READ : Luke 9:23
And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Luke 9:23 rsv
Listen to this word of Jesus. It’s for anyone aspiring to be His disciple. It’s in Luke, chapter 9, verse 23: “Anyone who wants to be a follower of mine must renounce self. Day after day he must take up his cross and follow me.” We’ve been thinking already about what it means to renounce self, how to say no to that old tyrant so that we can say yes to a new master. We’ve been pondering what it is to take up our cross, to live as those whose lives have been forfeited, to be ready for the loss of everything. But all that is preparatory. It has to do with the choices a person must make, the outlook he or she must adopt, in order to become a follower. Think now about the following itself: If you want to be a disciple, Jesus said, you have to come with Me.
It’s fairly easy to understand what that meant for Jesus’ original disciples. Following Him meant pulling up stakes and going where He went. Disciples had to leave familiar surroundings, ordinary occupations, friends and family members, in order to take the road with Him. It can hardly be that way for us today. He’s not here in the flesh, hasn’t turned up in our town with an invitation to join Him on the way to Jerusalem. But are some things about following Him the same today as they were then? Yes. Three constant factors are learning from Jesus, likeness to Him and love for Him. Those are for anyone who wants to follow Jesus at any time, in any situation. We need to enroll in His school, walk in His steps, and become devoted personally to Him.
LEARNING FROM JESUS
First, let’s look at the learning part. That’s what the word disciple literally means: someone who is taught by another, someone who majors in listening and learning.
It was common in Jesus’ day for rabbis or teachers in Israel to have disciples. The true follower would listen to the teaching of his rabbi, ponder it, memorize it, internalize it. That’s what made him a disciple, a “taught one.” The ideal for such students was to be like limed cisterns into which water could be safely poured. No leaks. They would take in everything the teacher presented and not forget a word. They would so store it up in mind and heart that it would never seep away.
The disciples of Jesus received a powerful call to that kind of learning while on the Mount of Transfiguration. Remember when Peter, James and John were overwhelmed to see sunlight pouring from the face of Jesus? He conversed then with Moses and Elijah. Moses represented God’s law. Elijah was the greatest of His prophets. They stood for the total teaching of the Old Testament. But when the startling vision was over and the disciples saw Jesus only, they heard this voice from the glory: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). This was to be their first calling as followers of Jesus, to listen, to attend, to “learn, mark and inwardly digest” the things He said.
How would a person do that? Suppose you’re thinking about becoming a follower of Jesus, learning to listen to Him. How would you go about it? Certainly you would join yourself to a body of Christian believers where Jesus’ message was being preached and taught. There are probably gatherings of Christians near you where week by week you can listen to the words of Jesus being read and explained. That’s a start.
But that’s not all. The Scriptures containing the words and deeds of Jesus are meant for everyone. The Bible is not the province of religious professionals only. It’s a word for all of us. That’s why it’s being translated into all the languages of earth. It’s God’s word to the common people. It’s meant for you and me.
If you’re serious about listening to Jesus Christ, start studying your Bible every day. All of it witnesses in some way to Him. It’s the “heaven-drawn picture,” someone has said, “of Christ, the living Word.” The Old Testament is that portion of the Bible which He studied, memorized, loved, and where He saw His own mission foretold and unfolding. The New Testament is the apostolic witness to Him, the risen Lord. In all of it, you can listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd.
But Jesus hasn’t given us only His written Word. He has promised to all of His followers the gift of His Spirit to guide them into its truth. So as you listen to the preaching and teaching of the Word in your church and as you read and study the Bible for yourself, always be asking the Holy Spirit to be your teacher, to make the Word come alive for you, to enable you to be a genuine listener.
LIKENESS TO HIM
Along with the listening, discipleship involves also likeness to Jesus. The goal of every Christian disciple is to be like Jesus. He once said, “It is enough for the servant to be as his master” (see Matt. 10:25). The apostle Peter describes how Jesus has left us an example, that we should follow in His steps (see 1 Peter 2:21).
The call of Jesus was to come behind Him. The disciples’ listening and learning was to be more than the storing up of mental furniture. It was to issue in behavior, in a patterning of all life after that of their Lord.
This imitation is not a superficial thing like dressing as Jesus dressed, adopting His accent or mannerisms. It means living as He lived. He not only teaches the way – He is the way. He embodies what it means to love God and to love people. We make discipleship concrete and real by not only listening to the Word of Jesus about these things but by actually loving our enemies, blessing those who curse us, walking the second mile with an oppressor. The apostle Peter seems to focus especially on the way we deal with suffering as a form of likeness to Christ. He says, “For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval” (1 Peter 2:20). For that’s the way Jesus did it. When you bear reproach and injustice that way, you walk behind Him.
I remember reading many years ago a book called In His Steps by Charles Sheldon. It told the story of a man whose life was revolutionized by asking himself at every crossroad, great and small, “What would Jesus do?” That doesn’t tell the whole story of what it is to be a Christian, but it points toward something tremendously important: the Christ who is Savior and teacher is also example. Just as He set His face to go to Jerusalem, I am to fix my heart to fulfill my mission. Just as He lived a life of utter obedience to God and self-giving love toward others, I am to make that my aim. I call myself a Christian. I have the chrism, the anointing of God’s Spirit upon my life, so that something of the character and conduct of Jesus may appear in me. I’m not speaking here of attainment so much as of aspiration, making it our life’s ambition to be made over in Christ’s image, to follow in His steps.
LOVE FOR HIM
But we haven’t said yet the most important thing about discipleship. It’s not only listening to Him. It’s not only likeness to Him. It’s love for Christ. Jesus calls us to a lifelong companionship with Himself.
Remember the message bold Elijah thundered long ago on Mt. Carmel? He challenged his double-minded countrymen: “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). The word follow here points to the deepest kind of religious allegiance. Who will be your god? Will it be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Or will it be Baal? Who will be Lord of your life? It can’t be both. It can only be one. Which will it be?
When Jesus called people to follow Him, it was a challenge like that. It was to see Him not only as teacher and example but also as Lord. The first disciples grasped that when in answer to His question, “Who do you say that I am?” they replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). To follow Him meant to accept that staggering claim about who He was. It was to offer to Him the allegiance and commitment due to God alone.
The call of Jesus is a call into personal relationship with Him. It’s more than learning things about Him, more even than patterning life after Him. It’s belonging to Him now and forever.
The first disciples sensed in Jesus the presence of the Almighty. They discovered in Him an accepting, forgiving love they had never known before. Their hearts were won to Him. And we today have a thousand times more reason to respond in that way because we know this Jesus now as the one who died for our sins and rose again, who lives today to offer forgiveness and new life to all of us who will trust Him. To follow Jesus Christ is to trust in God’s saving love given to the world in Him and to respond with an answering love. Jesus calls people to be with Him, to throw in their lot with Him, to be His friends, His devoted followers, His grateful servants. We don’t understand New Testament Christianity until we realize that at its heart is an overwhelming sense of indebtedness to Jesus Christ.
We love Him because He first loved us. That becomes the inspiration for our listening and our motivation for becoming like Him. It’s in fellowship with the Lord that we receive the power of His Spirit to make our following possible and real. And it’s because He wins our hearts by His grace that we find ourselves gladly willing to renounce self and take up our cross to come after Him.
The well-known writer John Sherill tells in a recent Guideposts article of a time when as a young man he was gravely ill. His friend Catherine Marshall, widow of Peter Marshall, arranged to see him and asked a question which seemed strange to him at the time, “John, do you believe that Jesus Christ is God?” Sherrill at that time had intellectual reservations about that. He began to express them. Catherine Marshall said, “No, you can’t reason your way to this, John. It’s a commitment of faith.” Sherrill struggled with the issue until one day, in the light of what he knew of Jesus Christ, he decided to take the leap of faith. He confessed in the presence of his wife, “I believe that Jesus Christ is God.”
A remarkable healing followed in his life and a fruitful ministry for Christ which has spanned the decades. It all began when Sherrill recognized who Jesus is, when he affirmed his faith and offered up his life to be a follower of Jesus.
I’m praying that something like that will happen in your life today if you are still uncommitted. I’m praying that you will realize that Jesus is God coming to us, reaching down toward us, giving His life on our behalf. I’m praying that you will see Him as the Lord in human life, come for the world and for you. I’m asking God that you will trust Him completely as your Savior, the one who died for you and rose again. And then, out of a grateful love, may you become His disciple, listening every day to His voice, seeking always to walk in His steps, remembering as long as you live: I’m not my own. I’ve been bought with a price. I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. That’s what the Lord calls us to, personal trust in Him, personal devotion to Him, walking with Him all through life. Will you respond today to that call?