Cruciform Priorities: Living Like Apostles Today

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:32-34)

Jesus wants these first apostles to have their priorities set ahead of time about Him. When Matthew writes this Gospel, the reality of persecution of early Christians was real. Like Daniel’s friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—the early followers of Jesus regularly had to decide if they were going to hold to their faith in God publicly or not. Would they burn incense to the Roman Emperor and confess Caesar as Lord or would they refrain from this and confess Jesus as Lord? They may not have been thrown into a fiery furnace, but many early Christians were thrown to the beasts in gladiatorial coliseums.

In a culture increasingly hostile toward Jesus and Christianity, what about us? Even as Christians may be mocked or ridiculed, are we willing still to acknowledge Jesus as Lord?

Jesus says those who acknowledge Him before others, He will acknowledge before God in the heavenly throne room. But whoever disowns Jesus publicly in our lives will be disowned by Jesus before the Father. These are such strong words here. What are we to do with them when we fail in our dedication?

Biblical scholar R. T. France offers Peter as a stark example of disowning Jesus under pressure. Peter felt the weight of his denial, but he also was rehabilitated by Jesus after his denial.

Peter’s denial was a failure along the line of his life which was lived under the lordship of Jesus. The overall direction of his life was about acknowledging Jesus as Lord. In fact, church tradition tells us that Peter was martyred for his faith. So, too, with us. The overall direction of our lives makes the difference here. We can ask ourselves: am I steadily walking with Jesus and acknowledging Him before others, or have I turned my back upon Him? 

It’s not only in relation to the anonymous public and crowd that Jesus calls for priority, but also closer to Him in our family and friend relationships. While we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, there are times when we must make a decision, even between following Jesus and following our families.

When a young man in another part of the world where persecution of Christians is normal became a follower of Jesus, he knew it would come at the cost of his family rejecting him. This is exactly what they did, and he was cast out upon the streets to survive. God has been faithful, but his path of following Jesus has been arduous.

This text is so relevant for us today, even in the wake of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Although this may sound strange, the church of Jesus Christ is not just about building happy families. Of course, we hope that does happen, but, even more importantly, we exist to develop strong disciples in Jesus Christ. When everything is put under the lordship of Christ, then our family relationships, our friendships, and all other things find their right place and priority in relation to Jesus.

We may have moments when our family members will look down on us or not invite us to things because of our commitment to Christ. We may have friends who will turn away from us, labeling us as one of the problems in our society or seeing us as close-minded because of our commitment to the teaching of Christ. While we don’t want to unnecessarily put stumbling blocks in peoples’ way by being stubborn, self-righteous, or foolish, we will have moments when we encounter a strong conflict of priorities. And the question will arise, “Do we love Jesus more than anyone or anything else?”

All of this sets up one of the most memorable and significant statements of Jesus about following him as disciples. Let me read it again.

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39)

Our priority as disciples must be to live a cruciform life; a life that is conformed to the Cross of Christ. The cross was a symbol of humiliation and execution, but through Christ we realize that this Cross is also the symbol of life and love. Here we have the most amazing picture of what it looks like to be a disciple. We yield all our life to God, we let go of our own power and self-rule, and we die to ourselves. Simultaneously, the Cross is liberation from sin and the darkness of an upside-down world. It is the doorway into real life with God through the loving embrace of Christ. What is it worth to us to pursue Jesus?

Resurrection and Fear

After Jesus rose from the grave, the Apostle John records four meetings Jesus has with people. The first of these that I want to look at today is Jesus’ appearance in the locked room to His disciples. We read about it in this way:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. (John 20:19-20)

There are three major things happening as Jesus enters this story bringing resurrection power in the midst of fear.

Jesus Comes Into and Stands Within Our Fears

It seemed like the locked room would not be penetrated by anything good or evil. The disciples were holding the door closed out of fear from others and fears circulating in their own minds and hearts. But Jesus came through the locked door and entered into their midst. No lock could hold Him out – neither could any fear hold Him out – because of His resurrection power.Read More »

Good Friday 2021: The Real Sacrifice of Christ

Join with us for worship this Good Friday at Eastbrook Church as we remember Christ’s crucifixion and sacrifice with in-person and streamed worship services. We will have two identical services at 12 pm and 7 pm. RSVP for in-person services, or join us online at Eastbrook at Home. You can also download a companion “Good Friday at Home Experience Guide” put together by the Eastbrook Church staff.

The basis for our engagement with Jesus’ passion this year is through Matthew’s Gospel, taking us to Matthew 26:31-27:66 for Good Friday.

The Humility of Christ in the Cross and the Manger

I came across this excerpt from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon that connected so well with what I was preaching on in a recent sermon, “Mighty God,” that it caught my attention. Spurgeon was a 19th century preacher in London whose deep and wide-ranging ministry earned him the name “the prince of preachers.” This excerpt is taken from a sermon entitled “No Room for Christ at the Inn” preached December 21, 1862.

The manger and the cross standing at the two extremities of the Saviour’s earthly life seem most fit and congruous the one to the other. He is to wear through life a peasant’s garb; he is to associate with fishermen; the lowly are to be his disciples; the cold mountains are often to be his only bed; he is to say, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head;” nothing, therefore, could be more fitting than that in his season of humiliation, when he laid aside all his glory, and took upon himself the form of a servant, and condescended even to the meanest estate, he should be laid in a manger…

The King of Men who was born in Bethlehem, was not exempted in his infancy from the common calamities of the poor, nay, his lot was even worse than theirs. I think I hear the shepherds comment on the manger-birth, “Ah!” said one to his fellow, “then he will not be like Herod the tyrant; he will remember the manger and feel for the poor; poor helpless infant, I feel a love for him even now, what miserable accommodation this cold world yields its Saviour; it is not a Caesar that is born to-day; he will never trample down our fields with his armies, or slaughter our flocks for his courtiers, he will be the poor man’s friend, the people’s monarch ; according to the words of our shepherd-king, he shall judge the poor of the people; he shall save the children of the needy.” Surely the shepherds, and such as they — the poor of the earth, perceived at once that here was the plebeian king; noble in descent, but still as the Lord hath called him, “one chosen out of the people.” Great Prince of Peace! the manger was thy royal cradle! Therein wast thou presented to all nations as Prince of our race, before whose presence there is neither barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but thou art Lord of all. Kings, your gold and silver would have been lavished on him if ye had known the Lord of Glory, but inasmuch as ye knew him not he was declared with demonstration to be a leader and a witness to the people. The things which are not, under him shall bring to nought the things that are, and the things that are despised which God hath chosen, shall under his leadership break in pieces the might, and pride, and majesty of human grandeur.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “No Room for Christ in the Inn,” December 21, 1862.

Seeing Jesus in Psalm 22: finding hope in darkness

Rembrandt - The Three Crosses

Psalm 22 is one of the most, if not the most, quoted and alluded to psalm in the New Testament. Particularly, Psalm 22 is closely connected with Jesus’ work upon the Cross, especially His exclamation of the first words of the psalm in both Mark and Matthew:

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’). (Matthew 27:46)

When Jesus’ quotes that first phrase of the psalm from the Cross, He is telling His hearers something about His mission not just from that first verse, but in connection with the entire content of Psalm 22. As Bible scholar James Luther Mays says, “Citing the first words of a text was, in the tradition of the time, a way of identifying the entire passage.”[1] Jesus helps us see that Psalm 22 describes His life, ministry, and the gospel message.

At the Cross, Jesus faced humanity’s distance from God, something we have already heard in Jesus’ cry of dereliction, quoting Psalm 22:1, as recorded in both Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46.

At the Cross, Jesus faced opponents, both human & demonic. [2] When Psalm 22:7 says, “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads,” Matthew writes of Jesus on the Cross, “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads” (Matt 27:39; cf. Mark 15:29).

When Psalm 22:15 says, “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth,” John writes of Jesus on the cross, “so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty’” (John 19:28).

When Psalm 22:18 tells us, “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment,” Luke writes, “And they divided up his clothes by casting lots” (Luke 23:34; cf. Mark 15:24; Matt 27:35; John 19:23-24).

It is not just the crucifixion that is referenced in Psalm 22, but also the resurrection, where God delivered Jesus from death and won praise from the nations.

When Psalm 22:24 says, “[God] has not hidden his face from the afflicted one but has listened to his cry for help,” the writer to the Hebrews describes Jesus’ resurrection in this way, “[Jesus] offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard” (Hebrews 5:7).

When Psalm 22:27 speaks of the Messiah winning praise from the nations, “all the nations…will turn to the Lord,” Jesus tells His disciples, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8; cf. Matthew 28:18-20).

And when Psalm 22:31 concludes with “He [God] has done it!”, we hear echoes of Jesus’ words at the end of His ordeal upon the Cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

When we read Psalm 22 with our eyes fixed on Jesus, we find that this psalm originally addressing the Israelite king’s deliverance now provides deeper meaning for Jesus as the true Messiah.

In the midst of our challenges, even our suffering and opponents, Psalm 22 shows us that God is aware, God is at work, God is delivering, and God is bringing hope.

 


[1] James Luther Mays, Psalms (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994), 105.

[2] See other parallels: Ps 22:6 and Matt 27:29; Ps 22:16 and Mark 15:25; John 20:25.