Sunday, May 8, 2011
Probably the most misunderstood portion of that passage is, “take up your cross.” I admit it can be difficult to know exactly what that expression might mean to us. In order to discern what any passage of scripture means to us, we first have to know the context and what it meant to those to whom it was originally addressed.
In this particular case, Jesus was speaking to his twelve disciples. Peter had just received a revelation from God about who Jesus really was. Jesus had first asked them, “Who do men say that I am?” Then he asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ (Messiah), the son of the Living God!” Jesus then explains that Peter’s answer came from his Heavenly Father.
Only a few moments later, as Jesus was telling the men how he must suffer, die and then be raised from the dead, Peter began to rebuke Jesus, saying, “ Never Lord.” Think about that for a second. First you acknowledge that Jesus is God, and then you rebuke Him? Well, Peter often had “foot in mouth” disease. I guess that is why many of us relate to him so well, right?
The point is, that this is the context of Jesus’ statement concerning picking up your cross. In Peter’s case, he literally did take up his cross. It is believed that Peter was crucified for his obedience to Christ.
In the Roman culture, those who were going to be crucified were made to carry their own cross. It was a form of suffering. At that time, a Christian could be crucified for calling Christ their king rather than Caesar, so the believers suffered great persecution for the cause of Christ
When we follow Jesus and truly become His servant, we are willing to deny our desire for safety and comfort, and are willing to suffer for a time, knowing that we await an eternal reward. That is how we can “pick up” our cross.
The Desire to Serve
The third characteristic I see in one who truly has the heart of a servant, is closely related to the first two. Throughout the epistles of the New Testament, we find a recurring theme. It is summed up well by Paul in Phil 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” You see, when we have surrendered our hearts to the Lord Jesus, we will have the desire to serve others. Why? Because that is exactly what Jesus did while He was here on earth. He is still doing that today.
Romans 8:34 says that He is at the right hand of God (the Father) interceding for us. He is still healing, still teaching and still ministering to our needs through the Holy Spirit. He puts that same desire in our hearts. I am sure that many of you have felt that desire. Why is it though that we often have the desire to put others first, but then don’t do it? It’s because we still have a sin nature, at war with our spirit, telling us “Take care of ME, ME, ME!” It is not an easy thing to put others’ needs above our own, but that is what having a servant’s heart is all about.
I spent thirty five years of my life as a football coach, sixteen of them as a Head Coach at the high school level. I must admit, that for many of those years, even though I was a born again Christian; I did not always have the heart of a servant.
The first part of that verse in Philippians says, “Do nothing of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” Although I cared deeply for my players and wanted to see all of them come into a relationship with the Lord, my desire to win games and championships was just as important to me. Don’t get me wrong, it is not sinful to want to win, but if that becomes more important than being a servant to those God has put in your path, then it becomes selfish ambition and vain conceit.
All this is easier said than done. It is hard not to want to receive accolades for being a winning coach. It means you are good at your profession and we should all strive to be the best we can at what God has called us to do.
You know it’s interesting, that as a Head Coach, my greatest success came after I finally figured out that it was about serving my players, not my ego. When I began to really focus in on truly putting their needs above my own, I found much more joy and satisfaction in coaching. The bonus was that we won lots of games and some championships as well!
So, to all of you that are reading this that are believers in Christ, I would like you to ask yourself these questions.
1. Do I have humility or do I exalt myself?
2. Am I willing to deny myself, pick up my cross and follow Jesus?
3. Do I desire to put the needs of others above my own?
In essence, you are asking, “Do I have a “Servant’s Heart?”
It’s not really an option for a true Christian. Jesus said to his disciples after washing their feet, “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:13-15)
When our Lord tells us we should do something, we should do it! But look at how He follows that up in verse 17. “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” Amen and Amen! There is no greater blessing in this life than following Jesus and being His servant! I pray that you will commit yourself to that end and receive the blessings God has in store for you!
God bless and keep you,
Sunday, May 1, 2011
I was thinking (a very dangerous prospect for me); if I had just one topic I could write about to believers, that I might only get one chance at, what would that topic be? What aspect of the Christian walk do I believe is of utmost importance to the Body of Christ right now? It actually didn't take that long to decide. Though I am certain that there are many topics that are of utmost importance, I picked the one that the Lord has been teaching me about for a period of years. I know what you're thinking. He must really be a slow learner if it takes years. What can I say? You are right. Hope you learn faster than me!
Obviously, you already know the topic since you read the title, brilliant observers that you are. This message is based on Matthew 23:11, " But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant." Now Jesus actually made this statement to the Pharisees of Israel while rebuking them. Their idea of greatness was having the appearance of righteousness. They were always concerned about how things looked on the outside, but as Jesus said, inside they were full of dead men's bones, corrupt and decaying. I am pretty sure that they had no idea what Jesus was talking about. So what did Jesus mean by this statement?
I titled the message, "A Servants Heart," because all through the gospels we see that it is our heart that Jesus is really after. Not what we appear to be on the outside but we are on the inside. In the Jewish mind, the term heart is used to describe the very center of our being. Today, we might tend to think of this as the combination of our mind and emotions, that which controls our actions.
So, what would a servant's heart look like, when seen in the life of a Christian? I would like to bring out three major characteristics that I believe a person who has the heart of a true servant will demonstrate. I am not saying that these are the full measure of characteristics in a servant, but they are certainly way up there on the list.
Jesus demonstrated His humility to us so often that we have a perfect example of what it means to be humble. From His birth, in the most humble surroundings imaginable to His death on the cross, He always demonstrated humility. Remember how He humbled Himself and was baptized by John? Jesus had no need to be baptized. John's baptism was a declaration that one had repented for his sin (Matt 3:11). Jesus had committed no sin. He said that it was to "fulfill all righteousness," and so allowed a mere human being to baptize Him.
Then, on the night before He died, the disciples gathered at the Last Supper. Jesus, who was God in human form, the creator of earth and all that is in it, knelt down and washed the dirty feet of His disciples. This was a job that was usually performed by slaves, but Jesus did it willingly and lovingly as an example to them and us of humility.
Humility really means that we don't exalt our self! The bible warns us many times about exalting ourselves. Matt 23:12 says, "For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." He repeats this almost word for word in Lk 14:11 and 18:14. Peter says in 1 Peter 5:6, "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time… OK, but how do we keep from exalting ourselves? The apostle Paul answers that question in Phil 1:20. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
You see, when the goal of our life is to exalt Christ instead of ourselves, then we allow Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish that goal. We continually give God the credit for what He is doing through us, rather than taking credit ourselves. That is humility.
Denial of Self
The second characteristic I see in a servant's heart is found in Matt 16:24, " Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." To be a servant of God, we must first deny ourselves. That can be a loaded statement, meaning different things to different people so we better take a close look to discover what Jesus was talking about
The Greek word used here for deny- is arneomai. The basic meaning according to the Greek scholar, Kittle is "to say no" in answer to a question or to "refuse" in relation to a claim or demand. I love that! It means, when our own desires begin to place their demands on us and we know that it may keep us from serving Christ, we say NO! We refuse to give in to our flesh, which is demanding us to put self above Christ
What I don't believe that it means, is to hide away somewhere, like some of the monastic believers did, trying to avoid any temptation to sin. That is fruitless. You can't hide from temptation anyway. When did Jesus face His greatest temptation? It was when He was alone in the desert. Satan showed up and gave it his best shot, trying to get Jesus to bow down before him. So hiding out is not the answer.
Besides, look at the last part of the verse. He says "follow me" Jesus certainly did not hide away, but instead went out teaching, healing and ministering to all he came in contact with. If you follow Him, you too will be out in the world, not hiding from it! I believe that Jesus is simply saying that in order to follow Him, we are going to have to give Him control of our lives. He makes that clear in the next verse Matt 16:25, "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."
We tend to think that our plan for our lives is what will bring us happiness and we want to hang on to that plan.
Jesus is telling us that if we give up our plan to follow Him, we not only have eternal life, but abundant life.
A life full of peace, love and joy.
Not that we don't face hardships, we are guaranteed that we will.
But we face them, knowing that the God of the universe is on our side.
Well, I hope you are learning a little about the heart of a servant. In the next post, we will find out what Jesus meant by "pick up your cross," as well as looking at the third characteristic of a person with a servant's heart.
May God bless you as you seek His face and surrender your life to Him.