445:  What it Means to Follow Jesus

445: What it Means to Follow Jesus

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, His initial message was the same as John the Baptist.  He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).  And throughout the next three years, one underlying theme in His teaching was about life in His Kingdom.  When Jesus sent out His disciples to preach His message, He said, “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Matt. 8:11).  Jesus even told those close to Him why He spoke to the crowds in parables.  And His answer had to do with concealing from some the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven.  He said, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt. 13:11).

Finally, He shared parables specifically pointed to revealing what the kingdom of heaven, His Kingdom, was like.  He said it was like a “man who sowed good seed in his field” (Matt. 13:24).  Or, it was like a “mustard seed” which, being small, grew into a tree “so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” (Matt. 13:31).  Jesus likened His Kingdom to “leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” (Matt. 13:33).  And to express how wonderful His Kingdom is for those who possess it, He said it was like a “treasure hidden in a field” (Matt. 13:44) or a “pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:46) that was worth all one had on earth.

Jesus then asked His disciples, “Have you understood all these things?”  They said to Him, “Yes, Lord” (Matt. 13:51).

I wonder what our answer would be today?  Do we understand His Kingdom?  Do we fully know what it means to follow Him?  Can we honestly say we are proficient in following Jesus?

I’m not so sure.  And maybe you aren’t either.


What Life is Like in the Kingdom

Let’s just take a flyover view of the first few chapters in Matthew and see if we can determine some principles and instructions for what it means to live in the kingdom of heaven.  And then compare them to what we teach in church today, and I think you’ll be as shocked as I was.

Blessed… or Not So Blessed – Matthew 5:3-12
Self Identity – Matthew 5:13-16
His Standard of Righteousness – Matthew 5:20
Anger – Matthew 5:21-26
Lust and/or Sexual Sin – Matthew 5:27-30
Marital Relationships – Matthew 5:31-32
Oaths and Dishonesty – Matthew 5:33-37
How to Respond to Evil – Matthew 5:38-42
How to Respond to Haters – Matthew 5:43-47
Be Perfect – Matthew 5:48
Self-Promotion – Matthew 6:1-4
How to Pray – Matthew 6:5-13
How Much Forgiveness? – Matthew 6:14-15
Fasting and Other Disciplines – Matthew 6:16-17
Our Life Focus – Matthew 6:19-21
Everyone Serves Somebody or Something – Matthew 6:24
Worry, Doubt, and Fear – Matthew 6:25-34
I’m Right and You’re Wrong – Matthew 7:1-2
I’m Good and You’re Bad – Matthew 7:3-6
What is a Life of Faith – Matthew 7:7-11
Treat Others Like You Treat Yourself – Matthew 7:12
Turnstile or Interstate – Matthew 7:13-14
Fruit Inspector – Matthew 7:15-20
Doing and Not Just Talking – Matthew 7:21-23
Don’t Be Stupid! – Matthew 7:24-27
Minister Within Your Reach – Matthew 8:1-17
Everything Costs Something – Matthew 8:18-22
And so much more!

Remember, following Christ means to forget everything we think we know about everything but Him, and simply trust in child-like faith.  Our entire reality now changes, as citizens in His Kingdom, to something incredible and supernatural.

Do you want to learn more about what it means to follow Jesus?  If so, then keep listening.

The following is a study on What it Means to Follow Jesus.

To download the slides to this message, click – HERE

Download this episode (right click and save)

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Prayer: Ephesians 3:8 – The Unsearchable Riches of Christ

Prayer: Ephesians 3:8 – The Unsearchable Riches of Christ

As I shared this last Sunday, I’ve been rather overwhelmed with the phrase found in Ephesians 3:8, the “unsearchable riches in Christ.”  It has literally taken me a few days to get my head around what all that phrase entails.  Paul begins this verse by expressing his profound gratitude for God’s choice of him by verbalizing how unworthy he is of such grace.  He calls himself “less than the least of all the saints,” yet he received from the Lord the divine calling to “preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).

You and I, like Paul, have different mission fields.  For Paul, it was the Gentiles.  For us, it may be our families, work associates, neighbors, those in our extended sphere of influence, or anyone the Lord places in our path to shine His light in their darkness (Matt. 5:14, Eph. 5:8).  But the message we preach is the same as Paul’s.  And that message is simply this; we preach the “unsearchable riches of Christ.”

Our verse to help focus our prayer time today reads as follows:

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ – Ephesians 3:8.

The word Paul uses, “unsearchable” (anexichníastos), means “untraceable or impossible to trace,” like looking for fading footprints in the snow.  Elsewhere it’s translated as “unfathomable, incomprehensible, endless, boundless, incalculable, inexplorable, inexhaustible, and without limit.”  It conveys the idea of something never-ending and beyond human measure.


What are Unsearchable Riches?

Paul also expresses the wonder of the riches we have in Christ in his closing doxology at the end of this chapter.  He says in Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

It appears there are some things the Lord has prepared for us that are simply beyond comprehension.  And our appreciation for what we already possess in Christ should be viewed the same way: as the incomprehensible, unsearchable, boundless, blessings lavished on those “less than the least of the saints.”

The “unsearchable riches of Christ” are not simply the gifts or benefits that come from our position in Him, but Christ Himself.  It is the manifestation of the Son of God.  It is God reconciling Himself to us in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, who “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:7-8).

Often we have a tendency, at least I do, of focusing more on the benefits of knowing Christ than the privilege of actually being able to know Him.  We praise Him for things like eternal life, the peace that passes all understanding, for grace and mercy, protection and redemption, and look more to the gift rather than its’ Giver.  But these are all benefits that extend from the Source of those gifts, which is Christ.  He is more than the sum of His gifts; He is our “unsearchable riches.”

Nevertheless, we want to make sure we do thank Him for the riches of His gifts, namely. “the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering” (Rom. 2:4), the “riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (11:33), His rich mercy and great love (Eph. 2:4), the “riches of His glory” (3:16), that He “gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17), the “riches of the full assurance of understanding” (Col. 2:2), and Him declaring us “complete in Him” (Col. 2:10).

And all this comes in one perfect person. Jesus.


Time to Pray

It is for this reason, on Tuesday nights, we will be focusing on nothing but Christ alone.  We’re going to be embarking on a study of the life of Jesus encompassing chronologically all four Gospel accounts into one.  Our desire is to experience Him like never before.  When you begin to understand the magnitude of our “unsearchable riches in Christ,” it swells in you a hunger to want more of the Giver, and less of the gift.

As you pray today, spend some time thinking about the Lord Jesus and how rich you are in Him.  Ask the Father to give you the desire and unction to know more about His Son.  Seek the will to make time for Jesus, and just Jesus, in your busy life.  And finally, thank Him for His grace and mercy and His willingness to give you the “unsearchable riches” found only in Christ.

And commit today to make plans to join us on Tuesday evenings as we learn more about our Lord Jesus from the four Gospel accounts.

Until tomorrow.

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444: It All Comes Down to Denial

444: It All Comes Down to Denial

When Jesus instructed His disciples, and the others, about what it meant to follow Him in Matthew 16:24-25, He spoke of “desire to come after me” and then “let him deny himself.”  We looked at desire in our last message, and now we will turn our focus to what He meant by “deny himself.”  Note the requirement and sequence in the verse below.  First, there must be desire (“if anyone desires to come after Me”).  Then, a denial and the corresponding action showing the commitment to deny himself (“take up his cross”).  And finally, the invitation to “follow Me.”  Jesus shows surrendering to Him must follow in this order.  In essence, first meet the conditions, and then come “follow Me.”

Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” – Matthew 16:24-25.

The word deny (aparnéomai) when followed by the pronoun heautón (oneself, himself) means “to deny oneself, or to disown and renounce self and to subjugate all works, interests, benefits, and enjoyments to another.”  The word is also translated “to speak against, contradict, to avoid, reject, nullify, to stand firm against, resist, oppose.”

When Jesus said we must “deny” ourselves, the impact of our denial affects all areas of our life.


Deny, Denial, and Denied!

In Matthew 10, Jesus speaks of confessing Him before men or risk having Him deny us before His Father.  It is an extremely troubling warning from Christ that left no room for doubt or excuses.  He said,

“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” – Matthew 10:27-28.

Who is the One we are to fear?  Exactly, the Lord.  If so, do you have the fear of the Lord in you?  How has that fear changed your life so far?

“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?  And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear therefore (the consequences of speaking what the Lord tells you to say); you are of more value than many sparrows” – Matthew 10:29-31.

But then it gets quite serious for those who do not heed the Lord’s warning.

“Therefore whoever confesses Me (where) before men, him I will also confess (where) before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies (refuse, avoid, reject, resist, oppose) Me (where) before men, him I will also deny (refuse, avoid, reject, resist, oppose) before My Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 10:32-33.

Can you imagine being denied by Christ before the Father?


Fear and Excuses

But if I confess Jesus, my friends will not include me.  Or my spouse will reject me even to the point of separation or divorce.  Or I’ll lose my job and source of income.  Or I’ll be persecuted, even to the point of possible imprisonment.  Or… you choose the excuse.  They are all the same, lame.  But Jesus anticipated these excuses.  He continued:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter in law against her mother in law ’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’  He who loves father or mother more than Me is (what) not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is (what) not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is (what) not worthy of Me. (Therefore) He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life (why) for My sake will find it” – Matthew 10:34-39.

Or are you a follower of Jesus according to what works best for you?  Have you truly counted the cost of being one with Him?  Is He the center of your life?  Is He your very life?  Do you want Him to be?  If so, everything begins at the beginning.  And it all begins with desire.

Do you want to follow after Jesus?  No matter what?  Come what may?   If so, then keep listening.

The following is a study on What it Means to Follow Jesus.

To download the slides to this message, click – HERE

Download this episode (right click and save)

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Prayer: Ephesians 3:8 – I Ain’t Nuthin’

Prayer: Ephesians 3:8 – I Ain’t Nuthin’

As we prepare to meet with the Most High, we’re going to use Ephesians 3:8 to help focus our prayers today. This verse is one of the most incredible passages in all of Ephesians. In it, we see Paul’s candid assessment of himself, despite how much the Lord used him and how much we honor and respect Paul. It’s a glimpse into his heart of humility and a picture of how each of us should view our lives. But we get a glance at the magnitude of the blessing God gave him by calling him into the ministry. He uses this phrase, “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” to explain what a life hidden in Christ is all about (Col. 3:3). And, as we will see tomorrow, it’s beyond description!

Ephesians 3:8 reads as follows:

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Once again, we come face to face with the word that seems to sum up Paul’s life, given. We see this word in Ephesians 3:2, and again in verse 7, and now once more in verse 8. Paul says, “this grace was given” to him as a gift, an unmerited blessing he did not deserve. And the key to Paul’s life is found in his faithful commitment to properly execute his stewardship and calling according to the gift he received from God.

Paul understood who he was in the sight of God and how undeserving he was for anything other than judgment and condemnation. Grace, if you remember, is getting something you don’t deserve, such as love, forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life. Mercy, on the other hand, is not receiving what you truly deserve, such as guilt, condemnation, judgment, and death. Paul never forgot God’s inexhaustible mercy nor the grace he received. And this grace included not only a ministry, but a divine purpose for his life.


Lower than the Bottom of the Barrel

Paul calls himself “less than the least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8). In his mind, he is the least likely, the least deserving, the last one on earth God would choose to save, redeem, and call into the ministry. Nevertheless, God did just that. There are many reasons why Paul would feel that way, and most of them center around his life before Christ.

In 1st Corinthians 15:9, he says, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Again, in 1st Timothy 1:15, he says, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
Paul understood, as much as anyone, how good God is to give him a second, third, and even fourth chance. He probably was never able to erase from his mind the scene where he gave his consent to the death of Stephen (Acts 22:20). There may have been countless others that he dragged from foreign cities and brought back to Jerusalem to face beatings, flogging, imprisonment, and death because of their faith in Jesus Christ. And in spite of all his sin, God chose him anyway.

Peter, who in his arrogance proclaimed, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny you!” (Matt. 26:35), did deny the Lord, and in his shame slid into the shadows from fear while Christ suffered alone. Yet God used Peter. And as low as Peter may have viewed himself because of his public failure, Paul viewed himself even lower. He was “less than the least of all the saints,” including Peter.

But the point is not the unworthiness of Paul, but how full of grace and mercy is God to call someone as undeserving as Paul and to use him as mightily as He did. For me, this gives me great encouragement. Why? Because my sins are also great, as I’m sure yours are. And, like Paul, I have failed the Lord many times, as may also be the case with you. And I have consistently proven myself unworthy to receive His grace and mercy and His special calling in my life, yet nonetheless, God still chooses to use me. Just like He still chooses to use you, no matter the depth of your sin and shame. It’s almost like He takes the throwaways and rejects of the world, the Goodwill and Value Village kind of items, and turns them into something sold at Oscar de la Renta, or Georgio Armani, or Lanvin, in New York City. And God does this for no other reason than it brings Him glory.

Please understand, these words from Paul are not an exercise in faint humility. He doesn’t call himself “less than the least,” so we will say, “No Paul, you’re wonderful!” – like many do when they post a selfie on Facebook, hoping somebody will tell them how pretty they are. No, Paul had a clear and accurate understanding of who he was in contrast to the holiness of Christ. That’s why we find in Scripture when the holiness of God confronts someone; their natural reaction is to fall flat on the ground, facedown, repeatedly uttering how unclean they are and how righteous God is. We see this scene played out before us in the life of Isaiah, Peter, and with the angels in heaven who cry out their unworthiness to open the scroll (Rev. 5:9).

We would do as well, in our age of self-exaltation, serial self-promotion, and “look how important and pretty I am” narcissism, to have a clear understanding of our value as creations and His infinite worth as the exalted Creator. We must always remember God did not choose us because we’re good. Nor did He choose us because we’re better than anyone else. He also did not choose us because we somehow deserved it more than others. He chose us solely because of His grace and mercy, which He chose, to our great wonder, to lavish on us (1 John 3:1).

When we get just a glimpse of the holiness of God compared to who we are, pride, arrogance, and our independent apathy quickly fade away. And we should be filled with nothing but sheer gratitude and heart-felt adoration to the One Who would choose “less than the least of the saints” to proclaim the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).

There is nothing this life can offer to surpass what we already have in Him.


Time to Pray

Pride was the original sin and the downfall of Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-15), and the consequences of pride drove Adam and Eve from the Paradise of God (Gen. 3:24). Pride is nothing more than an exalted view of our own value and worth, and it’s one of the few things the Lord calls an abomination (Prov. 16:5). When you pray, ask the Lord to remove every hint or stain of pride in your life and to bring you to the point of true humility, gratitude, thanksgiving, and obedience for the mercy and grace freely bestowed on you (Eph. 1:6). And as you approach God, remember you are “less than the least” of all the saints, yet God has chosen, redeemed, forgiven, and blessed you with the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).

Father, thank You for choosing me in spite of my unworthiness, sin, and rebellion. Thank You for still choosing me today, even though I have failed You many times because of my pride. You are good and glorious and full of grace and mercy. I can’t thank You enough for taking someone as sinful as I am and allowing me into Your Presence to have a relationship with Your Son. I am overwhelmed by the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, Who chooses to live within my frail, fallen, sinful body. Yet, in spite of all my failures, You have sanctified me by His presence, and I am now a sanctuary, a dwelling place of the Spirit of God.

Lord, would You let me live like what You created me to be? And would You fill my heart with gratitude for the privilege of being able to not only experience but preach and proclaim the “unsearchable riches” found in Christ? In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Until tomorrow.

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443: It All Comes Down to Desire

443: It All Comes Down to Desire

On any given Sunday, if a pastor asks by a show of hands how many in the congregation consider themselves followers of Christ, most would raise their hands.  But if he followed up that question with: “And how many of you know what it means to be a follower of Jesus today?” – the number of raised hands would drop considerably.  Maybe even to none.  Why?  Because our view today of following Jesus is a far cry from what it meant in the time of Jesus.  Think about it for a moment.  Today, following Jesus means agreeing to a set of doctrinal facts, going to church regularly, tithing, volunteering for some service ministry, adhering to a moral code, and reading and praying as often as we can.  But in the New Testament, following Jesus meant something quite different.

Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24).  Note the components of His invitation.  First, it begins with a conditional clause, if, like a classic if / then statement.  “If you desire to come after Me, then these are the conditions.”  Next, we have self-denial or self-subjugation to God.  “If you desire to come after Me, the first condition is to deny yourself.”  And finally, we are now privy to the degree to which self-denial must take place.  “If you desire to come after Me, the first condition is to deny yourself even to the point of death, and a horrific death at that.”  And only then does Jesus say, “and follow Me.”  First, meet the conditions, and then “follow Me.”


But What About Desire

Exactly.  The entire invitation of Jesus hinges on the word, desire.  If you desire, then do the following.  If you don’t desire, then this message must not be for you.  Which begs the questions, what is your desire regarding following Jesus?  And is your desire great enough to pay the price necessary to meet His conditions?  Ouch.  This is where it often gets personal.

In order to fully understand all of what Jesus said when He revealed His conditions of following Him, let’s look at this invitation from all three Gospel accounts.  Only then can we fully understand all the implications and the Cost of Discipleship (to quote Bonhoeffer).  The following is from Matthew 16:24-25, Mark 8:34-35, and Luke 9:23-24:

Then Jesus (MK) called the people to Himself (LK) and said to them all, (MK) with His disciples also, (MT) “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross (LK) daily, (MT) and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake (MK) and the gospel’s (MT) will find it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul (LK) and is himself destroyed or lost? (MT) Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (MK)  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes (LK) in His own glory, and (MT) in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”

Today, we will primarily focus on the issue of desire.

What is your desire regarding Christ?
Have you counted the costs of a deeper relationship with Him?
Are you ready to pay the price?  No matter what that price might be?
Are you paying any price right now for your commitment to the Lord?
Do you know if it will be much different in the future?

Are you tired of taking two steps forward and then losing ground once again because you desire something less than all of His fullness manifested in your life?  If so, then keep listening.

The following is a study on our Desire to Follow Christ.

To download the slides to this message, click – HERE

Download this episode (right click and save)

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