Then Jesus said to all the people: “If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross each day and follow me.”
-- Luke 9:23
Pearl Buck, the best-selling author and winner of both the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, once observed that you can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel from new ideas.
There’s probably some truth to that. But change can be painful for anyone at any age. To prove it, look no further than your favorite 24-hour news channel. Our nation is experiencing economic uncertainties, dynamic technological advances, awesome natural disasters, social upheavals and even court-sanctioned assaults against Judeo-Christian faith and values. Change is everywhere… and it’s inescapable. It’s therefore hardly a surprise then that many people seek stability wherever they can find it. They look for dependable, long-lasting products like automobiles, appliances and personal computers. They demand trustworthy public officials and reliable customer service. And as for personal relationships, they want a mate who’s in it for the long haul. Good help – as the saying goes – is hard to find.
But what it’s really all about is a search for commitment – that rare quality that God has valued in His people for thousands of years. Joshua, one of the great servant leaders of the Old Testament, displayed this trait when he challenged the tribes of Israel to choose who they would serve: the false gods of their ancestors or the only one True God. “But as for me and my household,” declared Joshua, “we will serve the Lord."
Jesus seeks this same level of total commitment from His 21st Century followers. Rather than would-be believers who might help to build His kingdom if it’s not too inconvenient for them, Christ demands an all-or-nothing relationship from those willing to give the little they have to eventually gain everything.
Does this sound unrealistic? Jesus’ closest friends once thought so. One day, a rich young man asked Christ what he had to do to gain eternal life. Knowing what was in the man’s heart, Jesus reminded him about following God’s commandments covering theft, adultery, murder, lying, and honoring one’s parents. When the man replied that he had kept these laws since childhood, the Savior told him that He lacked just one thing: the need to sell all his possessions.
Jesus knew that rather than loving God with all his heart, soul and mind (the first of the 10 Commandments), the rich man was actually committed to money. The would-be follower was crushed by Jesus’ harsh revelation and soon turned away. And Jesus’ apostles were just as amazed. “If this is the way it is,” they asked, “who can ever be saved?”
Jesus’ response was both simple and reassuring.
“What is impossible for man,” he replied, “is possible with God.”
The lesson here is that Jesus seeks undivided loyalty from His followers – those special people who are willing to give and serve using the gifts, talents and resources entrusted from God. But to make this vital commitment, we must realize that it requires our total reliance on a Power much greater than ourselves.