We’re Here For Life: A Call To Commitment
One of the great joys of my life is serving this congregation. I don’t know that I can thank you enough for the honor I have of standing here week after week and opening the Bible to share the message God reveals to me. I can’t believe that I get to do what I really love to do. If you have ever had a job which takes up the majority of your time and makes you do things you don’t like to do, then you know how miserable that can be. Back when I was young, I had some of those kinds of jobs. But now, because of you, I get to do what I love to do—that is, to ”preach Christ and Him crucified.” I know of no place I would rather be than right here with you, fulfilling that holy and gracious calling given to me by Jesus Christ.
Of course, obedience to Jesus Christ is the primary motivating factor for all of us as Christians. Jesus made no effort whatever to conceal the imperative nature of His authority. He said to His disciples: “You call me Master and Lord, and you are right for so I am.” He has never relinquished that claim. He still says that to us. And in like manner, Jesus never made any effort to conceal the cost of discipleship. He said: “Just as a man building a tower will determine what the tower costs before he begins building, so you should determine the cost involved before you become one of my disciples.” Jesus always taught that discipleship is a demanding way. Perhaps we see that most clearly in our text today—it stands as one of the most powerful teachings ever to cross the lips of Jesus. He said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” The key word there is the word “follow.” In the New Testament that word “follow” has three distinct meanings and all three meanings are implied in this verse. So let’s look at what the New Testament says about following Jesus Christ in life.
It says that it’s like a slave following his master.
The Bible teaches us that in coming to earth to save humankind Jesus became a slave to God’s will—and because Christ became a slave for our salvation, we are to become His slaves in gratitude for what He has done. That’s the point Paul makes in I Corinthians 7. He uses a picture out of Roman government at the time. In those days a slave could buy his freedom. What he did was to take on paying jobs in his spare time. He would then take the money earned and deposit it in the treasury of one of the many pagan temples in Rome. When he had deposited enough money in that temple to buy his freedom, he would bring his master to the temple. The priest would pay the saved money to the master, and then declare that the slave no longer belonged to that master but belonged instead to the god or goddess of that temple. Paul then translated that circumstance into Christian terms. He says: “We were bought with a price, therefore we are not to be the servants of men. Christ paid for us and so we are His.” That’s what Jesus meant when He said: “If you would be my disciple, deny yourself.” That’s what a slave does. A slave denies himself in order to be instantly and totally responsive to the call of his master. That’s the kind of commitment we are called to make to Jesus Christ—to be instantly and totally responsive to His directives in our lives.
Alas, that kind of attitude is not commonly found in churches today. In fact, in the average church, 60% of the people are not involved in any kind of meaningful Christian service. There are even some churches which are downgrading the level of commitment. Did you hear about the Baptist Church up in Pensacola where the worship services are 22 minutes long, the sermon takes up eight of those minutes, and they sing just the first verse of a couple of hymns? The minister said:
“People don’t like to make heavy-duty commitments to Jesus Christ.” But thankfully that attitude does seem to be changing. Dr. Lyle Schaller, the foremost authority on matters of the church in this country, shares some interesting trends which are now developing in the church of the 90’s. He notes that in increasing numbers people are moving from:
- smaller to larger congregations!
- dull preaching to lively and memorable preaching!
- the Sunday morning church to a church that is busy serving people seven days a week.
- churches that are “shrinking” to churches that are “growing.”
- churches with little leadership to churches that have pastors able and willing to be initiating leaders.
- churches with weak teaching ministries to churches with strong teaching ministries.
- churches that are aging to churches that are getting younger.
- churches with limited ministry of music to those offering a wide variety of music, from traditional to contemporary.
- churches with low quality of ministries to high quality with an emphasis on meeting the needs of seekers, searchers, and people on a religious quest.
- self-centered churches to churches that are reaching out to others in mission.
churches with an orientation toward the future!
- church with an emphasis on minimal commitments to churches with high expectations at the point of commitment.
I feel a great sense of affirmation and hope as I read what Dr. Schaller has to say. If he is right—and he is not often wrong—then this church is uniquely poised to meet the challenges which are ahead. And that is why I do not hesitate in the name of Jesus to call us to a deeper and more substantial commitment to Christ and to His work.
There’s a wonderful dialogue which takes place in P Lagervist’s novel Barabbas— it is between a Roman governor and a slave named Sahak. The governor says to Sahak: “If you will renounce your faith, no harm will come to you. Will you do it?” The poor slave replies: “I cannot deny my Lord.” The governor smirks and says: “Surely you are aware of the power I hold over you. Are you really so brave that you would die for your faith?” Sahak doesn’t even bat an eye. He says: “That’s not for me to decide.” The governor then asks: “But is life not dear to you?” And Sahak says: “Yes, very dear.” The governor then declares: “But if you do not forswear this God of yours, nothing can save you. It will cost you your life.” Sahak’s reply is so powerful. He says: “Yes, I know, but I cannot and will not ever lose my Lord.”
That kind of deep, irrevocable and exclusive commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord is what the New Testament teaches. Following Jesus means self-denying commitment like that of a slave to a master.
And the New Testament says that following Jesus is like a soldier following the commander.
Jesus picks up this theme when He says “Take up your cross…” In the New Testament the military and crucifixion were inextricably related. It was the soldiers who carried out the crucifixions and it was captured soldiers who were most frequently crucified.
Now Jesus from the time He was a young boy knew about crucifixions. You see, when Jesus was about 11 years old, a man named Judas the Galilean organized a revolt against the oppression of Rome. The revolt began in Sepphoris, a town just four miles away from Jesus’ boyhood home in Nazareth. The great Roman army quickly crushed the revolt, burned the city of Sepphoris to the ground, sold its inhabitants into slavery. Then they crucified Judas the Galilean and 2000 of his followers all along the roads of Galilee—one after another, cross after cross. Jesus saw that when He was 11. He knew what the cross was all about. And so quite deliberately, He says to His disciples: “You must be ready to take up your cross.” In other words, as the soldier follows his commander at all costs, so we must be willing to give what we have—even our lives if necessary—for it is only as we give that we learn how to live. Remember what He said: “If you try to save your life you will lose it. But if you give your life away for My sake you will find it. What good is it to gain the whole world and lose your own soul?” The lesson is clear: living is giving and giving is living.
Even nature echoes that teaching. One illustration. In the Holy Land there are two principal bodies of water: the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. They are located about 75 miles from one another, and they are both fed by the waters of the Jordan River. The Sea of Galilee is beautiful, refreshingly clear, and filled with an abundance of aquatic life. The Dead Sea, on the other hand, has no life in it or around it, no plants, no aquatic life. It is feted and putrid. Why is it that those two bodies of water, both fed by the Jordan River, are so utterly different? The secret is that the Sea of Galilee receives water from the Jordan but also gives water back into the Jordan again. The Jordan flows right through it. The Dead Sea, however, receives the water from Jordan but holds onto it. What comes in does not go out—and the result is stagnation and death. The difference between life and death is receiving and giving and receiving and not giving.
That’s what Jesus teaches. Real living is giving. He calls us to be like the soldier following the commander—ready to give all, even life, if necessary. By so doing, we find the secret of true life.
Then the New Testament says that following Jesus in life is like a subject following a sovereign, a citizen following the king.
I believe that people who have never lived under a monarchy cannot understand the bond that exists between a citizen and the king or queen.
I did postgraduate work at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Every Tuesday I had a class with Professor James S. Stewart, one of the great preachers of this century. The class met from the hours of 12 noon to two o’clock in the afternoon. Now in Edinburgh at one o’clock every day, they fire a cannon from the Edinburgh Castle which stands on a high bluff in the center of the city. New College, where I was studying, was immediately adjacent to the Castle. For the first few days you are there when the cannon goes off, it startles you. But then you get accustomed to it, so that after a while you hardly even notice it. Since we were in class at that time, we heard the cannon shot every day. Then one day, we were taking our notes and the gun sounded and nobody noticed. But this time it didn’t stop. It sounded again and again and again. We couldn’t imagine what was happening. Then we noticed that Professor Stewart was standing at the front of the class at strict, stiff attention, a look of deep reverence on his face. The gun kept sounding. Finally when the cannon stopped firing and all was silent once more, Professor Stewart said: “It is the birthday of our noble queen—and the gun sounded once for every year of her life.”
You see, people who live in a monarchy where the sovereign is loved never speak of the sovereign in the way we sometimes speak of our President. There is always a deep sense of reverence there which is hard for us to understand. During the Second World War when George VI would go and visit the troops, they said that his presence was as much as adding a division to the army. Well, Jesus claims to be king. That’s what Palm Sunday is all about. Jesus claims to be sovereign. And He lays hold on all the prerogatives which go with that position. Notice what He says. He says: ’’Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of such will I be ashamed when I come in my glory, in my royal pageantry.” What Jesus is saying is simply this: “When I come in the splendor of my sovereignty, what you have done for me in time, I will do for you in eternity.”
Remember who He is. He claims to be the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He claims to be the King above every other king, and the Lord over all other lords. Therefore, we are to follow Him, to revere Him and to obey Him as the subject reveres and obeys the sovereign.
Some Christian wit claimed that he found an ancient archaeological document—a letter which he said was written by the Jordan Management Consulting Service in Jerusalem and addressed to Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth. The letter read like this:
Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests. We have also conducted personal interviews with each of them. In addition, they have spent time with our staff psychologists and vocational aptitude consultants. It is our opinion that most of your candidates are lacking in the background, education and vocational skills required for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. Therefore, we would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and leadership capacity.
Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership whatever. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interests above organizational loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude which would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to inform you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. Simon and Judas have undisguised radical leanings and both received exceptionally high scores on the manic-depressive scale. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.
We wish you every success in your new venture.
Jordan Management Consultants
You know it’s true. Those disciples weren’t much. But for what they lacked in personal skills and business acumen and leadership abilities, they made up for it—all but one—with loyalty. They followed Jesus and they turned the world upside down. You see, you don’t have to be great—just loyal. You don’t have to be wise—just loyal. You don’t have to be rich—just loyal. You don’t have to be poor—just loyal. You don’t have to be brave—just loyal. You don’t have to be a leader—just loyal. That’s all. Just loyal. Just one who says it and means it:
“Lord, I will follow wherever You lead.”