“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness.” – John 12:46
Most people have an opinion or belief about Jesus. Some see Him as a compassionate man who once walked around Galilee and Jerusalem doing good things for people and teaching them to live better lives. Others claim a personal relationship with Him – believing He’s with them, praying to Him, asking Him to guide their lives. For some, opinions are based on hearsay or feelings; for others, they are based on research and reading. There is no doubt that the views of Jesus vary widely.
Here are some things people have said about Him:
- Some in the biblical crowd: “He is a good man.”
- Others in same crowd: “He deceives the people.”
- Roman centurion: “Surely this was the Son of God.”
- C. S. Lewis: “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.”
- John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
- Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
- Thomas: “My Lord and my God.”
- Bertrand Russell: “. . . clearly he was not so wise as some other people have been, and he was certainly not superlatively wise.”
- People of Nain: “A great prophet has appeared among us.”
- Temple guards: “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”
If Jesus walked into the room right now, what would you say to Him? About Him? Who is Jesus to you? It’s the most important question you will ever answer.
“The miracle of the gospel is Christ, risen and glorified, who this very moment tracks us, pursues us, abides in us, and offers Himself to us as companion for the journey.” – Brennan Manning
“He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” – Psalm 23:3b
Jesus went around Galilee finding many to whom he said, “Follow Me.” And they did, some following closer than others. Peter was one who was in the closest circle of all, right up near to Jesus, hearing every word, witnessing every miracle, and even being empowered to do the same himself.
Then the human inevitable happened. When Jesus was telling the disciples He was going to Jerusalem and would be killed there, Peter rushed over and said, essentially, “No way. We will never let that happen to you.” The one who was supposed to be following decided to lead. Whoops! When Jesus said “Follow Me” the implication was, “Let Me lead” and He rebuked Peter’s well-intentioned but misguided attempt at a takeover.
Do we let Him lead? Even when we don’t agree with the path He has chosen for us? Even when it seems like He is making a mistake or doesn’t understand? Following Jesus is good, but each of us will come to crossroads when we have to decide if we will let Him lead.
He wants to show us how to spend our time, how to respond to people, how to help, what to read, how to spend. He gives it as both a command and an invitation: “Follow Me.”
We are not following some trail guide randomly finding His way through the landscape of life. We are following the One who is the way. If we believe that, we must let Him lead. Anything less would be foolishness.
“If we cling to the trinkets of this world and reject the radical invitation of Jesus, we will miss out on the infinite treasure of knowing and experiencing Him.” – David Platt
“Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17
Sometimes life is hard. We find ourselves caught up in situations we can’t control. At that point, we have a choice either to trust God or break into a thousand pieces. I have learned that when God puts us in that kind of a bind, He has a purpose. He is stretching us to make us usable beyond our wildest dreams. When I protested recently, He said something like this,
I know it’s hard to trust Me with everything, especially with those you love. If you can’t trust Me, trust My purpose. Everything that comes into your life is meant to help you, not to hurt you.
Look at how I stretched the disciples beyond their comfort zones:
- Sending them out two by two, asking them to heal, cast out demons, announce the kingdom. They were fishermen and common men. These were villages and people they knew. It was a stretch!
- Storms on the Sea of Galilee – pretty scary.
- Confrontations with the Pharisees. My disciples honored these rulers and cringed when I countered them.
- John the Baptist’s death. That just didn’t fit into their thinking.
- Speaking in parables. They wanted everyone to understand what they had found. Couldn’t figure out why I didn’t speak in plain language.
- My treatment of my earthly family. So counter-cultural. They cringed then, too.
I stretched them beyond recognition, but look who they became. Trust My purpose. It has a goal and it is good.
“It is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.” – C. S. Lewis
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed.” – Psalm 34:4
God invites us to come as little children, to be close, to let Him hold us. When we turn toward Him, He calms our fears by saying something like this:
Come close to Me. It’s OK. You’ll like it here.
You’re little, but I’m big.
You’re weak, but I’m strong.
You know some things, but I know everything.
You’re needy, I am generous.
You’re afraid, I am your protector.
You’re lonely, I am Love.
Just come to Me and receive everything you need.
God’s great desire is for His children to be close. He loves us infinitely and wants us to soften our hearts so we can receive His love. We do that by thinking about Him, reading His Word, praying about everything, and listening for His voice. It is always a voice of love, never criticism or condemnation for those who know and follow Him.
Let’s respond to Him with the anticipatory trust of a little child. We will never be sorry we did.
“When we hear him whisper into our souls, ‘You are my beloved child’, we can finally begin to shake off the striving and obsession that drives us. . .” – David Timms
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 2:20a
God lives inside us. It is His goal that we simply believe and act on that fact. It is not a “someday”, it is now: He indwells those who have accepted His invitation to follow Him. He is bigger, stronger, and smarter than we are, desiring to overrule our bad decisions and live the God-life through us. If we really believed that, how might things be different?
- We would recognize Satan’s lies (e.g. worry means love).
- We wouldn’t be anxious about things that are far in the future.
- We would be more discerning about people, able to see through to their hearts.
- We would love more.
- We would rejoice every time truth triumphs over lies.
- We would have an eternal perspective.
- We would serve others with wisdom and grace.
- Our concerns about appearances would fall away.
- We would trust Christ’s lordship of this world, doing our part, but leaving the rest in His hands.
- We would entrust our children to God, knowing He has a plan for each of them that includes us, but does not center on us.
- We would learn to listen to our bodies, giving them what they need (e.g. food, exercise, and rest).
- We would give generously.
We don’t have to adopt another self-improvement plan. We just need to yield to the Christ living within us, intentionally giving up our wills for His and letting His love, power, truth, and peace flow through us. When He lives in us, we become better people and the world becomes a better place!
“God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life fully yielded to Him.” – Andrew Murray
“Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” – Ephesians 5:8b-10
Every morning I pray that the Holy Spirit would help me, for that day, to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. That is, after all, what Jesus requires of His true followers.
But what does it actually look like to “deny myself”? I have come to realize that it doesn’t mean to deny who I am, but, instead, to deny what I want. I have my likes and dislikes. I have my desires and preferences, too. But what I’m figuring out is that when those likes or preferences bump up against what Christ has planned for me that day, my desires have to take a back seat to His.
So, now I have another prayer that simply has to go with the first one:
“I want to want what You want.
But, if I don’t want what You want, I’ll do what You want anyway.”
I think that’s what it means to deny myself – to subordinate my pleasures, my comfort, and my routines to His will. To do what He wants even when it is scary or hard or confusing. Or even if I just don’t want to. No wonder it requires a cross!
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” – G. K. Chesterton
“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed and those who followed were afraid.” – Mark 10:32 (ESV)
As we look at the road ahead of us in life, we can sometimes be afraid – afraid of the “what ifs” and even of the demands that will be made of us. Just think of how much more exciting and interesting life would be if, instead of being afraid, we could be amazed.
Jesus’ followers give us a hint as to how we can live so that confidence overtakes fear. In Mark 10, the disciples and many others were following Jesus on His final journey to Jerusalem. On the way, He told about His coming arrest and death, and there were two distinct reactions to what He was saying. One group was afraid and the other was amazed. Why such opposite responses? The text seems to indicate that the disciples, who were walking up close to Jesus, were amazed. The crowds, who were following further behind, were afraid.
What a wonderful picture of how to overcome our fears: Stay close to Jesus. He will never fail to amaze us. When we’re feeling afraid, maybe we need to assess where we are walking. Jesus will always invite us to come nearer. In fact, that’s exactly where He wants us to be so He can guide our steps as we walk along. When we are close to Him, amazement happens!
“A close, intimate relationship to Christ should always be your soul’s only purpose.” – Gene Edwards