Why are we so absorbed by him?
Well… During his first century ministry Jesus asked his small band of Jewish followers one day who they thought he was.1 “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” declared Peter. The more outspoken of Jesus’ followers, Peter identifies him by a dual title that invokes God's ancient promise to Israel’s King David.2 What was this?
God promised a descendent of the House of David would reign over God’s chosen people (Israel) in peace and justice for forever. The Old Testament of the Bible gives him the title, Messiah, meaning Anointed One3 from which we get the English word Christ. God also promises David, “I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to Me”. Peter uses both titles, “the Messiah” and “the Son of the living God” identifying Jesus as the Christ, God’s promised ruler.
In centuries following his promise to David, God progressively reveals through the prophets and song writers how this Anointed One will rule. He will:
- re-establish God’s rule on earth not only over Israel but over all nations4
- restore justice and peace to the nations, to the whole earth and its creatures5
- recover (redeem) his people from their habituated, hard-hearted, broken relationship with himself and their resistance to his rule and
- restore and provide a way into intimate relationship with God by his Spirit, reviving within them a ‘natural’ inclination to love and serve him.6
His experiences and the events Peter witnessed since knowing Jesus made what he declared very reasonable.7 But Jesus points out that his Father in heaven revealed it to Peter, indirectly confirming its truth. Then he immediately warns his followers to tell no one, because he…
“… must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day.”
This would have blown their minds! First century Jews’ apparently did not expect Israel’s Messiah to die, even though their Scriptures clearly predict it! It is hard to reconcile both a victorious and a dead Christ!
But Jesus doesn’t pause to explain. Instead he immediately gives (what we reckon to be) the most breathtaking invitation:8
“If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. What is a man benefited if he gains the whole world, yet loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and that of the Father and the holy angels. I tell you the truth: There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
Jesus has just affirmed himself to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God. If this is true, his invitation to anyone opens a staggering pospect to be with him as he fulfills God's purposes.
But Jesus' invitation foreshadows conditions: If anyone wants to come with me he must… The conditions of this awesome prospect – just three – are the most confronting, terrifying propositions a person can face. Jesus requires that a would-be follower says no, dies and comes.
In his first condition, Jesus confronts self-interest – allegiance to one’s self, to autonomy. He confronts it with the full personal impact of his own status as God’s absolute ruler. The reasonable response of a would-be follower in the presence of total authority is to yield to it, to deny him[her]self. It is to surrender autonomy – to cede self-sovereignty – to submit to God’s supreme ruler, King Jesus. It means to say NO to self and to self-interest!
But the truth is we can't say no to our self without the empowering help of God. Our sense of self-rule, our self-absorbed sense of our autonomy is deluded. The Bible reveals that a spiritual being stealthily rules the human world and each of us. We don’t. The power of the ruler of this world is rooted in human rebellion against the Creator.9 The ruler is called the devil, the strong man,10 the accuser.11 He holds his subjects as possessions in his household,10 in his kingdom,10,12 ominously described as the kingdom of darkness.13 He is always reluctant to lose control of even one of them.14 Saying NO is only possible because Jesus first tied up, disarmed, the strong man.10 We can say NO, but not because it is within our power or freedom to do so. Our ability to say NO is a gift we don’t deserve.
A person beginning to follow Jesus commences her journey through intense personal struggle. Having finally embraced this first condition, she might now expect a breather. But no! Jesus’ next condition is terrifying, …take up his cross daily. Hearing this phrase in the first century, his disciples would immediately recall a Roman crucifixion with horror. They see a brutalised man carrying a cross, escorted by a detachment of Roman soldiers indifferent to his plight. Might they have concern for the heavy cross the man is struggling to carry? Not likely!
A man carrying a Roman cross on his shoulder is about to die, a horrifyingly gruesome death! In their minds Jesus’ disciples see a ‘dead man walking!’ So, as a condition of going with him, King Jesus requires a follower to DIE!? And not just once. Daily! A follower of Jesus must be personally well acquainted with dying. Why?
To a woman, man or child who genuinely accepts that Jesus is who he claims to be, God promises a new birth, not of human parents. New birth is of God himself,15 by his Spirit.16 The one re-born becomes a child of God. In being born again 17 a child of God experiences the regeneration process God promised through the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.18 But this new-born’s renewal is not complete at re-birth.
A child of God retains a bent to rebel God’s rule, an inheritance of birth by human parents.19 Her mind and body is hooked on rebellion under the accuser’s control.20 As a computer receiving a software upgrade requires shutting down and rebooting, the complete regeneration that fits a believer in Jesus for life in his kingdom21 requires her death and resurrection to this new (eternal) life.22 Upon rebirth, the Spirit of God joins the believer into Jesus’ death, so she may honestly say, I have been crucified with the Messiah!23
Choosing to indentify daily in Jesus’ death has power for a child of God. A child of God needs this power to overcome a natural bent to disobey God, whenever this bent reveals itself. He needs this power each day to break the addictive rebellion against God.25 And in taking up his cross daily he receives power necessary to resist the pressures of the world,26 power to take off the former corrupted life-style and power to put on the new self. 27 He receives power to crucify the inherent bias to disobey Him and to crucify the godless passions and desires this bias generates within - each day that he chooses the power of death.28
A new good habit overwhelms an old evil habit.29 So to follow our King Jesus, we must overcome the entrenched habits of the old kingdom. This requires that we DIE daily as a new habit! And if we had any doubt about the severity of Jesus’ meaning in take up his cross daily, he follows with the uncompromising, For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it.
To those who respond to his King Jesus invitation to follow him, God grants his children capacity daily to overcome all the restraints of the devil's enslavement. To COME we must say NO to self and we must DIE our old life habituated to rebel against God - daily.
Then… and follow me. We might reasonably imagine Jesus simply saying, COME, with a rising inflection. Jesus’ first century disciples responded by physically following in his steps. But he’s not with us in the twenty-first century in a physical body. We can’t simply find where he is and then track in his footsteps.
Jesus warns his followers he would not always be with them. And he promises them another Counsellor, the Spirit of truth who would be with them forever:30
“The world is unable to receive Him because it doesn’t see Him or know Him. But you do know Him, because He remains with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you.
“In a little while the world will see Me no longer, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live too. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, you are in Me, and I am in you. The one who has My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me. And the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father. I also will love him and will reveal Myself to him.”
Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it You’re going to reveal Yourself to us and not to the world?”
Jesus answered, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. The one who doesn’t love Me will not keep My words. The word that you hear is not Mine but is from the Father who sent Me.
“I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.
So, a believer in God’s King Jesus, reborn by the Spirit, receives the Spirit of Jesus to inhabit her. So much so that Jesus can say, I am in you. So much so that the believer can say,
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, Christ [God’s King Jesus] lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God [second identifier of God’s King Jesus], who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Following Jesus is not now a matter of tracking behind him physically. It is not a matter of second guessing where he might be if he was still on earth. Nor is Jesus watching us from a distance31 and signalling us into action. He’s within us. So to follow him, a believer is to trust the Spirit of Jesus within her to lead her;32 to teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you. This is what it means to live by faith in the Son of God, also described as to walk by the Spirit,33 to live by the Spirit,34 and to follow the Spirit.34
And we say NO, DIE daily and COME diligently after Jesus by his Spirit, because he loved us and gave himself for us. Do you see why we are so absorbed in him?
And the tests of our maturity in following Jesus and which others may judge, include how much:
- We are like our him,35 i.e., the degree to which our lives lived evidence his Spirit empowering and leading us. The evidence is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control.36
- The way we live our lives reflect the values of his kingdom which are paradoxical to the values of our secular society.37
- In relationship - personal, family, neighbourhood, civil society, civil institutions, work, business, art, sports – we advance his kingdom on earth as in heaven.38
- We are like God in community, diverse but joined together as one in love and service to one another.39
- By speech and behaviour we give effective witness to our King Jesus, telling his Good News, that he is Lord of heaven and earth!40
And we’re never satisfied that we’ve arrived at maturity in following Jesus. We always press on to this goal.41
1 Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:1-27, New Testament of the Bible
2 2 Samuel 7:8-17, Old Testament of the Holman Christian Standard Bible
3 For example, Psalm 2:1-12, Old Testament of the Bible
4 For example, Psalm 2:6-8; Psalm 72; Isaiah 49:1-7; Daniel 7:13-14, Zachariah 9: 9-10, Old Testament of the Bible
5 For example, Isaiah 11:1-9; 42:1-4; Isaiah 61, Old Testament of the Bible
6 For example, Isaiah 59; Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:24-29, of the Old Testament of the Bible
7 Luke 9:1-15, New Testament of the Bible
8 Luke 9:23-27, New Testament of the Bible
9 Ephesians 2:1-2, New Testament of the Bible
10 Matthew 12:22-32 and Luke 11:14-23, New Testament of the Bible
11 satan, anglicized form of a Hebrew word meaning accuser or adversary, with the definite article (the satan) referring to the ruler of demons, the strong man of the house, (Matthew 12:22-32), the strong man the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 16:11)
12 Ephesians 2:1-3, New Testament of the Bible
13 Colossians 1:13, New Testament of the Bible
14 2 Timothy 2:24-26, New Testament of the Bible
15 John 1:12,13, New Testament of the Bible
16 John 3:5-8, New Testament of the Bible
18 Ezekiel 36:26,27 and Jeremiah 31:33-34, Old Testament of the Bible
19 Romans 3:23, New Testament of the Bible
20 Acts 26:18, New Testament of the Bible
21 Referred to in the New Testament as “eternal life”
22 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, New Testament of the Bible
23 Galatians 2:20, New Testament of the Bible
24 Romans 7:1-2, New Testament of the Bible
25 Colossians 3:1-8, New Testament of the Bible
26 Galatians 6:14, New Testament of the Bible
27 Ephesians 4:11-24 and Colossians 3:1-11, New Testament of the Bible
28 Galatians 5:24, New Testament of the Bible
29 Romans 12:21, New Testament of the Bible
30 John 14:17-25, New Testament of the Bible
31 From a Distance, Bette Midler, Available from: https://genius.com/Bette-midler-from-a-distance-lyrics, Accessed 2018 August
32 Galatians 5:16-26, New Testament of the Bible
33 Galatians 5:1, New Testament of the Bible
34 Galatians 5:25, New Testament of the Bible
35 Galatians 3:27, New Testament of the Bible
36 Galatians 5:22,23, New Testament of the Bible
37 Matthew 5:1-12 , New Testament of the Bible
38 Matthew 6:9-15, New Testament of the Bible
39 John 13:34,35; 17:20-26; Romans 12:9,10; 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 13; Galatians 5:13-15, New Testament of the Bible
40 Matthew 28:18-20, New Testament of the Bible
41 Philippians 3:1-21, New Testament of the Bible
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