The Challenge

Luke 9:23


Luke 9:23 “Then he said to them all:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”


Ever seen someone at a sporting event hold up a sign with a scripture verse on it?  John 3:16  that’s an important scripture – God’s love – sacrifice – offer of salvation – hope of eternal life – gospel in one verse.  Single most important verse of scripture in the Bible.

How many of you have ever seen someone hold up a sign that says:  Luke 9:23?  Read it.

John 3: 16- salvation

Luke 9:23 – discipleship

The scriptures often picture our relationship with Jesus as a marriage between Christ and the church.  Can you imagine if we put all our emphasis on the wedding and then did nothing with the marriage.  Unbalanced – unhealthy and probably end in divorce.


As a pastor, my great desire is that you have a personal relationship with Jesus, but it is unfair of me to emphasize salvation without discipleship. Without salvation, we can’t get into heaven but without discipleship we limit our spiritual growth and the ability to bring others into the kingdom of God.

For those of you who have received Christ, who are believers in John 3:16, I want to challenge you to seriously consider Luke 9:23 and what it means to you as well.


I.  the invitation

Jesus doesn’t begin with a list of pre-qualifications – the invitation is addressed to anyone – an all inclusive word  Whosoever – all  


Jesus didn’t look for perfect people when he chose his disciples; he looked for willing people. Donald Trump would not have approved of Jesus board of directors:   Matthew – a tax collector and a cheat; Thomas – a doubter; Peter – a hotheaded aggressive type personality with little tact; Thaddeus – a quiet shy introvert that never says anything and then Simon the Zealot – a known radical. Judas the betrayer.  Jesus offered them all an invitation: come – be my disciple – follow me. He offers the same invitation to us.


When most people say anyone – they don’t really mean anyone – anyone can buy a car here – with approved credit; anyone can go to college here – with proper grades; anyone can go see the Rays play – if you have the money; when Jesus says anyone; he means anyone. There is no fine print – anyone can come.

. . . you don’t know my past – anyone can come

. . . I have an addiction 

. . . I’ve been divorced

. . . I’m a convicted felon

. . . I don’t have my life together  

. . .  republicans or democrats  anyone

That’s why we call it amazing grace. 


God takes us where we are; meets us in our mess and offers us a new alternative to the way things have been.


II.  –the pursuit if anyone would come after me

God is a pursuing God – he comes after us – he sent his son to show us what he was like – now he says:  are you coming after me? Won’t drag you behind me – I’ll invite you to join me.

Usually when we use this phrase – we mean it in a romantic way – we are pursuing someone we love hoping they will return our affections. Guys you remember all those dumb things you did trying to win your sweethearts attention.

The bible tells us to seek God with all our heart. He is the ultimate “find”.  It is such an important pursuit that In Matt. 13 Jesus gives us several parables about the intense desire to know him.  He says the kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field; when a man finds it, he sells everything he owns and buys the field.

That doesn’t make much sense to us today without the context:  in Biblical times, there were no banks so when you went off to war which was frequent – you took your valuables and buried them somewhere on your land – what happens if you get killed.  Someone digging around finds the treasure – not his – so he buys the property which unknown to others would include the treasure.


When we understand the joys of the Christian life, we pursue it with diligence knowing that nothing else can compare to it.  It may cost us everything but it is worth it.

As you can see discipleship is a far cry from a weekend retreat mentality.  It is a commitment that whatever it takes, it’s worth it.


Shawn mentioned it a couple of weeks ago; we’re all in.

It’s the difference between getting married and living together.  God doesn’t want you to move in with him – he wants to marry you – be his bride with devotion to him. As Christians often we come after him when its convenient but when things get tough, we turn back. Christianity is not a recreational pursuit; it’s a lifestyle.  A disciple is willing to: deny himself and take up his cross.


III– the passion

What do you mean – take up your cross?  Not in the same way as Jesus – to take up our cross means that we do whatever is necessary to follow Jesus.  Whatever it takes. For Jesus it meant a cruel death on a cross. That’s not our cross. Our cross is whatever keeps us from going all out for Jesus.


Sports is known for fanatics – fan is short for fanatic.

Many individuals will go to almost any length to support their favorite team, be inconvenienced, spend money, invest energy in being a fan. 

Here is one fan from the Broncos  in honor of the national champions here is a fan from Alabama.


Emily Baber is a fan of UK basketball – pretty quiet during football season but UK basketball – different story.  When she was growing up in KY, before every game was on tv – she and her family would get in their car, drive to the nearest high hill so they could get radio reception of KY basketball games broadcast by Caywood Leford. She wears clothes with UK insignia; she watches every game, she goes online to newspapers in KY to read about her team; she’s a really good sport about her team but she is passionate about UK basketball. In her defense she is also passionate about the Lord.


Jesus says I want you to be fanatical about following me.  I don’t want you to give up everything else in your life but I want you to put me first. 

That means you have to deny yourself – I don’t like denying myself – every Thursday my friend Betty Stutzmen brings in cookies for the staff.  I don’t like denying myself dessert.  But if I don’t watch it I’ll start looking like the Pillsbury dough boy.  I can’t eat all I want and maintain health. 


Some of you are vegetarians – voluntarily deny yourself meat for the sake of your health.– I respect you for that. I on the other hand am a flexatarian – I don’t eat meat unless it is placed in front of me.  

Jesus statement about denying ourselves goes far beyond physical limitations of denying ourselves – it is denying ourselves for spiritual benefit.  When we sacrificially deny ourselves for the sake of Christ, it is evidence of our love for him.


When we read the Bible and we discover that this is specifically prohibited by scripture, we take that seriously.

As a Christian even though sex outside of marriage may be pleasurable and available, we deny ourselves that because God’s word forbids it.

As a Christian, we deny ourselves the ability to get drunk because God’s word forbids it.

As a Christian we deny ourselves the temptation to gossip because God’s word forbids it.

Those aren’t church rules, they are principles of scripture given to us by a loving God because he knows to violate those principles harms our lives. God is not a kill joy – his desire is that we live significant lives.

Even if no one else knows, God does and therefore we can say no because it would displease God. 


  Companies spend millions of dollars hoping that when you see a certain symbol, you will identify it with that company.


Chevy – Mcdonalds golden arches – Nike


Take up our cross – have you ever though it quite unusual that the most common symbol for Christianity is a cross.

That is just a terrible marketing strategy:

But a cross – not the type of symbol that draws people in. deny yourself and take up your cross.  What happened to be happy and get rich – that seems a lot more appealing slogan to me.  Our cross is not thrust upon us – it says that we voluntarily take it up.


Seen the ads for a snuggie?  A blanket with holes in it so they can charge more money.  20 million snuggies were sold last year – people want comfort.  As you know I believe in presenting the positive side of the gospel.  The gospel is the greatest news in the world.  It is the pearl of great price – it is worth sacrificing everything for.


Christianity is not represented by a snuggie but by a cross.

There is no comfortable way to carry a cross. 

Jesus never tells us to go attract a crowd, he says go make disciples. I want to challenge you to be a disciple. God is not looking for perfection in our lives, he looking for pursuit. Are you pursuing me.  I‘ll pick you up when you fall.  I’ll encourage you along the way.  I’ll provide resources for you to use.  It’s not a snuggie.


IV.  the reward

Why would we want to pursue Jesus and deny ourselves and take up cross – the reward is that we become followers of Jesus – not just fans or admirers but followers. 

Feb. 6, 1812  the first American missionary was sent out. Adoniram Judson left for Burma. A graduate of Brown, He was 24, wife was 23. He labored for six years without a single convert and after 10 years had only 18 in his congregation in this Buddhist stronghold. In 1824 he was arrested for preaching, put in prison for 18 months. He endured the type of hardships you would imagine in a 3rd world prison. Rotten food, torture, deprivation, 110 degree heat in the sun during the day. His wife Anne died at 37 from spotted fever.  Was it worth it?  Certainly not from a human perspective. Despite a ban on Christian missionaries since 1966, today there are 3,700 churches with over 600,000 evangelical Christians that trace their beginning to Adonirah Judson.


As we allow him to mold and shape our lives; he begins to convict us of those things that needed to be eliminated from our lives and challenge us to take on those things that need to be added to our lives. 

Christians are born again. Disciples are made not born.


Story of Millard Fuller  millionaire at age 29  had everything –came home to a note from his beautiful wife – left him.  He finally found her living in a hotel room on a Saturday night. Talked the entire night.  She said:  I have everything but I have nothing. I don’t feel alive. I’m empty.

The next day they went to a Baptist Church where they gave their lives to Christ and began a spiritual journey. They decided they would sell everything they had and begin to live their lives on behalf of the poor. They started an organization  - perhaps you have heard of it.  Habitat For Humanity.