A sermon I preached on John 3:16-21:
In responding to Jesus’ call to follow him, I must ask myself what it is I can do to get serious about kingdom-focused living. Am I really willing to seek the lower place at the table rather than the place of preeminence and respectability (Luke 14:1-11)? Am I really willing to give to the poor out of my abundance (Luke 19:8)? Am I really willing to touch sinners (Luke 7:36-39)? Am I really willing to proactively use my possessions for the good of God’s kingdom (Luke 6:38)? Everything in me balks at this kind of love and sacrifice. I recoil at the thought of forsaking the world and its values — whether religious, political, social, educational, or vocational. To be “sentenced to death,” to become a “spectacle to the world,” to be “fools for Christ’s sake,” to be “held in disrepute,” to go “hungry and thirsty,” to be “poorly clothed,” “persecuted,” “slandered,” “the rubbish of the world,” “the dregs of all things” — the apostle Paul might endure such suffering (1 Cor. 4:8-13), or maybe Ethiopian Christians. But I, Lord? Yet if I , as a Christian, do not practice what I preach, if I continue to major in the minors, if “poor in spirit” remains but a meaningless platitude in my own life, then I am merely an admirer of Jesus and not a true follower.
— David Alan Black
“‘We are going up to Jerusalem,'” he said, “‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.'”
Wow! Talk about powerful stuff. Jesus is telling his disciples about the brutal death he is going to endure and about his miraculous resurrection that is to come. A casual Bible reader is well aware that the disciples never fully grasp the idea that Jesus is going to rise from the dead. They are clearly taken by surprise when he actually is resurrected.
In this passage, however, what struck me as particularly amusing is the request from the Zebedee brothers that follows.
“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.'”
Seriously?! That’s your next question?! Jesus says he is going to die a terrible, miserable, painful death and then be RAISED FROM THE DEAD and all you can ask is “what’s in it for me?”
Before I am too harsh on the disciples I better look at my own life. How often do I try to make Jesus my genie. Instead of pondering how I can sacrifice myself for the glorious cause of Christ, I too often spend my time asking Jesus for physical comforts. Rather than making salvation all about the glory and power of God, I try to focus it all about. After all, it is my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Stop and think about what Christ has done. Focus on how to respond to the beauty of the gospel. Do not follow Jesus merely for temporal blessings. Rather, follow Jesus because of who He is and what He has done by dying and being raised to life.
Today I received a wonderful little volume by D. A. Carson entitled Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. I figured this to be an appropriate exegetical supplement to the passion narratives that I read at this time of the year. It didn’t take Dr. Carson long, however, to deliver a powerful body-blow to my spiritual apathy when he described the calling of Jesus to the disciples. Read for yourself:
It is at this juncture that Jesus universalizes the principle that is at stake: “If anyone would come after me,” he says, “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (vv. 24-25). This expression “to take up one’s cross” is not an idiom by which to refer to some trivial annoyance — an ingrown toenail, perhaps, or a toothache, or an awkward in-law: “We all have our crosses to bear.” No, in the first century it was as culturally unthinkable to make jokes about crucifixion as it would be today to make jokes about Auschwitz. To take up your cross does not mean to move forward with courage despite the fact you lost your job or your spouse. It means you are under sentence of death; you are taking up the horizontal cross-member on your way to the place of crucifixion. You have abandoned all hope of life in this world. And then, Jesus, says, and only then, are we ready to follow him.
— D. A. Carson
It is easy to condemn Pilate and overlook our own equally devious behavior. Anxious to avoid the pain of a whole-hearted commitment to Christ, we too search for convenient subterfuges. We either leave the decision to somebody else or opt for a half-hearted compromise or seek to honor Jesus for the wrong reason (e.g., as teacher instead of as Lord), or even make a public affirmation of loyalty while at the same time denying him in our hearts… More important still, we ourselves are also guilty… For whenever we turn away from Christ, we “are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Heb. 6:6). We too sacrifice Jesus to our greed like Judas, to our envy like the priests, to our ambition like Pilate… Indeed, “only the man who is prepared to own his share in the guilt of the cross,” wrote Canon Peter Green, “may claim his share in its grace.”
— John R. W. Stott
In the last few weeks I have had a couple of opportunities to teach teenagers about “discipleship.” We talked through what the New Testament says about being a follower of Christ. I am still learning what it means to be a fully committed disciple of Jesus. Here are the three preliminary conclusions I have distilled from the Scriptures about “discipleship.”
1. Discipleship is costly.
2. Discipleship is full-time.
3. Discipleship is worth it.
Jesus emphasizes over-and-over that following Him is an all-or-nothing proposition. I think of how the first disciples immediately left their livelihoods and relationships to follow Jesus. They were by no means perfect and had a lot of room to grow but they did not let that stop them from following Jesus.
There has been an online surfeit of discussions regarding masculinity and Christianity (see here, here, here, or here). Various evangelicals have been using Mixed Martial Arts and other ultra-violent sports to inject missing machismo into American Evangelical Christian men.
I was first made aware of the connection between Christianity, MMA, and masculinity through Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I am particularly thankful for the ministry of Driscoll and his call for men to stand up and lead their churches and families. While I do not agree with the faux bravado sometimes created by the hyper-masculine Jesus described by Driscoll and others, I understand their reaction to the hyper-feminized Jesus of modern America. I, too, am tired of Jesus being portrayed as a “limp-wristed hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair who drank decaf and made pithy zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes.”
The hyper-masculine Christian male is nothing new. In my denomination, “real men” are often portrayed as big-game hunters who can kill a bear with a Swiss Army knife. The popular Christian author, John Eldredge, has been marketing Christianity to men for years calling them to find their inner warrior.
As Christians, however, we are called to be Biblical, not reactionary. Christian men are called to be like Jesus who is neither an effiminate, lamb-snuggling weakling or a Rambo-esque MMA fighter. As Scot McKnight has said, “The gentle-Jesus-meek-and-mild presentation is every bit as skewed and unbiblical as the Ultimate Fighting Jesus.”
I agree that there is a crisis of masculinity in American churches. The crisis of masculinity extends to the culture at large (see Al Mohler’s discussion of the gender gap in higher education). God has chosen men to stand up and lead. John Piper says it this way, “God calls spiritual, humble, Christlike men to lead the family as husbands and lead the church as elders” (Brothers We Are Not Professionals). Male leadership is not about weight lifting, bow-staff hunting skills, and bravado but, rather is grounded in the gospel, demonstrated through service, and solidified in confident humility.