The Fifth Sunday after Easter May 9, 2010
465, 363, 422, 370
Editor’s Note: This week’s meditation is a Confirmation sermon. For many congregations Confirmation occurs about this time each year. The Confirmation vows are printed following the sermon. This week’s meditation in God’s Word and the review of the Confirmation vows provides each of us with the opportunity to consider these words in our hearts, and if we are confirmed, to review and renew the promises we made to God in our own Confirmation.
Then [Jesus] said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.
Dear fellow-redeemed, fellow-confessors of Christ, and fellow-followers:
You have declared your faith. You have promised to abide with Jesus, our Vine. You have promised lifelong faithfulness to God and His Word. Now, what? Actually, that question itself is a little misleading because it implies that something has changed now that you are confirmed. Nothing has changed.
You have certainly come to a milestone in your life. You have reached a goal of your confirmation instruction, and you are now communicant members of our congregation. But you are still sinners, you are still in need of Christ’s salvation, and you are still in need of feeding your souls with the Word of God and growing in knowledge and faith. Nothing has changed for You are still called to Follow Jesus, your Savior.
Jesus called His disciples by finding them as He began His ministry and then saying to them, “Follow Me.” He found fishermen, a tax collector, and others but what they had in common was a love for Jesus that was worked in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has worked the same love and faith in your hearts, not with a direct in-person call of a visible Savior, but through His voice recorded in God’s Word.
Through the Word of God we have been called to faith and to following Jesus, but we’re not very good at it. Isaiah writes, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). By nature we’re terrible followers, God says, “Go this way.” We say, “No! I want to go this other way, so this way I shall go!” God says, “Stay on the path.” We wander all over the place, getting into trouble here and then there. Only by God’s grace are we able to follow at all. Only by His grace are we able to believe in Jesus as our Savior. Only by Jesus’ leading are we able to remain faithful to death and receive the crown of life (cf. Revelation 2:10).
You have come to know the truth of God’s Word through your studies thus far in life. Through an ongoing study of the Word your knowledge will increase and your faith will grow. You know it, but knowledge is worthless if it is not put to use and applied. You know, but it’s very important to put that knowledge to use and also follow.
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” [v.23] To have an idea of what is involved with taking up our cross, we need only to look at Jesus who took up His cross to be our Savior. When Jesus took up His cross He wasn’t thinking of Himself, if He had been thinking of Himself He would not have left Heaven to become man and live under the Law and die for our sins. Jesus was thinking of you and me and all sinners and He willingly sacrificed Himself for us and our eternal well-being.
Jesus’ road to the cross didn’t allow Him to focus on the things of this world, if He had done so He wouldn’t have been our Savior. When the Devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness, he tried to persuade Jesus with the allurement of earthly power and riches (cf. Matthew 4:9-10), but Jesus was not swayed. Jesus remained focused on His purpose and on the goal of saving souls. “[Jesus] for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus took up His cross and was not distracted by the things of the earth.
As Jesus took up His cross for us He also took every opportunity to proclaim the work He came to do and the Gospel message of salvation. He brought the whole work of redemption to its glorious conclusion—His victory over death and the salvation of souls.
Jesus calls each of us to follow Him by daily denying ourselves—our sinful desires and selfish wants—and taking up our cross. This self-denial and following is daily because our spiritual enemies never sleep or take a day off and because our need for our Savior never goes away.
We take up our cross when we follow Jesus’ example and not think of ourselves, but sacrifice. We follow Jesus when we maintain a focus on important spiritual matters and concerns and not become distracted by the things of the earth. Denying ourselves and the sinful pursuits of our flesh and instead focusing on our Savior will save our life because then we will stay attached to the Vine (cf. Gospel reading), but if we hang onto all of the earthly and fleshly desires, then we will lose our life with the Savior. Follow Jesus by remembering what is most needful, by keeping a proper perspective, and serving your soul’s needs. Jesus said, “…whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?” [vv.24-25]
We take up our cross when we proclaim the Gospel and testify to our Savior at every opportunity. We who have come to know the remarkable love and mercy of God have so much to tell and to share! We who know the fulfillment of God’s salvation through Christ Jesus have so many souls to reach! As children of God and followers of Jesus we have been called to proclaim His name to others. Taking up the cross and following Jesus includes being a witness for Him even when that might lead to more self-denial and sacrifice. But again, the blessing is far greater than the sacrifice.
The failure to proclaim Christ speaks of a sick and dying faith that leads to destruction: “…whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” [v.26]
The world does not follow Jesus. Many confirmands before you have made the same promises you have made and then have become distracted, tied up in other things, and then forget—they forget their vows, forget their daily self-denial, and in some cases forget their Savior altogether. There are many, many distractions and these will only increase—be aware of them and stand watch against them.
There are many things and perhaps also people who will try to pull you and push you in ways different than the one to which Jesus is calling you to follow. To counteract this, David prayed in Psalm 86: “Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name” (Psalm 86:11). Pray regularly for a heart that is not divided between various loves, but one that is undividedly centered on Christ and following Him.
When you are tempted to go this way or that, hear your Savior saying, “Follow Me” and go to His Word to find a light that shines upon the paths of righteousness.
When you are facing sorrows in the losses and troubles of this life. Listen for your Savior’s comforting call, “Follow Me,” and be assured that He will hear you when you pray, that He will strengthen you for the day, and that He will use even the hardship for your blessing.
When you are in the middle of something so emotional, so confusing, so complex, so frustrating—or all of the above—and you just don’t know what to do. Listen to the Word and hear Your Savior’s voice saying, “Follow Me.”
When you have a chance to declare Your Savior to others, when you are facing opportunity to witness to His name, hear Him say, “Follow Me” and declare the wonderful works of God you have come to know.
You are confirmed! That means you are blessed to know the grace of God and you are called to follow. There is much that can stand in the way of following and will try to trip you up—stand guard, watch, pray, and feed your souls with the Word of God so that you remain grafted as branches in the true Vine. As you do this we can be “confident of this very thing, that God who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.