In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Again we hear the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… When Jesus began His journey to the cross, He did not go there totally alone. He took twelve men aside and began to tell them all about the mission that lay ahead. It was very much like a review of Isaiah’s words from the prophet’s 53rd chapter: “We all like sheep have gone astray…and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…He was wounded for our transgressing, He was bruised for our iniquities…and with His stripes we are healed.” (Vs. 6, 4-5)
As Jesus informed His followers of the particulars of His own impending suffering and death, He was also telling them what we, by grace, have come to believe and as we have sung even tonight: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.” (TLH 175:4)
It wasn’t so much that the disciples needed facts. They, like us, needed to know this amazing love, this “amazing grace.” They needed the same Gospel that we need because, like us, they were sheep that often went astray. They, like us, needed the same instruction, for it is the Word of God which gives wisdom and understanding for life. They, like us, needed the discipline first and foremost of hearing and receiving from Jesus instead of wanting to do things for Him in order to gain His favor.
So Jesus was very patient as He taught by Word and by example that saving your life results in great loss, but giving up your life for Christ finds it. Surveying the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died helps us to see the price He paid, and to see the motive. This is an amazing discovery; the amazing grace of God in Christ Jesus gives birth to an amazing willingness to give up self for others.
We need to make one thing clear: the army of God is not an all-volunteer army. In fact, there are no volunteers at all in His “army.” He called us; He chose us, we did not, we cannot choose Him. He purchased us to be His own servants, His own disciples. And you know how He did it; you know the words that describe how He did it: “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death…” (Small Catechism Meaning to the 2nd Article).
So God in Christ has made us His own dear children. And in being His, what do we give up? Nothing. Well, nothing that we actually needed. But we give up a lot of what we do not need: sin, selfishness, and savoring what God knows is harmful to us.
We have already spoken of the demands and the costs of discipleship. How much did it cost you to be His disciple? Be careful how you answer. For those who count the cost have never really paid a price at all. And those who really paid the price have never stopped to count the cost.
You see, self-denial is such that when it is complete it never measures the cost, for the one who loses all his life for the Savior’s sake has found it; he never misses what he has lost, so how, then, can he count the cost?
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did not just give a lot – He gave and continues to give ALL. He gave us His life of obedience. He gave His life in a death that is much more costly than anyone on earth can possibly measure. As St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi, He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:7-8)
And then there is this, written about Jesus in Hebrews 12: …looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) Did you hear that? For the JOY! It was our Savior’s joy and love to endure what had to be endured for the sake of serving us. The joy set before Him was nothing that benefited Him, but it was the joy of seeing you and me in His kingdom – forever! His joy was in serving You.
In His life of rejection, in His time of great personal suffering at the hands of those closest to Him, in His death by the hands of religious leaders, Jesus Christ let go of everything that could have benefited Him in order to hang on to each and every one of you – not because of anything you are, not because of anything you do, not because of how often you come to worship or how much money you give to church, not because of who your friends are, not even because of your love and devotion to Him. Christ let go of everything so that His work would save you from eternal death and damnation. He died so that you may live.
So, are we would-be disciples of Christ hanging on to the things we have, or do we consider them – all of them – as things entrusted to our care by the Giver of all good gifts? Do we truly see all of our life as a gift from the hand of our loving and gracious God who shed the blood of His only-begotten Son as payment for our sins?
Well, if you are a baptized child of God you do. And that is what drives home all the more the fact that this love, so amazing, so divine, really does demand my life, my soul, my all. Christ’s love demands that I give up my inordinate pride and boasting, my cleverness, my self-will, even my own sinful flesh – all of that. For as St. Paul said, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” (I Cor. 6:19-20)
Therefore, “If anyone would come after Me,” says our Lord Jesus, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
And on the way to His cross, we notice our own cross. On the way to His cross we recall His invitation: “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
Our Suffering Savior never asks us to carry any more weight than He is certain we can carry. He never takes from us without replacing it tenfold. This amazing Savior loves you with an everlasting love, with an amazing love, with nothing we need ever held back.
And so, dear Christian, there is ultimately no risk in being a disciple of Christ. For when Jesus asks us as part of our discipleship to part with the self-willed life, He is granting us entry into a rich new life – a life found only in Jesus Christ. It is a life that more than meets our every need, for it is a life that He grants unto us – a life full and free, a life in which we will, by His amazing grace, experience to the full in heaven.
That is guaranteed to each and every one of us with His entire life, and with His final words, “It is finished.”
Christ for you, for all. To Him be the glory.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.