“If Any Man Will Come After Me”

THE APOSTLE PETER wrote, as recorded in II Peter 1:12,13, “I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance.” These are appropriate words with which to begin our lesson, because the purpose of this article is to stir up our pure minds and to remind ourselves of some of the things which we have already learned—the wonderful present truth in which we have long been established.

Our theme text is: “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:38) These words of our Master were spoken rather early in his ministry. First, we might ask the question, what does it mean to take up Jesus’ cross, and to follow him? This may seem like a very easy question to answer, but when we give some thought to it, we find that it is a very complex question, and one which deserves consideration on our part. Certainly it is a vital question, evidenced by the clear consequences of failure to carry out the actions outlined in the scripture. We are told that he who does not take up his cross and follow after our Lord Jesus is not worthy of him. And certainly our primary goal in life is to be worthy of our Lord. If this is our first desire, then we must, of necessity, carry out these instructions.

Our Lord spoke very similar words on another occasion: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24) As we read this scripture, we note the orderly steps of progression that should be taken before we can ‘follow after’ the Lord. The three steps mentioned in this verse have particular meaning to us as consecrated children of the Heavenly Father—those who wish with all their hearts to please him.

Let us view these commands from two separate, but closely related, standpoints. One view would be how these words have their appropriate application at the beginning of our walk with the Lord, just after we have symbolized our consecration in water immersion; the other viewpoint would relate to how these same three injunctions apply all the way through a Christian’s life, even until the last breath is taken.

The first step mentioned by our Lord Jesus is that one who is desirous of following in his footsteps must ‘deny himself’—“Let him deny himself.” What does this mean? After the Heavenly Father drew us, and called us with the heavenly calling, we found that we had to say to him with our whole heart, “I want to do thy will.” We also had to make a personal covenant with him, indicating, that we are putting aside our old fleshly will for the rest of our lives, and to the best of our abilities.

This is the first step in following Jesus. He who is our example, continually said in his heart, “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” Right up to the close of his life, he still reflected this attitude in his prayers, saying, “O my Father, … not as I will, but as thou wilt.”—John 5:30; Matt.26:3

Before we can begin the second step of this new walk in our Christian life, this first step of self-denial must be taken. ‘Denying’ oneself is not part of taking up our cross, it is a separate and preparatory event. Once we have made this wise but difficult decision—not to seek to do our own will, but always to seek to do the Heavenly Father’s will each moment of each day—it would seem that from then on it should be easy for us to remain in this state. But it is not long before we discover that this proper heart condition is not retained without great effort. In fact, many times, long after we have begun our Christian walk, we find it more difficult to deny ourselves and the old will, and replace it with the new will—God’s perfect will.

This may be because once we have made a consecration to the Lord and have become part of his family, Satan becomes much more interested in our lives. He wants to do anything he can to cause us to fail, to stumble and fall, and to leave the difficult pathway of righteousness. And so he certainly is going to try to tempt us in any way he can invent, to keep us from doing God’s will, and substituting our own will, or Satan’s will.

Although it is not easy to keep our old wills under subjection, still it is absolutely necessary that we do. We must continually, daily, deny our fleshly desires and interests. From his own experience along this line, the Apostle Paul expressed the thought, “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight 1, not as one that beateth the air, but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when 1 have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”—I Cor. 9:26,27

The second step of progress toward being worthy of our Lord Jesus Christ is stated to be, that “if any man will come after me,” he must also “take up his cross.” In times past, as when our Lord lived under Roman occupation, if a person was seen carrying a cross, everyone knew that he was on his way to death. When the Lord admonished us to ‘take up our cross’ he is advising us to be submissive to the experiences he permits in our education. Each of us is unique, and thus each has need of different learning exposures. Although many of these may be difficult, we must remember that they are hand-designed by our Father, graciously and lovingly, to provide us with just what we need in order to make our calling and election sure.

We ‘take up our cross’ at the beginning of our Christian walk, and do not put it down until our death; when we have received the reward of resurrection on the spiritual plane, we will receive our crown. Expressed in clear and simple terms, the promise is, “Be thou faithful until death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10) But again, this is an effort that we must continue to make daily. Every morning when we awake, we must rededicate ourselves for that day—whatever its experiences might be, whatever its crosses—to the doing of the Lord’s will. We will strive during the unforeseen events each day to follow the precepts of our Master.

Because this is a daily rededication, Luke’s account of this scripture reads, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Certainly this is the proper thought.

We cannot bear our cross, and still long for the things of the flesh at the same time. This would be entirely too heavy a burden for us to bear. In our short lifetime, and with our meager amount of strength, we could not satisfactorily serve both our fleshly interests, aims, and desires, and still carry our cross faithfully to the end of our lives. As we mentioned earlier in this lesson, the denying of ourselves, the relegation of our earthly goals to the will of the Lord, has to be done first before we can ‘take up our cross’ and follow Jesus into death. We must divest ourselves of the flesh before we can successfully do the will of the Father.

Our Lord brought this thought to our attention. He said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” (Matt. 11:28) He said, “I am divested of anything pertaining to the flesh—I am meek and lowly in heart. And ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Many times our burdens become unbearably heavy because the walk of sacrifice we have chosen is very much at odds with fleshly desires and tempting good things of this life. Our Lord’s yoke was easy, his burden was light for him, because he kept his eye upon his goal. And he is our perfect example. Our Lord Jesus was not burdened down with worldly cares and ambitions. He had only one goal, only one aim, and that was to do the Father’s will. He had come to earth specifically to fulfill the Father’s purpose—to be a ransom price to redeem Adam and all his race from the curse of death. And, while accomplishing this mission, he was one hundred percent faithful and submissive, thereby becoming fitted for future assignments, future honor, future blessings, in carrying out the Heavenly Father’s will throughout the ages to come. He had no time nor interest to burden himself down with transitory pursuits.

Let us follow in his footsteps, carrying our cross. Our cross can be light, too, because our Lord Jesus is bearing the greatest portion of the weight! It is in his strength that we will come off conquerors. We have his promise to this effect, stated over and over again. For instance, “The Lord is the strength of my life.” (Ps. 27:1) “The Lord is my strength and my shield.” (Ps. 28:7) “The Lord will give strength unto his people.” (Ps. 29:11) “He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”—II Cor. 12:9

The most important part of this lesson is the invitation our Lord offers us: “Follow me.” Just two words, but what a compelling challenge they express! “Follow me!” This simple phrase implies prompt action—it implies forward progress—it implies an intimate, active role in close association with our Lord Jesus as our guide and companion along the way! Each morning of our life, as we renew our determination to serve the Lord and his righteous cause that new day, we must do more than recall our vows—we cannot stop there. Our love for God and his plan must lead us to action. Our desire to be his faithful servant must be acted upon. We have to actually follow Jesus, we have to walk in his footsteps. We must think as he thought, we must say what he said, we must do as he did, we must act as he acted.

The Lord’s giving of this command to us means that he expects us to follow his instructions! Our acceptance of this command—this wonderful invitation—“Follow me,” implies that, by our words and by our actions, we will strive to mirror the Lord’s model in our lives. He would not give us an instruction we could not follow; nor would he give us an instruction he did not expect us to follow!

When we were children we played a game called Follow the Leader, and, no doubt, we all remember how it went. We would select one child as the ‘leader’, and everything that he did—whether he was walking or running or jumping or twirling or bending or singing or shouting—the rest would try to copy as closely and as immediately as possible. We could use this game as an illustration of our Christian way of life. We too should be quickly and accurately following our leader. We must stay as close as we possibly can to the pattern that our Lord and Master has set before us. He is our leader, he is our master.

Another illustration which could be used concerns following someone—whether we are walking or driving in a car; unless we stay closely behind and keep our eyes fixed on our leader, we may we wander away from the correct path, or road, and if we do, we are going to completely lose sight of the one we are following; we are going to get lost. Yes, in our Christian walk, we must not take our eyes off our great leader.

When Jesus called his disciples, he said: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” They heard his words, and they left their fishing boats and nets, and their families and companions to follow him, but at that time his words did not have very much significance to them. They knew he meant that they should leave what they were doing, and literally follow Jesus—follow him and listen to him as, he traveled throughout Israel. But we realize that those two words meant much more than the disciples first thought. Eventually they realized that he meant that ‘they should follow his pattern’ of living, his submission to God’s will, his total dedication to his mission, his manner of preaching the Gospel, his God-like, perfect character, his self-sacrifice, his subjection to his cruel enemies—everything about him! These were the things that they were to imitate. They eventually recognized this, and we have learned the very same lesson, and will continue to learn it until we pass beyond the veil.

In I Corinthians 1:17,18 we read these words: “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” This cross of Christ which we have taken up, and do take up daily—the cross of our experiences and how we react to them, displaying during persecution or neglect the Christian graces of patience, love, and mercy—is foolishness to the world.

Then too, our worldly friends think it is foolish for us to spend so much time at church or to spend our vacations at a Bible convention, or to use our leisure time studying God’s Word, or in meditation upon his goodness. These activities are considered foolishness. They do not understand why we do not take advantage of the wonderful earthly blessings God has provided for mankind to enjoy.

But when we have become followers of Jesus, walking in his steps, it would be foolish for us not to attend the Bible meetings or to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. It would be foolish for us not to study the Lord’s Word. It would be foolish for us not to follow his example, to meditate, to pray, and to do all the other things with which our leader occupied his earthly life, and recorded in the Scriptures for our instruction. Yes, these are the things which we rejoice in doing, and we rejoice to be eager, faithful followers of our Master.

Once our Lord had a visit from a rich young Jewish leader, enquiring as to how he could find everlasting life. This account is recorded in Mark 10:16-22. We are no doubt familiar with this incident, and how the Lord recited to the young man the various commandments which he should keep in order to gain life. This youthful ruler replied that he had done these things all of his lifetime. Then Jesus said to him, “One thing thou lackest. Go thy way, sell whatsoever thou host and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” And then what did Jesus say? He said, “Take up thy cross and follow me.”—Matt. 19:16-22

You can imagine what the reaction of this young ruler was. He could not even fulfill the first requirement—he was wealthy and famous—how could he deny himself, or his position, or his riches? And he was very sad to hear Jesus’ words. They were not what he had come to hear from this great man. If he could not deny himself or his will, and subject himself to Jehovah’s will—which, as we have learned, is the very first step to everlasting spiritual life—how could he take up the cross and follow the Lord!

The final scripture citation we wish to consider in this lesson is in Philippians 3:13,14. The apostle said, “Brethren I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Although Paul calls it ‘one thing’, he divided it into three parts. First: “forgetting” the things of the flesh, the old will. Secondly, “reaching forth unto those things which are before,” dedicating ourselves, totally to the doing God’s will in all of life’s experiences. And thirdly, fervently “pressing toward the mark.” In other words, he is saying, “Follow Jesus.” Then he tells us what the result will be if we faithfully do these three things. We will receive “the prize of the high-calling of God in Christ Jesus.” “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

May the Lord bless each one of us to that end.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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