The Terms For Discipleship

 

Introduction ¾  Matthew 16:21-26

 

In the words of Christ preserved for us in the Gospel records, there are two characteristics  that standout noticeable. There is an element of tenderness of which we are perhaps most familiar.  But there is also  another element—that of severity, the element which sometimes seems almost to strike us as rude or  harsh expression.

 

These elements manifest themselves also in the story of Christ, and the influence  that He exerted upon His own age, and continues to  exert on every consecutive age.  Jesus was and is the most attractive personality that the world has ever known.

 

 As He tabernacled among men in earthly form, and by His Spiritual presence in every successive century, He has repelled the very  men He has  attracted.  Whispering, on the one hand, to those burdened in heart  words so full of love as to make men crowd and press round Him, and then, on the other hand, suddenly speaking words that scorch and burn until men draw back in astonishment.

 

Let us think of this apparent contradiction a little more closely.  That  Jesus was attractive needs no argument today.  The story of the life of Jesus as set forth in the four Gospels is the story of One Who was constantly drawing men to Him. I do not speak just at this moment of the motives which prompted the men that came. It was not always the same  I simply state that which one each of you may  read in the Gospel recordings, namely, that Jesus drew men to Himself.

 

There was a strange attractiveness about Him in the early years. Luke has opened for us one or two windows through which we may see some of the facts about those hidden years.  Among those windows there is one through which I love to look. It is the statement which Luke makes that He went down to His own home and then we read Luke 2:52

52And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. Luke 2:52

 

Taking only one half of that double window, we have a declaration that Jesus as a boy, youth, and young man, grew in favor with men. May I not be allowed to put that in another form and say that Jesus, the boy, the youth, the young man, was a favorite in Nazareth.  I am not sure that this is not almost startling put in this form.  We have, somehow, come to imagine that real Christian character is not popular among men,  and that if we are a Christian we will automatically repel others.   But it was not so in the case of Jesus,  He was a favorite in Nazareth,   In a little town where everyone knew everyone; here the boy was known, and loved, and was a favorite.

 

That is one of the windows looking through which a man is tempted to let his imagination run away with him.  It is easy to think young people loved to crowd to Him and talk  about their difficulties and problems. And that the old men perhaps loved to gather around the door of the carpenter's shop and listen to Him and talk with him about the Father's house of many mansions,  

 

Be that as it may, "He increased in favor" —they liked Him, He was popular, a favorite in Nazareth.

52And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. Luke 2:52

 

I  fully know the day came when they took Him to the brow of the hill and  would have cast Him down headlong.  That was the effect of His teaching, the result of His having to rebuke their sin.  But while He was living His quiet, life in the midst of them, before His ministry began, He was a favorite.

 

 And when He turned His back upon the workshop and came into public life, how men pressed after Him wherever He went! I need not repeat it, you know your New Testament. "Much people”.  One day, weary of the multitudes, Jesus entered into a boat and put across to the other shore, and then, this wonderful fact revealed: when the boat had made its way across the water and arrived at the other side, all the multitudes were waiting for Him,  they had outrun the boat round the shore in their anxiety to be near Him. That is the first fact about the days of His ministry in the world. 

 

And set over against it this other fact,  He was constantly warning men as they came.  There was the moment when they came to Him and would have made Him King, but He slipped away and hid Himself, refusing    to be made King.   There were moments such as those of which we read in Luke's gospel  where multitudes  who were following, and even His own disciples believed the time was at hand that  He should exert His power, and become King, when He suddenly said, Unless you hate your father, mother, brother, sister, you cannot be My disciple.

 

 When we read those words after nineteen centuries is it not true we are afraid?   Isn't  it true that even now in the heart of most of us there is something of questioning rebellion? What does He mean? What are those strange, severe words by which He repels the very crowds He gathers?

 

But  Instead of attempting to cover all the ground, I recall two incidents because they are typical.   The words of Matthew 16 were not spoken primarily to the crowds, but to His own disciples.   It was at Caesarea Philippi, at the parting of the ways, after He had fulfilled the first part of His ministry, and one soul at least had seen and known Him for what He really was, the Christ of God.

There He began to unfold the mystery of His method, to tell them the story of His cross and His suffering and resurrection, and there and then the whole company of His disciples fell back, and they never came into close fellowship again until He was dead, buried, risen, ascended, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that great Pentecost day.

 

They shunned the cross,  we are continuing to do so today, and we have more light than they. While He talked of the keys, their faces were radiant and their following was faithful; but when He talked of the cross, their faces were shadowed and their following faltered.  Then it was that, looking at the little group of men, He said:  "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." And they dared not do it,

 

If we watch the story carefully from the beginning of His ministry to Caesarea Philippi, we see men continually leaving Him, Rulers, Scribes, Pharisees, until finally one  little group remains alone. If you follow the story after Caesarea Philippi, you will reach its tragic last chapter and find it written in these few burning words: "They"—all the disciples—"forsook Him and fled."  so that at the end I see the most attractive personality in human history absolutely alone, no one by His side, no sympathy in His dying.

 

It is a strange story. It is a paradox that needs a closer examination, Why this repelling method of Jesus in the presence of His  drawing crowds?  Now having asked that question, it is our business to answer it, not speculatively, but in the light of the Scriptures we read, in the light of the teaching they contain. 

 

I have referred to two Scriptures because I think we have the one answer delivered in two sets of circumstances—first to the disciples, in Matthew chapter 16, and then to the crowds, in Luke 14.  Let us begin with the story of Luke chapter 14.  Why is it that Jesus upon such an occasion should say such strangely severe things?  Mark the occasion. There went with Him great multitudes, and He turned and said—and you know the words. If you follow on you will find that He explains their meaning.

 

28For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? 29Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, 30Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. 31Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? 32Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. 33So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

 

Just at this point, I must ask for your very close attention and patience, because I want, if I may, to rescue this passage from popular misinterpretation. It is almost always read as though Jesus meant to say,

"You must hate father, mother, wife, children, brethren and sisters, because if you are going to build a tower you must count the cost; if you are going to war you must see whether you are able to meet twenty thousand with ten thousand."

 

One little word in the Authorized Version has given color to this interpretation. In verse 33 we read, "So likewise," but in the Revised Version we have an entirely new meaning suggested by the words, "So therefore." The difference is , according to this latter rendering, what our Lord meant to say was this: "You ask in your heart why I insist upon such severe terms, why I hold men away from me in this manner. "

 And this is His answer. "Which of you going to build a tower will not first count the cost, or going to battle is not careful about the quality of the men who will serve under you. "

 

" So therefore, because my work is the work of building and of battle, I am bound to be careful about the men that I choose to follow me;  My business is to build—that is constructive. My business is to conduct a war, a battle—that is destructive, and I must have men I know where to find. "

 

            Which of you going to build a tower doth not first count the cost, or what king going to war does not take account of the quality of the men?

 

 Let us leave Luke for a moment and go back to Matthew and see what our Lord said there  Here the same two figures occur in the Lord's description of His work.

 

Peter had confessed Him, and Christ answers thus:

 

            "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."

 

In that statement about the Church you have Christ's revelation of the nature of His work. What Christ here meant is, My Church is, first of all, my building, and consequently impregnable; but my Church is also to be an aggressive force, which I shall lead to battle against all foes of God and humanity;  And then, with the far vision of a great Conqueror, He sees the last enemy, death, the gates of Hades, the last citadel which His Church will storm, and sweeping over the intervening foes, He says: "The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."

 

 Thus we find the answer to our question as to the severity of Jesus. Because He is committed to the building of the Church, and is committed to battle against all the forces that are against man and God, He must have those associated with Him on whom He can depend.

 

He not merely seeks to save individuals, but also to gather about Him men and women on whom He can depend for cooperation in building and comradeship in battle. That is why He is so severe in His terms. That is why, when multitudes gathered about Him, He seems to have been sifting them.

 

Quality is always more than quantity. We are a little slow to believe it, but we all know it. We do not like the sifting process when Christ confronts us and sends back the multitudes that we would keep, but we know He is right.

 

It is  so in the Old Testament as well as in the New. We read that thirty-two thousand men came up to fight the battle of the Lord, but Jehovah said, They are too many, sift them; and within a few moments twenty-two thousand men tramped home. But we are stronger the moment they are gone.

 

But still the people are too many test them by the water brooks, and the men who take unnecessary time over necessary things arc to go home. Nine thousand seven hundred of them went away, leaving only three: hundred, but infinitely mightier the three hundred than the thirty-two thousand,  not by popular vote, or acclaim, but by souls who can suffer and dare and die He builds the tower and fights the foe.

 

Our Lord has not altered His method, and yet—here let me speak with great carefulness—there is not one in all this house that He does not want. There is no one that He will not enroll among His soldiers and employ in His great building enterprise—that is, if we are prepared to fulfill His conditions.

 

I am making my appeal  from perhaps a slightly different standpoint from the usual one. I am not speaking to you of the fact that you need personal salvation.   In my heart is this great thought, that Jesus has need of you, not merely for your sake, but for His sake. He has not completed  His Church yet; He is building it, and will never end until He comes to claim it for His own.

 

He is building the beautiful church, and He wants you if you are such a man as He can depend on. Jesus today wants really faithful, consecrated souls far more than patronizing multitudes.   Christ confronts us all and says, "If any man would come after Me let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Who follows?

 

You can applaud without following. You can admire without helping. You can be near enough to touch His sacred garment in a crowd, and never lay a brick in God's city, or strike a blow for God's victory.

 

 I believe there are young hearts everywhere that are sighing to help Him. Oh, young man, young woman, was there ever such a King, such a Leader, such an enterprise? Was there ever anything dreamed of by angels or men so calculated to stir the heart as the King's building of the church, the King's battle for the victory? Will you come after Him?

 

Let us hear His terms, . "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."

 

 He looks at every man and says "Follow Me." The call is so simple that any little child will tell you what it means. It is so sublime that no Christian philosopher has ever exhausted the infinite meaning of the word. If we are to help Him in His building and battle we must follow Him.

 What is it to follow? Two very simple things are included; to follow is, first, to trust, and, secondly, it is to obey. I cannot follow unless I trust; but I can trust in a general sense and never follow. "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross."

 

Denial of self is the hidden and internal process, taking up of the cross is the outward and external manifestation. Taking up the cross is the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of self-denial.  What is self-denial? Jesus says everything when He speaks, and there is nothing more to be said; our danger is that we minimize when we explain. To deny self is to say no to every wish that comes out of the personal life. To deny self is radical; it goes down to the roots of things.

 

Is this easy? How is it to be expressed? Take up thy cross. What is that? I do not know for you, my brother. I do not know for myself tomorrow. The cross in its practice changes perpetually, in its principle it abides.

 

I am increasingly impressed with the fact that whenever a soul comes to Christ the last battle is fought out over one thing. I do not know what it is in your case, but you know exactly what you have to do if you are to follow this Christ, to build and to battle—the thing that must be set right, the friendship that must be dropped, the habit that must be abandoned, the restitution that has to be made, pride that has to be humbled, prejudice that has to be crucified.

 

 For some of you it will mean a hasty return home to find the family insulted ere you left. For some it will mean going home and telling your children that you were wrong in your treatment of them. It is a real cross when you begin to follow Jesus. They are Christ's terms, and nothing I have said is quite so hard as the words He uttered.

 

            "Unless you hate father, mother, wife, children, brethren, sisters; unless you put every other love, every other interest in the background and Christ in the foreground, you cannot be His disciple. "

 

 We must not tone down the Lord's message. I will not make this thing for me  and you one bit smoother than Christ Himself made it. "Take up your cross" —not Christ's. You cannot take up Christ's cross. He took it up alone, and in the mystery of it made it possible for you to take yours and find the virtue of His; but you must take up your own.

 

 There is one other thing I would say. The cross is but the prelude to resurrection. Let , those of us who will,  come to Him and say  "We  will help You in Your building of the church, and in Your  battle against the forces of evil, and we will deny ourselves and take up our cross with our eyes fixed upon You"  

 

And by the way of the cross we enter the army, and enter into His service.  If we suffer with Him we shall also reign with Him. May God grant that there may be many who will join Him in His building and His battle by denying self and taking up the cross and following Him!

 

Are you a soldier of the cross? You must come to Him by way of His cross, His death, His blood.  Romans 6:3-7 ; Galatians 3:26,27. 

 

contact:: Ron Cope minister

email:  RonCope@chestnutmtchurchofchrist.com

phone:  (678)617-9658