Friday, April 19, 2019, is the annual remembrance of the LORD Jesus Christ’s death on a cruel Roman cross that paid the price for our sin. The crucifixion of Christ was the turning point of all history where God the Father reached out to humanity with the priceless gift of His only Son, Jesus.
Through that sacrifice, we are given the opportunity to come to God and receive His grace and the gift of everlasting life. Yet, the cross is more than the greatest sacrifice; it is a primary example for those who love Christ.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? Matthew 16:24-26 [ESV]
There are three facets of this teaching gem which Jesus gave to His disciples that bear some examination. These were spoken not simply as instructions to them, but to everyone who has claimed the mantle of Christ ever since.
The Sacrifice of Self-Denial
There is nothing more antithetical to modern society than self-denial. Yet, in truth, it has been that way from the beginning.
The original sin of Adam and Eve is a testimony to this. They refused to deny themselves the one thing which the Creator prohibited when faced with the pressure of temptation.
Humankind has been prone to that path ever since. It is unimpeachable truth that everyone has refused to deny themselves something great or small on at least one occasion and likely more than that.
The business of advertising for products or services is a fruitful source for examples of saying no to self-denial. One doesn’t even have to examine television commercials to find such examples today [although TV still has the most].
Just scan the titles of your emails or the ads and headlines from prominent websites. There you will find many emotional words begging you to take action NOW! Words such as “hurry,” “urgent,” or a favorite of many ‘journalism’ blogs, “blockbuster news!”
One of the most important techniques a new salesperson is taught is to create a sense of urgency and need for the product right away. The vast majority of sales pitches have this element expressed by phrases like, “for a limited time only,” or “offer expires today.”
Since the days of the Great Depression in America, the principle of delayed gratification has faded from the general teaching and upbringing of successive generations. Nowadays, the latest and greatest are all everyone seems to want, and they want it now.
Many industries espouse immediate satisfaction as their goal for the customer. Perhaps the most common example is seen with ‘smartphone’ usage where user impatience is often vocally expressed upon a delay of more than a few seconds for a text or a download to be sent or received.
In order to follow Jesus as He taught, the natural impulses of impatience must be sacrificed on the altar of the cross of Christ. That means a genuine intent to deny self and to embrace the long and lifetime personal ‘via dolarosa,’ carrying our individual cross for Him each day.
What Do You Have to Lose?
This question is twofold. First, what do you have to lose if you do follow the prescription of the LORD? Second, what do you have to lose if you don’t?
Jesus tells us here that if we follow Him, we will save ourselves by losing our life. He doesn’t mean most of us will lose our physical life, though there are some even today who put their own lives at risk when called to preach the gospel in hostile environments.
Those are the missionaries who take grave risks of imprisonment, torture, and death to bring the hope of Christ around the globe. They are the people whom organizations such as Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors advocate for and support.
These are truly the unsung heroes of the earth who practice the ultimate in self-denial for Jesus. When He returns, those heroes will be unsung no more and will embrace joy everlasting in a universe made right.
However, our LORD knows that only a choice few are called to that kind of work. For the rest of us, we are called to follow Jesus and demonstrate His love and grace to a different personal audience of co-workers, friends, and families.
While this may seem a less difficult task than moving to a different nation and living among a foreign culture, it can actually prove more arduous in the end. Jesus gives us insight as to why this is so.
And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. Matthew 13:57-58 [ESV]
Anyone who has unsaved family members or friends can attest to the fact that you will likely face both unbelief and some hostility when you testify to them about Christ. Amicable relationships are another one of the things which may be ‘sacrificed’ when we carry the burden of our own “crosses” to follow Jesus.
One’s worldly ambition must also be nailed to a personal ‘cross.’ It is not wrong to seek to succeed in the world unless that success means living for the world and not for Christ.
Remember that the Bible doesn’t teach that riches and money are inherently sinful. Rather it teaches that the love of money is sinful and leads to ever more sin, as is loving anything or anyone more than God.
So what is lost if one does not embrace Jesus in faith and follow after Him? It is far more than losing friends or comfort or even mortal life; it is the forfeiture of the self and the soul.
Don’t Forfeit Your Soul for the World
One of the biggest points Jesus is making involves comparing the value of the material things of the material world with the value of the spiritual things of the spiritual realm. Our LORD is very clear about the value of both items and the verdict is that the riches of the entire world pale in value next to the human soul.
One of the most obvious reasons this is so is the factor of time. Time is something we measure but cannot master even with all the wealth in the world.
Time reminds us that we are mortal and our material lives will eventually cease. And no matter how much our physical life is extended or enhanced through science and medicine, death will remain on our horizon.
When one believes that the material world is either the most important world or the only world, it becomes easier to attempt to ‘gain the whole world.’ Our folly in this endeavor is the fact that all the riches in the universe could not buy us even a little more time.
Time is the one factor that everyone acknowledges is real, whether or not they believe in God. Yet, time is beyond our reach because it belongs to the triune LORD who created time in the first place.
Time is also the prison of the physical universe, including the physical body. For just as the universe had a beginning, so did our bodies, and just as our bodies will have an ending, so will the universe.
What is known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics or the Law of Entropy, confirms that time is running out for the universe. This scientific ‘law’ teaches the obvious fact that everything decays and runs down.
God’s Word taught that same principle long before science and it is called corruption. There are two types of corruption mentioned in the Bible, moral and physical.
Physical corruption leads to the destruction of the body, while moral corruption leads to the destruction of the soul. In a thrilling passage of the New Testament, Paul describes it this way.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:50-57 [KJV]
If you or I make gaining the material riches of the world our goal in life, we will lose both life and riches. Worse, we will willingly have forfeited our souls for that which is only temporary.
When Christ was horribly crucified He was not seeking to gain the world but to give sinners the chance to gain eternal life. Jesus confirmed that eternal life was real when He rose again, as will be discussed next time.
Sources: The Holy Bible, King James Version, Public domain
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001
Featured and Top Image courtesy of Jason St Peter’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 1 courtesy of The People Speak!’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 2 courtesy of Sharon Tate Soberon’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 3 courtesy of id-iom’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
All other sources linked or cited in the text
Originally published in TIL Journal
It’s the Holy Week for Christians, and I reverently remember our Lord, Christ Jesus. In the quiet of my domain, I search the Bible for answers to my questions such as what was Jesus’ real ministry on earth? Did Jesus practice a religion or was He a rebel who rode off into the desert eluding Roman authorities?
Jesus spread the principles of entering God’s kingdom to all walks of life in Galilee, Capernaum, Judea, and Nazareth. He started at about the age of thirty at the River Jordan near Bethany-across-the-Jordan where He called His first five disciples. Though our Savior was Jewish, his ministry often taught parables and verses from the “sacred books” which we know today as the Old Testament. But, sometimes He referred to the Hebrew Bible, specifically the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), the Torah, and the Book of Psalms.
As you may detect, Jesus disdained religious discord. He wanted people to love one another and love God. This was the basic concept of all His messages and the only way to heaven. Love and kindness is not a religion but an emotion, so He reached listeners through relationships rather than synagogues. When we integrate the theory of one religion into our life, God’s lessons often become overshadowed by hypocrisy, hatred, and division. Today’s religious persecution of humanity is such an example of this concept. Instead of loving one another and maintaining the state of our hearts, we fight to the end defending our religious rights. This was the exact reason Jesus’ ministry remained non-denominational – one church under Christ Jesus.
The parables Jesus taught became His primary method of speaking His Father’s words. He rarely used texts out of scriptures nor explained or commented on them. He considered this “preaching,” not teaching; instead, He left Himself open to interpretation and offered a story for listeners to ponder and ask, how can this get me into heaven? The Parable of the Mustard Seed was Jesus’ favorite.
THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF JESUS’ MINISTRY
At the core of Jesus’ ministry were a few critical impressions which He consistently shared with everyone; foremost was love. Believers asked Him occasionally which commandment was the greatest, and His response stood with, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength.” His second favorite was, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love is the nucleus of everything right and perfect in the world. Jesus taught examples of love and compassion by healing the sick, restoring eyesight, and feeding the hungry. But, He emphasized loving our enemies for even though they are wicked, they also need love. “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”
Forgiveness was the second most important concept to Jesus. He spoke we must repent of sins and ask God for forgiveness so God may forgive our wrongdoings. Jesus claimed we must forgive every time we are wronged. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
Jesus also warned His listeners not to judge others since we are all sinners. Though born sinless, He still had mercy and compassion for mankind. He often told the story of an adulteress woman about to be stoned to death (found in John 8:1-30). Jesus told her accusers, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” They all departed and Jesus told the woman, “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.”
WEALTH AND POVERTY
Jesus did not speak it is a sin to be wealthy, only that we give our riches back to the Lord and others in need. He spoke of the affluent becoming too attached to material possessions for when we die, our “objects of happiness” will mean nothing. Christ used the example of a rich man who lived by all the other commandments, and he approached Him to find out how to have eternal life. Jesus replied, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The man became very sad because he could not part with his riches. Jesus later told His disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Doesn’t say much for the Powerball today, does it?
Let us analyze your strength, as a Christian, in this situation. If Jesus were to come to you today and ask you to give up your home and all possessions to follow Him, WOULD YOU DO IT? If the answer is yes, you may find eternal salvation in heaven. If the answer is no, it is time to question your faith and love of money and objects. What means more to you – living as one with God, now and forevermore, or exploiting the riches which cease after you die and you stand in judgment by the Lord? Will it be God or your self-centeredness?
Jesus learned of hypocrisy by observing the Pharisees. They prayed in the streets and always attended the temple, but the inside, their contemptible hearts were made of stone. He loathed hypocrisy in any form. Our sovereignty to God is a private matter and not to be exploited in crowds. You may ask why this is imperative? Because we are sinners, our actions often fall short of God’s requirements. If we expose our praise and inner thoughts of God to outsiders, yet our daily activities show different, we become deemed a hypocrite and severely judged. Many non-believers will not follow the church because of this very reason.
Jesus often taught the nature and power of prayer. He emphasized “The Lord’s Prayer” and said it was not for show but a private matter. “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Prayers are to be directed to God the Father only, not angels, saints, or Mary. Jesus considered chanting of prayers to be of pagan roots, now observed in Catholic and Orthodox churches. He asked we use prayers to develop a close, personal relationship with God.
Do we see the irony in Jesus’ instruction on praying? How many large churches, today, organize huge crusades and festivals to bring people closer to God? How often do we receive an invite on Facebook to join a Watch Party where someone is screaming out the name of the Lord and asking for forgiveness? The idea churches adopted prayer methods against Jesus’ teaching is quite a dose to swallow. They walk in total disregard of the foundation of God’s word!
Christ Jesus tested and prevailed in His ministry of love, right down to His last days. He was a sinless mortal man leading the way for humanity to follow in His footsteps. Yes, Jesus paid the ultimate price for His beliefs in love.
On this day, Good Friday, I plead my faith to Him, under the cross which He brutally hung on for me and all sinners. I also pray my Father will bless my ongoing ministry for all who come searching to fill a void in their heart with our Lord, Jesus Christ. And finally I pray, friends, you find God’s peace and love on this holy weekend. www.danabicksauthor.com
If you are a Christian, this week is very special to you, isn’t it? Just how special it is, of course, depends on each individual Christian.
There are Christians and there are Christians. And this is an opportunity to speak out with conviction about what you believe in as a Christian. Do you have the courage of your faith? Tell the world what you believe.
If you are a non Christian you have the opportunity to express love and solidarity with your Christian brothers and sisters. We are waiting.