Truly Following Christ: Understanding the Messiah & The Cost of Being His Disciple

For today’s word of encouragement, we need to thoughtfully consider the call of Christ on our lives. Jesus taught multiple lessons during His time of earth. He performed miracles such as feeding thousands of people with four loves and a few small fish. He cast out demons, restored the blind, and healed the sick. Crowds were following Jesus hoping that He was the promised Messiah. Jesus embodied the virtues of truth and grace during His time on earth. Shortly after feeding five thousand men (untold numbers of women and children present too), he asked the disciples who people said He is and whom they thought He is (Luke 9:18-20). Peter replies, “The Christ of God” (v. 21). Jesus then describes His role as “The Christ”. Jesus mentions four key elements as follows (v. 22):

  1. must suffer many things
  2. rejected by elders, chief priests, and scribes [religious authorities]
  3. be killed
  4. be raised up on the third day.

These four elements are crucial to properly understanding Jesus as Messiah. Isaiah chapter 53 provides additional details relevant here as well. Jesus as Messiah is a “suffering servant.” He didn’t come to conqueror Rome or to establish an earthly kingdom. Jesus’ conversation with Pontius Pilate indicates this as well as Jesus’ response to the disciples when they asked if he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Jesus came to suffer, die, and be resurrected to ensure salvation for all people (not just the Jewish/Hebrews).

For us modern Americans, the concept of suffering can be troubling. Think about all that people invest (time, talent, money) to prevent suffering! We don’t speak much about death and suffering as much as we tend to try to avoid it. We even have common sayings about death such as “passed on,” “entered into glory,” “kicked the bucket,” etc. Imagine a time before aspirin, Tylenol, Pepto-Bismo, Hydrocodone, and other modern drugs! Less than 150 years ago people were dying from all types of illnesses that we can take a pill and rest for a few days.

Jesus spells out what He requires for those who will follow Him (Luke 9:23-26). First, we must deny ourselves, second “take up our cross daily, and then “follow me.” In verse 24, He adds that those who lose lives for His sake in order to gain true life in Him. There is an obvious paradox in this statement that became the reality for most of the disciples. Except for John, all the disciples and apostles (including Paul) were martyrs for their faith. Some were crucified others beheaded and/or shot with arrows. Remember that most of the disciples fled from Jesus when He was tried and executed! Yet later in their lives they died testifying their faith! What a change from before! What had changed for them? They were radically changed by Christ and empowered by Holy Spirit. This is obvious in the book of Acts. Read the first chapters to see how Peter is transformed and empowered!

As modern people trying to follow Christ, what should we make of His words today? What does it mean to take up our cross and follow Him? Kyle Idleman also explains this in Chapters 10 & 11 of his book Not a Fan. We must recognize that the cross isn’t a piece of pretty religious decorum. The cross is an instrument of death and suffering!

Link to articles that explain take up cross and self-denial in detail:

I want to share some quotes from Not A Fan to encourage you as you consider denying self and taking up your cross daily:

“You can’t “come after” Jesus without denying yourself. The phrase “deny himself” isn’t just the idea of saying no to yourself–or even resisting yourself. The idea here is that you do not even acknowledge or recognize your own existence” pg 143.

We need to lose ourselves in Christ! Life isn’t about our hobbies, dreams, hopes, finances, etc. We need a greater purpose than ourselves because we are too small and finite to give ourselves meaning! Pastor Kyle discusses our modern notion of happiness as “saying yes to ourselves” and indulging our desires pg 150. The Bible teaches something much different. “The Bible would teach that the highest calling for you is to be a slave who denies himself and follows Jesus.” pg 150. Denying ourselves includes saying yes to God! We gain everything by dying to our self-nature!

I believe that worst type of bondage that we experience is bondage to self! Life in Christ is so much grander than life in our fallen selves! I believe that his why that Christians throughout history have willingly died for Christ. They realized that true life is only found in Christ–not in this world and especially not in and through ourselves!

Kyle Idleman reminds us that “we think that by denying ourselves we will miss out, but just the opposite is true. . . The truth is it’s only when we deny ourselves that we truly discover the joy of following Christ” pg 153. He asks “Am I really carrying a cross if there is no suffering and sacrifice?” pg 161. “Jesus invites followers to die to themselves. We die to our own desires, our pursuits, and our plans. When we become followers of Jesus, that is the end of us” pg 161.

Thankfully, we don’t have to walk this journey of self-denial and cross taking up alone! God has graciously sent His Holy Spirit and provided His Living Word (Bible) to guide, encourage, and convict us!

Closing Applications
  1. To follow Christ means to deny self and die to ourselves on a daily basis. I recommend that you pray each morning asking God to help with this process.
  2. To follow Christ is to be like Christ! We will be misunderstood, persecuted, and rejected by the world.
  3. We gain everything in daily choosing to follow Christ–life becomes about more than self!
  4. God will walk with you on this difficult path! The path of the disciple isn’t easy!

May God encourage you and strengthen your faith as you seek to follow Him daily!

Lee Stanfill

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Just a pilgrim walking each day with Jesus and hoping to encourage others along the path.

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