And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23)
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)
But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal.6:14)
Beloved saints, the hour is so very dark is it not? So much confusion and dread, as the world and so much of the church that bears our Lord’s name seeks answers everywhere but in He who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Oh how desperate are these times dear ones, and how great is the need that we are following the One True King who is the Lamb of God and the Hope of the World! So many groping for a way, a path, a deliverer, a teaching or wisdom that makes sense of it all. So many who are so very vulnerable right now to every false and seductive thing out there.
Recently, I found myself revisiting this deeply personal conversation at the end of John’s gospel where the Master conveys some essential things to Peter –
Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” (John 21:20-22)
And those three words kept ringing in my spirit for days – YOU FOLLOW ME! YOU FOLLOW ME!
Lately, you see, I have been searching far more it seems, things having anything to do with prophecy and end-time events and interpretations. I have found myself ever so gradually and subtly looking for someone, anyone who seems to have the answers; who seems to be able to explain it all in a coherent way. Yet what was true then for Peter is even more true for us today at the end of this present age, when the temptation to look to other sheep is so very real and powerful. The times are growing increasingly unsettling and scary for all of us, and it is perhaps somewhat understandable that we find ourselves looking for something to grab hold of.
Brethren, what might the Ecclesia of Christ actually look like if each individual member of the Lord’s Body was actually following Him, and not men or groups or a body of ideas? What would happen to these mega churches that have sprung up in so many former corn fields? What would happen to so many of these slippery and shiny TV preachers and to the whole rash of Christian consumerism that sucks literally billions of dollars away from advancing the gospel, or helping the afflicted and needy among us?
YOU FOLLOW ME!
Not your pastor! Not your church! Not your body of beliefs! Not a thousand years of tradition and habit! Not the Christian theme of the month!
Earlier in this conversation, the Master asked Peter no less than three times whether he loved Him. He needed to know, you see, because He knew what Peter would be asked to suffer for this love –
“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.”Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!” (John 21:18-19)
Will then, following the Lord alone lead to suffering, loss and even potentially death at the hands of this world and its god? Yes it will, dear ones, and anyone who suggests otherwise is not following the Master. And we cannot follow Him if we do not possess a love that will endure, and that is greater than any other love. As with Peter, He has to know whether we really do love Him above all else, and whether we will be willing to follow Him, wherever that leads. We know that He went through the way of the cross before going on to life and glory in the presence of the Father. This path will be no different for any of those who choose to follow Him.
Dear ones, it is so powerfully tempting in this bewildering and unsettled hour, to be tempted to follow one who seems to have answers or interpretations that alleviate our uncertainty and anxiety about what is coming. This truly is a time when false prophets and false guides are coming out of every nook and cranny of hell to lead sheep away from the True Shepherd. “No pain! No suffering! No hardship! No loss! No death!”- is the happy chorus ringing out from so many of these corn-field temples in this hour!
Oh how I wish right now this were true my friends, for I am suffering myself a great deal, and there are days and hours when I grow so disillusioned and susceptible. Oh how I wish that the cross I am bearing would be so magically lifted, as these happy preachers with the silk shirts and big collars promise. Yet His command rings on in my spirit –
YOU FOLLOW ME!
Yet what does this really mean, to follow Him? It involves many things certainly, but we must first accept by faith what Paul refers to as the “foolishness of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18;23); the heaven-inspired principle that real strength and power is derived only out of weakness (2 Cor. 13:4, Heb. 11:34, 2 Cor. 12:9), that real spiritual life can only spring forth from the death of the human soul (the self-life). Until we grasp this by faith in the spirit, then we can never even begin to follow Him to where He has gone. This is a strange wisdom that stands in stark contrast to the the world’s popular and humanistic notions of the independent and self-sufficient man, where the mind and potential of man will save him, and bring about the godless utopia promised by the serpent in the garden.
Oh dear saints, to take up our cross and follow the Lord Jesus Christ is to follow down the path of the faithful ones of old who have suffered and died, having not received the promises (Heb. 11:13); so many who were made to be weak such that the power of God would be manifest in them. The way of the Lamb of God is the way of a blood-stained cross, of reproach and bitterness, of rejection at the hands of those live by the spirit and wisdom of the world. For this reason it is called the narrow way (Matt. 7:14).
YOU FOLLOW ME!
Not your government or civic leaders! Not earthly parties or principles! Not political champions with a megaphone and a bright new idea! Not some ‘Christian world view” (whatever that means)! Not the siren call for change, however seductive it might seem!
Oh brethren, beloved of the Lord, I know so personally lately how wearisome is the waiting. I know that it often seems as though He might not ever return for us, that His words have fallen to the ground – “I will not leave you orphans”. Yet, in addition to a love that follows, we also need a faith that follows, for we recall this encouragement to the prophet Habukkuk about that which tarries –
For the vision is yet for the appointed time;
It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
For it will certainly come, it will not delay. (Hab. 2:3)
Often we must follow Him through the darkness and the silence, through the confusion and mystery. And this is so very difficult, even impossible without His grace upon us. For the fact remains that if we do not love Him nor trust Him, we will never follow Him. We will choose another, and in doing so we will stumble and fall back. In place of reward we will suffer loss.
YOU FOLLOW ME!
And so am I lovingly and faithfully following the Master each and every day? As much as I would like to say yes, the truth is I am not; not by any means, my brethren. And I beseech all of you in your prayers to remember one so weak and faithless. The living reality of the matter is that He is actively and patiently testing this love, and proving whether His word has taken root in my life. There are persistent stumbling-blocks that remain, things within me that prevent me from following Him totally and completely. There is pride, and worldliness, persistent unbelief (in trusting Him completely), and most pernicious of all, an unwillingness to let everything I am in this world fall away. All this it seems, and so much else keeps me from truly following Him and Him alone as He demands!
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire,[where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.]“If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell,[where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.]“If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell,where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED. (Mark 9:43-48)
How very hard and personal this is, following the Lord, and rooting out anything and everything that prevents us from doing so. It is between ourselves and the Master alone. John’s relationship was of no consequence to Peter, as the Lord made painfully clear. Although we are represented in the Body of the Lord, each as His members, each one is accountable to the Head directly. Nowhere in the Bible are we enjoined to follow anyone but the Lord Himself, personally and directly. He alone is the Chief Shepherd who has laid down His life for His sheep.
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. “He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me,even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15)
We are not even permitted to follow another (hired hands, as the Lord refers to them) who may himself be faithfully following the Lord. Is there a holy and righteous saint among you, wise and full of good counsel and example? Excellent, then be encouraged by him but then go and follow the Lord yourself (“…what is that to you? You follow Me!”). The Apostle Paul was very clear, when he counseled those in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:1) and Philippi (Phil. 3:17) to follow his example as he himself followed the Lord Jesus. Both in his teaching and example, Paul was most careful to subordinate himself so as not to elicit a following unto himself; to take the hands of new converts and place them directly in to that of the One who is the True Savior and Shepherd –
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling,and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1-5)
I believe if we examine the testimony of all of God’s true, spirit-breathed prophets, we will discover, without exception, that they never attempted to get the people to follow them personally, but to turn their hearts directly to the Lord. We are to be dependent, yes, but never to men, or teachings, or rites or traditions, or programs, or anything that is less than the very Life of God, which is found in Christ Jesus alone. There is, dear saints, no salvation by proxy in the Kingdom of Heaven, nor can anyone else run the race for the prize in our place. In the end, His words to each of us ring clear –
YOU FOLLOW ME!
Dear saints, to follow the Lord into His kingdom is a costly and difficult thing. It may just cost you everything you know and love in this world.
As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.”But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)
So very dear indeed, is the price of following the Son of Man into the Father’s household. Are we willing to pay it? Are we willing to suffer for it? Are we willing to lose everything that we might gain what He alone has to give? Is it hard, dear brethren? Oh yes it is my friends, and please don’t be persuaded by anyone who tells you otherwise, for they are following another who has promised them the wide and easy way. Will it require an iron-clad and spirit-deep devotion and commitment beyond anything imaginable? Indeed it will, and until we are willing to depend on Him for everything, then we can never truly follow Him to where He has gone. Can we follow Him, while at the same time circumventing the cross, with all of the death and anguish that it represents? I think by now you know the answer to that question. We can never truly know Jesus Christ and Him crucified, as Paul defined it, until we are willing to follow the Lamb of God into His suffering and death. Beyond that is life and glory, this is wonderfully true. Yet it is only beyond the cross, and the mortification of the soul-life in each of us, that we will ever know true, eternal, spiritual life – the very life of God as represented in His image, the Lord Jesus Christ.
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