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HOW TO FOLLOW JESUS

Luke 9:23-9:27
Key Verse: 9:23

We thank and praise God for Jesus, the Christ of God. The concise and complete proof of the Messiah is his death on the cross for man’s sins and his resurrection from the dead, for our eternal victory. Those who make the confession of Christ are truly blessed. Today’s passage is about how to follow Jesus, the Christ God.

Look at verse 23. “Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Jesus said this after Peter made the confession of Christ, and after Jesus spoke about his rejection by religious leaders, his death, and resurrection. As the Christ of God, he had said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Here, there is a double “must.” “Must” means there is no other option. This is the “must” for the Messiah, the Christ of God. Now in verse 23, there is a “must” for those who would come after Jesus. “Must” is “must”, that is, absolute. Christian life includes the grace of God and also absoluteness.

First of all, anyone who want to follow Jesus must deny himself. Why this command? In Matthew and Mark, when Jesus mentioned his suffering and death, Peter objected strongly. Jesus rebuked him saying, “…You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Mt 16:23; Mk 8:33). This was the background in which Jesus spoke about the way of his disciples. But Luke omitted Peter’s strong rejection, and so presents how to follow Jesus in a more general sense. Denying oneself is not favourable at all. Usually, people say things such as, “Cheer up! Have courage and build yourself up.” Why deny oneself, particularly after making the confession of Christ? We learned that those who make the confession of Christ are identified with Christ Jesus and are justified and saved (Ro 10:9-10). Why must one deny oneself? What does it mean to deny yourself? It certainly means denying one’s sinful nature.

When we think of how God led the Israelites, we can better understand this. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt for 430 years. They were born as slaves, were to live as slaves under Pharaoh king of Egypt, and were destined to die as slaves. No human power could deliver them from their slavery in Egypt. But God delivered them and brought them out of the land of slavery. How God could liberate them from the bondage of Pharaoh is this: When Pharaoh hardened his heart and did not let God’s people go, God imposed plagues on the nation, one after another. The ninth plague was of darkness that covered the whole land of Egypt, except Goshen, where the Israelites lived. This was God’s punishment upon the god of Egypt, the sun-god. Then the tenth plague was the killing of all the first-born males in Egypt. In order to protect the Israelites from this plague, God commanded them to put the blood of the lamb on their door posts. The Israelites obeyed this instruction. Then, when the angel of death passed through Egypt, it killed all the firstborn in Egypt, including the firstborn of Pharaoh, but passed over the houses on which lambs' blood was painted. At this last plague, Pharaoh finally yielded and let God’s people go. This event of deliverance is called the Passover. So the Israelites could make an Exodus, crossing the Red Sea. When the powerful Egyptian army, changing their minds, chased after the Israelites as they crossed the Red Sea, they were all drowned and thus completely destroyed. The Red Sea was the border of Egypt, which was to them the land of slavery. After crossing the Red Sea, they no longer had part with Egypt in terms of their physical location. In this way, the Israelites were delivered from Egyptian power and oppression. The salvation was done by the mighty power of God. The people of Israel praised God for his mighty deliverance.

However, their slave mentality, which had been formed in them generation after generation in Egypt, was still in them. The reproach of their slave mentality had to be removed and rolled away (Josh 5:9). They had to be renewed and reformed in mind. What is their slave mentality? The book of Exodus reveals that first of all, they had no thanksgiving but were full of complaints. They had experienced such an unfathomable deliverance from Egypt, but their thankfulness soon disappeared, and they complained whenever they faced difficulties. Although God rained down manna every day without fail, they were not thankful for God’s provision. They complained time and again of the poor quality of food. They also complained about the lack of water and the hard road on which they walked. They even envied the lives they had left behind in Egypt, where they had at least been able to eat three meals a day, and had had meat, and they wished to go back. Particularly, when they heard the negative report of the spies who had been sent to explore the land of Canaan, that the people there were too strong for the Israelites to fight, they grumbled and wailed for a whole night. This was despising God’s faithful love and power, and it really provoked God’s anger.

Furthermore, they were so quick to turn away from God and were rebellious and disobedient. When Moses took long in coming down from the mountain where he was to receive the Ten Commandments, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods, who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him” (Ex 32:1). They so easily forgot the LORD who delivered them. They made a golden calf, bowed down to it, and sacrificed to it and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Ex 32:8). From time to time they challenged the leadership of Moses, which was their rebellion against God (Num 16). When God gave them manna from heaven, he said that they should not go out to gather manna on the Sabbath, because he would give them two day’s portion on the previous day. Yet, they did not listen and went out in vain.

They absolutely needed God’s divine discipline. Indeed God trained them in the desert for forty years, while the Exodus lasted a single night. God’s training lasted forty years before they entered the promised land. Also, at that time sexual immorality was rampant, with no clear standard. The Israelites were no different from the people of other nations in their practical lives. God gave them the Ten Commandments, not as the requirements for their salvation, but for the purpose of their sanctification so that they might know how to live in the world, and become God’s holy people and a kingdom of priests for the world (Ex 19:6).

We thought about the Israelites in the desert after coming out of Egypt. Their slave mentality was evident in their persistent unthankful and complaining attitude, their unfaithfulness toward God, and their idolatry. Also, when we think of how Adam sinned in the temptation of being like God, we see our own fallen nature of pride, that is to be my own man, my own king in my own comfortable kingdom. By God’s grace alone, we are justified and saved when we repent and believe in Christ Jesus and make the confession of Christ. But we absolutely need to be sanctified in our sinful nature. For we, like the Israelites, have persistent unthankfulness and complaints, tendencies toward unfaithfulness to God and idolatry of other things, and especially prideful desire to be our own kings. We so easily forget God's saving grace. That’s why Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself…” Self-denial is the process of dying to our sinful nature. It is not to be done just by our own strength and will power. As we are justified and saved by faith in Christ Jesus, we are to be sanctified by faith, repenting and putting our faith again and again in Christ who was crucified for our sins. Paul said in Galatians 5:25, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Denying oneself is directly related to living by the Spirit. So Galatians 5:16 says, “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

In our times, prosperity theology is popular and misleads many, including many Christians. Prosperity theology promises that God rewards faith with health and wealth. It is good to be healthy and wealthy and prosperous in this world, but only as long as one truly lives for the glory of God. But, there are also many wonderful Christians who serve God even in their illness and poverty, without prospering in this world. This is proof that God does not guarantee such things as wealth, health, and prosperity. These things are not the end in themselves. The prosperity theology is a false gospel. The Joel Osteen's wife, Victoria Osteen, told their massive congregation, “…when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God…we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy…Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy…” However, when we focus on our own happiness in our Christian life, our life will end up stuck in a pit and in a repeated cycle of ups and downs as determined by our own fickle feelings--it is a wrong focus. Christian life is not the pursuit of our own happiness but holiness of God through sanctification. Then, happiness follows as by-product. This is the reason Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself.” And this is also the reason Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…” (Mt 5:3-4), and on the Sermon on the Plain, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…” (Lk 6:20). Christian life is not about myself, my own happiness, but about Jesus.

To deny oneself also means to respect God’s word more than one’s own idea and the opinions of the world. That is to believe the words of the Bible absolutely. As we studied in Isaiah 55, God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts as the heavens are higher than the earth, and God’s word accomplishes God’s purpose in any human circumstances (Isa 55:9-11). We are living in a world where secular humanism and relativistic thoughts are dominant in the education system and indeed in all areas of our society. Such thoughts and ideas are embedded in our minds. Our thought world and minds must be renewed and reformed by the words of God. So Paul said in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” And this is also the reason Jesus prayed for his disciples, “Holy Father…sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (Jn 17:17). And he also said to the Jews who believed him, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31-32). We should hold to Jesus’ teaching, especially that concerning salvation. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” And after resurrection, Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Jesus wants us to firmly believe that there is eternal salvation and also eternal condemnation. We should also never compromise regarding the truth of God's creation. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Also Genesis 1:26 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Last week, I read an article entitled, “Wave of transgender children’s books reminder sexual revolutionaries are targeting your children.” We are living in a time of sexual revolution and the targeted age is trending down – from adolescence to very young children. Soon such books are to be published and placed in school libraries and made publically accessible to young kids. It is terrible news for many thoughtful parents. We all know that stories in books influence young children greatly. Those children who grow up in Christian homes will become overcome with great confusion and perplexity, since they have not yet developed the ability to discern what is good from what is evil, and distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. But, we know who our enemy is and we believe that God’s truth still stands. In this situation, we should all the more hold onto the truth of God, especially of God’s creation, and plant the word of God’s truth in our children and in the hearts of those college students whom God has preserved in this generation. However the world changes, we must deny ourselves, our own humanistic ideas--and our own desires to be accepted by society-and reject all the worldly teachings that are not in line with the biblical truth, in the honour and respect of God’s word.

We must also believe Jesus’ promise in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Christian life is to live by God’s blessing not by my own effort. When we seek his kingdom first, he will richly bless us in every area of our life.

And we also need to deny ourselves in order to build a Christian community. Although the community is the gathering of those who make the confession of the Christ, Christian community is not built automatically. Only through each member’s denying themselves out of love for God and other fellow members, can the true Christian community can be established.

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily…” What does taking up one’s cross mean? At that time, the cross was the symbol of shame and reproach. But since Jesus took the cross as God’s mission for our salvation, the cross became the symbol of God’s glorious mission. When we think of God’s creation, after creating men in his image, God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” The LORD God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. In short, God gave men a clear mission as a blessing. However, when man sinned, the blessed and privileged mission turned into painful and meaningless toil. But in Jesus our mission is restored. That is the cross of mission. This mission is for God’s kingdom. The cross of mission is not to burden us, but to make us grow, and become great and glorious as we participate in his kingdom work. The confession of faith is also the confession of love. And Jesus wants those who love him to feed and take care of his sheep (Jn 21:15-17). He also commanded, “Go and make disciples of all nations…”

In this world people’s daily greeting is, “Take it easy.” But Jesus says, “Take up your cross daily.” We need to learn to take up our cross daily and positively, especially when we live and work with others, in our home, church and in the places where God puts us.

And then Jesus said, “…Follow me.” In denying ourselves and taking our cross, we must not lose focus. Our eyes should be on Jesus. It is to learn of him and grow in his image. We know that Jesus denied himself. In the garden of Gethsemane he had to struggle hard in prayer, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” This struggle was to deny himself and obey the will of God (Lk 23:42-44). Also, Jesus took up his cross to the end. While he was hanging on the cross, people hurled insults at him, saying, “…save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Mt 27:40). Jesus could have come down and save himself, destroying all his enemies; then he would not have saved us. But he stayed on the cross to the end for the will of God and showed an example how we should take up our cross. We are tempted to give up our mission often. But we must follow Jesus.

At this point we should know that when we deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus, our confession of Christ grows deeper and we can remain true to our confession.

Look at verse 24. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Losing one’s life for Christ Jesus is the way of saving oneself. It is the way of the life of victory. A selfish life is in the end the life of losing oneself. Those who remain true to their confession of Christ can live for him and lose their lives for him.

Look at verse 25. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” What a poignant truth! Still there are many people who want to gain the whole world, even if they lose themselves. Worldly wealth, position, honour or popularity will mean nothing, when it costs forfeiting one’s very self.

Look at verse 26. “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him, when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” In our times, it is very easy to be ashamed of Jesus and his words. But Jesus clearly warned of this. When we are not ashamed of Jesus and his words in this generation, we will participate in his glory when he comes again. And then he said, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” We can taste the kingdom of God though Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In this study we learn that there is a “must” for Jesus’ disciples. The “must” is to deny oneself and take up each one’s cross daily and follow him. This is the way of remaining in Jesus' salvation and participating in his glory. May we keep this teaching of Christ in our deep hearts as a timeless truth of God and our lifetime guideline in our life journey in this world.

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