The Cost Of Discipleship

Reflect:
Matthew 16:24

“Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Salvation is free…but discipleship will cost you your life.”  I’m pretty sure he was quoting Jesus on that one.

Does Christ’s call to self-denying, cross-bearing discipleship seem a little extreme in comparison to the “easy believism” that passes for some brands of discipleship today? You will likely hear a lot more about a life of comfort, security and success these days from spiritual leaders than the straight talk Jesus laid on his would-be followers.

Jesus made no promises of an easy, breezy, carefree Christianity. Rather, he demanded complete obedience, costly sacrifice, and selfless servanthood from those who wanted to be on his team. He told them that they would have to “eat his flesh and drink his blood” if they wanted a part in him. (John 6:53) He said people would hate them, misunderstand them, reject them, persecute them, and put them out of the synagogues.  And he even promised that people would kill them, believing that in so doing they were helping God out. (John 16:2)

Yet the eleven disciples (one of them, Judas, got cold feet) fully bought into Christ’s call to costly discipleship. They gave up everything they had and left everything they knew for a life that promised nothing except a chance to advance God’s kingdom in a resistant, hostile world. They fully understood that the overwhelming bulk of their rewards would come only afterwards, in the afterlife.

Despite Christ’s less than appealing recruitment campaign, however, these first disciples, followed in the years to come by countless thousands of other hungry seekers, flocked to this self-denying, cross-bearing brand of Christianity. Jesus was a tough act to follow, to say the least, but these disciples eagerly signed up—and they changed the world.

How? Simply by doing what Jesus had asked: They denied themselves, took up their crosses, followed his way daily and laid down their lives for his sake— literally in many cases. Without a political voice, financial resources, social standing, and military might, this unlikely ragtag band of followers conquered the Roman Empire in less than three hundred years.

Such was the radical power of this brand of fully committed discipleship.

Do you worry, as I do, that Christ’s call to costly discipleship would empty most churches of its people in our day? Though most believers give mental assent to cross-bearing and self-denial, in reality there is very little evidence of it in their lives, or in their churches.

A.W. Tozer commented that “it has become popular to preach a painless Christianity and automatic saintliness. It has become part of our ‘instant’ culture. ‘Just pour a little water on it, stir mildly, pick up a gospel tract, and you are on your Christian way.’”

If Jesus rebuked Peter (Matthew 16:23) — “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” — for suggesting Christianity without a cross, what do you suppose he would say to us who have suggested Christian discipleship without cross-bearing?

If Jesus rebuked Peter — “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23) — for suggesting Christianity without a cross, what do you suppose he would say to those today who have suggested Christian discipleship without cross-bearing? Jesus made no promises of an easy, breezy, carefree Christianity. Rather, he demanded complete obedience, costly sacrifice, and selfless servanthood from those who wanted to be on his team—and with that, a chance to change the world now and unending, indescribably joy in the world to come.

We must aggressively and boldly reject that brand of faith, because that is not the discipleship to which Jesus has called us. And that is not the discipleship that I want for my life.

How about you?

 “The first mark of a disciple is not a profession of faith, but an act of obedience.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Reflect & Apply: Bonhoeffer once remarked, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” No matter how long you have been a Christian, Jesus is calling you to a more ruthless brand of discipleship.  Are you ready to follow?

The Grinch You Will Always Have

Today’s Reflection:

After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” (Matthew 2:13, NLT)

The renowned 19th century Bible expositor J. C. Ryle said, “The rulers of this world are seldom friendly to the cause of God.”

How true!  And nowhere is that truth more evident than in Matthew 2 when King Herod tried to kill God’s greatest cause, the infant Jesus. This is the original story of the real Grinch who didn’t just try to steal Christmas, he tried to kill Christmas.

It’s a bizarre story when you think about it; it doesn’t seem to belong in the Christmas account. I’ll bet you won’t get a card next Christmas depicting Herod killing the babies of Bethlehem. While you might see the “Nutcracker Suite”, you’re not likely to attend the “Slaughter of the Innocents”. Your music director will likely lead the congregation to sing “Away In A Manger”, but not “Away With the Baby Jesus!”

It is a part of the story we would just as soon forget, but there it is, tucked into the Christmas story by God’s design for our benefit and encouragement. I think it’s there, in part, because Herod was just the first of a long line of Grinches right up to this day that are always trying to kill our Christmas and steal our joy and destroy the incarnational plan of God in our lives.  Jesus, who was obviously and personally familiar with “the Grinch”, said in John 10:10,

“The thief’s  purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

Here is one of the things I believe the Holy Spirit, who inspired at Mathew’s account, wanted you to know from this story: Back then, Herod couldn’t destroy Jesus, and right now, no ruler, no person, no force, no circumstance, no disappointment can stop the cause that God has birthed in you! God is committed to giving you “a rich and satisfying life”, both now and for all eternity!

What cause has God birthed in you?  Has some real life Grinch in the form of a person or a circumstance tried to steal it from you?  Take your concern to God and trust.  Memorize and pray back Psalm 138:8 to God all week long:

“The Lord will perfect that which concerns me!”

Something To Think About

“Walk boldly and wisely…There is a hand above that will help you on.” ~Philip James Bailey

A Few Good Men…Women, Too!

Today’s Reflection:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  (Matthew 16:24)

Does Christ’s call to discipleship seem a little extreme in comparison to the “easy believism” that passes for discipleship today? You will likely hear a lot more about “God’s promise” of a life of comfort, security and success these days from spiritual leaders than straight talk on self-denial and cross bearing.

Jesus made no of promises of an easy, breezy, carefree Christianity. Rather, he demanded complete obedience, costly sacrifice, and selfless servanthood from those who would follow him. He told them that they would have to “eat his flesh and drink his blood” (John 6:53-55) if they wanted a part in him. He said people would hate them, misunderstand them, reject them, persecute them, and put them out of the synagogues. And he even promised that people would kill them, believing that in so doing they were helping God out.

Yet the eleven disciples (one of them, Judas, got cold feet) fully bought into Christ’s call to costly discipleship. They left everything they had and everything they knew for a life that promised nothing except a chance to advance God’s kingdom in a resistant, hostile world. They fully understood that the overwhelming bulk of their rewards would come only afterwards, in the afterlife.

And, despite Christ’s less than appealing recruitment campaign, these first disciples, followed in the years to come by countless thousands of other hungry seekers, flocked to this self-denying, cross-bearing brand of Christianity. Jesus was a tough act to follow, literally, but these first disciples eagerly signed up—and they changed the world.

How? Simply by doing what Jesus had asked: They denied themselves, took up their crosses, and laid down their lives for his sake. Without a political voice, financial resources, social standing, and military might, this unlikely ragtag band of followers conquered the Roman Empire in less than three hundred years.

Such was this brand of fully committed discipleship’s radical power!

Do you worry, as I do, that Christ’s call to costly discipleship would empty most churches in our day not only if it were demanded, but even if it were merely taught? Though most believers give mental assent to cross-bearing and self-denial, in reality there is very little evidence of it in their lives, or in their churches of this kind of full-throttle discipleship.

If Jesus rebuked Peter (Matthew 16:23) — “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” — for suggesting Christianity without a cross (Matthew 16:24), what do you suppose he would say to we who have suggested Christian discipleship without cross-bearing?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once remarked, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” We need to remind ourselves of that truth, because you likely won’t hear it from too many pulpits today. A.W. Tozer commented that “it has become popular to preach a painless Christianity and automatic saintliness. It has become part of our ‘instant’ culture. ‘Just pour a little water on it, stir mildly, pick up a gospel tract, and you are on your Christian way.’”

We must aggressively and boldly reject that brand of faith, because that is not the discipleship to which Jesus has called us. And that is not the discipleship that I want for my life.

How about you?

Something To Consider
“Salvation is free … but discipleship will cost you your life.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Proof of Life

Read: Matthew 28

Some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened. A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. They told the soldiers, “You must say, Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.” … So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today. (Matthew 28:11-15, NLT)

The resurrection of Jesus isn’t just a nice little sidebar to the Easter story, it is central and essential to authentic Christian faith.  That is why skeptics, scoffers and Satanic forces have tried to explain it away for two thousand years.  However, you and I can be confident that the resurrection is not just some myth perpetuated by fanatical followers, it is the truth. How do we know that?  There is proof of life!

To begin with, there is an amazing amount of physical proof.  In Matthew’s resurrection account, the Jewish leaders went to great lengths to prevent a story about this dead Messiah magically rising from the grave, so they sealed the tomb and posted a guard unit. The initial evidence that a resurrection occurred was the broken seal, which, if tampered with, carried severe consequences under Roman law. So frightened by this broken seal and the empty tomb was the battled-hardened Roman guard unit that they deserted their post—an act punishable by death.

In Mark’s Gospel, the evidence shows the large stone over the tomb’s entrance had been moved. Mark 16 says the three women who came to anoint Jesus’ body were concerned about how the stone—typically weighing between three to four thousand pounds according to archaeologists—would get rolled back from the tomb. The wording of the Greek text in Mark suggests that this stone wasn’t just rolled to one side, it was literally picked up and carried away—amazing proof that something supernatural had happened.

In Luke’s account, another physical proof is the empty tomb itself.  All anyone had to do to disprove this story was show a body in a tomb. Produce a dead body and the story dies.

Finally, in John’s Gospel, we find physical evidence of the grave-clothes, but no body:  These linen burial cloths, soaked with almost one hundred pounds of spices and myrrh, were wrapped around the body. When this process was done the myrrh became like gum, making the clothes very hard to remove. A hastily removed body was not such an easy thing.

Not only was there physical evidence, there were visual proofs.  In the accounts of five different writers, the risen Christ made thirteen separate appearances to a total of 557 witnesses who saw the risen Jesus with their own eyes.  In I Corinthians 15:6, the Apostle Paul said most of the 500 plus eye-witnesses were still alive at the time of his writing who could verify what had happened.

As amazing as the physical evidence and the eye-witness proof is, the most amazing evidence, however, is the transformational proof in the changed lives of Christ’s followers.  What else could account for eleven cowardly disciples becoming bold proclaimers of the resurrection and ultimately giving their lives for this cause. What else could account for a brilliant Jewish scholar and anti-Christian fanatic named Paul being converted and becoming the most effective evangelist ever—and ultimately getting beheaded for his belief in the One whom he had formerly persecuted.

Time and space do not permit listing the many other proofs of the resurrection here, but Acts 1:3 says, “During the forty days after his crucifixion, Jesus appeared to these people many times with convincing proofs that he was actually alive.” When you consider the historical, verifiable evidence—convincing physical, visual and the transformational proof of the resurrection—you are forced to decide about Jesus: He is either the risen Lord, or this is the most incredible hoax ever foisted upon humanity. Either Christianity is a body of truth worthy of ordering your life by, or it ought to be swept into the dustbin of history.

Dr. William F. Albright, the famous Johns Hopkins archaeologist, said, “For a mere legend [or lie or the psychological fabrications of lunatics] about Christ…to have gained circulation and to have had the impact it had [in the 1st century], without one shred of basis in fact, is [unbelievable].”

In other words, to deny the resurrection would be harder to swallow than the truth.

“Thousands and tens of thousands have gone through the evidence which attests the resurrection of Christ, piece by piece, as carefully as ever a judge summed up on the most important case. I have myself done it many times over, not to persuade others, but to satisfy myself. I have been used for many years to study the history of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fitter evidence and every kind.” ~Thomas Arnold

What If God Took Over?

The Bible says if you choose to follow the One who is alive, you will experience resurrection power.  Follow the proof and you will find the power.  Accept the resurrection as truth, accept the Risen Christ as Savior and Lord, and you will experience true Easter power.

“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Romans 8:11)

Hope Lives

Read: Matthew 27

Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. (Matthew 27:50, NLT)

Jesus died on Good Friday, but rose again on Easter Sunday, so that you and I can live with hope on Monday—and every other day of the week throughout life and for all eternity.  That is what Peter calls living hope:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (I Peter 1:3)

When you fully embrace this living hope, you will quit living like Jesus is still dead! That is our problem, I think: We embrace Good Friday and rejoice in Resurrection Sunday, but go back to work or school on Monday and live as if the Lord’s body is still in the tomb.

The story is told of Martin Luther, who once spent three days in a deep depression over something that had gone wrong.  On the third day his wife, Katie, came downstairs dressed in mourning clothes. Luther asked, “Who’s dead?” She replied, “God!” Luther was offended, “What do you mean, God is dead? God cannot die.” Kate replied, “Well, the way you’ve been acting I was sure He had!”

Peter calls to us today, to snap out of post-Easter funk, because Jesus lives! We have a living hope that really matters beyond Easter!”  I love how historian Jaroslav Pelikan said it, “If Christ is risen—nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen—nothing else matters.”

What difference does an Easter resurrection make on a back-to-work Monday?

First, Christ’s death and resurrection are the foundation of your faith.  The fact is, without the resurrection, your faith (and life) is meaningless.  I Corinthians 15:14 says, “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.”

Second, Christ’s death and resurrection are the basis of your hope.  I Corinthians 15:19-20 says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than anyone else in the world. But Christ has been raised to life! And this makes us certain that we will also be raised to life.” Hebrews 6:19 says, “We have this hope as an anchor of the soul, firm and secure.” Romans 5:5 say this “hope does not disappoint us!”

Third, Christ’s death and resurrection are the guarantee of your resurrection.  Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?” If you do—believe, that is—the cross and the empty tomb become God’s signature on the Divine contract with you assuring you of eternal life after you die.

Fourth, Christ’s death and resurrection are the fountainhead of God’s love for you. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Yes, God loves “the world”, according to that verse, but you are the “whoever” the Apostle John had in mind when he penned those famous words.

Do you want to radically change your Monday mornings from here on out? Embrace God’s eternal, inexhaustible love for you that was on display when Jesus forgave your sins by dying on the cross and rising from the tomb on the third day.

Begin to live Easter every day of the year…especially come Monday morning!

“Without the hope of eternal life, this life is not worth the effort of getting dressed in the morning.” ~Count Otto von Bismarck

What If God Took Over?

The fact remains, even though Jesus died, he rose again. The stone was moved—the tomb is still empty!  That is why your faith is a living hope!  So take Easter with you into Monday…and Tuesday…and…well, you get the idea.  When you live Easter every day of the week, you will find stones still get moved and tombs still get emptied when you make Christ’s death and resurrection the foundation of your faith.

 

Your Judas

Read: Matthew 26

From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus. (Matthew 26:16, NLT)

Sorry to be the one to break the news to you, but everybody gets a Judas in life.  At one point or another, you will bear the pain of someone you trusted thrusting a knife in your back.  It is simply, and sadly, the awful reality of living in a broken world alongside fallen human beings.

Among the 60 conspirators who assassinated the Roman leader on March 15, 44 BC was Marcus Junius Brutus. Caesar not only trusted Brutus, he favored him as a son.  According to Roman historians, Caesar first resisted his assassins, but when he saw Brutus among them with his dagger drawn, he gave up. He pulled the top part of his robe over his face, and uttered those heartrending words immortalized by Shakespeare, “Et tu Brutus”, or as the historians have recorded, “You, too, my child?”

Julius Caesar was not the only one to know such treachery. The passionate Scottish patriot William Wallace experienced it when Earl Robert de Bruce betrayed him. Not even the brightest theological mind who ever lived—the Apostle Paul—or the most perfect human being ever—Jesus Christ—was spared. No one gets a pass on betrayal.

So here’s the thing: Are you willing to consider the possibility that God has a far deeper work to do in you that can only come through the betrayer’s knife?  Charles Spurgeon said,

“I bear willing witness that I owe more to the fire, the hammer and the file than to anything else in the Lord’s workshop.  I sometimes question whether I have ever learned anything except through the rod.  When my schoolroom is darkened, I see the most.”

The truth is, the fire, the hammer and the file of a betrayal may result in some of God’s finest craftsmanship—if you keep your heart soft and your eye on him. If you are going through the pain of a betrayer’s wound right now, remember, you are walking where great people have walked before. Their greatness came because they didn’t allow betrayal to ruin them; they learned how to turn their pain into greater usefulness for the Lord.

Jesus responded to Judas’ money-making treachery with obedient submission to God—and transformed the world.  Perhaps God wants to use your pain to form you, and transform your world.

Only a friend can betray a friend, a stranger has nothing to gain
Only a friend comes close enough to ever cause so much pain.
~Michael Card

What If God Took Over?

If you are going through the pain of betrayal, memorize and pray this psalm of David, who knew a little about betrayal:

“But I call to God, and the LORD saves me.  Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice…Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” ~Psalm 55:16-17, 22

Is Hell For Real…and Forever?

Read: Matthew 25

“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. (Matthew 25:41, NLT)

Is hell for real…and forever?  Once again, that has become a hot topic in evangelical circles. A certain well-known pastor of one of America’s so-called “mega-churches” has seemed to indicate that possibly, just maybe, perhaps there is an escape clause in the whole “eternal” part of the doctrine of hell.

On what does he base this departure from orthodox theology?  The love of God.  The thought behind this is that God’s love will ultimately triumph over man’s sinfulness, and in the end (even after death), every human being will come to the faith Christians have expressed in this life that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.  The general term for those who hold such a belief is “universalism.” Theologian J. I. Packer says this of universalism:

A universalist is someone who believes that every human being whom God has created or will create will finally come to enjoy the everlasting salvation into which Christians enter here and now…it appears as an extreme optimism of grace, or perhaps of nature, and sometimes, it seems, of both. But in itself it is a revisionist challenge to orthodoxy, whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant evangelical; for the church has officially rated universalism a heresy ever since the second Council of Constantinople (the fifth ecumenical council, A.D. 553), when the doctrine of apokatastasis (the universal return to God and restoration of all souls) that Origen taught was anathematized.

According to Jesus, who knows more about heaven and hell than anyone, and according to other Scripture, hell is not a temporary place to pay for sins, it is a place of eternal hopelessness where sooner or later those who are there will realize there is no second chance. Leighton Ford said,

“The fire, outer darkness, the thirst [of hell] depict spiritual separation from God, moral remorse, the consciousness that one deserves what he’s getting.  Hell is disintegration—the eternal loss of being a real person. In hell the mathematician who lived for his science can’t add two and two.  The concert pianist who worshipped himself through his art can’t play a simple scale.  The man who lived for sex goes on in eternal lust, with nobody to exploit.  The woman who made a god out of fashion has a thousand dresses but no mirror!  Hell is eternal desire— eternally unfulfilled.”

Hell is an awful reality, and that is why we must to do everything we can to make it really hard for people to go there. Love requires that from us, and God’s love sent Jesus to give people every chance on this side of eternity to escape it. He, himself, paid the price to get you out of hell and into heaven!

The great preacher Henry Ironside told the story of pioneers who were making their way across the country to a place that had been opened up for homesteading.  They traveled in covered wagons, and progress was very slow.  One day they were horrified to see a long line of smoke in the west, stretching for miles across the prairie.  It was evident that the dried grass was burning toward them rapidly.  They faced certain death. But one man knew what do, and he set fire to the grass behind them, then had them move back on it once it had burned.

As the flames roared on toward them, a little girl began to scream in terror, “Are you sure we’ll not all be burned up?” The man replied, “Child, the flames can’t reach us here, for we are standing where the fire has been!”

What a picture of being safe in Christ!  The fires of God’s judgment burned themselves out on Jesus, and those who are in Christ are safe forever.

Hallelujah!  We are standing where the fire has been.

No one who is ever in hell will be able to say to God,You put me here,’ and no one who is in heaven will ever be able to say, ‘I put myself here.’” ~John Hannah

What If God Took Over?

Do you know someone who has not received eternal life by placing saving faith in Jesus Christ?  What would God’s love have you to do for them?  For starters, you can pray!