death

It's Easter Time!

Photo by  Aaron Brunhofer  on  Unsplash

What are you celebrating?

When I see bright-colored eggs and chocolate bunnies in pastel-colored displays, I know it must be near Easter. Unless you understand the calendar timing of Easter Sunday, you probably have to check online like I do to find when Easter falls each year.

Easter isn't a big marketing holiday but stores do their best to feature lots of eggs, egg-coloring dyes, baskets, and chocolate and marshmallow bunnies and chicks. And don't forget the food! Ham is a favorite along with some scalloped potatoes or au gratin perhaps, and if you're traditional, some hot-cross buns.

But what are we celebrating with all of this? Is there a difference between Easter and Resurrection Sunday? Well, yes and no. And what about all those other traditional days people observe like Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday?

How are all of these things related or are they? Exactly! I think there's a lot of confusion about what is being celebrated and, of course, lots of back and forth about how Christians should celebrate Easter Sunday.

Some background on Easter

Easter Sunday is a big celebration for Christian churches. Not only is it an important celebration, it's one of those Sundays when a lot of people who don't normally go to church attend a service, especially if it's a sunrise service.

Our church holds an Easter sunrise service at the beach each year and it's a beautiful and well-attended celebration. I'm partial to sunrise services because it connects so well with the story of the Lord Jesus' resurrection in all four of the gospels.

Back to the question of whether there's a difference between Easter and Resurrection Sunday? There is but some background on other more traditional observances of the church needs to be considered first.

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lenten season that runs for forty days up to Easter Sunday. It commemorates Jesus' fasting in the wilderness for forty days and His temptation by the devil at the end of the fasting (Matt 4:1-11).

It's observed as a time to give up some pleasure or part of daily life routine as a sacrifice. It was not observed by the early church but developed and set as a church observance in 325 BC. It's observed mostly by Catholic churches and many traditional Protestant churches.

Paschal Triduum

Palm Sunday combined with the final days before Easter Sunday are considered Holy or Passion Week. The Paschal Triduum includes three important days. Which ones? It depends on who you ask or what you accept as the three most important days.

The title is drawn from Pascha, the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew Pesach for the Passover. The Passover or Seder Supper is based on the first Passover in Exodus 12, which was fulfilled by the Lord's atoning death on the cross.

Which three days? Traditionally it's been Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday but others, including me, opt for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday.

Palm Sunday

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Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter Sunday. It commemorates Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey as He was hailed by crowds of people crying out, "Hosanna (Oh Save!) to the Son of David!" (Matt 21:1-11). It is the beginning of Holy Week that concludes with Easter Sunday.

Although the early church didn't observe it, the church in Jerusalem started to observe it about the late third or early fourth century. When Jesus entered Jerusalem that day it was a fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy (Zech 9:9; Matt 21:4-5).

Sadly, many in the crowd who waved palm branches and shouted out "Hosanna!" to hail whom they believed to be the Messiah later yelled out, "Crucify Him!" (Matt 27:15-26). It illustrates how quickly emotions and opinions can change people's minds regardless of the truth.

Maundy Thursday

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Maundy Thursday commemorates the last night Jesus spent with His closest followers as told in John chapters 13 through 17. It begins with Jesus washing the disciples' feet, which included His betrayer Judas (John 13:1-17), on the night He ate the Passover feast with them (Luke 22:14-23).

The word Maundy is taken from the Latin word for command in acknowledgment of the Lord's new commandment to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35). This is something that needs to be remembered and practiced far more often than once a year!

Good Friday

I remember participating in Good Friday services as one of a group of pastors in the community where we shared on one of the last seven sayings of Jesus on the cross. It was a good reminder of how we are one Body—one Church unified by Jesus and His work of redemption on the cross.

My first time in the Philippines was on Good Friday where the whole country virtually comes to a  standstill to observe this solemn day with processions and prayers. As believers, we need to reflect on the atoning death of Jesus—the Lamb of God (John 1:29). Not just for His sacrifice but the purpose of His sacrifice.

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When Jesus was lifted up on the cross on Golgotha (John 19:17-18), He fulfilled the Passover once and for all (Heb 9:12, 26; 10:10, 12). This is why it is Good Friday! It may have originally been God's Friday but morphed into Good—like God's spell (story) became Gospel.

The very purpose of Jesus dying on the cross was to provide a way for all humanity to be reconciled with God the Father. God came to earth Himself as the Son of God to offer Himself for all people.

All of Jesus' earthly ministry and presence was focused on this day followed by His resurrection—His death and resurrection cannot and should not be separated in our understanding of God's work of redemption. And so, it is Good Friday but remember—as an old hymn declares—Sunday is coming!

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is the official end of the Lenten season. It's also called Black Saturday in the Philippines and other places. It's a reminder of Jesus' burial in the tomb. But thankfully, it's not the end of the story!

Easter—Resurrection Sunday

Although most of us know this day of celebration as Easter, I prefer the use of Resurrection Sunday because it expresses what's most important. It's uncertain how it became known as Easter but an early connection to its origin is to the Saxon goddess of spring, Eastre. 

The important thing is to distinguish the difference between how the world around us observes Easter and why believers celebrate it. Without the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there is no hope of eternal life and there is no true redemption (1 Cor 15:13-17). 

Without the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there is no hope of eternal life and there is no true redemption
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Lightstock.com

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus on the third day after His death was the primary focus of the gospel for the early church, as seen throughout the book of Acts. It is central to Christian theology. The hope of salvation and eternal life hang on the physical resurrection of Jesus.

It's what the Lord pointed the disciples to before and immediately after His death and resurrection (Matt 16:21; Luke 24:44-47). The resurrection came on the first day of the week (our Sunday) and was the first true Christian holiday observed by the early church and the reason they began to meet on the first day of the week rather than on the last day.

I've written about this many times and in my book. Here are a few links if you're interested—

Easter or Resurrection Sunday?

So, what are you celebrating on Easter? It's easy to react to the idea of a pagan origin to Easter but the resurrection of Christ is biblical and important. It really doesn't matter what you call the day (Rom 14:5-9). What is important is why we celebrate it.

A traditional greeting for Resurrection Sunday is for one person to say, "He is risen!" and for others to reply, "He is risen indeed!" That is the essence of our hope in Jesus.

A simple way to get a true perspective on Holy Week, or Passion Week if you prefer, is to read the account of it all in the Bible. Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the power of the story—God's story of redemption through His Son Jesus—trying to sort out the what and why.

Not that understanding isn't important, it is, but understanding often comes as we immerse ourselves in the story itself. When you read—allow yourself to soak in all that is written, even read it aloud, so you can see it with your mind's eye. Reading more dynamic versions of the Bible may help and you can also listen to audio versions of the Bible.

Understanding often comes as we immerse ourselves in the story itself

Here are some reading suggestions so you can do that—

Scripture Readings

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

  • Matthew Chaps 26–27
  • Mark Chaps 14–15
  • Luke Chaps 22–23
  • John Chaps 13–17 and 18–19

Resurrection Sunday

  • Matthew 28
  • Mark 16
  • Luke 24
  • John 20–21
He is risen! He is risen indeed!

 

The Hope and Restoration Embedded in Judgment

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unsplash_MWieland

Everyone loves a happy ending to a story. Well, most of us do. But life isn't as full of happy endings as we'd like. That's why we like them and we want to believe there will be a happy ending to our life story.

We all want and need hope. Hope helps us endure life's difficulties and struggles. Hope was implanted in us by God when He created us in His image. It's anchored in trust which was and still is the basis of a relationship with God.

When Adam and Eve forsook trust in God to embrace a lie, it resulted in a severe consequence—the cycle of death began (Gen 2:17). This was God's judgment. They were forewarned of this but chose to ignore it. Yet, embedded within God's judgment is the hope of restoration—a happy ending.

Promises of restoration

Continuing with the story from last week, King David indicts himself in response to Nathan the prophet's parable. Nathan then tells David what the consequences will be for his sin. They are severe but there is hope embedded in Nathan's words.

We see a glimmer of this hope when Nathan tells David, “The Lord has taken away your sin; you will not die." (2 Sam 12:13 GW)

When reading through the Bible and of the many judgments foretold and pronounced throughout, it's easy to overlook the promises of restoration embedded within those judgments. This is part of the redemptive thread woven through the Bible.

Human perceptions are limited. We see judgment as punishment more than as justice. Justice is a balancing of the scales but God sees beyond balancing the scales of right and wrong.

God desires to bring reconciliation and restoration. Restoration reaches beyond justice as God extends His mercy to bring reconciliation.

The ripple effect

David's response to God's judgment upon his sin reveals why David was a man after God's own heart (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). David didn't blame anyone or any circumstance. He owned his own sin with a repentant heart as expressed in Psalm 51—

I have sinned against you, especially you. I have done what you consider evil. So you hand down justice when you speak, and you are blameless when you judge. (Psa 51:4 GW)

If God forgave David for this sin, why did David need to suffer such great consequences? (2 Sam 12:10-14) What David put in motion by his sin had natural consequences. This is the ripple effect of sin.

Because he was king of Israel—the leader of God's people—the ripple effect of David's grievous sins affected his life and the nation of Israel for many years. This illustrates the law of sowing and reaping (Gal 6:7-8).

The ripple effect of David's sin included (2 Sam 12:10-14)—

  • the sword (warfare) would never leave his household
  • rebellion and division would also rise up against him in an open and shameful way
  • the baby in Bathsheba's womb would die

All of this came to pass, as seen in the following chapters of 2 Samuel.

Where's the hope?

It doesn't seem like there's much of an upside to all of this judgment brought against David, but it can be seen in two ways.

After praying and fasting for seven days for the child to recover from a sickness and live, the child dies (2 Sam 12:15-21). Once again, David's trust in God reveals hope—

As long as the child was alive, I fasted and cried. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But why should I fast now that he’s dead? Can I bring him back? ⌊Someday⌋ I’ll go to him, but he won’t come back to me. (2 Sam 12:22-23 GW)

David understood God's merciful nature and he believed in life beyond death. He speaks of this in Psalms 16:8-11.

Later, David has another child whom God loved. We know him as King Solomon, but the Lord called him Jedidiah—the Lord's beloved. This was a comfort to Bathsheba and a fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy given to David (2 Sam 7:12-16; Matt 1:1, 6).

Repentance leads to restoration

A full understanding of how hope and restoration are embedded in God's judgment with this story requires reading through Psalm 51. It's like a postscript to 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12.

David's steadfast trust shines throughout this psalm of confession. It's not just a confession of sin but of trust. Yes, David confesses his sin and asks for the Lord's cleansing (Psa 51:1-9), yet there's an underlying confidence in God's restoration of his life.

Create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a faithful spirit within me. Do not force me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore the joy of your salvation to me, and provide me with a spirit of willing obedience. (Psa 51:10-12 GW)

Genuine repentance leads to restoration. Repentance isn't so much a requirement as a pathway to restoration. God is merciful in nature (Psalm 103:8; Luke 6:36) so even hope and restoration are in embedded in His judgment.

What are your thoughts on the idea of hope, restoration, and judgment in light of God's mercy?

A Stolen Lamb

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unsplash.com_RLong

Injustice is just so... unjust! It's a wrong that demands to be made right. When it happens to us, those close to us, or the innocent and defenseless it stirs up anger inside of us and we want some type of justice done.

The greater the indifference or wrong on the part of the offender, the stronger the reaction and demand for justice. Sadly, we can be unaware of our own indifference, even a heartlessness when we cause heartache or wrong others. What's worse is when we are numb and hardened to the cries of the victims of injustice.

But it never goes unnoticed. One person, who is able to bring about true and full justice, not only sees it but holds each one of us accountable for our life.

2 men and a parable

Parables are often associated with Jesus but they are common throughout history in many cultures. Solomon, King David's son through Bathsheba, used several parables in his writing in the book of Proverbs.

Before King Solomon was born, the prophet Nathan told King David a telling parable. One he would never forget. It's found in 2 Samuel 12:1-4 (GW). It begins, “There were two men in a certain city. One was rich, and the other was poor."

The contrast and injustice become more clear as the parable unfolds. It tells of a wealthy man with many flocks who took the pet lamb of a poor man to feed a visitor.

The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cows, but the poor man had only one little female lamb that he had bought. He raised her, and she grew up in his home with his children. She would eat his food and drink from his cup. She rested in his arms and was like a daughter.
Now, a visitor came to the rich man. The rich man thought it would be a pity to take one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler. So he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared her for the traveler. (2 Sam 12:2-4 GW)

As Jesus often did with His parables, Nathan used the parable to convey a simple truth but with a catch. As David heard the parable he responded in an immediate and strong way (2 Sam 12:5-6 GW). In doing so, he convicted himself of his own sin.

The back story

One important factor for understanding parables is the setting for the parable itself. It often reveals why the parable is told. We need to read the story in the previous chapter (2 Sam 11) to understand why this parable impacts David the way it does.

David was the great warrior king of Israel but he chose to stay back and send his army to battle without him. One day after a nap, David took a stroll on his rooftop and saw a beautiful woman bathing. Her name was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

The enemy of our souls had set a trap and David fell for it.

A thwarted deception

David ignored this woman's marriage and had her brought to his palace. When she became pregnant, David tried to cover his sin. He called her husband home from the war thinking Uriah would sleep with his wife while at home and assume he impregnated his wife.

But things did not go as expected (2 Sam 11:8-13). David did not count on Uriah's loyalty to his soldiers and his honorable character, which was greater than his king.

An unnecessary death

The reactions of the very first encounter with the clever adversary of our soul are seen in David's next decision—the murder of Uriah.

King David instructs his general Joab to put Uriah on the front line of battle then pull back from him. He took advantage of Uriah's loyal and honest character (2 Sam 11:14-17). And so, Uriah's unnecessary death was the consequence of David's ill-fated attempt to cover his sin.

The indictment

“You are the man!” Nathan told David. “This is what the Lord God of Israel says: I anointed you king over Israel and rescued you from Saul. I gave you your master Saul’s house and his wives. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if this weren’t enough, I would have given you even more." (2 Sam 12:7-8 GW)

What we see of David in this story lurks in all of us. His reaction to Nathan's parable reflects our natural unredeemed self.

We condemn ourselves when we cry out for justice on others without realizing our own wrongness and our need for mercy.

None of us are as innocent as we may think. None of us will avoid true justice—the accounting of our life before the One True and Righteous Judge. But we all need His mercy!

Judgment and restoration

Next week, I'll look into the consequences—the judgment—of David's sin with Bathsheba and Uriah and his response to it. It just might surprise you!

Judgment is a part of God's redemptive story. It's like drawing a line for what God says is acceptable in His eyes. It's not mere punishment. It has a purpose. God desires for His judgment to lead to correction and restoration.

Until then—

What bothers you most about David's actions?

His weakness of temptation, the adultery, the attempt to cover his sin, the murder of Uriah, or David's calculating hardness of heart? Why and which do you relate to most?

What we condemn in others is often what dwells in our own heart.

Shame, Blame, and Consequences

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unsplash / veerterzy

What's the purpose of an investigation? In an objective sense, it's a (hopefully) systematic examination of facts that includes observations and draws a conclusion. When an investigation is done, whoever is conducting it may say they want to "discover the truth... uncover facts, or get to the bottom of this," whatever that might mean.

I tend to be a bit cynical about investigations, especially if there's an agenda. The motivation becomes a search to discover a certain truth. In other words, it becomes a search for who to blame more than seeking some objective truth.

The crazy thing is, we play the blame game a lot, either to place blame, shift it, or dodge it altogether. Why? It comes naturally!

The next episode

Over the past two weeks, I've looked at the beginning of all stories in a simple way. First, we looked at the Creation story, which culminated in the creation of people in God's image.

Next, I considered how what started as innocence in paradise ended in shame, along with why this happened.

But all of this is only the beginning of God's story of redemption. This post will focus on what comes next—shame, blame, and the consequences of a choice by the first woman and man.

Where are you?

After eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, the man and woman—Adam and Eve (Gen 3:20-21)—realized they were naked, experienced shame, and tried to cover their shame.

God came through the garden paradise and expected to see His most prized creations. But they hid from God. The Lord called out to the man, "Where are you?" So, Adam explained they were hiding because they were naked. They were ashamed.

God's next question zeroed in on their problem. "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?"

A very personal relationship

Let's pause in the story to consider the nature of this situation. The relationship between God and the man and woman was personal. They communicated to one another directly.

The man and woman each had a personal independent and free will, yet they knew God for who He was—their Creator and the Creator of all things.

Their freedom was only limited by one command—not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of, as I call it, the FOMO tree.

Once Adam and Eve's distrust of God and their choice to ignore God's command was discovered, a cascade of consequences began. The primary consequence was a change in their relationship with God.

The blame game

As soon as God asks Adam if he ate of the forbidden tree, he blames Eve, "The woman whom you gave to be with me...." (Gen 3:12)

Do you see how quickly the man shifts the blame (responsibility) back onto God and the woman.?

The woman is also quick to blame the serpent, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." Now, what she said was true, but she was quick to deflect blame just as the man did (Gen 3:13).

The serpent didn't have this option and God deals with him first.

The consequences

Before diving into the cascade of consequences, it's important to note that God also suffers a consequence from all of this. His beautiful creation was disrupted and only He could set things right again.

Within the consequences that follow, a prophetic promise of redemption is included.

The serpent

The first consequence is putting a curse on the serpent. From this point on the serpent would have to crawl on its belly and "eat dust" (Gen 3:14). So, apparently, the serpent went from being clever to being cursed—a snake below all other creatures.

Also, there would be an ongoing conflict with the woman's offspring (seed) and the serpent's offspring. The serpent's head would be crushed after he bruised the heel of the woman's offspring (Gen 3:15).

The woman

The woman's three-fold consequence starts with pain, increased pain when giving birth to children. I've watched my wife give birth to our four children and I can confirm that this consequence continues. 

The other consequences go together. Here's what the text says—

Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you. (Gen 3:16 ESV)

The original language (Hebrew) indicates that it's more like—

"You will want to rule your husband, but he will rule over you." (similar to Gen 4:7)

The man

Because the man gave into the woman and ate the fruit, the very ground he was taken from in creation would now be cursed (Gen 3:17). In a sense, this is where all environmental problems began (Rom 8:19-22).

Now the ground would be infested with thorns and thistles and painful work. He worked in the garden before, but now things would be different. No more paradise watered by God. Now his work would be watered with his own sweat (Gen 3:18-19).

The curse of eating the fruit of the forbidden tree would be death. This is what God commanded the man before the woman existed (Gen 2:17). It's here the continuing cycle of birth and death began—

...for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Gen 3:19)

God

How did God suffer consequences? He had to cover Adam and Eve's nakedness and shame with the first animal sacrifice (Gen 3:21).

Then the Triune Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—had to banish the man and woman and their offspring from the garden they once ruled.

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” (Gen 3:22 NIV)

God posted a great angel with a flaming sword at the east end the garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Not only was God's beautiful paradise spoiled, so also was the very personal relationship He had with Adam and Eve.

The promise of redemption

If the man and woman ate of the tree of life, they and all other generations would be condemned to a life of shame and endless death with no hope of redemption.

The light at the end of the tunnel of the cycle of birth and death is found in the curse of the serpent—

I will put animosity between you and the woman— between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head, and you will crush his heel. (Gen 3:15 TLV)

When Jesus was crucified on the cross, it appeared all had been lost. The Messiah was killed and His followers and others thought that was the end.

The serpent (the devil) deceived Judas Iscariot into betraying Jesus so He would be crucified, but there's more to this prophetic promise. "He will crush your head."

This is what God said to the serpent and it came to pass through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Col 2:13-15).

His glorious resurrection restored hope beyond death and opened the door of redemption for all humanity!

Do you realize when you look for blame or defend and justify yourself?

Have you personally experienced God's redemptive love in your life?


This week is often referred to as Holy Week. We look ahead to Good Friday in remembrance of Jesus' death on the cross and to Easter Sunday—Resurrection Sunday.

Easter is our reminder of God's redemption—our rescue by Him from the sentence of eternal death and the promise of eternal life—through a personal trust relationship with the Lord.

The Path and 3 Prayers

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unspalsh.c0m-path_sea_sunset-jmcqueen

Well-meaning people have strived to find ways to please God for generations and generations. These efforts usually create some type of spiritual path or process to reach and please God. However, each of these efforts falls short of their goal because they start from the wrong point.

How does a person please God? In particular, how does a person live the Christian life? Doing good and not harming others ranks high among the many thoughts and ideas put forth.

Some see the need for a strict moral code and religious disciplines. Others may see it as more of a philosophy of being like Jesus, which can take on all sorts of approaches.

@@All humanity's efforts to reach and please God fall short of what He desires@@. The key is what Jesus tells us in the gospels. His way is much simpler and yet more challenging.

The path and the garden

Jesus' call to follow Him

In each of the three synoptic gospels, Jesus tells those who would follow Him what they need to do (Matt 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). Here it is from Luke's gospel—

And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23 ESV)

People have varying thoughts about what it means to "deny" our self and to "take up" our cross. Even the simple call to "follow Me" is made complicated by various leaders and theologians.

How can we determine what Jesus meant? The simplest way I know is to look at His living example and how it fits with what He says. Life example is a basic essential to good leadership, whether to be a good leader or gain insight to what leadership involves.

3 prayers of Jesus in Gethsemane

Before Jesus went to the cross, He asked the Father if it could be avoided. This is also found in the first three gospels of the Bible (Matt 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). Matthew's gospel gives us the most detail and insight into these three prayers of Jesus (Matt 26:39, 42, 44).

Each of the three prayers is similar. Jesus asks His Father if the "cup" of suffering death on the cross can be avoided. Each ends with Jesus' willingness to do the Father's will over His own.

Reading through the details of this time of prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives, reveals how difficult it was for Jesus.

He tells the disciples that His "soul was overwhelmed to the point of death" (Mark 14:34 NIV). In Luke, we're told His sweat was "like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:44 NIV).

All of this shows us the great struggle Jesus had with accepting the Father's will. This is why following Jesus may be simple on one hand, but difficult and challenging, as well.

Self-denial

Luke reminds us the basic call to follow Jesus is a daily choice, not a one-and-done decision. @@Self-denial is a continuing choice to not go back to our embedded selfish way of life@@. It's an ongoing act of repentance—turning to God and away from our selfish nature.

Denying our self is to acknowledge the futility of living by our inherent selfish nature, which includes such things as—self-indulgence, self-justification, self-fulfillment, self-righteousness, and whatever else that places self at the center of attention in our life.

Most believers don't move beyond this first step of following Jesus. This leads to a performance-based relationship with God similar to trying to live by the Ten Commandants of the Mosaic Law (Exo 20:1-17). It's not the path Jesus calls us to walk (Gal 3:3, 10-14).

@@Following Jesus requires living by faith, only possible through God's grace at work in us@@.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:12 NIV)

Our cross

Moving forward in the next step of following Jesus also requires a daily choice. As it says in Luke, we are to "take up [our] cross daily." The apostle Paul gives us a picture of these first two steps—

Brothers and sisters, I can’t consider myself a winner yet. This is what I do: I don’t look back, I lengthen my stride, and I run straight toward the goal to win the prize that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14 GW)

This is illustrated by a swimmer doing the freestyle stroke. As the swimmer reaches forward with one arm, she pushes down and back with the other arm. It's a continuous double-action stroke along with a flutter kick that propels the swimmer over the surface of the water.

The cross was an instrument of death and a symbol of shame (Gal 3:13). Unlike the liquid and smooth stroke of a swimmer, taking up our cross—dying to self—usually involves a lot of kicking and screaming on our part. @@The selfish nature does not die easily@@.

None of us embrace shame or death easily, let alone willingly. And yet, this is what the call to follow Jesus requires—embracing a death to our selfish nature and life.

If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, who was brought back to life, will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once and for all to sin’s power. But now he lives, and he lives for God. So consider yourselves dead to sin’s power but living for God in the power Christ Jesus gives you. (Rom 6:8-11 GW)

@@Following Jesus requires us to embrace death to our selfish nature and life@@.

Following Jesus

At first, most believers don't realize what's involved with following Jesus. I remember hearing it explained as signing a blank contract that Jesus fills in with details later, as we live out our faith in a daily way.

@@Denying our self and taking up our cross are prerequisite to following Jesus@@. As John the Baptizer said of himself in respect to Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30) This is the point of the first two steps—the decrease of self—the selfish nature.

I remember enduring prerequisite courses in college to get into courses I really wanted to take. After diving into those major courses, I realized the need for those prerequisite classes. They provided a foundation and framework for what I would learn later.

@@A most obvious essential to discipleship is following the example of Jesus@@.

This includes His three prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-46). In each of these prayers, Jesus struggles with surrendering His personal will to submit to the Father's will, which was dying on the cross for the redemption of all humanity.

If Jesus, the Son of God, struggled with submitting His will to the Father, why should we think it won't be a struggle for each of us as we follow Jesus? This is why self-denial and dying to our self precede and lead to actually following Jesus.

Each step requires us to submit our will to God, just as with the Lord's three prayers. Each step is a daily, sometimes moment-by-moment choice. Each choice is a conscious decision to submit and surrender ourselves to the Lord.

A final thought

This continuous, daily choice to follow Jesus will put us at odds with the world around us. Following Jesus in genuine discipleship is the culture of the God's kingdom, and it's counter to the culture of the world around us.

At times, @@what Jesus asks of us personally may seem different and at odds to how other Christian believers live and follow Jesus@@. I often hear what Jesus spoke to Peter after restoring him from Peter's three denials of Jesus—

"...what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:18-22 NIV)

For me this means I need to keep looking ahead to Jesus, not at others or anything else that would distract me from faithfully following Jesus. I believe it's a personal call from Jesus to each of us.


If you'd like to get a better handle on walking this path of following Jesus, I highly recommend The Calvary Road, by Roy Hession.