The first five meditations in this series focus on the character and cost of discipleship. The final meditation focuses on the rewards for diligently following Jesus.
- Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5.11-12
- Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9.23
- Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken Psalm 62. 1-2
Today, as in biblical times, a cross represents hardship and suffering. Jesus’ use of the phrase: “…take up their cross daily…” (Luke 9.23) serves as a warning and encouragement to all who earnestly seek to follow him. Jesus lets prospective disciples know they will experience persecution simply because of their allegiance to him. Jesus tells them about the struggles they will face so they won’t be caught off guard or discouraged by the waves of persecution they will face. He also wants them to know they are not alone in suffering for the sake of righteousness. Hence in Matthew 5.12, Jesus offers the following encouraging words, “…for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Moreover, in the first part of Matthew 5.12, Jesus makes clear the rewards for discipleship far outweigh the sufferings his followers will experience in this life.
Food for Thought
Rewards for following Jesus include the following.
- Those who follow Jesus are guaranteed the blessing of eternal life- existing perpetually in the presence of the only true, wise, and living God.
- Those who follow Jesus have instant and constant fellowship with God-speaking to God and knowing God hears them and interacts with them
- Those who follow Jesus experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit-God’s Spirit abides in all those who follow Jesus, guiding, comforting, and working on their behalf. The Holy Spirit empowers Jesus’ followers to stand firm in the midst of every persecution.
- Those who follow Jesus have the benefit of having Jesus, sitting at the right hand of God, advocating for them.
- Those who follow Jesus’ are empowered with wisdom because they are anointed with spiritual eyes, spiritual ears, and hearts receptive to Jesus’ teachings.
- Those who follow Jesus are empowered to resist evil.
- Those who follow Jesus experience the joy of fellowshipping with God; peace that surpasses understanding, and contentment in every situation- knowing God will work every situation to their good.
May the Spirit of the only true, wise, and living God continue to rest, rule, and abide with us. Amen.
Glory to God!
- “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16.24, New Living Translation (NLT)
- Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. John 15.a, New International Version (NIV)
- The righteous person faces many troubles, but the LORD comes to the rescue each time. Psalm 34.19, NIV
Have you ever enthusiastically made a commitment that you later regretted? If you answered yes, you’re not alone.
At one time or another most of us have thought or said, “If I had it to do over I would not make the same decision.” Our regret often stems from not having fully considered the consequences of involvement. Therefore, we underestimate the scope of our commitment, over simplify the tasks associated with our commitment, or ignore or dismiss the possible negative outcomes of our involvement.
No such claims can be made by those who seriously choose to follow Christ. In an effort to comfort and prepare them for the persecution they will face, Jesus explicitly warns would be followers that their faith in him and the claims they make about him will cause them to undergo hardships that exceed those common to the human experience. In Matthew 16.24, Jesus likens the weight of discipleship to that of a person constantly carrying around a full size wooden cross.
In the midst of persecution Jesus wants his disciples to stand firm in their faith being reassured by him that suffering for the sake of God is expected. He also wants them to know he and all the prophets before him were persecuted for speaking truths that conflicted with societal norms (Matthew 5.12).
In addition to preparing his disciples for the dangers they will face, Jesus wants them to know the rewards for faithfulness to him far outweigh the suffering they will experience in this life.
Food for Thought:
- The cost of following Christ-
- loss of treasured relationships
- being maligned, misquoted, misunderstood, misrepresented
- betrayal from within the faith community
- and hated with a passion, without justification
- Rewards for following Christ-
- eternal life
- constant fellowship with God
- joy, peace, contentment
- indwelling of the Holy Spirit
- Christ Jesus is the disciple’s advocate
- the power to resist the Devil
May the Spirt of the only true wise and living God continue to rest, rule, and abide with us all. Amen.
Glory to God!
Three newsworthy events occurred in Ferguson, Missouri last week. First, according to published reports, the two officers who were shot in the performance of their duties were released from the hospital and are recovering. Second, various news sources report the arrest of Jeffery Williams, a 20-year-old man in connection with the shootings. Williams was arrested this past Saturday and charged with two counts of first-degree assault.
The third noteworthy event is the restraint showed by the Ferguson Police Department in their search for the person or persons responsible for the shootings. By all accounts law enforcement officials conducted a thorough and respectful investigation that led to Williams’ arrest (although the arrest was made possible mainly by help from the public).
The character of the search is noteworthy because in too many cases law enforcement officials terrorize entire communities in order to effect an arrest. Such was the case in the search by Boston Police in 1989 for the suspected killers of Carol Stuart, and by police in Union, South Carolina in 1991 in response to the murder of Susan Smith’s two young children.
For example, after terrorizing the Mission Hill section of Boston (largely African American) and numerous innocent black males in Union, South Carolina, police later implicated Charles Stuart (a Caucasian) in his wife’s murder- no African American was involved, and arrested Susan Smith (Caucasian) for murdering her own children.
Unfortunately, in their search for the killers police randomly: stopped, searched, and arrested many black men innocent of involvement in either crime. Some of those men even had false charges drummed up against them. Because the crimes were high profile the violent police searches made national news and shocked some members of society.
Fortunately, the recent search in Ferguson, Missouri for the shooter of the two police officers reflects the antitheses of the tactics used by Boston police in 1989 and Union, South Carolina police in 1991. Hopefully, the referenced investigation by Ferguson, Missouri law enforcement officials represents a more just way in which police interact with all citizens.
- “…If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16..24, New Living Translation)
- Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2.3-4)
- …People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
Selflessness goes beyond making personal sacrifices such as sharing material wealth and God-given talent. It is doing the right things for the right reasons without seeing or expecting personal recognition (Philippians 2:3-4). Selflessness is sacrificing one’s personal desires for the common good. In the context of Scripture, that good refers to the Good News of the Gospel.
The Good News is: God loves unconditionally, saves, delivers, heals, and keeps those who trust him. Salvation is free to all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, social and economic standing. God is no respecter of persons. Hence John 3.16 reads, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
Jesus requires his followers to proclaim the Good News by word and through good works that are motivated by love and compassion, thus demonstrating God’s love.
Food For Thought:
- Good deeds point to and elevate God.
- Good deeds are motivated by genuine compassion for others.
Jesus calls his followers to live selflessly. Selflessness is counter-cultural. Unlike many contemporary philosophies and ideologies that focus on satisfying the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, selfless living strives to build a harmonious faith community. It requires individual believers to hold paramount their calling to proclaim the Good News. In fulfilling that calling they are to:
- demonstrate compassion;
- share generously;
- do no harm;
- behave graciously-even toward opponents;
- repent and pray constantly, and
- trust God.
To God be all glory!
The shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri last night was reprehensible and criminal. Those responsible deserve to be arrested, charged, tried, and convicted. There is absolutely no justification for their malicious behavior. At the time of the shooting, the police officers were simply performing their duties.
Anyone – including parents, other relatives, and close friends – with knowledge of the identity and whereabouts of the suspects should turn them into law enforcement. To know who is responsible for this vicious crime and not report them to law enforcement is to participate in a crime against humanity. The perpetrators must be punished. No one is above the law!
In addition to breaking the law, the perpetrators attempted to coopt and corrupt a movement designed to effect harmony, justice, and peace. They should not be allowed to get away with their crime against the police officers; nor should they be permitted to corrupt a just cause! They are dangerous and must face justice.
May God have mercy on us all.
- Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16. 24, New Living Translation
- Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Philippians 2.3
Jesus expects his followers to generously share their time, talents, and material possessions. He expects them to function as a nurturing family unit that supports and encourages each member. He also expects them individually and collectively to do good deeds within and outside of the faith community. The following list highlights five characteristics of Christian Discipleship.
- Forgiving – as Christ has forgiven.
- Humble – not promoting self.
- Generous – compassionate, considerate and kind .
- Peaceful – as much as possible .
- Hardworking – diligent
Food for Thought
- Read Philippians 2.3-11.
- In what way is Jesus’ call for selfless living counter-cultural?
Weekly Scripture References:
- Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:33, New Living Translation)
- Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15, New International Version)
- Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. (Psalm 1: 1-2, New International Version)
To develop spiritual insight from a Christian perspective search the Scriptures, read additional historical text, and study ancient cultures. Christian Scripture delineates the teachings and works of Jesus and the historical context in which they occurred. Studying other historical texts and ancient cultures provide the background for a balanced and deep understanding of the practical application of Christian principles. This Lenten lesson focuses solely on viewing the world through the eyes of Jesus as depicted in Christian Scripture.Therefore, readers are encouraged to also read church history, study world history, and examine the doctrines of their particular denominations.
What specific things did the disciples do to nurture their spiritual growth? Lets begin with the following statements. Jesus and his original disciples were Jewish. According to Scripture, they observed Jewish customs and traditions. They also drew connections between Jesus’ teachings and Hebrew Scripture (the Christian Old Testament). Like any serious student involved in mastering a discipline, the disciples spent considerable time studying under Jesus’ tutelage.They listened to him, engaged him in meaningful conversation – including raising questions, and they observed his behavior. In other words, the disciples became active learners.
For Christians, developing spiritual insight (growing in grace) begins with spending time studying the words and behavior of Jesus as depicted in Scripture. Read the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) daily; mediate on the words of Jesus, internalize his teachings, and pray for understanding. In addition, observe Christian traditions: regularly attend worship service; observe Christian Holy Days- Christmas, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost; give to the work of the church for the sake of spreading the Good News of the Gospel, and help others.
Food for Thought
- For the next 30 days, spend two hours and forty minutes each day reading and studying the Gospels-focus on the teachings of Jesus. Begin and end each day with Scripture reading and prayer.
- Think of Scripture as the nutrient necessary for personal spiritual growth; not a weapon to use against other people.
- Pray constantly for yourself and others. Pray while driving or riding in your car, on the bus, exercising, and relaxing. Pray everywhere all the time. Remember to pray for homeless and hungry people, for those living in war-torn countries, those adversely affected by natural disaster, and for the sick and those bereaved. Pray for mercy and justice for all.
- Avoid “I statements” except when praying. Make Jesus the center of each personal testimony.