No Pain, No Gain: The Cost of Discipleship
Text: Matthew 16.23-28
Introduction: Isaiah 55.1-3 In these verses is the quintessential message of the Gospel. You have in verse 1 the Free offer to all – “Ho! Everyone who thirsts…” This is for everyone who thirsts, everyone who is hungry, everyone who knows they have a need for God. This will automatically eliminate all those who are self-sufficient and have no need, as stated in the last part of verse 1, “You who have no money.”
Also, in verse 1, we see the call to come buy, but that what you are going to get here is “without money and without price.” In other words, this is beyond any earthly means.
He then rebukes men with the pursuit of self-sufficiency with the truth, the reality. “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?” What a stinging rebuke to every society in the history of mankind! There is a great effort to satisfy our souls, but the pursuit is after the wrong source. We cannot get it from within or from any earthly source. Where can we get it?
Verse 2, “Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me, Hear, and your soul shall live.” There is nowhere else to go in order to have life and live.
There is a terrible misnomer concerning salvation. Easy believism, having Christ as Savior and not Lord and cheap grace are the deadly enemies of the Church. These are fundamental ideas of evangelism that begin with the wrong elements of true discipleship. The current trend of Christianity is bent on self-centered consumption. God wants to make you wealthy, healthy and happy. We generally identify that kind of thinking with Charismatics, but Evangelicals have long ago gone down the road of propagating a Jesus who is a panacea, a cure-all, for all your problems.
What this has created is not the Church of Christ that is built by the Savior that withstands the throngs of attacks, even of the gates of Hades; but, a self-indulged, self-esteem cultist whose main endeavor is to better their lives in this present world. The Lord Jesus strikes a death blow to this current trend.
Notice how Jesus begins, “If anyone desires to come after Me.” Now what does He mean by that? Here is the first and I might add most important aspect of discipleship – desire. Do you desire? Basically, it means if you want to be a Christian, if you want to follow Jesus, if you want to be His disciple. It is the same appeal of Isaiah 55: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts…” You see this is the initial question to all of us. It is also the continuous question to all of us: Do you desire to come after Me?
How do you come after Christ? It is fundamentally an attitude. That is Jesus gets to the basic issue, what is in your heart? What is your attitude towards discipleship, following Christ? The passage strikes at the heart of the matter of Discipleship. It is upon this subject I want to speak to you today under the topic: No Pain, No Gain: The Cost of Discipleship. As we go through this text I want you to see that Jesus gives us three essential elements of Discipleship: Self-Denial, Cross-Bearing and Obedience
Verse 24 – “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself…”
A. I want to direct your attention to the word deny. It means to disown or to refuse any association with. Now, it would be hard for me to refuse association with myself since I am always around myself. How do I refuse association with me? Well, he is talking about the flesh. Have you seen this commercial by Sprite? “Obey your thirst.” This is the essence of self – to obey your flesh. Go after everything your body wants. Fulfill all your lusts and passions. You deserve it. This was the attack Satan made on Jesus in the wilderness, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” You remember Jesus’ reply, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Again, this is not simply a play on words or some abstract philosophy. Jesus appeals to the Word of God that the way in which man really lives is not by the things of the flesh to build up the flesh, but by the Spirit of God to build up the spirit. To obey God is to really have life and live.
B. What Jesus is saying is, if you desire to come after Me, you need to deny yourself. You need to come to the point that you do not look to yourself for everything that you cannot save yourself or even come up to par of being good enough. You need to be just like Peter when He denied Jesus and said, “I don’t know this man.” You need to come to the point where you say that about yourself. That is the first element of discipleship and as you can see it is costly. It is the way that you come to Christ and the way in which we live. Paul sums it up like this in Philippians 3.3 – “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” That is the hard hitting message: If you come to Christ, you come on His terms and the terms are self-denial.
C. Luke 18.10-14 – This succinctly defines the contrast between self-denial and self-reliance. The attitude of the publican, the tax collector is one of self-denial – no dependence upon self, no self-reliance – “Go be merciful to me a sinner!” The idea that God helps those that help themselves is foreign to the Gospel of Christ. Jesus said, “I have come to save the lost.” The question today is: Are you lost?
II. Cross Bearing
The first element of discipleship is self-denial. The next essential element of discipleship is cross-bearing. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross…”
A. “Take up his cross” – There is the second element of Discipleship, cross-bearing. What did he mean? We tend to think it is some sort of mystical thing. “This must be my cross to bear.” We have all heard numerous things referred to as our cross. Well, he is not talking about your mother-in-law or your cantankerous co-worker. What does he mean? It is simple. It is the willingness to endure reproach, suffering, rejection, persecution and even martyrdom for His sake. That’s it.
B. It is important that we understand the situation here. Jesus has taken his disciples to the farthest corner of the country. They are away from all of the trouble and all the turmoil. He wants to have a good heart to heart. He wants them to fully understand what the costs are in following Him. What are they thinking when Jesus says, “Take up your cross?” About 120 years prior to this time there were about 100 men crucified in this very area. The Greeks under Antiochus Epiphanes had crucified many Jews in the intertestamental period. One historian estimates some 30,000 crucifixions around the time of Jesus.
C. They would have had an immediate image of a poor condemned soul carrying the beam of the instrument of death strapped to his back. It was a walk to the death. He was being cut off from everything, his family, his desires, his very life. It meant that if you desire to follow Christ, you must then be willing to suffer as one of these condemned souls. Now, in our society in our day, we don’t have crosses lined up along the highway, but it means to identify ourselves with Jesus, the crucified, to be offered up as the Savior if called upon.
D. In fact, let me take you to Acts 5 and read to you what transpired in the early church to remind the early Christians that this was not an easy social gathering. I want you to notice especially verses 13-14.
There are two essential elements of Discipleship: Self-Denial and Cross-Bearing. Now we come to the third, Obedience. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
A. Here is the last element of the Cost of Discipleship to follow Christ. “Follow Me.” That would literally be, “Let him be following Me.” That is, it is a way of life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this of obedience: “Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.” Some of you may have heard a few years ago of the question being bantered around: Can a person receive Christ as Savior and not as Lord? This is known as the Lordship Salvation Controversy. In other words, can he just believe on Christ and not live in obedience to His commands? Well, Jesus’ demands here are an unequivocal, NO! Following Christ is obeying Christ. Believing on Christ is obeying.
B. “The man who disobeys cannot believe, for only he who obeys can believe.” John 3.16
C. “Preacher, all this talk of Self-Denial, Cross-Bearing and Obedience, How is that living?” Well, that brings us to a paradox and Jesus addresses it. “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?” It appears that there is a lot of loss and no gain. But, the old saying is fitting here: No Pain, No Gain. You can go for it here and now and you are guaranteed to lose it all. Or you can give it up now and gain it forever.
D. Verse 27-28