Series: The Way of Jesus
Title: #6 – Following Jesus
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Preached at North Rocks Community Church morning worship, Sunday 2nd April, 2017
Sermon notes are attached as a pdf.
There is also a bible study available.
We be on this sermon series for 6 weeks looking at the Way of Jesus. Have you enjoyed it? It has been one of the longest sermon series we done for a long time. I am sort of said that it is coming to an end. We have looked at lot at the words and example of Jesus so I just wanted to start with the question …
What is your favourite words that Jesus said?
I asked our Facebook group what they thought … here are their answers. What about you – what is your favourite words of Jesus? [sixty seconds with the people around you]
Bradon raised a good point on the Facebook page. We should also ask the question … What are the hardest words that Jesus said? What are the things that Jesus said that you don’t like?
Today’s Bible reading might be one of them. Jesus pulled no punches with those tough, uncompromising words … “Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves, pick up your cross and follow me.” Or what about that line “anyone who wants to find life must lose it”?
These are hard words from Jesus … but I guess the question that I have is, “Do we trust Jesus?” Do you believe that he knows what he is talking about? When Jesus says that his way is the way to life – abundant life, the Zoe life, the kingdom life – then we do trust Jesus when he says that sometimes in his way we have to deny yourself & pick up your cross? Do you trust Jesus when he says that the way to find this Zoe life is to actually lose your life? Because these things are connected.
How much to do you trust Jesus?
Let’s just take a step back. Our bible reading today started with Jesus asking the disciples about his identity. Who do people say that I am? Not that Jesus needed affirmation but rather he needed the disciples to get it right in their minds… Who do they think that Jesus was?
A good teacher? A wise prophet? The Messiah?
This was important … because the rest of the passage only makes sense if we believe that Jesus is worth following. Like Peter in John 6 … we make the decision to follow Jesus because he has the words of eternal life. We need to believe this because the rest of the passage is hard. “Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves, pick up your cross and follow me.”
Let’s break this up and step through it phrase by phrase.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves”
What does it mean to deny yourself? Maybe it is easier to say what it does not mean.
• It does not mean you deny your identity
• It does not mean you deny who you were made to be
• It does not mean you deny the quirky, interesting, wonderful, beautiful, things that make you – you.
• Jesus is not asking you to deny you.
Jesus is not trying to make all of us fit into his mould and be exactly the same. That’s not it. God made you with all your quirkiness, with all the things that make you – you. Jesus doesn’t want to take that away … actually he wants to make all of that even better. To add Zoe life to you and all that makes you – you.
Deny yourself also doesn’t mean you deny pleasure or fun or enjoyment. God is not asking you to turning into some boring, bland, party-pooper. God is not asking us to become a monk or nun and hide away in some monastery. That is not what denying yourself means.
God created this world for us to enjoy. God wants us to have fun and experience appropriate pleasure. I needed to add the word appropriate because this world has twisted some of these God given pleasures and made them not appropriate. Scripture tells us not to do those things … but there is a lot of God given pleasure which God delights watching us find enjoyment in. (1 Timothy 6:17, Psalm 37:4)
Denying yourself is not about not having any life … Jesus came to bring us life. But we need to acknowledge that it is not always God’s top priority to make you happy. A Zoe life is about joy but not necessarily about happiness in the moment.
Let me just go on a tangent for a moment. You see, one of the big traps of our modern society is that we chase after happiness. We get sucked into the dream of the “happy ever after”. In a recent survey, when parents were asked what they want most for their kids, their answer was “I just want my kids to be happy”.
But happiness is such a fleeting thing … and you can’t just make everything happy. Have you ever been on a family holiday (either as a parent or as a kid) when things were not going well. Have you had one of those holidays? Did someone say, “we spent a lot of money on this trip so you better enjoy it. Everyone better start being happy.” It doesn’t work, does it.
Eric Hoffer – The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness. Sometime people whose top goal is happiness are willing to cut corners on their ethics, on their morals, on their relationships, to achieve happiness … which is a road to unhappiness.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:33 that instead of chasing after things of this world we should, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” So instead of pursing happiness … pursue the kingdom. Because when we pursue God’s kingdom, when we walk in the way of Jesus we find a life which is about much more than happiness … it is fulfilling, contented, rock solid.
Let’s stick with this word Kingdom. We all have our own little kingdoms, our own domains that we are in charge of. In my kingdom what I say goes. Let’s go back to the family vacation. Were you ever in the back seat and had a sibling next to you and both of you clearly defined where your kingdom began and made sure the other did not encroach your kingdom.
We all have these kingdoms where we are in charge. Where we are the ruler. Where what I say goes. But Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves.”
Maybe what it means to deny yourself is that you deny self-rule. Maybe when you deny yourself you let your kingdom come under the rule of Jesus – the King of Kings. Where you decide that your way isn’t the top priority but rather you are going to let Jesus have the rule over your life and follow HIS WAY. If we do this then our little kingdom is brought into somethings much more awesome … we become part of the kingdom of God. Instead of wanting to rule our kingdom we seek first the kingdom of God.
And when we do this, other things will start lining up for us. No guarantees of happiness, or a pain-free, suffering-free life … but the things that make life abundant will start to line up.
So … the question is
Do you trust Jesus enough to let him be in charge?
Do you trust this way of Jesus that we have been learning about over the past 6 weeks – do you trust that Jesus is right when he says that his way leads to life.
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves, pick up your cross and follow me.”
Let’s move onto the next phrase. What does that mean for you to take up your cross? It speaks to me about weight. A cross is heavy. There is an implication that there might be a cost to following Jesus
We live in an era of “Risk-assessment”. Who in their employment needs to consider risk-assessment … where you have to think about the danger, the cost, the risks of taking a certain action. So … in an era of “risk-assessment” we need to consider what it really means for us to follow Jesus. For the disciples, Jesus’ reference to them picking up their cross was quite clear … he was talking about their death. Jesus is bluntly saying that for the disciples, the cost for them will be death. And history tells us that out of the 11 disciples (excluding Judas), all but John were martyr for their faith. Jesus was saying that if they were going to follow him, there would be a cost.
We might not live in a country where we are martyred for our faith, but there is still a cost in following Jesus.
If we make the decision to truly live out the way of Jesus, I can almost guarantee that it won’t be easy. It is not easy to make a stand against the injustices of this world. It is not easy to be compassionate to those who make us uncomfortable. It is not easy to not take short cuts with our morals but rather take the high road. It is not easy to love your enemies, to pray for those who hate you. The way of Jesus is starkly different to the way of this world and will led us into conflict and tough situations.
And even if we might not have to physically die for Jesus … I think that picking up our cross still might mean death for us … or death of some parts of our life. Scripture encourages us that we might need to put to death our old ways when we commit to walk in the way of Jesus. Check out passages such as Colossians 3:5 (put to death the things of your old life) or John 15 (pruning).
I was listen to a sermon on this point and the preacher suggested that when it comes to this idea of let go the things of this world we begin to play with the idea that maybe, maybe we can have both … both the life of Jesus and the life of the world.
There is a term that some of the young people use … FOMO.
Do you know what this means? Fear Of Missing Out.
You see, we want it all and we sometimes get worried that if we totally commit to the way of Jesus we might miss out on some of the other benefits that the world is offering. And so we try to do both … walk the Jesus way and the blessings that the Zoe life; but at the same time we strive for worldly success and all that comes with that. It is almost impossible to do both … but we try because we don’t want to miss out.
But I don’t think we can’t do both. When we aim for both I don’t think we would experience the fullness of what Jesus is offering. In our fear of missing out … we ironically miss out.
So do we trust Jesus when he said that his way that it will be more fulfilling that the other things of this world?
Jesus said that his way leads to ZOE life but that there might be some denying, there might be some sacrifice, some struggles, some suffering, even some dying … but do you also know what Jesus says you will have along the way … LIFE. Zoe Life.
Do we trust that Jesus knows what he is talking about?
Unfortunately, there is no instant gratification on this one.
But If you follow Jesus … Jesus says that we will have life.
We are at the end of our Lenten journey and we are arriving at the cross. Next Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. What I find interesting is that Easter Story reflects exactly what we are talking about today?
We have said that following Jesus might mean denying self-rule and coming under the rule of the Kingdom. That is exactly what Jesus did. In the Easter story we see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, “Not my will, but your will be done”.
We have talked about how following Jesus might mean putting to death some aspects of our lives, our worldly desires, our need to have it all. And at the core of Easter story is the death of Jesus. In the Last Supper (which we are just about to share in) Jesus told his disciples that his body would be broken, his blood would be shed … for the forgiveness of sins. As Colossians 1:21-22 says, through the physical death of Jesus on the cross, we are changed from God’s enemies into his friends.
On Good Friday … Jesus literally picked up his cross and died so that we might find grace and forgiveness.
But what comes after Jesus death? Resurrection!
That is what happened in the Easter story and that is what happens with us too. Through death we find life. Through dying to our own self-self and committing to the way of Jesus, we find resurrection and new life.
Paul in Romans 4 uses the analogy of Baptism to say that we when we commit to following Jesus it is like we are dying to our old life but in doing so we are raised to a new life in Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:17 puts it like this – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves, pick up your cross and follow me.”
Yes, there is a cost in following Jesus. Yes, there is some denying of self, yes there is some dying to old ways … but Jesus says that when we walk in his way there is also resurrection, growth, life – the Zoe life, the Kingdom life.
It comes down to how much we trust the words of Jesus. Was Jesus correct when he said that his way is the way to abundant life? Do we trust the words of Jesus enough to commit ourselves fully to Walking in the Way of Jesus?
Let me ask you …
• Have you decided to follow Jesus?
• Are you willing to put the cross before you, and the world behind you?
• If you are already walking in this way of Jesus, is there anything that would cause you to turn back? Or are you past the point of no return?
We know that for Jesus … when the cross was before him, he did not turn back.
In that wonderfully symbolic way that I talked about before. At the last Supper Jesus took the bread, blessed it and broke it and said, “This is my body which is given for you”.
When we eat this bread today … let us not only remember what Jesus did, let us not only remember his teaching, his example, his way … but let us commit to walking in that way.
After the supper, he took the cup, and blessed it and said,
“This is my blood which is shed for you and for many
For the forgiveness of sins.”
When we share in this cup today … let us not only remember what Jesus did and give thanks … but let’s commit to being his disciple. Let’s deny ourselves – come under the rule of the kingdom of God, pick up our cross, and follow him.
When we come forward for communion … to share in these gifts from God … let us put our footsteps in the footsteps of Jesus and in a symbolically by walking through these saying of Jesus – commit or recommit ourselves to walking in his way.
As we enter into the last week of Lent and Holy Week next Sunday … let us keep the cross before us, and the world behind us.
Have you decided to follow Jesus?
Let us Pray:
We thank you that you loved the world so much that you sent your only son – so that we might have life.
We thank you for Jesus’ teaching
We thank you for Jesus’ helping and healing
We thank you for the way that Jesus brings us life
And we thank you that through his death and resurrection, Jesus is our saviour
Come, Holy Spirit.
Come on these gifts of bread and juice that they may be for us
A visible, tangible, expression of Jesus love and sacrifice.
And I pray that as we enter into this Holy Sacrament
That we might commit anew to walking in the way of Jesus
To love like Jesus loved, To serve like Jesus served, To follow Jesus example of servanthood, of justice and of compassion.
Come Holy Spirit, come on us to help us to live faithfully
As a disciple of Jesus Christ.
In whose name we pray. Amen.
Come … we have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back, No turning back.