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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew’

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24)

Occasionally I read commentary in social medias (like Facebook) and come away with material for a blog. This is one of those instances. Recently I happened upon a posting that suggested we spend too much effort in denying ourselves and taking up crosses, when all we dislikereally should be doing is focusing on following Jesus. The poster continued that by merely following Christ, the first two actions would take care of themselves.

At first glance it seems to make a bit of sense, but then the Holy Spirit steps in and reminds us that there’s one huge problem with the concept:

“It’s not what Jesus told us to do.”

So the question then becomes what was Jesus talking about when He referenced denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily? Let’s look at the verse in context.

From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”  Matthew 16:21-24

Peter’s Mistake

Without rehashing the entire episode, Peter had not yet grasped the Spiritual doctrine of self-denial and taking up a personal cross; his actions demonstrate this reality, and the words of Jesus confirm it (in Peter’s defense, Jesus had not yet gone to the cross, but let’s not digress). Peter still had an emotional foot in the world which caused him to utter nonsensical things. Peter’s world-based emotions had gotten the better of him. Our heart aches for Peter, because whether we realize or not, we can relate to the character flaw.

Jesus continued…

For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:25-26

Self Denial

Denying ourselves speaks to repentance; that is the turning away from our illicit, worldly pursuits, and turning towards Jesus. It’s the attitude of being all in for Jesus and it envelops the idea of dying to ourselves and reckoning our ‘old man’ to be dead. The Apostle Paul wrapped-up the doctrine tidily when he wrote:

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:17-24

In the Ephesians passage we clearly see what self-denial of the holy sort is supposed to manlook like. No longer do we walk like the rest of the world; that path is the way of darkness. We put off that sinful, corruptible conduct of our old ways (our old man), and put on the behavior of the new man; that which was not accomplished by human hands, but created by His hands. Nowhere in God’s word are we counseled to bypass this step in order to simplify the process of following Jesus. We cannot for it’s the very thing Jesus told us to do. And just so we’re clear, it’s not our work, it’s an acknowledgment and reception of His work.

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17

Our Daily Cross

The notion of taking up our cross encompasses all the elements of self-denial, but without the toil. As we know, Jesus finished all the work, and it’s there for us to receive by faith. The daily hoisting of our cross involves remembering daily that which Christ has already done. We remember both His crucifixion and resurrection, and yes, our own baptism.

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” Revelation 2:5

For me, it typically occurs every morning before my feet hit the floor. In one sense it’s Holy Communion, but without the bread and the grape juice. I remember what Christ did, why He did it, my receiving of it, and my gratitude to Him for it. I also remind myself that my old man has been crucified and is now powerless over me. Oh he still may taunt and tempt me, but he has no hold on me. I then ask the Father for a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit to instruct me, guide me, and empower me to do His will. Essentially I remember to present my body as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is my reasonable service (as per Romans 12:1).

Simply Put

I liken self-denial and hoisting a daily cross to making sure my parachute is on securely each and every day. In contrast, following Jesus without doing these things is akin to believing in parachutes, but refusing to put one on.

At the end of the day just remember, the reason Christians spend so much time denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following Jesus is because Jesus told us to.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

If you enjoyed the blog please like it, share it, subscribe to it, or comment on it. I read and respond to every posted comment. God’s blessings!

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Enter by the narrow gate…wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it…Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14

For the Few…

This passage frightens a lot of people.

‘Narrow and difficult’ sounds to them as if the Christian walk is a daunting, practically unachievable task, akin to traversing hell on a high wire. This is not at all the case for the follower of Christ.

Remember, Jesus said,

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Since we have the assurance that there are no contradictions in the Bible, we can know that Jesus would not say ‘come’ to this easy and restful place, and then turn the tables. That notion is contrary to all we know about Jesus.

Nevertheless, the verse reads, ‘narrow and difficult’ is the way, so what are we to make of it?

Narrow

Have you ever fallen off a sidewalk?

Me either.

I’ve been pushed off sidewalks and I’ve been pulled off sidewalks, but I’ve never fallen off one. I have however fallen off of many a curb, but curbs are not sidewalks, are they?

I liken the narrow path of the Bible to a sidewalk, wide enough for perhaps three people to walk abreast; adequate space to walk comfortably with Jesus and perhaps a brother or sister we encounter along the way. Naturally, plenty of room exists fore and aft.

This narrow walkway is a safe place.  Falling is not inevitable, but rather the result of bad choices we make along the way.

Difficult

Do you have a working definition of the word difficult?

Are you sure?

In my quest to unravel the Matthew 7:13-14 passage, I compared the New King James text to the King James text. Interestingly enough I discovered that the KJV version does not read, ‘narrow and difficult,’ it reads ‘strait (straight) and narrow.’

In other words, the KJV version uses the word straight for narrow and the word narrow for difficult.

That led me to Strong’s Concordance where I discovered that while straight does in fact mean narrow, the word narrow (in the Greek) means ‘a compressed way,’ or more specifically, ‘to press (as grapes).’ It occurred to me that this narrow, difficult way being spoken of was in actuality a reference to the sanctification process that naturally occurs as we walk side by side with Jesus.  Sort of a sidewalk and wine-press all rolled into one.

So, the question is…

Is sanctification difficult?

I submit to you that transformation is only arduous to those who are not submitted to it.

If you are one who struggles to maintain fleshly pursuits or wrestles with the idea of being changed, than you likely find your walk with Jesus to be a difficult journey. But if on the other hand, you are submitted to the changes that He wants to make in you, you probably find the walk to be a light burden that is challenging, invigorating, and rewarding.

Having said that, we all struggle in our walks from time to time.

That’s good.

It’s a good thing if we recognize that the difficulty we are experiencing is directly related to our sinful desire to hold onto something that is not pleasing to the Lord. Do you recall the story of the rich, young man? Recognition in this regard can be the catalyst that compels us to ask of God, “Why am I struggling so?”

If we are sincerely seeking the truth, God will answer and identify those things we need to put down and walk away from.

He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6b

~ ~ ~

God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10:13b

We Have the Power

The mystery of our relationship is that Christ Jesus is alive and resides within our very being. All knowledge, wisdom, and power are in Him and He is in us, therefore, we have access to the very things we need to make easy the yoke and light the burden.

Do you know what you have?

The story is told of the gazillionaire, William Randolph Hearst who once saw a photograph of a classic art-piece that he had to have for his extensive art collection. He dispatched his staff to obtain the painting at any cost. They returned with the news that the work of art was not available. The reason being: Mr. Hearst already owned it and had it stored in his warehouse.

Incredible Simplicity

God made it so easy. There is one way: Christ alone. Christ in us, the hope of glory.

That’s it folks. We don’t have to look elsewhere, Christ is ready, willing, and able!

If it’s your testimony that the yoke of Jesus is not easy and His burden is not light, then clearly you are not doing it right. You are in fact wrestling with an Opponent that you cannot beat. At this juncture it would be prudent to open your eyes and gaze upon the face of your Lord and Savior to see He is not your adversary, but your Advocate before the Father.

But…

Didn’t Jesus say that in this world we would have tribulation? Can’t we assume that tribulation and difficulty are synonymous?

You can if you want to, but it’s wiser to equate tribulation to the light burdens Jesus spoke of. In so doing we discover that in Christ they are temporary and bearable. It is the only manner by which a dying Stephen could proclaim,

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… do not charge them with this sin.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60

Stephen was called to martyrdom and therefore found it to be a light burden to bear. Had he struggled, no doubt it would have been an extremely difficult process to endure.

Tribulation: The Upside

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

~ ~ ~

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:1-5

~ ~ ~

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39

~ ~ ~

Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation. 2 Corinthians 7:4

Still Struggling?

Somewhere, some good Christian is saying, “You just don’t understand what I’m going through and regardless of what you say, it’s difficult.”

You’re right, I probably don’t fully comprehend your situation, but I do grasp His solution.

Difficulty is heaviness and heaviness is a unique sensation unto itself. The moment it is experienced we instinctively know that we must either put the weight down or seek help to carry it. To deny this awareness is to affirm that you oppose sanctification (you are not submitted to God).  It is at this point where many walk away from Jesus.

Don’t walk away.

We have  promise:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Sadly there are few who find the straight and narrow way, because they fail to accept and believe that Jesus Christ is the only way, the only truth, and the only life worth living.  Faith on the other hand is the glue that keeps us on the path.

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“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ ” Acts 17:26-28

Jesus said that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and that He came into the world to testify to the truth. I believe that; particularly the truth part. If as Christian’s we all believed this, we would without equivocation stand by every single word of the Bible. In view of this passage from the Gospel of John, we’ve no other option:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1 & 14

I say that to say ‘in Christ’ there aren’t any coincidences. How can a Christian believe otherwise? The declaration in Acts 17 is clear: God made us and He has determined our preappointed times. That’s a far-reaching pronouncement and from it we may deduce that our encounters are orchestrated by God.

The question is, “Do you believe it?”

Either God’s hand is in each situation or it is not. Either God has a plan for each encounter or He does not. Either in Him we live and move and have our being or we do not. It truly is this plain.

I’ve opted for the former over the latter–that every appointment is divine and that God has a specific and unique outcome in mind for each one. The embracement of the tenet is changing my life.

Praying More

Initially, I was overwhelmed. I prayed and God gave me peace.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light…Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Matthew 11:28-30 & Matthew 7:7

So now I’m learning to anticipate get-togethers. I tell God where I am going (as if He didn’t know) and specifically ask for encouragement, discernment, and empowerment. To my relief I discovered that not every encounter was designed to be directly evangelical.

Here’s a sampling of some recent engagements:

At the gas station, the Spirit moved me to ask the attendant if he had read the Bible tract I had given him the week before; specifically the smaller-print on the back. He said he hadn’t. I handed him another tract and listened as he read it aloud. When he finished I said, “So, what do you think?

He smiled broadly and enthusiastically said, “This truly is good news!”

At the hardware store the cashier welcomed me and said, “How are you today?”

I’ve gotten into the habit of answering these queries with, “I am blessed more than I deserve! How are you?” Her response gave me an indication that she too was a Christian.

Our brief exchange was uplifting and encouraging.

A while back a rough-and-tough looking twosome appeared at my door and asked if I wanted my driveway coated and sealed. I was leery, but we agreed on a price and I gave them the go ahead. As they finished up, the Lord prompted me to ask if I could pray for them.

Not only did they agree, the one said, “We’re born again too! Mind if I lead?”

Amazing

Admittedly, not every meeting bears fruit I can readily see. Sometimes a shared word is rejected. Other times the Spirit plainly says to my heart, “Just say ‘God bless you!’ to this soul and leave him be.” Nevertheless, it’s evident to me that with every encounter, God does a work, with the purpose and glory always His.

No Accident

If we can agree that physical encounters are not accidents, then we can likely agree that impersonal, internet exchanges such as these aren’t coincidental either. I’m not sure why you’re here, but I have a sense why I was, and I further believe God determined and prearranged the time of this meeting.

Therefore I’d like to encourage you to treat every encounter as a divine appointment, even if you don’t entirely believe it to be so. There is truth in His word and as we step out obediently God will make His glory known.

“ He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” John 14:21

Testify

Can you bear witness to these truths? Please leave a comment as an encouragement and as a testament to His rightness.

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