Have you noticed the talk in our culture about SELF?
We are told that we need to SELF Actualize, SELF Realize; we need to FIND our selves, DEVELOP our selves, LOVE our selves.
The largest section in the bookstore or library today is not history or fiction or travel - the largest section is SELF HELP. We are constantly looking for the magic bullet that will turn our life from something we disdain to something we love and enjoy. The grass is always greener, ... someplace else. Just beyond the fence-line!
Our verses this morning speak to this indulgence - this infatuation - this romance we have with self!
Jeremiah would like to shut-up - for the sake of self - for self-preservation ... but he can't.
David in his Psalm, recounts the ways that his devotion has been turned to derision by his enemies.
Paul speaks of the power of baptism and urges us to "die" to sin and I would add, to self.
and finally, Jesus himself adds these lines:
whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."
It is interesting to me the number of times before that line in the Gospel, that Jesus says, "fear not!" "Don't be afraid!"
"So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows."
We are afraid of losing our identity - our selves. And so we cling to self ever more firmly. When the key to happiness, fulfillment and indeed, destiny in Jesus Christ is to let go of self and to more firmly grasp and discover what God has destined you for.
The problem is that what God has destined you for has little to do with your self-actualization! It has everything to do with your Jesus-actualization!
What was it that burned in the bones of Jeremiah?
For the word of the LORD has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, "I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,"
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
What was it that David said was the Issue for Him?
Zeal for your house has eaten me up; * the scorn of those who scorn you has fallen upon me.
What is it that Paul is warning us about?
"Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!"
"Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."
And Jesus himself made this all abundantly clear with his challenge:
"Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."
The challenge of Jesus to take up the cross, at this stage in his ministry, was as incomprehensible to the disciples, as someone talking about taking a walk on the moon!
The point of all of this this morning is that I want us to consider the call of Jesus to come out of our SELVES. Our Self absorption - our self focus - our self actualization - our selfish desires.
As I said a few weeks ago the essence of SIN is spelled Self Ish Ness - our societal fixation on what I want. On what I need. On what I will do.
If we are IN CHRIST, all of our witnesses this morning are saying to us, "It is no longer about you!" The lights have dimmed and the camera is off! You are no longer the center of your own show! You are not the star of your life!!!
So what now?
What does it mean to "take up the cross and follow ME"? as Jesus said. It means that we willingly choose Him over ourselves. Like Jeremiah, we willingly choose His Word over ours. Like David, we willingly choose His house over our own. Like Paul, we choose to walk in 'newness of life.' and as Jesus put it in this final promise to us, "in losing your own life, you will discover My Life!" "Those who lose their life for my sake, will find it."
How do we lose our own life for the sake of Jesus Life? For the sake of the Gospel?
May I submit that we lose our life with one BIG decision, and with a thousand SMALL decisions.
The one big decision is the answer to Jesus question - to THE QUESTION?
Peter and the others we asked by Jesus, "Who do YOU say that I am?
Have you answered that question? It all comes down to this question in our life - in the life of every man and woman!
And depending on your answer, then all else follows from that.
If Jesus is just a man, who lived and died, who perhaps was a good teacher and an influence in history, for good or ill depending on your perspective; If Jesus was JUST a man, then we need to look elsewhere for life and for meaning. We need to look to self!
But, if Jesus was more? Then what? What if Jesus was who He said He was? What if Jesus was God in the flesh?
What if Paul was right: "He is the image of the invisible God. All things were created through him and for him , and in him all things hold together." What then?
We have a decision to make. A choice to make.
Either Jesus was a fake or a liar - both pretty incredible claims by modern man - or he was what and Who He thought himself to be - what and WHO He said He was - The "I AM" - The Creator God of the Universe come to live and breath with us in creation.
We have to decide which we believe and why!
In a minute we will say the words of the historic creed of the church:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
The question before us is do you believe what you're about to say? All of it.
And if so... then what?
What does that decision lead us to?
"Take up your cross and follow me"
In this same passage in Luke, he adds the word, "... daily."
One decision leads to a thousand decisions.
The application of the cross to our life on a daily basis is the call of Jesus to follow Him.
To follow him in the smallest details of our life. To identify with Him in the context of our friendships, our work environment, our families, our loves. To be HIS PERSON over against the choices we make to be OUR OWN PERSON.
If the essence of SIN is Self Ish Ness, then the choices we make day-to-day matter greatly. The thousand small decisions we make to follow Jesus in this choice or that choice, moment-by-moment are the way and display the cost of discipleship.
If we heard the witnessed this morning, then daily we must choose HIS WORD, we must choose HIS HOUSE, We much choose NEW LIFE; we must choose THE CROSS and we MUST choose JESUS.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You have given us an example of life and sacrifice that we can see plainly in Your Word. Help us, by Your Spirit, to choose that Life - that self-less sacrifice on a daily basis, for your sake and the sake of the Kingdom of God. Help us to live our lives as your servants in our daily choices. Help us to be the kind of people that shine with the glory YOU give, and are not afraid to walk before the world In Your Name.
For the sake of your Name and your Kingdom we pray, Lord Jesus.