The Cross: The way of the cross

THE WAY OF THE CROSS

Extracts from Ray C. Stedman

For the last few months – looking at the cross. What it meant for Jesus – the benefits for people i.e. sins forgiven, peace with God, heaven secured ….

But what does it mean for a Christian now on a day to day basis – [last week with AD]

 

After Jesus had announced the cross to his disciples, Luke tells us: Luke 9:23  Then he {Jesus} said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (NIV)

 

Luke records that Jesus is speaking to his own disciples. Some have wondered whether he was simply telling his own disciples what it will mean to live as disciples? In other words it raises the question: “Can you be a Christian and not be a disciple? — Is discipleship a second stage of Christianity?” – i.e. Are there many Christians, but only a relatively few disciples? — Can you be a Christian and not be a disciple?  – Is discipleship for a select few?

 

Simply makes no sense: In Mark’s account we read… Mark 8:34   34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (NIV)

… the crowd to him along with his disciples  ……If anyone

Jesus gives us the pattern of discipleship. 3 – steps.

 

 

 

  1. 1.     “If any anyone would come after me, let him deny himself…”

 

He is not asking us to deny our basic humanity, our personhood. He is not telling us that we are to abandon ourselves.

What he does mean by this phrase, “deny himself”.

It is important also to understand that he does not mean what we usually mean by “self-denial.”

We usually mean that we are giving up something. Many people feel it is only right to deny themselves something during Lent, to give up various bad habits. But Jesus is not talking about this kind of “self-denial.”

He is never concerned about what we do so much as with what we are. Therefore he is not talking about giving up luxuries, or even necessities – monks, living on top of a pole etc..

 

Denying self means that we repudiate our natural feelings about our right to ourselves, our right to run our own lives. We are to deny that we own ourselves. We do not have the final right to decide what we are going to do, or where we are going to go. When it is stated in those terms, people sense immediately that Jesus is saying something very fundamental. It strikes right at the heart of our very existence, because the one thing that we, as human beings, value and covet and protect above anything else is the right to make ultimate decisions for ourselves.

This is what Jesus is talking about. He is not talking about giving up this or that – choosing to eat a Mars bar or not!

Can we live without God – he made us, he gives us breathe, he keeps our world going….

Paul writes: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 19…You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. … (NIV)

If you are going to follow Jesus, you no longer own yourself. He has ultimate rights; he has Lordship of your life – he must make those final decisions when the great issues of your life hang in the balance. This is what Jesus means by, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself” — deny our self-trust, deny our self-sufficiency, deny our feeling that we are able to handle life by ourselves and run everything to suit ourselves.

 

An article entitled, The Art of Being A Big Shot, written by Howard Butt:

It is my pride that makes me independent of God. It’s appealing to me to feel that I am the master of my fate, that I run my own life, call my own shots, go it alone. But, that feeling is my basic dishonesty. I can’t go it alone. I have to get help from other people, and I can’t ultimately rely on myself. I’m dependent on God for my very next breath. It is dishonest of me to pretend that I’m anything but a man — small, weak, and limited. So, living independent of God is self-delusion. It is not just a matter of pride being an unfortunate little trait, and humility being an attractive little virtue; it’s my inner psychological integrity that’s at stake. When I am conceited, I am lying to myself about what I am. I am pretending to be God, and not man. My pride is the idolatrous worship of myself. And that is the national religion of Hell!

In Jesus words.. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself. Let him give up his rights to run his life, let him submit himself to my leadership, to my Lordship.”

  1. 2.     “If anyone would come after me let him … take up his cross…”

I am sure the people listening at the time didn’t really grasp the fullness of Jesus’ words. To them, the cross was but a very vague, hazy blur on the horizon of their minds.

 

But Jesus knew that after the awful events of his crucifixion and then the joy and glory of resurrection, they would think these words through again and begin to understand what he meant. We who live on this side of the cross find it easier to know what he meant – but just a hard to accept !

 

Many people think that a cross is any kind of trial or hardship you are going through, or any kind of handicap you must endure — like a mother-in-law, or a potty neighbour or a physical ailment. “That’s my cross,” we say.

 

Galatians 2:20 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (NIV)

Galatians 5:24 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (NIV)

Galatians 6:14 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (NIV)

 

What does Paul mean? What did Jesus mean?

He is talking about what controls your life as a Christian – What is your driving motivation?

To live life “My way” as Frank Sinatra’s famous song goes, or to acknowledge that that One who made me and died for me on the cross to rescue me knows far better how my life should be lived than I do!

 

“I have been crucified …” Paul says.

Someone who is being crucified – a) is no longer in control of his own affairs; b) is facing one direction; c) has no further plans of his own.

 

The word of Jesus, “If you’re going to be my disciple, deny yourself, and take up your cross.”

 

  1. “If anyone would come after me let him … follow me.”

–         really means, “Obey me.”

Isn’t remarkable that it takes us so long to understand that if disobedience is the name of the game before we are Christians, then certainly obedience is the name of the game after we become Christians.

 

Now, we all struggle with this. Our Lord is not talking about perfection as a disciple. It means choosing to do or say what Jesus wants us to do or say, and what he himself did, and looking to him for the power to carry it through.

 

The Christian life is following Jesus, doing what he says — like, “Love your enemy,” {Matt 5:44}. “Pray for those who hurt you,” {cf, Matt 5:44}. “Forgive those who offend you,” {cf, Matt 6:14-15}. Those are not merely wise and helpful words; they represent a way of life our Lord is setting out before us, to which we are expected to conform even when we least feel like it.

When we do not feel like obeying or forgiving or praying, he tells us to do it anyway. “Be kind to the ungrateful and the selfish,” {cf, Luke 6:35}. I struggle with that. I do not want to be kind to people who are ungrateful or selfish, but that is what the Lord says to do.

“Bear one another’s burdens,” {Gal 6:2}. “Freely you have received, freely give,” {Matt 10:8}. “Follow me” means obeying these and all the many other instructions in Scripture.

 

In the original Greek the tense in continuous “Keep on denying yourself, keep on taking up your cross, keep on following me.”

This is not the decision for a moment, but a program for a lifetime, to be repeated again and again.

Jesus didn’t want anybody becoming a disciple, or attempting to live as a disciple, on false terms. He wants us to understand that this is going to, change us, make us into a different kind of people. It is bound to. If it has any meaning in our lives at all, it is going to revolutionise us utterly, right to the very basic core of our being. He makes this very clear, right from the start.

 

4. The motivation –

Luke 9:23-26 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. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 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. (NIV)

Who is not interested in saving his life? Deep down within us, every one of us has a hunger for life and a desire to find it, to the full extent of what it was designed to be.

 

Jesus is saying there are two attitudes toward life that are possible, and you can have only one or the other:

  • One is: save your life now, i.e., hoard it, clutch it, cling to it, grasp it, try to get hold of it for yourself, take care of yourself, trust yourself, see that in every situation your first and major concern is, “What’s in it for me?”
  • The other attitude is: lose it, i.e., give it away to God, disregard what advantage there may be for you in a situation, and move out in dependence upon God, careless of what may happen to you.

 

We somehow have the idea that being a disciple / Christian we are giving something up, losing something that we will regret. That living God’s way somehow reduces us as people. BUT the opposite is true! God created us for a relationship with him – by following him we are not diminishing our lives but filling our lives.

There is this amazing paradox – in our desire to satisfy self, to have a fulfilled and meaningful and happy life – in the pursuit of that we always come up short. Why is it that successful, wealthy and famous people are often amongst the most miserable?

Yet in giving ourselves to God and to following Jesus which superficially may appear to be giving up everything is in fact the way we gain everything.

 

ILLUS.: When someone falls in love and marries – do they give up certain things? Well yes! You give up the right to ‘play the field’ – to date different people. You give up the right to simply go off and do your own thing! BUT ask a Happily married couple if they have ‘lost’ anything? NO! They will say they are enriched and fulfilled.

 

[Not saying a single person can’t be enriched or fulfilled or that being married is superior to being single!]

BUT it is simply illustrating the point that denying self in order to enjoy a relationship with God through Jesus is not a chore but a delight // not less but much, much more!

 

Jesus did not come to call us to ultimate barrenness, weakness, darkness, and death. He called us to life, to richness, to enjoyment, to fulfilment. But he has told us that the way there means dying to self and living for him. Discipleship ends in life, not in death. It ends in fulfilment and satisfaction. But the only way that we can find it is by means of a cross – accepting His death for us then giving ‘us’ for him!.

The final issue is set forth in Jesus’ words in the closing part of this paragraph:

Luke 9:25 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? (NIV)

 

What good is it to get all the things you want, and have nothing with which to enjoy them, having lost your life in the process?

ILLUS.:  Would you spend your time, money and effort building a house in a dry river bed knowing a flash flood with eventually come?

Is it not the very essence of wisdom, if you are going to invest time, and money, and everything you have, to make sure you are able to enjoy the result?

And yet how many lives are being built without any consideration of this question, or any dealing with the God who stands at the end of the road? This is why Jesus asks, “What would it profit a man, to gain the whole world and lose his life? What can a man give in return for his life?”

 

Jesus not only asks this question, but he also points out that there is no way we can cheat -impossible to deceive him:

Luke 9:26 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. (NIV)

 

We have all been embarrassed at some time or other to profess our faith. Is that being ashamed of Christ?” Yes, it is, in a way, but I do not think little incidents like this are what our Lord is talking about. We are all tempted, at times, to be nervous about professing to be a Christian.

What Jesus is talking about here is a settled way of life which outwardly expresses conformity to Christian truth, but inwardly adopts and follows and conforms to the values of the world. This, he says, is what will be revealed in that day. Remember that at the close of the Sermon on the Mount he said, “Many shall come to me in that day, and say, ‘Have we not done many mighty works in your name? Have we not cast out devils, and preached in your name?’ And I shall say, ‘Depart from me, I never knew you, you workers of iniquity,'” {cf, Matt 7:22-23}.

 

Now we are not all good disciples at all times; there is much of failure. And our Lord has made provision for failure in our lives. But he is talking about the heart: What is your aim? What do you really want of your life? Do you want to live it for yourself, or do you want to live it for him? That is really the question.

C. S. Lewis gathers all this up very well in these words from Mere Christianity:

God is going to invade this earth in force. But what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream, and something else — something it never entered your head to conceive — comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us, and so terrible to others, that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we have really chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back, to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.

Becoming / being a Christian disciple is not easy. It is radical. But it is the only way to life.

 

 

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