It’s said that Ernest Shakelton, the famous Antarctic explorer, placed the following text in an English newspaper: “Men wanted for a hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” You’d think that few people would be interested in responding. Apparently, many did.
Jesus gave his disciples a similarly bleak invitation to join his journey: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).
Modern people like us have been desensitized to the offence and horror of the cross. We don’t really understand what it means to carry a cross. But Jesus’ audience knew all about crosses and crucifixion. Taking up a cross meant losing control of your life. It meant death. Jesus’ invitation to his followers was to lose control over your own life and to die to self.
Many of us come to Jesus, attracted by who he is and what he offers us, but we don’t want to lose control over our lives. Jesus’ command to his disciples to “deny themselves and take up their cross daily” is the fine print of Christian discipleship that we’d rather not read. If you’re anything like me, you prefer to be selective in how you follow Jesus, “I’ll do this, but not that”.
Don Carson argues that in being selective in how we follow Jesus, we’re actually not fully responding to the gospel. He puts it like this, “I would like to buy about three dollars’ worth of gospel, please. Not too much—just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted. I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust. I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture. I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation… I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged”. This is what I’m often like. What about you?
From this Sunday until Easter, we’ll be learning from the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 9:51, we’re told that “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem”. It’s a significant point in the Gospel. Jesus is going to the cross. Along the way, he teaches his disciples what it looks like to follow him. He teaches them about priorities, trust, prayer, sacrifice, generosity, watchfulness, and relationships. Jesus didn’t let his disciples work out for themselves what it looks like to follow him. He tells them (and us) what it looks like.
In this series, Jesus is going to say uncomfortable things to us that will challenge how we live. We’ll be tempted to dismiss or ignore what he has to say, instead preferring a three dollar gospel, thinking that will give us a better life. But let’s listen to the Master as he teaches us about the best life, the life we’ve been created and redeemed for.