Then Jesus said to all of them, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23 BSB)
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9 NIV)
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FOLLOW JESUS?
Jesus placed a high priority on obedience to His teaching and made it clear that He expects His followers to be all in for Him — nothing halfway.
In fact, the Bible tells us that Jesus modeled perfect obedience to show us how it was to be done. In Philippians 2:8, the apostle Paul says Jesus “humbled Himself” to leave His spot in Heaven for an earthly stint as a mere human and, in addition, “was obedient to death” for our eternal benefit.
In the apostle John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us how significant that death was: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NLT), so, in effect, He was saying, “I’ll lay down my life for you because I love you and you are my friends.”
What does being Jesus’ friend mean? Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14 NLT).
What, then, does He command? “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17 NLT).
So, Jesus wants us to follow Him. That means we are to deny ourselves (take up our cross). He is willing to die for us because we are His friends, and, as His friends, we are to love one another.
Does this friendship with Jesus cost us anything? Does He do all the heavy lifting, and we just tag along?
WELL, TO FOLLOW JESUS (carrying our cross) means denying our own self-interest in favor of His vision for our lives, even if that vision leads to hardships for us, in some cases even to the point of our physical deaths. Jesus anticipated our reaction to that question. Not only did He set the example for us by laying down His life for ours, but He tells us not to worry. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” He told His disciples. “Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 NIV).
In other words, He tells us to place our confidence in Him, and He will see us through the fires of this world and save us from the fires of the next world: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 NASB). “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV).
But there’s more. Telling us He wants us to obey Him means He also has given us the freedom — the opportunity — to reject Him.
That rejection is the flip side of freewill, but with it, the Lord warns us that choosing that option comes at a cost. “But for those who reject him, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone’” (1 Peter 2:7 NLT) and “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36 ESV).
That means we have a choice whether to follow Jesus or reject Him. To follow Him, means, in His words, that we have “life and [we] have it abundantly.” To reject Him, means, in His words, that we “shall not see life” and that “the wrath of God remains on [us].”
LOOKS TO ME LIKE A CLEAR CHOICE!
Yet, how many people make the choice to follow Jesus versus those who choose to reject Him?
In Luke 23, we read that one of the two criminals who were crucified on either side of Him “hurled insults” at Jesus, while the other one recognized that Someone special was facing a torturous death alongside him and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (vv 39-43 NIV).
That’s 50 percent.
Hard to slog through the multitude of Jews and Romans who passed by while Jesus hung on a Cross, struggling to breathe, the nails tearing his wrists and ankles, to determine how many were for Him and how many against. We can assume the tally was against Him at that point, in part because His followers, fearful for their own lives, were in hiding, and in part because the Holy Spirit had not been sent yet to empower them.
Let’s remember that Jesus had warned His disciples that following Him would be difficult: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18 NIV) and “So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13 NLT).
Jesus even encouraged them to walk the untrodden path. “Enter through the narrow gate,” He said. “For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 BSB).
Whether to follow Jesus or to reject Him is a choice we all have to make, and we make it individually. We are not grafted onto the “Tree of Life” by virtue of our parents or our ethnic group or whether we take Communion or sing in the church band or choir.
Jesus asked His disciples in Matthew’s gospel who the townspeople said He was, but the more important question, recorded in Matthew 16:15 NIV, was this: “ “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
How we answer that question determines everything, both in our lives in this world and in the next.
Do we follow Him or reject Him?
Our choice. Our future.
We know which choice God wants us to make. He told us throughout the Bible. Here’s just one example, in Deuteronomy 30:19 NCV, where He made His desire abundantly clear: “I am offering you life or death, blessings or curses. Now, choose life!”
PRAYER: Our Heavenly Father, we praise You for Your everlasting mercy and Your overwhelming love for us. We bless You for sending Your Son to pay the price for our sin so that, by believing in Him, we can be reconciled to You as righteous and faithful servants. O Lord, hear our prayer. You have allowed us to choose You or reject You and rightly told us the choice is between life and death. Lord, we choose You; we choose life! In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen