Theme: Self—Denial and Reward
In this week’s lesson we read about what an investment in Christianity entails.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, 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. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
In today’s lesson we complete our composite picture begun in yesterday’s study, of what being a disciple is all about.
3. Following Jesus. Discipleship is not simply a door to be entered but a path to be followed, and the disciple proves the genuine nature of his discipleship by following the path to the end. David wrote about it in the 119th Psalm. The section of that psalm that begins, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (v.105) ends, “My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end” (v. 112). That is it! The true disciple is one who follows Christ to the very end. In all, the words “follow me” occur thirteen times in the Gospels. There are many more instances in which a person is said to have followed Christ. It is a very basic concept.
When the cost of being a Christian is put in these terms, as it must be since this is the teaching of Jesus Christ himself, any sane person ought to be asking whether this is a good investment or not. The cost is high. So we ask: Is what we get out of it worth what we have to put in? Jesus seems to have been aware of that question, for He follows His demand for cross-bearing with three strong incentives for doing just that. These are obvious in the Greek text of Matthew 16, for each of them begins with the word “for” (in vv. 25, 26 and 27; the New International Version eliminates “for” at the start of verse 26.) Why should any sane person deny himself to follow Jesus?
1. Verse 25: Doing it means saving your soul and not doing it means losing your soul. If all we are talking about here is worldly influence, wealth or possessions, the devil’s offer might be good: You can have the world; all you have to do is worship Satan. But those who worship Satan for the world he offers will perish with him. The devil can give you a small imitation of heaven now—“heaven on earth”—but you will experience hell hereafter. On the other hand, following Jesus now, though it means self denial and will have its hard moments, leads to heaven.
Even more. In verse 25 Jesus does not even use the word “soul,” as if all He is speaking about is the life of the world to come. He speaks of life itself, meaning that even here fullness of life consists in following Him and that the sure way to an empty life is to reject Him.
2. Verse 26: Your soul is more valuable than the whole world. The world is not without value. Its charms are real. God created the world, after all. But the world is transitory. Jesus Himself said that “heaven and earth will pass away” (Matt. 24:35). It is foolish to exchange your eternal soul for what will one day be nothing.
3. Verse 27: Those who follow Jesus will be rewarded by Jesus when He returns in glory with the holy angels. Some people think the idea of rewards is an unworthy motivation. They think following Christ should be altruistic and idealistic. Maybe. But Jesus knows our frailties and does not seem to be ashamed to hold out the promise of rewards. Deprivations and sorrows here, but rewards in heaven. Here a cross, but there a crown. Can anyone reasonably suppose that he or she will somehow come out on the short end by following Jesus Christ?
How does a disciple prove the genuine nature of discipleship?
List three reasons to deny yourself and follow Jesus. How do you make an investment in your soul?
Review the three components of discipleship. Pray through each of these areas and reflect on your ability to deny self. Discuss any shortcomings with a trusted Christian friend. Take a course of action now that Will put you on the path to follow Jesus.