Today my message is entitled “What Must You Give Up to Follow Jesus?” This is a common question that people often have. It is stated in different ways. For example, what must I do to go to heaven? Or, what must I stop doing to be a Christian? And so on. In out Scripture passage today, someone is going to ask Jesus a similar question. What must I do to inherit eternal life?
What is behind all these questions? For most people, the question behind the question is: What is the least I must do, change or give up to go to heaven? Today, we’re going to ask and answer the question relating to following Jesus. Of course those who follow Jesus will go to heaven and those who don’t won’t. So, in essence, the questions are really the same. So to begin, let’s look at what Jesus has to say to those who are thinking about following Him.
Luke 9:23 (ESV) And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Jesus is saying, if you want to follow or come after me, you have to do two things. First of all you need to deny yourself. The NLT translation says you need to give up your own way. You see, each person starts life by following their own way, their own plans and desires. To deny yourself is to give up all those things to follow Jesus not yourself.
Secondly, Jesus talks about taking up your cross daily.What’s that all about? The cross is an instrument of capital punishment. To take up your cross is to die to yourself, to your own will, to put it to death and leave it behind. In the next verse Jesus says …
Luke 9:24 (ESV) For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
To save your life is to not do what Jesus just instructed.To save your life would be to not deny yourself and not take up your cross. To save you life is to continue living a life following yourself rather than Jesus. If you do that, Jesus says that you will lose the life you intended to save. But if you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, you will actually save your life.
If this saying of Jesus seems confusing, it is because Jesus is talking about two kinds of life. If you seek to save your way of life on this planet, you will lose eternal life with Jesus. But if you choose to lose your way life, you will save yourself for eternal life. What does Jesus mean when He talks about losing your life?
John 10:27 (ESV) My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
In this verse, Jesus is depicted as the good shepherd and His followers are sheep.Sheep that follow Jesus the shepherd hear His voice of direction.And they follow Him.Sheep who are following their shepherd don’t wander away from Him and get eaten by wolves, stolen by thieves or fall off of a cliff.Those who don’t follow the shepherd, inevitably come to a tragic end.Jesus wants to replace our simply human life with a spiritual eternal life as we follow Him that is going to last forever. So, what must you give up to follow Jesus?
Luke 18:15 (ESV) Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
People were bringing their babies to Jesus so that He would lay his hands on them and bless them.The disciples were apparently trying to stop Jesus from wasting his time on children.They thought that ministry to adults was far more important.Besides, the babies probably fussed and cried and caused a distraction.
Luke 18:16 (ESV) But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.
Jesus, in turn, rebuked his disciples, telling them to let the children come.Don’t turn the children away.Jesus said that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are like children.What is the kingdom of God?The kingdom of God is the realm in which God reigns, the realm in which His will is done.
Luke 18:17 (ESV) Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
The kingdom of God is a gift from God to every person in the planet.Yet, the kingdom of God must be received in order to actually enter it and become citizens of that kingdom.Only those who have entered the kingdom have it’s benefits and eternal life.Only those who follow Jesus receive the kingdom of God into their lives.So, what does Jesus mean to receive the kingdom of God like a child?Actually, the verses we read were about infants that people were bringing to Jesus.
How can a person receive the kingdom like an infant? What can an infant do by themselves? Virtually nothing. An infant receives everything it needs from its parents. An infant receives its food, its clothes, its diapers, its crib, its love and every kind of care from its mother and father. In the same way, Jesus is saying that we must receive the benefits of the kingdom like an infant. Admitting that we can do nothing on our own of any eternal value. We must be totally dependent on God as we choose to receive the kingdom and follow Jesus. Become like a child.
The reason that Jesus is telling us to receive the kingdom and follow Him like a child is that many people do not do that. To not receive what God has for you like a child is to exert your own will. As if an infant would tell it’s mother they preferred chocolate milk and not her milk. Or they didn’t like the outfit they were dressed in for the day. And so on.
To follow Jesus is to simply by faith accept everything God has for us. To follow and obey everything He tells us to do in His Word. To no longer argue about what we will or will not do for God, but simply to submit. To follow Jesus as our Lord and not our own way. We must become like a child.
Luke 18:18-19 (ESV) And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
This Jewish ruler asked Jesus the question about inheriting eternal life, which means ultimately going to heaven. The ruler called Jesus a Good Teacher, which many people do today. Jesus reminded him that only God is good, indirectly claiming to be God, not merely a good teacher.
Luke 18:20-21 (ESV) You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”
Jesus reminded him that those who inherit eternal life are those who follow God’s commandments. The ruler indicated that he had perfectly kept the commandments Jesus mentioned. This is the ruler’s second error, as no one perfectly keeps the commandments.
Luke 18:22-23 (ESV) When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
Jesus, perceiving where the ruler’s heart really was at, challenged him to sell everything and give to the poor. When he had given everything to God, he would be able to follow Jesus. This ruler was very rich, so he became sad at Jesus’ instructions. Why was he sad? Because he was comparing following Jesus with giving up all his riches. And the ruler came to the conclusion that his riches were more important to him than following Jesus. In fact, his riches were more important to him than having eternal life.
Luke 18:24-25 (ESV) Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus, knowing the influence that wealth has on a person, said that it is very difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom. The rich often base their identity and their security on their wealth, rather than God. To describe how difficult it is for rich people to enter the kingdom, he said it was like a camel going through a needle’s eye. An absolute impossibility.
Luke 18:26-28 (ESV) Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.”
Even so, Jesus said that impossible things are possible with God. In other words, there will be a few rich people saved through God’s grace. Those who are willing to give their riches to God in exchange for entering the kingdom.
Luke 18:29-30 (ESV) And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
Jesus reassures those listening that those who give up things in this life for the kingdom will not be losers. They will be rewarded by God in this life and enjoy eternal life in eternity. In this verse, Jesus speaks about giving up houses and relationships. There are times when relationships fracture because one person is following Jesus and the other refuses. When that happens, a true follower of Jesus must put him first, above even the most important family relationships. Oftentimes, however, what we give up for Jesus will be returned, even in this life, as He blesses us. We must give up our possessions to follow Jesus.
Does this mean that we all must sell absolutely everything we have, give it to the pour and become homeless living on the street? No, absolutely not. We must do what Jesus tells us to do, using everything He has entrusted to us, for Him, not for our pleasure. Of course this means supporting the church and missions with our tithes and offerings as the Bible instructs.
But it also means using the remainder of our resources for Jesus, not just for the things we desire. As we give to God first in every area of our lives, He blesses us with kingdom provision. To follow Jesus, you must give up your possessions to Him.
Luke 18:31-32 (ESV) And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.
Jesus now begins to tell His disciples what was soon going to happen to Him. Jesus often referred to Himself as the Son of Man. The Old Testament prophets had hundreds of prophecies about the coming Messiah, which were all fulfilled in Jesus’ life. Jesus said that everything written would be fulfilled. He would be delivered over to the Romans and treated with contempt.
Luke 18:33-34 (ESV) And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
Jesus predicted that he would be killed as the prophets predicted. But on the third day, He would rise from the dead. The disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying. They did not want to accept that He would be killed and so couldn’t make sense of what He was telling them. Jesus was teaching His disciples that just as He was going to lay down His life for God’s plan, so must they. What must you give up to follow Jesus? Your very life.
Does that mean that everyone is going to have to die prematurely as a follower of Jesus? No, it just means that you give your life to Him to do as He desires. Thankfully in America, persecution is not at the point where followers of Jesus have to lay down their lives. That is not true in many parts of the world today. The number of martyrs in the world for Christ is at an all-time high, particularly in Muslim countries.
When it comes to denying Jesus or losing your life, we must be willing to lose our lives for Him. In the everyday life that we live here and now, losing our lives for Jesus happens in other ways. It means coming to church to worship when you don’t feel like it. It means joining that small group Bible study when you’re afraid to. It means giving Jesus the first ten percent of your income when you don’t know how you’ll pay the bills. It means talking to that co-worker about Jesus when you don’t know how they’ll react. To lay down your life is to have the faith and courage to follow Jesus and His Word, each and every day.
Today, we’ve looked at Jesus’ answer to the question – what must you give up to follow Jesus? To follow Jesus we must become like children, totally dependent on Him. To follow Jesus we must be willing to give up all our possessions for His purposes. To follow Jesus we must give up our very lives. But when we give up our way of living, we find true life indeed.
We are rewarded in this life for what we’ve given up. And we are rewarded with eternal life that lasts forever. Following Jesus is what we were created to do. There’s no better way to life our lives than to follow Him.