Follow (pt. 1): Give Up Your Life for Jesus

Below is part 1 of a booklet I put together for an upcoming sermon series, and a booklet we will hand out to all in attendance on Easter Sunday.  I want to provide each section as an individual blog post.  I hope it is both encouraging and challenging to you as we enter into this Spring season of 2013.

SS13033

FOLLOW
We all follow something…
Who (or what) do you follow?
____________________

“Follow Me”
~ Jesus, Luke 5:27

Everybody in life follows something or someone.  So who, or what, do you follow?  Who is the person that leads you?  What is the thing that you value most—the thing that gives you your identity?

What is the most important thing in your life?

Is it… Popular personalities? (actors, actresses, sports figures, musicians, politicians)  Parents?  Spouse?  Children?  Peers?  Religion?  Culture?  Tradition?  Yourself?

Often whenever Jesus encountered people, he would tell them, “Follow me.”  He was inviting them into a completely new life and identity totally defined by him.  And Jesus didn’t make this an easy thing to do.  He wasn’t asking people to add him into their busy lives or their list of favorite people.  In modern terms, he wasn’t asking people to like him or be his friend on Facebook or to follow his posts on Twitter.  No, Jesus was telling people to give up their very lives for his sake…

Just read his words from Luke 9:23-26:

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?  26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

To follow Jesus, people would have to deny themselves and take up their cross each day.  Now what was the cross?  People use them today in jewelry or artwork, or place them on buildings either to show their devotion to or disdain of something.  But in Jesus’ day the cross was a brutal instrument of torture and death used by the Roman Empire to execute the worst of the criminals.

Taking up your cross meant giving up your life.

Now Jesus went on to make a great promise when he called people to this radical and self-sacrificial devotion: he told them if you lose your life for his sake then you will have life.  He was promising life for eternity for any and all who will truly follow him today.

So what does it mean to follow Jesus in terms of self-denial and dying?  First, it means that his will matters more than yours.  Each day we wake up with a choice: will I pursue self-interests or will I pursue Jesus?  Will I love God and love others in a selfless and self-sacrificing way?  Second, it means a complete devotion to Jesus that carries you all the way to death—whether that death is in 80 years or 80 minutes.  Third, it means what he says, you will do; and where he leads, you will go.

{ But who was Jesus to make such a claim like this? }

In that same passage in the Bible, just a couple of paragraphs before, Jesus asked his followers the question: “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  They answered.  And then he asked, “But who do you say that I am?”  One man, named Peter, responded, “The Christ of God.”

“Christ” or “Messiah” is a word that basically means Jesus is the Savior-King.  Savior means that he rescues us from something.  This something is what the Bible calls “sin.”

You see, at the beginning of the human story, God created us to worship him and be in a wonderful relationship with him and with other people.  God took our first parents, Adam and Eve, and placed them in a beautiful garden with an abundance of trees and plants, and things to do.  He told them to care for the world, to cultivate the ground, and to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth with humankind.

It was good, and he gave us the freedom to do whatever we wanted—except for one thing.  He placed a tree in the middle of the garden, a tree named the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and he told Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree.  Out of all that God had provided, it was the one thing he prohibited humanity from doing.  It was a test of faith—would they truly be faithful and obedient to their good, gracious, and loving God?  He warned if they disobeyed then on that day they would die.

Unwilling to listen to God, Adam and Eve ate of the tree and they brought death into the world.  Immediately they plunged themselves into spiritual death—a broken relationship with God where they placed themselves under his judgment and wrath.  They also brought into the world the process of physical death and decay.rubble

For all the children of man born since, we have continued to walk in Adam and Eve’s footsteps.  Disobeying God, choosing our own way, and bringing harm to ourselves and others.  All have sinned, the Bible says, and therefore are all justly under God’s wrath and condemnation.

But God, being full of love and mercy for the people he created, did not leave us without hope.  Instead, he sent Jesus—the son of God, God himself in human flesh—to live a perfect life we could not live, and die in our place on that Roman cross where he took our sin and disobedience upon himself and also took the wrath and judgment of God we deserve.

If we believe that he is Savior and follow him as King (the other thing “Christ” means), turning from a vain life in sin to embrace the life he offers, then we have God’s perfect love and forgiveness bestowed upon us.  All of our sins past, present, and future—all the bad we have done in rejection of God, and even all the good we have done without trusting in God—all of our sins have been placed upon Jesus and his perfect life has been given to us.

God also promised us as followers of Jesus that he would put his Spirit within us to truly make us alive.  This life is characterized by change.  The Spirit of God changes us instantly taking us from a state of spiritual death to true life, and the Spirit changes us progressively making us more like Jesus with time.  And God promised to make us part of an eternal family called “church,” and so we gather with other followers of Jesus where we live as churches.  Then after this life or after Jesus returns to the earth, we will be with Jesus forever experiencing perfect joy and peace.  And we will rule with Jesus over a new earth where God restores and makes everything beautiful once more.

This is the story we call the Gospel or good news of Jesus.

And here’s the thing… the world looks at Jesus, and some say he is a myth, others say he was a good teacher or good example,  and  some  might say he was a prophet of God.  If any of that is all Jesus is, then neither he nor the Bible have any right to demand our very lives in following him.  But if Jesus is God, if he is the Christ—our great Savior-King, then Jesus has every right to command our lives and we have every obligation to obey and to follow.

In following Jesus, there is gain: we gain everything! Life eternal, abundant, and free—a life full of forgiveness, joy, and peace; a life with a place on the new earth.  In following Jesus we gain a new family and we gain God himself.

And if we don’t follow Jesus, there is a cost: we lose everything.  We can gain all the world has to offer—all the riches, the power, and the pleasures.  But we are all marching towards death, and none of it will help us once we die.  When we die, it’s gone and we are left in the misery of eternal punishment.  (If you have a Bible, read Matthew 25—Jesus explains more about eternal joy and life versus eternal punishment and death).

Here’s a question for you: Are you willing to give your life completely over to Jesus?

Next up: Part 2 ~ Value Jesus Above All Else

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