The gospel’s offer of salvation is both an appeal and a command for sinners to repent and follow the dictates of the Savior; not a plea of passive acceptance, becoming a salve for guilty consciences – nor a means of enabling willful individuals to do as they please even as they claim the blood of Christ for salvation.
Jesus’ first recorded message was, “Repent and believe the good news!; on the heels of which he challenged his first “converts” to, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Mark 1:15-17 Made to men who already had lives full of business and family responsibilities, Jesus none-the-less expected them to give it all up to follow him; promising to turn them into something entirely different when they did. The same was true of Matthew (and presumably Philip and Nathanael and to all the rest – see John 1:43-49), who was challenged to give up a lucrative career to follow Jesus; a main theme of Christianity, giving up to gain.
Some questioned or were hesitant concerning the cost of obedience, of following Jesus’ way as compared to their own. (Matthew 8:18-22) One in particular “…went away sad…” because he wasn’t willing to give up the one thing he had reserved for himself; in spite of doing most other things well. But that one thing stood between him and Christ being the absolute Lord of his life. (See Mark 10:17-22) Which sounds extreme in this day and age, but if Jesus is God incarnate – as we claim he is, and if he is our Lord as well as our Savior – as we say he is; then he sets the parameters of faith and faithfulness – not us! (See John 2:6)
Jesus insisting unequivocally, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 And if that weren’t enough, he ramped it up a bit by claiming, “…whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Mark 8:35 Explaining his rationale by asking, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mark 8:37 The answer of course being, nothing. Only Christ could fulfill the demands of the law by sacrificing himself in our place on the cross, but we are expected to follow in his footsteps, fulfilling his expressed will for our lives. As, “…the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory…and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” Matthew 16:27 (Whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10)
That requires a familiarity with him and his ‘Way” to the point that we recognize his “voice” expressed in scripture and through the Holy Spirit. And like sheep responding to their shepherd’s voice, whole-heartedly, submissively, dependently follow him. (John 10:27) Jesus stating, “Whoever serves me must follow me…” John 12:26 (See His warning for those who don’t – or do so for ulterior reasons in Matthew 7:21) Even when we falter but repent, Jesus will restore us, as he did Peter; but only after exposing the failure so it could be redeemed in forgiveness. Peter’s restoration completed in the renewed offer/command of, “Follow me!” (John 21:15-19)
The miracle of redemption, or the state of being “bought” back and redeemed to usefulness, is not so much that we accept Christ but, despite it all, he accepts us. Which requires from us a broken spirit and contrite heart. (Psalm 51:17) Those whom Jesus described as being “…poor in spirit.” Matthew 5:3; and blessed because of it. (See Is. 57:15 & 66:2) The “quality” of a broken and contrite spirit is not dealt with much in today’s society because they are considered unappealing – causing too much discomfort for too many seeking easy absolution of their sin. But according to scripture, a contriteness of spirit is essential to salvation as it speaks to our frame of mind when we approach him seeking his grace and mercy as well as our response in joyful commitment to him afterwards. Being contrite encompassing the idea of a deep grinding anguish of our soul, an overwhelming sorrow and remorse for our sin; having been convicted – or thoroughly convinced – of our shortcomings and likewise convinced that there is only one way out of our predicament. Jesus Christ.
Consequently instilling in us a humble desire to serve him, and in emulation of him, serve others. Jesus insisting that, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” So don’t strive for titles and accolades, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:12 A concept the disciples found hard to accept and implement; as do we. (See Matthew 20:20-28 & Mark 9:33-35)
And even though this and other aspects of the gospel may confound and offend some, its message must not be made more palatable by omitting or watering down the more difficult teachings of Christ or his expectations of us. (See John 6:60) Jesus offering us relief and hope for our weary bodies, minds and spirits by offering us a yoke! His yoke. In the process teaching us how to live fully and affectively for and through him. (See Matthew 11:28-30) The irony, of course, is that a yoke is a heavy instrument of control applied to livestock, harnessing their strength and guiding their effort in a task. Allegorically used here to infer submission and obedience to Christ’s will. (Not a very popular concept today – in or outside the church.)
Other Jewish rabbis likewise taught that being yoked meant bearing the load of a Master Teacher’s instructions, again signifying compliance. So how does a yoke of compliance ease my burden? In living one’s life based on the directions of Jesus, much confusion can be alleviated. At times replaced by dilemmas we never considered before, but a God-centered life is calmer, more fulfilling than one lived outside his will; which always seeks to guide us to the best, fullest life we can experience. (Even if denying ourselves of some of the enticements of the world seems counter-intuitive at first.) Jesus assuring us that, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (or more abundantly KJ) John 10:10
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