The Second Sunday After Christmas January 5, 2014
1 Samuel 2:1-10
1 Peter 4:12-19
246, 123, 421, 410
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
In Christ Jesus, who came that we “might have life, and have it more abundantly” (cf. John 10:10), dear fellow—redeemed:
Interesting times we live in, aren’t they? This week we entered the new year of 2014. The new year just like so many before it certainly seems to present us with a lot of uncertainty. What will happen in the various political “hot-spots” around the world? How will our troops who are in harm’s way fare this year? What about the real estate market, the stock market, the gas prices, the social issues in our country? And if that isn’t enough, what about the more personal uncertainties in my own life and the life of my family. The only thing anyone seems certain of is that there’s a lot of uncertainty about the new year, and that can be somewhat frightening.
There is one way we can overcome all of our uncertainties about the future, and that is by following Christ into the new year. In our text for today, Jesus tells us just what’s involved with following Him. He doesn’t whitewash the picture. He tells us what we stand to lose as His disciples and what we stand to gain. Today, I ask you to consider with me the theme: FOLLOWING CHRIST INTO THE NEW YEAR I. It won’t be easy, II. But it will be worth it!
If you ask me, anyone who says a Christian’s life is easy has the wrong definition of the word “Christian.” A Christian is a disciple of Jesus, someone who walks in His footsteps. If you are familiar with Bible history, you know that Jesus’ path through life was not a very pleasant one. “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” [v.24]
Jesus never leads you through places He Himself didn’t go. If Jesus tells you that your life will be one of self-denial, you can be sure that He experienced more self-denial than you ever will! Our text for today is a good example.
The Lord had just warned the disciples that His upcoming trip to Jerusalem would be His last. He explained to them how He would have to suffer at the hands of the Jews and finally die on the cross. Simon Peter was shocked! He said, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall never happen to You!” (Matthew 16:22). And, of course, Jesus could have agreed with Peter. He could have taken the easy way out—turned around and fled from Jerusalem then and there. Instead, He turned on Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me for you are not mindful of the things of God but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23). Then Jesus spoke the words of our text, reminding His disciples that not only would the Master inevitably suffer at the hands of the world, but so, too, would His followers.
Following Christ into the new year won’t be easy. Being a Jesus disciple always involves self-denial. Unfortunately, that’s a concept that almost nobody in our contemporary society understands. This is the “Me Generation.” People today are used to getting what they want, indulging themselves in every pleasure, gratifying their every desire. People today are used to denying themselves absolutely nothing. The world is unashamed to take as its motto, “If it feels good, do it!” If the world’s attitude is bad now, you know it’s going to be worse in the years to come! That’s why it’s especially jarring for Americans in this day-and-age to hear Jesus’ harsh-sounding call to discipleship: “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33).
What does our Lord mean? He means that following Him isn’t just a matter of fixing up one’s old life. You can’t just quit a few bad habits, get your name on a church roster somewhere, tack on a few good works, and think that now you’re really following Christ. No, becoming a Christian is a total transformation. When the Holy Ghost works faith in a person’s heart, the old life is left behind. A new life is begun. It’s the difference between two completely opposite lives! For most people in the world, Christ has no part in their lives. For “part-time Christians”—and there are a lot of those—Christ is one small segment of their lives. They go to church on Sunday for pretty much the same reason they go to PTA on Tuesday and the Bridge Club on Thursday. But for real disciples, Christ is the very center of their lives, and everything else in their lives emanates from Him and corresponds to Him. The Gospel isn’t part of their life. The Gospel is their life!
It’s not an easy life. Scripture reminds us that “We must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Jesus tells us beforehand that there will be crosses to bear—certain things that we suffer for the specific reason that we are Christians. In the 1960’s, for instance, members of my former parish in White River, SD made a stand against the Lodge, and they bore a cross of hatred in that community for having the courage to refuse to go along with the idolatry and work-righteousness of the Lodge. They learned the painful lesson that being for the Gospel of salvation in Christ alone also means being against every form of idolatry and work-righteousness—and that’s not always easy. If you want to stand firm in God’s Word, you are definitely going to discover the truth of that statement! The world says homosexuality is an “alternate lifestyle.” God’s Word, in Romans 1, calls it a “vile passion” (Romans 1:26). The world says abortion is a choice. King David, in Psalm 22, says, “From My mother’s womb You have been My God” (Psalm 22:10). The world says that if men are pastors then women must also be pastors. God says, in 1 Timothy 2, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12). It doesn’t matter what society around us says. It doesn’t even matter what we ourselves think, or what our “gut feeling” happens to be. What matters is God’s Word! We stand on what God says!
Like a lot of other things in our lives, following Christ in matters such as this will be a difficult cross to bear. It will often make us despised and misunderstood by the people around us. But God tells us not to be discouraged. In fact, if we suffer for the Gospel’s sake, we should rejoice! Peter says, “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Peter 4:15-16).
As we prepare to follow our Savior into the new year, we know that it won’t be easy. But we also know that it will be worth it.
One New Year’s Eve a few years back, I tuned-in to a certain news program because I heard that they would be interviewing six religious leaders. I was interested because among them was a man named Richard John Neuhaus, who was a classmate of a friend of mine, CLC Pastor Warren Fanning. These ministers were supposed to assess the role of religion in recent years and predict what role religion would play in the years to come. That sounded interesting. It was interesting, alright—during the entire length of the 30-minute discussion, not one word was said about saving people with the Gospel! All they could talk about was how the church should help alleviate world suffering, lift the under-classes to a higher standard of living, and fight for the civil rights of minorities. These are all lofty ideals, no doubt, but that’s not the main mission of the church. That’s not primarily what we’re here to accomplish! We’re supposed to save people’s souls! One would have liked to ask those six ministers the question Jesus asks in our text, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” [v.26]
Think about that question—it’s a good one. Is there anything in this world that’s worth risking our souls? No! If we’re ever tempted momentarily to compromise our stand on the Gospel, this thought draws us back: we know that we can never go wrong if we’re walking in Jesus’ footsteps. Following Christ into the new year will inevitably lead to self-denial, cross-bearing, and difficult sacrifices…but it’s well worth it!
Do you remember the time Jesus was visiting in the home of Mary and Martha? Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to His Word, while her sister Martha worked alone in the kitchen preparing the meal. When Martha finally complained about Mary not helping her, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). Despite all the activity in our modern lives, we Christians know that, when all is said-and-done, there’s really only one thing that is needful, namely, listening to the Word of our Lord Jesus and finding our hope and life in Him. This is the good part, that will never be taken away from us!
With all the fluctuations in the stock market, a lot of people take a much closer look at where their money is invested and how safe their savings are. In the investment world, the general rule is: the riskier the investment, the higher the possible profit. Very safe investments are not very profitable and vice versa. How strange that the exact opposite should be true of the Christian life! In fact, there’s no way you can fail to reap huge profits from following Christ! When you’re here in church to listen to the preaching of the Gospel, when you hold family devotions in your home, when you find a quiet half-hour to read the Bible to yourself, then you know for certain that you’re not wasting time. The time you spend is well worth it! When you do that, Jesus says, you’re laying up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where no thief can break in and steal (cf. Matthew 6:19ff). When you invest your life’s resources—your time, your talents, your money—in Christ, you shall not lose, but rather gain. When you make difficult personal sacrifices for the sake of your faith, you shall not lose, but rather gain. Look at Jesus’ original twelve disciples: They gave up everything to follow their Master, but Jesus told them in no uncertain terms that this kind of investment always pays off. He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30).
Paradoxically, following Christ is also the safest kind of investment there is, because it promises guaranteed returns. Forgiveness of sins and eternal life is guaranteed to you through the blood of Jesus Christ. Through faith, His perfect life becomes your perfect life. His righteousness becomes your righteousness, and His innocent suffering and death is the ransom price that has covered all your sin. Your Savior Jesus gives you His absolute guarantee that heavenly bliss is waiting for you on the other side of eternity. What is the whole world compared to that?
One writer said that when he was young, he always thought of Heaven and eternity as a dream world, far removed from the realities of day-to-day living. As he grew older and his faith grew deeper, he finally came to realize that Heaven isn’t the dream world at all. This world—the one we’re living in right now—is the dream world! For a few short years we hustle about on this earth, and then our life is past, like a breath of wind. The true reality lies in eternity—that eternity to which every human being is headed.
Just because nine-tenths of the world is ignoring that reality doesn’t mean we have to do the same. Let’s live every day with a view to eternity! Again, the old proverb reminds us, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last!”
Let’s follow our Savior boldly into the new year. Two things we know going in: it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it! So. Come what may. Bring it on! “Our God is beside us, His strong arm will guide us” (cf. TLH 568:3). 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.