Three imperatives of following Jesus at a high level of committed living..
DAY ONE – Matthew 16, Mark 8:11-9:1, Luke 9:18-27
There are moments in life when things start to turn, and not always for the better, as we might view them. After getting from His disciples a confession that He was indeed the Messiah (the Christ), Jesus explained to them that a period of intense suffering was about to commence for Him, and that it would lead to His death. He did say that on the third day He would rise again. If you are a follower of Jesus, that isn’t good news, and Peter reacted badly. It was then that Jesus confronted them with the true cost of following Him: you have to let go of your selfish ways, take up your present life (your cross) as it exists, and be ready to faithfully move on with the Lord. Following Jesus is a bit like the traditional marriage vow: “…for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…” If we can find it in our heart to do that, then we can better understand that following Jesus is not a rose garden in full bloom! Sometimes we are led through the valley of death. Since this world is really just a shadow of the one to come; and since this world is in a passing state, one day to be no more; how much should we embrace the life we are given and seek to live in a blessed state of thanksgiving and prayer? Luke 9:24 (NLT) If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.
“Life” in English is expressed through three different Greek words; the one used here by Jesus means surrendering our will freely to God, and living in that state of surrender. Hard to do? Oh, yes, especially when our culture tells us we deserve to be ‘happy’ and to be ‘blessed’ and to have and do what we want! Doesn’t God want us to be happy? Jesus said what He really wants is for us to NOT PERISH! That means He wants us to find eternal life and follow Jesus to heaven so that we have eternal joy and happiness. Jesus let it be known that God’s will for Him was to die for the sins of the world so that He could save all who come to Him. All of the gains and blessings we can have in this shadow world may make life more ‘happy,’ but these don’t last forever. Better to accept all, knowing that the Lord sees all and works all things together for our eternal good. This is not ‘pie in the sky,’ as some say, but doing God’s will carries the promise of heaven gained in God’s good time.
DAY TWO – Matthew 17-18, Mark 9:2-50, Luke 9:28-56
Anyone given a large assignment with a deadline knows that it will require the utmost vigilance and perseverance to complete. Jesus Christ had a ginormous assignment and fairly short deadline to bring heaven to earth and instill God’s wonderful plans into the hearts of His followers. A glimpse into the process finds Jesus up on a mountain with Peter, James and John, having gone there to pray. What the disciples saw rocked their world, and each one years later talked about the impact on his own life. The glory of God, by the Holy Spirit, appeared as if on Jesus as shining light and whiteness. It appears that He became somewhat transparent, so that the inner glory of God was on His outward countenance. In this rarified atmosphere, the three disciples also had a glimpse of Moses and Elijah, who had lived on earth centuries before. Is there any question why this band of brothers would be willing to lay down their lives for Jesus in years to come? So He talked to them again about dying and rising from the dead. Back down off the mountain, in the presence of a demon-possessed boy and his father, Jesus rebuked the disciples for their little faith and wondered how long He had to put up with them? “Prayer…” He said. “This kind comes out only by prayer.”
So, with Jesus glorified and with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit present with us as Jesus’ representative and on His account, I ask myself, “Ray, what vigilance and perseverance are needed to live out your life and to glorify Jesus?” If I follow Jesus at the level of my commitment, I know there are several things required, so I list them–
- The voice from the cloud instructed the three disciples to listen to Jesus, the Beloved Son of God. I must listen to Him every day as I read the Word and relate to Holy Spirit.
- I must pray, pray, pray–not ‘on the clock’ kind of prayer, but ‘let’s do life together’ kind of prayer. God’s glory is resident in me as it was in Jesus through the Holy Spirit, and it’s ALL OR NOTHING!
- Finally, the world system lies under the influence of the evil one, meaning that the demons run rampant, persecuting and torturing whomever they can. I must bring peace, salvation and deliverance as often as I can, any place I can. I can do this. MY FAITH IS STRONG! I write today’s INSIGHT with great earnestness of spirit. I encourage you, my brothers and sisters, to step up.
DAY THREE – John 7-9
These three chapters are filled with the beauty of truth and miracles. But they are also replete with the ugliness of hatred and unbelief. Jesus is from God, and the Father has taught Him well. No one can find fault with Him without violating the truth. On the other hand, the Pharisees and religious leaders, hiding behind their claims of being Moses’ disciples, make no pretense of their hatred for Jesus. Calling Him names, ridiculing His teachings, ostracizing those who believe in Him–they are heaping to themselves sad consequences in the days to come. At the festival in Judea Jesus boldly stepped forth and taught in the temple, revealing His unique relationship with God in heaven. His confident claim was, “God is my Father…. He sent me here to make Him known to you…. If you believe in God, you will also believe in me…. If you claim to know God, then you will also know me as well; otherwise your claim to know God is false, which is why you will never hear or understand my teachings.” And so it went on, and the conflict deepened, and the hatred of the Pharisees grew by degrees. Healing the blind man, Jesus forced them to declare themselves so that their fate would be sealed. He also exposed their bigotry and hypocrisy to the masses of the people who were beginning to see the light and believe in Jesus. There was no middle ground then; and there is no middle ground now.
The Father in heaven sent Jesus into the world to reveal that God was ready to implement His great saving plan; that all who believe in His Son will be saved eternally. Israel was always the womb of God’s plans. Salvation was birthed in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. Salvation was revealed through the life and teachings of Jesus. Miracles were the proof of His claims; and the following that came alive in His disciples became the early model that has been with us for over two thousand years! Yes, this evil world system, filled with its own corruption, continues to hurl abuse on Jesus and His followers. The truth is still maligned, hatred and vitriol still spew from its innards. Yet the light and love of Jesus, accompanied by His grace and mercy which He demonstrated in life, still attest to His truth and righteousness. It will never be any easier to follow Jesus than it is now; and it will never be any harder to follow Jesus than it is now. The question is, DO WE BELIEVE IN HIM? And yes, those of us who do believe in Him, follow Him, regardless. As conflict escalates in our culture, let’s double down with our own love, grace and mercy!
DAY FOUR – Luke 10, John 10:1-11:54
The Lord chose seventy-two ‘other’ disciples. These are other than the twelve first chosen. And they are not even named! Who were they? According to Jesus, they were ‘workers.’ He was sending them into His Father’s harvest. They were sent in pairs, so that meant they could reach at least thirty-six more places in preparation for Jesus’ eventual visits. But more than that, Jesus said in John 10 that they are his ‘sheep.’ Wow! Suddenly this becomes very personal. In eastern cultures, shepherds know their sheep intimately and can identify the personal characteristics of each one! When flocks mingle at the watering troughs, the shepherd will use his distinctive call to separate them from the others. They will come back to Him! They know His voice! John 10:9-10 (NLT) Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. Jesus’ mission, our mission, is to live in the abundance of His life and to make the Kingdom of Heaven our life message. Does the Father in heaven make a distinction regarding the ‘sheep’? Listen: John 10:27-30 (NLT) 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.” Jesus is talking about you and me, His disciples. We are included because we follow Jesus and respond to His voice. But that’s not all… John 10:14-16 (NLT) 14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd. That’s us! This has gone around the world since Jesus rose from the dead; the flock is international; it’s everywhere! Hell hasn’t been able to stop it, and the Father knows every one of us. Be proud of your heritage as a follower of Jesus; you are loved and special, even if people don’t know who you are. And by the way, we will likely meet the seventy-two ‘other’ disciples when we explore heaven.
DAY FIVE – Luke 12:1-13:30
I expect that in my half century-plus of preaching and teaching, I have commented on just about everything at least once! But if you heard me over a long period, you would have picked up major themes which keep surfacing year after year as I grow in wisdom and knowledge. Today, solidly in my senior season, I am mostly consumed with the Kingdom of Heaven versus the passing fancy of this ‘shadow’ world. No longer having to actively pursue a career, my family five generations deep, content with what I have… passion for the Lord and following Jesus is what keeps me going and growing. As Jesus moved closer and closer to the final confrontation which would finish His earthly mission, He zeroed in on major issues which kept people apart from God. He singled out hypocrisy, greed, vanity, over-concern with the basic necessities of life, and misunderstanding of how God works in our world. If only He could get people to believe, to have faith, to trust His Father-God in heaven. If only they would stop focusing so much on the temporal and pursue the eternal, if only…. Then comes this: Luke 12:49 (NLT) “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning! Wow! Did the disciples look at one another, then back at Jesus? Did He just say what we think He said? He wants to set the world on fire? Yes, friends, without the fires of heaven that come from the Holy Spirit, our world becomes the same old same old, and God and heaven are marginalized further and further from our culture centers. Jesus wanted to make heaven real. He wanted to put the temporal and eternal into perspective. He wanted to turn the world’s attention to the Heavenly Creator / Savior. And He desperately wanted to raise up a band of people who would follow Him and take His message worldwide. In order to accomplish all this He laid Himself open to criticism, accusation, growing hostility and death. He was ready to give it all up to His Father / God in order to get it back in the eternal ages of heaven. My wife and I were discussing the lyrics of Isaac Watt’s great hymn recently, and it is my answer to Jesus’ yearning to see the world divided–to see people forsake the ‘shadow’ world in favor of the real, to embrace Jesus and let go of temporal security in favor of the Kingdom of God. “Must I be carried to the skies / On flowery beds of ease, / While others fought to win the prize / And sailed through bloody seas?”* Jesus followers, love one another as we honor the Savior who did it all! (*https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/468)