Text: Luke 9:23-25, 57-62
Summary: We can prepare to follow Jesus by surrendering daily, by denying ourselves daily, and by taking up our cross daily.
23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Father, we want to learn how to follow Jesus. Teach us today. I surrender this time. We surrender this day to you and we surrender all of our lives to you. We pray that you would train us today how we can follow you effectively. How we can be close to you. How we can be obedient to your words. Please teach us today. We avail ourselves to you. Thank you. In Jesus Name, Amen
I want to talk today about following Jesus. Is following Jesus easy or hard? Anyone want to say it’s easy? Anyone want to say it’s hard? If you’re trained, it is so easy. If you’re not trained, it is so hard. There is training involved in following Jesus and I want to start not in the verse that we read but later on in the chapter.
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
This is all about training. We’ve been talking about training and how our hearts need to be trained in the right way and become fit and in shape. And there is also a preparation to follow Jesus. Although I would not readily say that it was entirely easier for the disciples in the first century, you could argue that it was easier, because they saw Jesus, they heard His words. And when Jesus went to one town, they could follow Him into that town. When Jesus went into another town, they could follow Him into that town. And we could say it was easier. But just look at the lifestyle of these disciples who lived in the first century, these first apostles.
How many nights did they sleep on a rock because they had nowhere to lay their head? How many times were they hungry throughout the day because Jesus was preaching the whole day? How many times were they fearing for their lives when they were in a ship, and they think it’s going to sink. So following Jesus, you could say was easier because they could hear Jesus, they could see Him, they could follow Him literally because He was in front of them. But it was not an easy lifestyle for these first generation disciples/apostles.
We could say it’s easier for us now. Because we can live however we want, we can be comfortable. We can pursue the world and at the same time, we can confess, I am a follower of Jesus. But it is hard because Jesus is not literally in front of us. He doesn’t often speak audibly in a way that we can perceive and so it is harder. But there is training, that if you and I are trained, we can follow Jesus even though you can’t see Him and even though you can’t hear Him. And the first step is surrender.
Going back to our main verse, it says if anyone will come after him, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. So, denying oneself is something you do daily, taking up the cross is something you do daily. And I also want to say, surrender is something you do daily. If you’ve been walking with Jesus for X number of years, 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, then there was a time in your life when you surrendered your life. But it’s not the last time you’ve surrendered. Surrender is a daily thing. And so I hope that this morning you woke up and you surrendered your life again. Because every day is a day that we have to really surrender our life to Jesus Christ.
If we only had the insight that Jesus had when people were coming up to Him and saying, I want to follow you. As people of God, if someone in our congregation came and said, I met the Lord, I want to be baptized, I want to follow. It would be so helpful if we had the insight of Jesus, and we could look into people’s hearts and say, you say you want to follow Jesus but let me tell you what’s in your heart that you need to deal with first. Because here are these three different people who came to Jesus. And they confess, I will follow you wherever you go. And Jesus is saying, you have not counted the cost, you’re not ready to follow me yet.
In v.57, the first person says, I will follow you wherever you go. And Jesus says to him, foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. So this person says, I want to follow you. But what he doesn’t realize is that in his heart is a desire for a house, a nice house. A desire for physical comfort. He does not realize that following Jesus means, possibly, you may lay your head on a rock at night. Because Jesus did not have a place to lay his head. He didn’t have a comfortable pillow filled with down feathers. He was in a barn. He was lying on a rock. He was just on the ground many days.
All of us started at some point saying, I want to follow Jesus. But was there this hidden script? We will follow Jesus but we want comfort. We want possessions, we want nice things. And Jesus is saying, this thing, if you don’t deal with it, you’re not ready to follow me. And so surrender is a daily thing.
We have people even on this call, in this room who are about to apply to college, and it is a season for you to learn how to surrender your life. Because if you do not surrender your life, there will be so many other voices. And will you be able to filter out all of those voices and hear the Shepherd’s voice which is a soft voice? Jesus will not shout at you. Well, He could, but often He gives you free will to choose among all the options. He wants to test you, do you really want to follow Him? And so for seniors in high school, as you prepare to make this decision that will affect the next four years of your life and it could affect the trajectory of your life, have you learned to surrender?
This is a season to surrender your life. That means don’t use the US World Report rankings as your guide of what schools to apply to. Don’t use, the best school I get into must be the Lord’s will. Don’t use that logic. Surrender your life means, even the list, I give it to you Lord. Please, can you fill in this list? I don’t know where to apply. Can you fill in the list? The school that should not be on this list, I give you the eraser. Can you strike it? You can erase it from my list. If there are schools that are not on this list that should be on this list, Lord, I give you the pen. Can you fill in the list? This is what it means to surrender.
And at the end, you are denying yourself and taking yourself out of the equation to get to a neutral place so that whatever the Lord says, you will obey Him. This is how we surrender. It is a daily thing. And this first person had a hidden script. He wanted a nice home. I wonder, are there hidden scripts? These are the thorns in our life. Thorns in our heart that cause us to be perpetually immature. Let’s ask the Lord to expose the hidden scripts. Because we all say the same thing. We all say we want to follow Jesus. But if at the same time you’re greedy for money and fame and possessions, Jesus says, you’re disqualified even from the beginning. Come back when you’re ready to let go of these things.
In v.59, Jesus says to the second person, follow me. But he said, Lord, let me first go and bury my father. If this person’s father just passed away, and he’s preparing for the funeral, then what Jesus said right here is very cruel and unusual. But I don’t think that’s what happened to this person. In Jewish tradition, we see it also in the Old Testament, when a family member, particularly a parent died, you would bury them in a tomb on a shelf. And then a year later, you would return to that tomb and then you would take the bones and bury them in an ossuary. You would put the bones in an ossuary and then you would bury the bone box. And it was a Jewish tradition.
I wonder how many of us say we want to follow Jesus, but there are all these traditions of men. All these expectations of me as an Asian male and the oldest in my family. There are things that I should do that everyone is looking to me. And because of these things we say, Jesus, I want to follow you, but I will follow you in a year. I am so busy trying to carve out my career, let me get to the top, then I will follow you ten years from now. Let me just figure out this college admissions process. Let me get it down, let me settle on a choice. Then I will follow you next year.
How many times do we do this, that we have a tradition, we have an expectation that our family places on us, that society places on us, and the timing is, I will follow you later Jesus? And Jesus says, if you cannot follow me right now, you’re not ready. And what we can see from these first apostles and disciples, is when they follow Jesus, they let go of everything in their hands. Peter’s fishing poles and fishing nets, he let go. Matthew, the tax collector, dropped the coins, and he left the tax collector’s booth. He followed.
We’re seeing that when you follow Jesus, that means that whatever you are pursuing, whatever your plans are, everything drops. I was fortunate that I met the Lord in college. And so I didn’t have a lot in my hands. When I met the Lord, I said, Lord, my future is open. And so I give you my future. We’re all in different seasons of life and if you’re already in a career, it’s more difficult. It’s more challenging if you meet the Lord and He asks you to surrender. And that’s why it is a daily thing. When is the last time you surrendered your plans, your timing, your desire for money? When’s the last time you surrendered?
If you met the Lord many years ago but now you’re established in your career, have you surrendered your career? Before you knew, you had nothing in your hands and you are ready to follow. Now that you’re established, and you have things in your hands, are you ready at any moment to let it go? That is a sign that you’ve surrendered. That Jesus may actually move you toward poverty. He may move you to a less prestigious job, are you ready at any moment to let it all go to follow Jesus? That’s why we daily surrender our lives.
In v.61, it is the last one who says, I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home. Jesus said to him, no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. It’s an odd thing for someone to come to Jesus and say, I want to follow you, and Jesus says, oh yeah? Why do you have to say farewell to your family? He must not be a married person. Jesus would never tell you to say farewell to your spouse. If you have children, it’s so irresponsible, Jesus would never tell you to say, see you later to your children. It must be a single person who’s saying goodbye to his family, namely his parents.
Jesus is not going out of his way to call these people, these people are coming to Him. And so if they’ve come to him, then the assumption is they’ve already counted the cost. They’ve already laid down their possession. They’ve already laid down their timing. They want to follow now. They’ve already said farewell to everyone they need to say farewell to. But this person for whatever reason says, let me say farewell. Why didn’t he do it before?
There’s something that Jesus is locating in this person’s heart. He wants to start following, but his hand is to the plow, he’s going to be looking over his shoulder, what am I leaving behind? It’s like Lot’s wife. She’s leaving Sodom and Gomorrah. She should have left it and just resolutely follow Jesus out of that city. When she was leaving behind something, she had to look back one more time, and she was under judgment and became a pillar of salt. When we follow Jesus, there is no looking back. There’s no wondering, oh what could my life have turned out? It could have turned out so much better.
Surrender means you let it all go. The desire for possessions, the desire to fulfill every family tradition. The timing is now, you’re not looking back, that is what it means to follow Jesus. And so that is step one. You cannot follow Jesus until you surrender. When’s the last time you surrendered? Do you surrender every day? It should be the first prayer in the morning of every single day. Lord, I surrender my life to you again. If you do something unexpected, if you change courses, if my plans that I had for the day are just discarded and you have a new set of plans, so be it, Lord. I’m ready to follow. That is a heart that is surrendered.
23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
First step, the preparation for following Jesus is you surrender your life daily. The second is you deny yourself daily. The biggest sin that we have to learn how to struggle with is self-centeredness, selfishness, inward focus. It is a daily thing to deny yourself. And when you don’t deny yourself and your pride comes out, it is a time to repent of your inability to deny yourself in that moment. This sin comes out in so many ways. It can be outright pride, I just want what I want and I will just forge ahead whether or not Jesus is in there, it doesn’t matter. I see something, I’m going after it. You don’t even consult the Lord because your life is not surrendered. You are the Lord of your life. If you don’t deny yourself, there’s no check for the fact that you haven’t surrendered. The fact that you’re exerting yourself. There’s no repentance because you think this is how life should be. We need to learn how to deny ourselves, it can be just outright pride of I want what I want.
In some other ways, it is just manipulation. That you don’t say what you want but you get what you want by manipulation. There are emotional outbursts when something happens that you don’t like. Or it’s a harshness to get what you want so that everybody else falls in line. That’s one type of person who is not denying himself. The other is an emotional outburst of tears, and it’s manipulation so that the other person doesn’t know how to respond. And so they’re tiptoeing around you. It’s manipulation. Some people can’t even talk straight because they want to appear a certain way. And they don’t want to say what’s in their heart because they want to appear a certain way, and they get other people to do what they want. Just manipulation.
We need to deny ourselves, and if you do not deny yourself in moments throughout the day and checking yourself, then let’s repent for not being able to deny ourselves. Surrender, deny yourself, repent. It is the hardest thing. You can let go of all the external things. But what Jesus is after is your heart and mine. At the heart, this pride, this self-centeredness needs to be demolished. It needs to be demolished. It needs to be crucified. And that is why the next verse is true. And take up your cross daily.
The only way that you can deny yourself if you’re unwilling to deny yourself is Jesus gives you a cross, and it is not the cross of Christ, it is not Calvary. That cross is unique to Jesus. But all of us have a cross. And through taking up your unique cross, you are learning how to deny yourself because that cross is going against every fabric in your being. You want to forge ahead in this direction, the cross says, follow me this direction. It is a cross of learning to deny and to crucify the self-will.
I don’t know if your life has turned out the way that you had envisioned. But for me it has not turned out the way I had envisioned. And every moment, there has been a cross. The cross that I had to carry 10 years ago was so heavy. And I didn’t want to carry it. And I almost got crushed by it. I almost gave up because of it. But Jesus was inviting me, this is your cross, Ray. Are you going to carry it? And through the process of carrying it, what was dying was me, which was a good thing. I had too many plans. I had too much pride. This self-will had to be crushed. And Jesus did it through a cross, and it was heavy, it almost destroyed me. But through learning to take up that cross, I was learning to follow Jesus.
And there have been other crosses over the years. And each time I don’t want to do it. My self-will was coming out and I was fighting the Lord. I was complaining against the Lord. Each time there was a cross and it was an invitation for me to die. To learn self-denial, because I could do it willingly or I could learn it the hard way by taking up a cross. And Jesus, even before He took up the final cross at Calvary, it says in Hebrews 5, that He learned obedience through what He suffered. Meaning, even before the final cross, Jesus, too, carried a different cross, multiple crosses over His 33 and a half years.
And so you have a cross, you have multiple crosses. I have a cross, I have multiple crosses. I can’t take your cross, you can’t take my cross. It is a unique set of crosses for each individual. There are things that you have to go through that are unique to you. And when I see you suffering, I could out of my humanism want to swoop in, help and lighten that load and I can maybe play a small role, but in the end, the suffering was ordained by the Lord. It is for you to learn how to follow Jesus. It is for you to learn how to allow that self-will to be crucified. It is how to learn self-denial. And it is through suffering, even Jesus learned obedience through suffering.
We don’t know what kind of suffering He had in the first 30 years, the suffering of waiting, the suffering of, I know who I am, but nobody else knows who I am. I don’t know what kind of suffering it was. But we see the three and a half years of suffering, all the rejection, all the slander, all the ridicule, all the hatred, despite Him just doing good things, healings, deliverance and teaching truth. For that, He’s treated this way. There were multiple crosses Jesus carried before He carried the final cross. And it is the same likewise for every disciple of Jesus Christ. You will have to carry a cross.
John the Baptist carried a cross and it lead him to prison and his head being chopped off. Stephen, the first martyr, he carried a cross. It was to be stoned to death. We all have a unique cross to bear. And our Father tailor makes the cross for the individual because He knows the unique texture of our heart and the strongholds in our heart. And so He knows exactly what kind of cross to give you in what season, because He is so wise and all-knowing.
The first step, the preparation is surrender. Have you surrendered everything to the Lord? When is the last time you’ve surrendered? If you don’t even know how to surrender, ask the Lord. Is there any hidden script? What are the thoughts in my heart, Lord, can you expose them because I should be bearing a hundredfold fruit? Why is it only capped at 10? This is how we just start our day, with surrender.
The second step is deny yourself. Your pride says, I want my day to look like this, everything that goes against that rubs me the wrong way. I’m going to lash out every time I’m annoyed, I’m going to shut down. Whatever mechanism you have to not deny yourself, to preserve yourself, to protect yourself, those things need to be crucified. Those things need to be demolished.
The cross that I’m carrying right now, I see the tendency that I just want to shut down. I don’t want to deal with this. And the Lord is saying, didn’t I lead you here? Deny yourself, take up your cross, follow me, obey. Give thanks. Don’t grumble. I’ll see you through. I’ll see you on the other side. So this self-denial. We need to be crucified in our inward man. We need our pride to be crucified. All the self-preservation mechanisms need to be crucified.
All the manipulation through emotions, through wordplay and just not speaking clearly, all of this needs to stop. You need to learn how to deny yourself and be plain speaking. Speak clearly. Tell Jesus, this is what’s in my heart. Be honest with yourself so that you can be honest with the Lord. And say, this issue is blocking me, I want to follow but I can’t. Don’t be like the other three, who said they want to follow, but they had all kinds of excuses. Let’s learn how to be honest with ourselves and honest with the people of God, and ask for prayers. I am struggling with this thing. I idolize money. I want to be famous. These are things that disqualify me. I don’t want to be disqualified from following Jesus. I want to be a good son, I want to fulfill the Asian role of the eldest son and my clan, I want everyone in my family to praise me. I want to say goodbye. I want to have good humanistic relationships with people who are not even believers but because they are family members. I just want to be good with everybody.
And Jesus is saying, you’re not ready. Who cares about your reputation. Because it says, for whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? And so you have a choice. You can gain everything that you can grab ahold of in this life. And at the end of your life, you have a huge bank account which you can’t even use. You have a lot of possessions that you can’t even use. You have a big legacy of what you’ve accomplished, a eulogy with several pages of bullet points of what you’ve done, where you graduated. You can pursue that kind of a life and gain the whole world yet forfeit your soul.
Or you can do the reverse. You can gain your soul because you follow Jesus. And at the end of your life, there is not much people can say. You don’t have a penny to your name. You don’t have a lot of possessions. People don’t know who you are. Your family members think you’re a jerk because you didn’t do what they expected of you, because they’re nonbelievers. Everyone has abandoned you. You have nobody but you have Jesus and you’ve gained your soul.
Which one would you rather have? Jesus gives two paths of life, gaining everything in the world but forfeiting your soul, or getting nothing in the world but gaining your soul. The choice is yours. If you want this, if you want the latter, if you want eternity with Jesus, if you want to follow Jesus, you must learn what I just talked to you today. You must learn to surrender, you must learn self-denial, you must learn to take up your unique cross. Then you’re ready. You’re prepared to follow Jesus. Let’s pray.
Father, thank you for your word. Your word is so true. Today cuts us to the core. You simplify what it means to be a Christian, a disciple. It is to be follower of Jesus. And what we learn from this chapter, Lord, is that many say I will follow you, Jesus, wherever you go, but it’s simply not true. They will follow but there are so many hidden scripts that disqualify them. Lord, may that not be true of us. May you expose all the hidden scripts. If we haven’t truly surrendered, may we start today. May we continue tomorrow. May we keep doing it every day of our life. We want to follow you today. That means we surrender today. All of our plans for today, we surrender to you. All our desires for the future, we surrender to you All that we want out of life, we surrender to you.
Jesus, you had no place to lay your head, if we have no place to lay our head, so be it, Lord. If we don’t fulfill every tradition of man, of our family, of society, and the societal norms, so be it, Lord. May everyone thinks that we’re a loser. It’s okay, Lord, if we’ve gain Christ and our eternal soul. Lord, teach us to deny ourselves. It is the hardest thing for fallen men and women to deny our very selves. Other external sins and second-tier sins are easier. We can overcome these things even through self-will. Oh Lord, our very core of who we are, what drives us, all the manipulation to get what we want, all the doublespeak, all the dishonesty, we’re not even honest with ourselves, we’re not honest with others, we’re not honest with you.
We say we want to follow you, but underneath there are so many other motivations. Teach us how to deny ourselves. We thank you that in your wisdom, you give each of us our own crosses. And some of our crosses are so heavy. And if we carry another person’s cross and we would fall away. But Lord, you see fit there are unique crosses that you handpicked for us. And it is only for us, Lord, may we pick them up each day. It is an invitation to die, to follow Jesus to death, and each day we crucify the self, the self-will.
Lord, we don’t act like Adam at the garden. We don’t blame our parents for how we are, we take responsibility as grown adults. We are who we are. And we’ve made choices. And so we don’t want to blame other people anymore. We take full responsibility. It is our own sin, our own pride, our own unwillingness to crucify, to deny ourselves, that has gotten us to the state that we’re in. Forgive us, Lord. Teach us how to repent when we don’t deny ourselves, Lord.
Lord, we take up our cross. Then we follow you. Each day, I pray that we can begin with surrender, self-denial, taking up our cross and following you. Each season of life has a unique cross for us. May we not shy away from it. Lord, may we pick it up instead of leaving it on the ground. We pick it up, Lord, so that we can learn obedience through suffering.
We pray that as we partake in the Lord’s Supper, you continue to expose the things in our heart that should not be there. The pride, the self-justification, the self-rationalization. The dishonesty. The doublespeak. The blaming of others and other situations. We take full responsibility for our own sin, we’ve fallen into the pit because we fell. We were blind, we fell.
Father, I pray that you would heal us, that you would deliver us. I pray that your blood that was shed at calvary, your body that was broken for us, your wounds would heal us today. Lord, I pray that your blood would cover us, body, soul, spirit, mind, will, emotions. We pray that you would heal emotions, in particular today, all the anger, all the insecurity, all the tears, the emotional outbursts, we pray that you would heal our emotions. Heal our speech, all the dishonesty. We pray that you would meet us, and minister to your people during this time. Thank you. In Jesus Name we pray, Amen