It is the second day into the new year 2020. Many Christians often read daily devotionals, or inspirational messages from the Scriptures. My personal reflection and study of the Scriptures is to write my own devotional through prayer and consideration of the Scriptures – as I seek God’s will and his purpose for my life. (Unfortunately, these writings are not really shared broadly with others, but, this year, I will endeavour to post them on the Blog page of The New Humanity web site and I encourage people to share them freely as they will.)
Jesus asked his disciples who people were saying that he was. Strangely, some said that he was John the Baptist, others said that he was Elijah or another of the Prophets. But then Jesus asked them who they thought that he was.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”
Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone [at that time]. And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:20-27).
How do we go about taking up our cross every day to follow Jesus?
We recently watched a disturbing documentary filmed between 2004 to 2005 simply called, “The Bridge”. The documentary included one year of filming the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco Bay, California in daylight hours. The film captured about 24 suicides of people who jumped off the bridge and it included interviews with some of the family and friends of some of those who had committed suicide in this way. What utter despair led these people to take their own lives by jumping off the bridge? Our lives are in God’s hand and our destiny is according to his providence – so we ought to completely entrust our lives to God and surrender our own will in order to seek his will and purpose. However, we should not put God to the test but take up our responsibility according to how the Holy Spirit enables us to do his will.
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him (Matthew 4:1-11).
One of the suicide jumpers interviewed in the documenatry, shared how he had changed his mind seconds after he had already let go the rail of the bridge and he thought that if he sterightened his body in the fall and went into the sea feet first then there may just be a chance that he would yet survive – and he lived to tell his tale, acknowledging that it was by God’s mercy and providence that he survived.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62).
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-33).
There are more than 2,8 billion professing Christians living in the world today. We do not know the number of Christians there have been since the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, who died for the sins of the world, was raised from the dead and who ascended into heaven as King of kings. Certainly there is a “great crowd” of people professing to follow Jesus, but how many martyrs and how many have counted the cost by being prepared to take up their cross?
Perhaps many of the crowds who “follow Jesus”, follow him because they have a sense of need in this world and hope that he may enable them to live a “blessed”, successful and fulfilled life in this present world. But Jesus was not raised from the dead for the purpose of continuing to live in the world – not even to serve as an example of how we should live in this short life and in this mortal body of flesh.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires (Romans 6:8-12).
Jesus died and was raised to life so that the fear of death may be removed and so that we too, may die to the old life and be raised to a completely new life by the power of the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus to life. Genuine, orthodox Judaism, (the now obsolete religion according to the Old Covenant), included many sacrifices for sin which served as a continual reminder that the wages of sin is death. No one could ever attain righteousness by trying to observe the whole law and the sentence of death for the sinner has not been removed. On the contrary, we fully accept the death sentence of the Law and God’s grace and mercy does not spare the sinner from the cross. It is by the strict standard of the Law that we fully accept the death sentence required by the Law – and through being baptised into the Name of Jesus, we are baptised into his death – so that we take up our cross and be counted as having already died with him, so that we are set free and raised to a new life by the power of the Holy Spirit.
However, many of the crowds who follow Jesus, are more inclined to turn Christianity into a religion similar to Judaism, (with it’s external rules and regulations) – and they have made it into a new religion which has relaxed the numerous and binding laws as well as removing the death sentence for the sinner. In so doing, they have unwittingly turned God’s grace into a license to continue in their life of sin in this body of flesh. They have not taken up the cross and neither have they attained eternal life in the Spirit. They are the crowds who follow Jesus, but they remain a part of the old humanity in the flesh which is still under the condemnation of the Old Covenant Law. We are only set free from the binding Old Covenant Law through death.
For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.
So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code (Romans 7:2-6).
We may only counted as having died with Christ if we have considered the full cost of following him – which is to put to death the former life controlled by the flesh its desires.
For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all (Colossians 3:5-11).
“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:19-21).
Every day we are faced with new prospects and every new day, if we choose to continue following Jesus, we are required to take up the cross, put to death the deeds of the flesh, surrender our will and seek to only do the will of our Father who is in heaven.
When a well known Christian monk, who had been given the menial task of washing the dishes in the monastery, was asked what he would be doing differently if he knew that that day would be his last, he replied that he’d still be doing what he had been doing. That is because he did everything as unto the Lord in an unselfish, continual state of prayer and devotion to the Lord. he noted that our sanctification did not depend so much on changing our activities as it does upon doing them in an unselfish manner through which our continual attitude is one of humility and complete devotion to God.
[Brother Lawrence] thought it was a shame that some people pursued certain activities (which, he noted, they did rather imperfectly due to human shortcomings), mistaking the means for the end. He said that our sanctification does not depend as much on changing our activities as it does on doing them for God rather than for ourselves.
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5-6).
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:17-24).
There are no longer any Roman soldiers who are going to force us to carry our cross to a place where we will literally be crucified on account of our faithfulness to the King of kings rather than to the Emperor.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8).
We can learn to take up our cross and seek God’s will above that of our own while seemingly still going about our daily chores being filled with the Holy Spirit. The crucified life is not lived in any dramatic manner such as jumping off a bridge or literally being nailed to a cross, it is through having the same love and unselfishness as the prevailing attitude of our hearts as we worship God in spirit and in truth.