in him when we let his words remain in us. Thank God for his works in the hearts of God’s flock of sheep. I am thankful to God that all our coworkers could build up this conference with what we had. Now we are back in our mission field and have this worship service with continuous Matthew’s gospel study.

In the previous two lessons in our Matthew’s gospel study, we studied about Jesus, who is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and his beautiful life of love and power was matchless in history and beyond human. Most importantly he predicted about himself that he must suffer many things and be killed and on the third day raised to life. The way of the cross would be the way of Christ. His prediction came true. He was killed and on the third day raised to life. His death on the cross for our sins and his resurrection was the final proof that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God. How precious and great our Christ Jesus is! Paul’s life time prayer topic was, “I want to know Christ…” We all want to know him and follow him. In today’s passage Jesus teaches us how we can follow him, that is, the way of his disciples.

Look at verse 24. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” The conjunction, “then” is related to the previous event that Peter rejected the way of Christ because of his humanistic idea about Christ. The way of Christ through suffering and cross was totally different from the top disciple Peter’s idea of Christ’s victory and glory without suffering. When Jesus called Peter and his other first disciples, Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:18,19). That was a gracious invitation with a sure promise for them. Jesus also called Matthew, saying, “Follow me” (Mt 9:9). But now after Peter’s confession of Christ, Jesus had to say to his disciple how to truly follow him.

We believe that following Christ is the best kind of life in this world. We will become like the one whom we follow. When we follow drunkards, we become drunkards. It is good to follow those who study well. Then we can learn how to study well. And when we follow those who know how to make money, we can learn the method of making money. When we follow Christ, we will be like him who we really admire.

Look at verse 24 again. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” First of all Jesus said, “…he must deny himself.” When we hear these words, “deny himself,” our minds soon become unfriendly and antagonistic. Denying oneself does not seem to be proper to the people of this generation. It is likely that denying oneself make us have a negative attitude toward ourselves. To our understanding it is more important to acknowledge and assert ourselves rather than to deny.

Then what does “denying oneself” mean? Some think it is to adopt the ascetic lifestyle of John the Baptist, denying even basic human desires. Once John’s disciples came and asked Jesus, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Mt 9:14). They could not understand the free lifestyle of Jesus’ disciples. Did Jesus say, “I am sorry for their immature free life”? No. Jesus said, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?…” (Mt 9:15). Instead, Jesus explained the reason for their free life. It is because of their relationship with Jesus, which is like the relationship between the bridegroom and the bride. It is true that we have freedom and free life in Christ. (Gal 5:1).

Then what does it mean to deny oneself? We should notice that Jesus did not just say generally, “Deny yourself.” He said, “If anyone would come after me…” Jesus spoke these words conditionally in the relationship between himself and those who would come after him, which is supposed to be the love relationship. In Matthew gospel Jesus said this to his disciples. When we think about a love relationship between a husband and a wife, one part will not do what the other part does not like because of love (socks; smoke). In other words one should deny himself or herself to maintain the love relationship. Love relationship definitely requires self-denial and obedience. Jesus said in John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching…” So to deny myself means to deny my own idea to obey Jesus’ words. When Abraham was in his early stage of faith, he followed his own idea when there was a famine in Canaan and went down to Egypt for survival. There he experienced a better failure, almost losing his beloved wife. But later on when there was a conflict in his family because of Ishmael the son of flesh and Isaac the son of promise, he denied his own idea and obeyed God’s direction casting out Ishmael, although it was so painful to him. He put God’s word first. When we are not clear about what we have to do because of many human ideas, we should return to the Bible and do our best to listen to the word of God.

Also, denying oneself means denying our sinful nature. Our sinful nature is selfish and competitive to rise above others. But Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than your selves.” Among Jesus’ twelve disciples there was a strong competition to be the greatest and obtain glory and honour. Jesus said to them, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slaves—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 26-28).

Our sinful nature also worries a lot. It is easy for us to worry many things and be anxious in our sinful nature. But our Lord Jesus does not like it. He does not want us to worry. He wants us to believe in our heavenly Father’s perfect protection and provision (Mt 6:26; 10:29,30). Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God…” Our Christ Jesus wants us not be anxious but to pray for all our needs.

Our sinful nature is also lazy. We easily become complacent and lazy. According to Matthew’s gospel laziness is wickedness. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus told the parable of the talents. One man was about to go on a journey. He called his servants and entrust his property to them. To one he gave five talents, and to anther two talents, and to another one talent. The one who received five talents had a clear direction to make profits. He worked hard and gained fire more. The one with two talents also had a personal direction to make profits. He worked hard and gained two more. When the master came back, he praised each of them. But the one with one talent had no personal direction to make profits. He just kept his one talent in the ground and didn’t work. When the master heard this, he rebuked the man, saying, “You wicked, lazy servant!” (Mt 25:26). Lazy people are wicked people before God. Laziness can be one of greatest enemies. Because of laziness we can not use all our talents endowed upon us by God. Rather we waste our time and let our potentials die. Because of laziness we cannot prepare for the future. Laziness is a sinful nature and it becomes one’s terrible habit throughout his or her life. Our Lord Jesus wants us to battle with our lazy nature. We should know that “be diligent” is a command in the Bible. This does not mean to be busybodies. “Be diligent” involves having a clear direction. 1 Timothy 4:15 says, “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” It is also good to know what Proverbs 6:6-7 says: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” God wants us to learn from the ant the spirit of wisely and diligently preparing for the future.

We should also deny our weak and fatalistic nature. It is easy to make an excuse for weak and fatalistic self. But we remember what Jesus said to a paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven…Get up, pick up your mat and walk” (Mt 9:1-8). Our Christ Jesus wants us to get and walk at any human condition.

To deny oneself also means to deny one’s sinful nature and positively live by the Spirit. There is always a conflict between our sinful nature and the Spirit: “…the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each others” (Gal 5:17). We cannot avoid this spiritual reality. Romans 8:6 says, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” We should not let our sinful nature rule our mind but the Spirit. We need inner spiritual fighting. In this fight God’s words and prayers are our potent weapon to win the battle and live by the Spirit. There is a promise of God: “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Gal 5:16).

Next, “…take up his cross…” When Jesus said, “cross,” his death on the cross must be in his mind. At that time cross was the symbol of shame and suffering. Only terrible criminals were crucified. But Jesus knew that he would be killed on the cross like a criminal and it was according to God’s will for man’s salvation. This was God’s specific mission for him. Each follower of Jesus is to have a specific mission related to God’s will of man’s salvation. At this point the disciples were to accept the cross of Jesus and support it having in mind the things of God. Later on Jesus would give them great commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Mt 28:19,20). Our 1:1 Bible teaching for campus students is a part of this great commission. This mission is to be accepted personally. Following Jesus definitely includes learning his life of mission. When God created men, he created them for mission (Ge 1:28). So without mission human life is not really human life. But with a clear mission human life is worth living, though there is suffering in this life. People can take away our jobs, but no one can take away our mission in Christ. As for Noah building the ark was his mission, which was his life-long project. He was ridiculed and persecuted, but he built the ark in holy fear and saved all his family. He condemned the world and became the heir of righteousness (Heb 11:7). St. Paul said in Acts 20:24, “…I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” We can learn his attitude toward God’s given mission. How great our life will be when we complete God’s mission given to us very personally.

Sometime we feel that our cross of mission is too heavy for us to bear. At that situation we can cry out to God to give us strength to bear the heavy cross. And we can take up each one’s cross of mission with the prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

We should know that as for the students studying is a part of taking up their cross as the preparation to be useful servants of God. As for the company workers working is also a part of taking up their cross as they strive to have godly influences in the company and in our society. Also, we should know that raising children is definitely a part of taking up the cross. In UBF website I read the words which M. Joseph and Maria Ahn spoke about how to raise children. They advised young parents saying, “Love God more than your children; love your children more than yourselves.” What a truthful statement! This must be know-how in raising children. I heard that in North America many parents give up being parents, because it seems to be so hard. They just want to be friends to their children, not taking up the cross of parenting. But the Bible clearly says that parents should bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). There should be not only a horizontal relationship but also vertical relationship in a family. Parents must take up the cross of parenting.

Jesus said, “…he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” In denying ourselves and taking up our cross Jesus wants us to confirm that we are following him. According to the gospel story, “Follow me” was the first and the last word Jesus had given to Peter (Mt 4:19; Jn 21:22).

Look at verse 25. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Here the conjunction is “for.” Why should one deny himself and take up his cross? It is because this is the way of finding life. To save one’s life is a selfish life, which is the life of losing the very life. Jesus promises that when we use our material, time, youth and the whole life for Jesus, denying ourselves and taking up our cross, we will surely find life. Here, life includes true happiness and joy and satisfaction in life as well as eternal life.

Look at verse 26. “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” There are many people who seem to be successful in this world with fame and wealth but come to a spiritual bankruptcy in the end of their lives. Jesus wants us to know that our soul is most precious. It means that our salvation through faith in Christ Jesus is most precious. According to 1 Peter 1:9, the goal of our faith is the salvation of our souls. We must keep our personal faith in the Christ, the Son of the living God at any cost. With this personal faith, Christ Jesus wants us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him.

Look at verse 27. “For the Son of man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” Here Jesus wants us to see the glory of his coming again which can be our glory, knowing that the way of the cross is the way of future glory.

Look at verse 28. “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” At that time some of them could see the powerful work of the gospel which was like the kingdom of Christ coming on the earth. It can be a great blessing if we can see the powerful work of the gospel in our times.

Thank God for Jesus’ teaching of how we must follow him: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This is the timeless principle for all disciples of all generations to follow as the way of Jesus’ disciples. It is the way of finding life and glory. May we keep these words of our Lord Jesus in our hearts very personally.

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