As I write this article, Dale Bourdette and I are 34,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, returning home from our trip to Turkey. I am reflecting upon our experiences this past week with many of our missionaries and more than a few Christians within Turkey of Turkish, Kurdish, Arab, and Iranian descent. I am also reflecting upon the texts for my next two sermons (Luke 14:7-33) and upon the Cross of Jesus Christ.
For Jesus to come and take on flesh was a display of His humility and His love for us. For Him to suffer under Pontius Pilate and to be crucified and buried was a sacrifice unparalleled. There is no cross we can carry that can ever compare. He took upon Himself our iniquities, though He knew no sin. He suffered a death that was not due to Him so that He could free us from sin’s wages forever. By His resurrection He has conquered death once and for all so that those who are in Him are raised together with Him to new life. We can do nothing to repay Him and any cross we bear cannot save another. In His death, His alone, is there salvation.
Nevertheless He does call us to a costly discipleship. He rebuked the Pharisees for jostling for position at the table of their host. He challenged them to be humble and consider themselves as last among their peers (Luke 14:7-11). Such a move would have been costly in the moment, but humility like this is a mere reflection of the humility the Son displayed in His incarnation and death (Philippians 2:3-11). He called the ruler of the Pharisees to invite the “poor and crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:13-14) to his feasts though they could not repay him the favor. To show such kindness to the outcasts of society would be costly but it is a price that pales in comparison to the price of the blood of His own Son.
When the crowds following Him became great He said things like, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple… anyone who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple,” (Luke 14:25). These are not easy words. They are a challenge to us because they teach us that life in Christ in the here and now will be costly. It cost Him His life and new life in Him means the death of our old selves. It means our loyalties belong to Him and Him alone and that no other loyalty supersedes ours to Him.
This past week in Turkey was a crash course for me in cross bearing. The missionaries who are serving God in that land have given up so much. They are strangers there, not only for their faith but ethnically, culturally, and nationally as well. They have left behind friends, family, and Christian fellowship to pursue the call of Christ in their lives.
They are not alone in bearing their cross to follow Jesus. The Turkish people are culturally Muslim. Not all are devout but the vast majority would identify themselves as followers of Mohammed. For one of their own to accept Christ as Savior is an affront to their religion, their heritage, and their families. Many who do proclaim faith in Jesus experience the persecution of ostracism from their families, their friends, and their community. To follow Jesus then is no easy decision. It costs them them much.
The last day we were in Turkey we visited with a group of Christians from Iran. They are refugees in Turkey, having fled Iran because their faith in Christ makes them enemies of the state in their homeland. But their testimonies were powerful. Despite the persecution they and others face (they assured us that the recent story about the Iranian pastor sentenced to death for his faith, is not an isolated incident, just the most publicized) the church is growing there. One of the folks we visited with spent over forty days in prison, solitary confinement no less, because he was a Christian. These brothers and sisters have had to flee their land, they have forsaken every earthly thing because they consider the grace of Christ to be their abounding riches.
We are in the church season of Lent. Historically this is a time to reflect upon one’s sin and the grace of Christ’s atoning blood that covers over it. It has also been a time of fasting in order to practice a fuller dependence on the Lord and His grace rather than worldly provision. I want to challenge you to join me during this season and to enter into a time of prayer, asking the Lord to make clear to you new ways in which He is calling you to take up your cross and follow Him, ways in which He is leading you to live out the life of costly discipleship, ways in which He is calling you to fast from some worldly pleasures not just for a season but for all your life. Perhaps He is leading you to live more simply so that you can give more generously to those in need? Perhaps He is calling you to give up the bitterness you feel in your heart to a friend, family member, or brother in Christ and to forgive him? Perhaps He is calling you to a career change that will mean less money but more time with your family and more time to serve Him in other ways? Perhaps He is calling you to go halfway across the world and to serve Him boldly on the mission field?
I don’t know exactly what cross you must bear. I don’t even know all that He has in mind for Laney and me. But I want to seek His will and follow Him no matter the cost. I want to pray to that end. Will you pray with me, brothers and sisters? When He shows you His will I pray that you answer Him by laying down your life in Christ who laid His down for us.