April 29, 2012

Pastor Joe Wittwer

Not a Fan

#8 Take up his cross daily: an everyday surrender


    Marketers like to have a memorable slogan and symbol for their products—something snappy that helps you recognize and want their product.  For example:

  • Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.        M&M’s

  • It’s everywhere you want to be.            Visa

  • The ultimate driving machine.                BMW

  • Just do it!                            Nike

  • It keeps going and going and going…        Energizer

  • You’re in good hands with…                Allstate

So what do you think Jesus might choose for a slogan?  I think it would be “Come and die”.  It’s not a slogan people are drawn to; in fact, it’s a slogan they flee from!  No marketer in his right mind would recommend it.  

    The symbol for followers of Christ isn’t any better.  It is a cross.  It is an instrument of torture and death.  If you want to attract fans, using an image of brutal torture and execution is not a great place to start.

Luke 9:23 If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Today we’re going to talk about what it means to take up our cross daily.


This is the final message in the Not a Fan series, based on this book by Kyle Idleman. We’ve been talking about the difference between being a fan of Jesus and a follower of Jesus.  I said last week that all of us are fans at times, and the goal is to be more a whole-hearted follower.  I hope that you will take these messages as a challenge to step up your game, to get more engaged in following Jesus.  Don’t settle for being just a fan!  Here is His call:

Luke 9:23 If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Today, we are going to talk about taking up our cross daily.  Here’s the Big Idea:

The Big Idea: A follower makes a decision every day to take up his cross.  “Yes Lord to anything, anytime, anywhere…no matter the cost.”  

Let’s dive in.

1. Take up your cross: come and die.

    What does it mean to take up your cross?  For us, the cross has become a piece of jewelry that we wear, or a symbol on a church building.  We have become anesthetized to the meaning of the cross.  When Jesus said these words, “take up your cross”, He may have been pointing to some Jews who were carrying their crosses on the way to their execution.  Crucifixion was an agonizing, humiliating way to die, and the Romans used it to force the Jews into submission.  As many as 2000 Jews had been crucified at one time along the roads of Palestine—an ugly display of Roman power.  The Jews hated the cross as a symbol of Roman oppression and cruelty.  

    So what did Jesus mean when he said, “take up your cross”?  The cross represented humiliation, suffering and death.  

The cross was a symbol of humiliation.  The Romans knew how to execute people quickly and inexpensively.  Crucifixion required at least four soldiers and took hours, sometimes days to complete.  So why use it?  They used it when they wanted to publicly humiliate someone and intimidate others.  They were saying, “This person is nothing; this person has no power.  And you have no power to resist us either.”  Jesus was crucified naked as a criminal in a very public place.  It was the ultimate humiliation.  To take up your cross means that you are willing to endure humiliation as a follower of Jesus.

The cross was a symbol of suffering.  Before being nailed to the cross, Jesus was beaten to within an inch of his life.  He was strapped to a post, and beaten with a whip called “a cat of nine tails”, with nine leather lashes, each with a ball of lead or sharpened metal at the end.  The balls would raise great welts, and the sharpened metal would slice the skin and flesh away.  The Roman executors were experts at beating a person to the edge of death.  Imagine most of the skin and much of the flesh on Jesus’ back torn away—and then they laid a 125-pound beam across his lacerated back.  When a person was crucified, they drove spikes through each wrist or hand, creating screaming pain, and another spike through his feet.  Hanging there, the victim was unable to breathe without pulling up on the spikes in his hands and pushing on the spikes in his feet.  Excruciating pain, profound thirst, loss of blood, inability to breathe—sometimes it was hours, sometimes days of this torture before the victim mercifully died.  

You can’t carry a cross without suffering.  There is no comfortable way to carry a cross, no matter how you position it.  There are so many Scriptures that promise that we will suffer if we follow Jesus; here are just a few.   

Luke 6:22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

Jesus tells us what to expect if we follow Him: to be hated, excluded, insulted and rejected.

Acts 14:22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

Paul warns the new Christians that we must go through many hardships.  Is this something we tell new Christians today?

Philippians 1:29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him,

Paul tells the Philippian Christians that it is their privilege not only to believe in Jesus, but to suffer for him. Believing and suffering seem to go hand in hand.

2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,

If you want to be a follower, expect persecution, opposition, resistance.  Here’s a question:

“Am I really carrying a cross if there is no suffering and sacrifice? When is the last time that following Jesus cost you something? When is the last time it cost you a relationship? When is the last time following Jesus cost you a promotion? When is the last time it cost you a vacation? When is the last time you were mocked for your faith? Forget about having our lives threatened … When is the last time you went without a meal for the sake of the gospel? Can you really say you are carrying your cross if it hasn’t cost you anything?”   (p. 161).

I’m not asking this to make you feel guilty; I’m asking to make you think.  Are you taking up your cross?  The cross symbolized humiliation and suffering.

The cross more than anything represented death. They didn’t crucify people merely to humiliate them or make them suffer; they did it to kill them.  The outcome for a person carrying their cross was always the same: death. “Jesus takes the most despised and rejected symbol of his time and says, “If you want to follow me, take this up.” He invites us to die.  (p. 162).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Discipleship, famously says, “When Christ calls a man to follow, he bids him come and die.”  Come and die.

For many Christians, taking up the cross has meant literal death—they have been killed for their faith in Jesus.  The church began as a tiny persecuted minority for almost 3 centuries.  Countless thousands died for simply saying, “I am a Christian” or “Jesus is Lord.”  But did you know that more people have died for Jesus in the last century than in the previous 19 centuries before?

ILL: Asian Access, a Christian mission agency in South Asia, listed a series of questions that church planters must ask new converts who are considering baptism.  The country where these new churches are being planted is primarily Hindu, but Christianity is growing among the poor and tribal peoples.  Here are the seven questions asked to determine a new convert’s readiness to follow Christ.

  1. Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?

  2. Are you willing to lose your job?

  3. Are you willing to go to the village and those who persecute you, forgive them, and share the love of Christ with them?

  4. Are you willing to give an offering to the Lord?

  5. Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny your faith?

  6. Are you willing to go to prison?

  7. Are you willing to die for Jesus?

By the way, what’s the easiest thing on this list?  Give an offering!  A little perspective. If the new convert answers yes to all these questions, then the church planter invites that person to sign on the bottom of the paper that of their own free will they have decided to follow Jesus.  But here’s the risk: If a new convert signs the paper and is caught by the government, he or she will spend three years in prison.  The one who did the evangelizing faces six years in prison.

    “South Asian Nation Struggles to Shape Itself”, Mission Network News (1-17-12)

Would you share your faith if it meant 6 years in prison?  Would you sign up to follow Jesus if it meant 3 years in prison…or death?  Millions do.  We don’t face that kind of persecution, so does that mean we’re not really followers? Thankfully, we live in a nation that guarantees religious freedom, which means we live without the fear of being beaten, imprisoned or dying for our faith.  But following Jesus will still cost you something, even if it is as mild as someone’s disapproval, or giving some of your money, or using some of your time and talents to serve others, or turning the other cheek, or forgiving someone you don’t want to forgive, or sharing your faith when you’re afraid of rejection.  

ILL: My sweet wife Laina told me that a turning point in her relationship with God was when she was in junior high and she read:

Luke 9:26 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

She thought, “I don’t want Jesus to be ashamed of me,” and she upped her commitment to Christ and became a bold follower.  I am a Christian and I am not ashamed.  

It costs something to follow Jesus.  I’m not saying the greater the cost, the greater the Christian, or the best followers all get killed.  You can be a great Christian in a low cost culture like ours.  But following Jesus will cost you something, and if it costs you nothing, then I wonder if you’re really following.

    You may not die physically for Jesus, but there are other ways to die.  We can die to our selfishness, die to insisting on our way, die to being the lord our own lives.  This is expressed in many verses in the New Testament.  I put a few of them on your outline; I hope you’ll read them.  Here’s the first verse I memorized as a new Christian:

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live.  I died with Jesus.  But I’m still living—I’m living by faith in Jesus, and Jesus is living in me.  To follow Jesus is to live a crucified life.  In Romans 6, Paul says that dying with Christ means we have died to sin, but are alive to God.  

ILL: I have been to many funerals, and one thing I’ve noticed is that the dead person is pretty dead.  He is unresponsive.  When people walk by the casket weeping, he doesn’t shed a tear in response.  When someone stops and says, “Good riddance you old dustbag,” he doesn’t rise up and punch them.  When a beautiful lady walks by, he doesn’t sit up and ask for her number.  “Hi.  I’ve been reading the Bible—the book of Numbers—and I was wondering if I could have yours.”  (Pickup lines to use in church.)  What does the dead guy do?  Nothing.  He’s dead.

That’s how we are to respond to sin, to temptation.  I am crucified with Christ.  I have taken up my cross.  I am dead to sin.  But I’m alive to God.  I’m responsive to God’s voice; I am ready to follow.  

    When Jesus took up His cross, He did what God sent Him to do.  He embraced God’s will for Him, no matter what.  In the Garden, just hours before He was crucified, He prayed.  

Mark 14:36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Jesus knew the agony that lay before Him, and He prayed, “God if there is any other way, let’s do it.  Take this cup from me.”  But He goes on: “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  He embraced God’s will and laid down His own.  In that moment, he didn’t want to go forward—no one would want that.  But even more, He wanted to do what His Father wanted.  He embraced God’s will no matter what.

    Taking up your cross must mean something like that for you and me too.  There are moments when we must embrace God’s will, no matter what, even when it’s not what we want.  

    Take up your cross.  When Jesus calls us, he bids us to come and die: die to self, and embrace God’s will, no matter what.  But you don’t do it once; you do it daily.

2. Daily: an everyday surrender.

We take up our cross; we choose to die.  And we do it daily.  I said last weekend that I wished we get the dying over with in a single act.  But it is a daily death, an everyday surrender.  Last weekend we read:

Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

I said that the problem with living sacrifices is they keep crawling off the altar.  A typical sacrifice got placed on the altar and killed and that’s it—over and done.  But a living sacrifice has to crawl back up on the altar every day.  

    That’s why I said last week that being a follower isn’t an event, it’s a process; it’s a lifestyle.  I decide to follow Jesus, and then I decide again tomorrow and the next day and the next.  I wander off and I get back up on the altar again.  I get lazy or distracted and become a fan, and I get back up on the altar and start following again.  This happens to me.  This happens to every whole-hearted follower of Christ that I’ve ever known.  It’s an everyday surrender.

ILL: Think of your life as a $100 bill.  Full surrender—being a whole-hearted follower of Christ, loving God with all you’ve got—what would that look like?  It would be like giving the whole $100 bill to God—giving Him your whole life.  So we do that and we mean it, and we think it’s done.  

    But God gives us the $100 back and says, “This is mine, and I want you to cash it in for pennies, and give me a penny every day.”  It’s still all His; but now the surrender isn’t done in one single act, but every day.

“What’s it look like to die every day? Well, dying to yourself today may mean spending your lunch hour serving food to the homeless at the shelter down the street from your office. It may mean that next time you’re talking with your neighbor, instead of playing it safe and keeping comfortable you bring Jesus into the conversation. Dying to yourself may mean changing your vacation plans, and instead of taking your kids to Disney this year, you take them to our partner in Penasco, Mexico and volunteer in the feeding centers where hundreds of people come each day for their only meal. Dying to yourself may mean walking by that empty room in your house and asking God if there is an orphan that should be sleeping in that bed. Dying to yourself may mean that you selflessly love a spouse who has cheated you out of the marriage you so desperately wanted.”   (p. 169 edited)  Dying to yourself may mean repenting of the sin that keeps you stuck as a fan, that thing that keeps you from fully following Christ.

    Dying every day means saying no to myself so I can say Yes to Jesus.  But here’s the amazing thing: we die so we can live, and it’s…

3. The life you always wanted.

    “The hardest part of carrying your cross is… it’s so daily. Each morning by the grace of Jesus, I am invited to take up a cross and die. Every morning we crawl back on the altar and die to ourselves. That’s Jesus’ invitation in Luke 9:23; but look at what he says in the very next verse:

Luke 9:24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.

It’s only by dying to ourselves that we truly find life. When we finally let go of our lives we find real life in Christ.”   (p. 170 edited).

    Last Monday, we read Matthew 10 in our Bible reading plan.  These verses jumped out at me:

Matthew 10:37–39 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

    Jesus sets the bar for discipleship high.  

You must love Him more than those you love the most (your family).  Our first and highest loyalty and love is to be Jesus.  When anyone or anything displaces Him at the top of our allegiance and affection, it is idolatry.  

You must take up your cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23 adds the word “daily”).  To take up our cross means that we, like Jesus, are willing to embrace God’s will, not matter the cost.  We are willing to give everything, up to and including our one and only life, for Jesus.

But there is a surprising pay off.  When you give up your life for Jesus, you find it.  The life you always wanted is not found in self-indulgence, but self-denial; the life you always wanted is not found in doing what you want, but doing what God wants.  

When I cling to my life—that is, when I try to keep my life for myself and doing what I want—I lose it.  But when I give up my life for Jesus, I find what I really wanted all along.  

Jim Eliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

All the verses on your outline under this point say the same thing: you find your life when you lose it for Jesus. All four gospel writers included this saying of Jesus.  The life you always wanted is found when you take up a cross and follow.

    I became a Christian because I met one who was doing life better than me.  I wanted what he had.  This is the verse that attracted me:

John 10:10 I have come that you may have life and have it to the full!

That’s what I wanted: life to the full, life so abundant that I would have plenty to share with others.  It was the life I always wanted.  I just needed to die to get it.

    It’s really a paradox.  Take up your cross daily sounds like a prescription for misery.  It sounds like torture, doesn’t it—I mean, crucifixion was torture.  Is that what it means to follow Jesus?  We wake up every morning and commit to misery?  “Good morning Jesus.  Here’s my miserable life—I’m going to live another miserable day for You.  I hope You’re happy.”  That’s what many people imagine taking up a cross daily would be like: pure misery, torture.  But when we die to ourselves and surrender to Jesus, we discover true life, abundant life, life to the full. In a twist of irony, we find that giving up our lives for Jesus gives us the life we so desperately wanted all along.

    Watch this:

Video: Michael Anwar

    Thank you Michael for sharing your story with us.

    To quote Michael: “A whole-hearted follower is someone who goes in all the way, who stinkin’ goes at it with all they have and won’t back off.”

    Does that describe you?  Does that describe the person you want to be?

    Here’s how we’re going to finish this service and this series.  We’re going to end it like we began it: by singing, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”  And if you want to be a follower, not a fan, if you want to be all in, and stinkin’ go at it with all you have, then I want you walk forward.  Your walk forward will be your act of crawling up on the altar today.  We’re not going to sing all day and wait for you—don’t hesitate—this is like Costco: wait and you missed it.  

I have decided to follow Jesus.  

You’ve made a choice to follow Jesus full on.  You’ll need to do this again tomorrow and the next day and the next day.  It’s an everyday surrender—that leads to the life you always wanted.

Closing prayer.