On the Possibility of Following Jesus by Pastor Chris Symes
A few weeks ago in Sunday morning worship, I preached from Mark chapter eight, verses thirty one through thirty-eight, in which Jesus says this:
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (V. 34)
Jesus makes nothing easy here. There is no spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down. His call to a potential disciple is clear, concise, and challenging. I preached about my own struggle with the difficulty of this passage and the all-or-nothing surrender it calls me to. I explored how it is a calling modeled after Jesus’ own extravagant sacrifice on the cross and how such a gift to us demands nothing less than a willingness to give our own lives in response. I examined the first step, deny yourself, and how plain hard even this first part is. I ended the sermon by leaving us with a sense of urgency at responding to this, the very urgency Jesus has in this teaching to us.
But there is a single word here, that I think we often overlook, and it’s a word I failed to really take into account in my sermon. It’s a single word of Jesus that does not lighten the challenge of this calling or make it easier to hear. But I do believe it gives us a starting point for actually taking this teaching into our lives. It helps us begin somewhere. Do you know what that one word is?
That one word is “wants”. Let’s hear Jesus words again: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Before we can get to the difficulty of denying ourselves, before we come to the daunting calling to take up our cross, before we follow Jesus, there is a preliminary question: Do we want to follow Jesus? It sounds obvious, but I don’t think it always is. Many people believe intellectually in Jesus, but they don’t necessarily want Him. A person may recognize the importance of Jesus, but that does not mean the person desires Jesus. This is a problem, because as your desires go so goes you. Without our desires changing, we can never hope to grow and never hope to follow Jesus. Jesus implies, DESIRE PRECEDES DISCIPLESHIP. Therefore, we must take a very real and honest look at the preliminary question: Do I want to follow Jesus?
How do I know that I want to follow Jesus? And if I know that I don’t, how do I go about changing what I want when I really don’t want to? These are challenging questions, but there is great news! God intends to change your desires if you let Him; that’s part of the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives. This is how God makes us into new creations, and the place where this begins is in honest prayer. Honest and sincere prayer is the incubator of transformation, a tremendous means of grace by which you open your life up to God for Him to do His work within you. In other words, if you are honest enough to admit that you don’t want to follow Jesus, that’s a great first step! Declare that to God. Speak openly and honestly to Him one morning before you go to work or pick up your grandkids. Tell Him like it is. You won’t offend Him; He already knows your heart, and He will appreciate your honesty. There is something about honest prayer that breaks barriers preventing change from happening deep within us.
Wanting to follow Jesus won’t make the demands of Jesus’ call to a disciple easy, but it makes following Jesus possible. As a person’s desires go, so goes the person (James 1:14-15). What’s more, you are never alone in this calling. God through the Holy Spirit is right there with us constantly, and you are united in covenant with brothers and sisters who come alongside of you and encourage you as well.