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TEXT: Luke 9:23
SUBJECT: The Passion of Jesus Christ #39: To Create a Band of Crucified Followers
Tom Peterson is the pastor of a young church in Macon, Georgia. After meeting for a couple of years in an Elk's Lodge, Tom and his people decided they needed a place of their own. The next day, Tom went to the bank hoping to secure a loan.
The loan officer was Bill Green, a devout Christian man who liked nothing more than to help small churches buy their first building. After learning how much money they had saved, what their weekly offerings were, how much they spent, and so on, Bill was sure he could get them the money. But before he submitted the application, he wanted to get a feel for the church. The conversation went something like this:
So, Tom, what's the name of your church?
Abundant Death Baptist Church.
Okay...Abundant Li...Did you say, 'Abundant Death'?
Oh, ah, well...Do you have a business card? (Tom hands him one).
What's that symbol under your name, Tom? Is it a fish or an AIDS ribbon?
It's a hangman's noose.
Hmmm, can't say I've seen that one before. Well, Tom, what are you going to preach on next Sunday?
Whew! There's nothing I like better than a sermon on our Lord's death.
I mean your cross.
You mean, 'Dying to sin' and all that, right?
Among other things.
What other things, Tom?
Every other thing.
So, Tom, how many you say you've got at church?
About a dozen.
Ever get any visitors?
Oh yes, just last week we had five thousand, and a week or two before, four thousand (besides women and children).
And only a dozen are truly committed?
Well, good meeting you Tom. I'll be getting back to you about your loan.
How many of you think Tom and his church got the loan? I don't think they did, because everything about the church-from the name to the symbols, to the sermons--were designed to turn people off rather than to turn them on. As well disposed as Bill Green may be, he'll say, 'Don't lend them the money because that church has got no future'.
Yet that is the church Jesus Christ founded nearly two thousand years ago, and the church against which the gates of hell cannot prevail!
My story brings us to our long study of John Piper's short book, The Passion of Jesus Christ. In fifty chapters, Piper tells us why our Lord went to the cross-both why His Father sent Him on that appalling errand, and why He was content to run it.
Christ died for many reasons, some of them well known and beloved. But the reason we'll look at tonight isn't as famous as some others and not nearly as beloved as it ought to be.
Christ suffered and died to create a band of crucified followers.
In one way, Christianity is about one cross only. The hymn calls it,
The wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of Glory died.
On His cross-alone-Jesus Christ bore the sins of the world and suffered the punishment they had coming. Paul would glory in nothing save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must never forget this! If the Christian life is a wheel, the axel it turns on is one and only cross on which our Savior died and where our salvation was secured!
But this is not the Bible's only cross. Our Lord Himself, knowing the unique role He must play in the salvation of His people, still commands every one of us to take up his cross daily on pain of not being His disciple if we don't.
His cross and ours are not the same, but they resemble each other in certain ways. The ways suggested by our verse, Luke 9:23, are easy to name-To take up your cross means, to deny yourself and to follow Christ. If He had said you must deny your sins, that would be more than a plateful! But He doesn't say, your sins must be denied, but yourself. This means nothing is off limits to God. Any part of your life He wants to interfere with, He can, and you have to like it! That's what it means to deny yourself. In the next verse, it's called Losing your life for His sake.
Denying yourself and following Christ are compared to a cross because they're painful and, in the end, they take away your life, all of it, not one drop of it is left to yourself.
The rewards for taking up your cross daily are far greater than the losses we incur by doing it, but let's not fool ourselves-the losses are also great! Piper sums up our cross bearing,
When I follow Jesus as my Savior and my Lord, the old self-determining, self-absorbed me must be crucified. Every day I must reckon myself dead...
What's a dead man want to do? What's a dead man like? What's a dead man stay away from? Nothing. And so, he who takes up his cross daily gives up his likes and dislikes in favor of what God has for him to do that day. Many days, our wishes and God's are the same-and for that we ought to be deeply grateful and mindful of His generosity. But some days the two are at cross-purposes: one or the other must submit. While a living man acts, a dead man is acted upon. And that's what disciples are-dead men, acted upon by the will of God!
If you put on an orange curly wig, white makeup, a rubber nose, and big floppy shoes, some people will take you for a fool. But most people would know you're a clown and give you a smile, a few laughs, and a maybe a big round of applause.
But if you take up a cross, people are not going to smile, laugh (with you) or clap their hands at your performance. At best, they're going to feel sorry for you, while most people will do worse than that. You're going to embarrass some people, make others mad, and, in general make a nuisance of yourself.
People who don't deny themselves and take up their crosses aren't comfortable around people who do. Your whole life is a reproach to them. While they pretend to not understand what you're up to, in fact they do understand, and it makes them feel guilty.
While the Pharisees and Sadduccees and others were cheering the crucifixion of our Lord, I wonder how many of them cheered with a good conscience? One Gospel says most of them were not content with what they did for when they saw these things they beat their breasts and went home.
This unpopularity is part of following Christ. The writer of Hebrews picks up on the theme near the end of his Letter,
Jesus suffered outside the gate...Therefore, let us go to Him outside the camp bearing our reproach.
Two words in the passage are worth noting with some care. Our Lord suffered outside the gate. What gate? Jerusalem's gate. Now, Jerusalem was The City of the Great King, but when the King comes, He's run out of town and hung up on a cross. But the second word is even more interesting, camp-Let us go outside the camp the Word of God says.
Jerusalem was no camp. As far as I know it is never called that in the Bible and it seems quite inappropriate to call it by that name. The camp, then, refers to the nation of Israel while camped in the wilderness. Now, what kind of person was outside the camp? He's not man who likes his privacy or a monk or an explorer of some kind, but rather, an outcast. He's an excluded man, a man the people have kicked out of the camp! Living for Christ will get you kicked out of many camps. But, instead of mourning your losses or trying to get back into the circles that have excluded you, you're to follow Christ in the shame that He bore for you way back then, and you're now called to bear for Him.
The cross gets heavier by the moment. First, we deny ourselves, and now others deny us the rights and privileges we used to have. But these are relatively light matters compared to the last one Piper names-martyrdom,
Let us bear the reproach He endured, but not only the reproach. If necessary, the martyrdom. The Bible pictures some of Christ's followers this way, 'They loved not their lives even unto death' (Revelation 12:11).
From the comfort of our homes, having to die for Christ seems far-fetched. But we're not the first ones to feel this way. Back in the First Century, believers in Laodicea and Sardis felt the same way-at peace with the world! But the world did not return the favor. In the days of Diocletian, disciples all over the Empire fell prey to persecution and death. Including the ones who long had said, 'It can never happen here'.
It did happen there. And it may happen here. We pray it does not! But this is a prayer that has no promise of being answered in the affirmative. Remember, what we have is the exception, what the Early Church got was the rule! If the world hated Christ, it must also hate us. We have been spared the more extreme acts of hate, but make no mistake about it. Behind every smiling sinner, there's a potential persecutor.
We have to accept the possibility of persecution and death for Christ's sake. And prepare for it. It is not prepared for by living on the path of least resistance and making every compromise your comfort demands, but on the steep road to Mount Calvary. If you're going to be ready to take up the cross of martyrdom, you get in shape for it by taking up your daily cross of putting yourself at the disposal of God and His will instead of living for yourself and what you'd rather be doing.
If tonight's sermon is a sobering one, it was meant to be. There's nothing fun or romantic about crosses and taking them up when you could get out of doing that! But, we can only get out of doing that if we want to lose our souls forever. If you don't want to lose your soul on the Day of Judgment, take up your cross on this, Day of Salvation.
God help us, everyone! For Christ's sake. Amen.
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