Many are infected and don’t know it. The virus is MTD. What is MTD? Read on to find out, and how Jesus responds to MTD.
After allowing Peter to answer the question “Who do you say that I am?” with the words “You are the Christ/Messiah of God”, Jesus goes on to say two very shocking things. First, he says that that he himself would die soon. The disciples likely couldn’t fathom that the Messiah would die. If that wasn’t astounding enough, second, he now says that if those disciples want to follow him they are going to have to enter the life of extraordinary commitment that he was living. Take a look at what he said:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
Being a disciple costs something, Jesus says. Remember that disciples are followers. They do what the master does. Are you disciples of Jesus? You can evaluate yourself: do you do what he does. In this passage he tells them that his way will involve total self-sacrifice. Because that was his way. That is what he would do. And that is what he did.
Those disciples hearing him talk about this high commitment might have been wondering what he meant. All they had known up to this point, with a few rare exceptions, was a growing ministry and adoring crowds and miracles and popularity. If I were them, I’d be thinking, up to this point that it was awesome following him. Who wouldn’t want to, when things were so amazingly good?
So what is this business about him dying, and him wanting them to deny themselves, carry their cross daily and losing your life and Jesus being ashamed of them? He got pretty depressing fast, didn’t he?
If you are one of the disciples standing there hearing that, you could very easily be scratching your head thinking “Woah, Jesus, hold on. What are you talking about? Why so much doom and gloom? You have the crowds by the thousands following you. You’ve got them literally eating out of your hand, buddy! Why don’t we focus on that? There’s good stuff happening, and you have lots of good ministry years yet in you. You’re the Messiah, so let’s just go with that!”
It’s pretty clear that the disciples, in this general timeframe didn’t fully understand. If you jump ahead to in the story, after another amazing miracle in front of another large crowd, he tells his disciples that he is going to be betrayed. Luke tells us that the disciples did not understand.
So back to his teaching above, I think it important that we see that this was not a teaching that went deep into the disciples’ hearts and minds. It wasn’t like they heard the teaching and instantly decided to give their all for him. In fact, we know exactly what would happen. Fast forward a year or two to the end. In the final days, he is arrested because one disciple betrays him. In a few hours after that another disciple, one of the inner circle of three, Peter, the same guy who here has just said boldly that Jesus is the Christ of God, will end up denying Jesus three times, saying I never knew him. And all the disciples will flee. Only John and some of the women will have the guts to show up to say goodbye to him as he dies on the cross. The lesson of unbelievable commitment didn’t seem to sink in very far.
So why would Jesus even teach it? Was it a waste? Is it too hard? Too radical to expect that of your followers? Too difficult to deny yourself?
Maybe Jesus shouldn’t set the bar so high. Maybe he was wrong on this one.
Let’s look at how this played out in the disciples’ lives. When those men and women realized that he rose again, things changed. Not to mention the fact that they hadn’t completely given up. This teaching did get inside them. When he died on the cross, they could have all returned to their regular lives as fishermen and such. Many in the large crowds had turned away over the years. But those 11 remaining disciples, and the 109 others stayed true. They stayed in Jerusalem, waiting, scared, but they did not give up.
When they saw the risen Jesus, when they touched the nail holes, they were changed. The seed of the message that he planted here in 9:23-27 that year or two earlier now grew roots and started to blossom.
They were not ashamed. They weren’t perfect. Jesus had to pay special attention to Peter, to restore him. But after meeting with the risen Jesus, Peter was a changed man, and never again was there any doubt that Peter was denying himself, taking up his cross daily, losing his life for the cause of Christ. No doubt.
In fact, after the resurrection, after being restored, after the Ascension, after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter could answer the question “Who is this?” with a much deeper, truer understanding.
And when he preached the very first sermon on that day when the Holy Spirit filled them, in Acts 2:36, he makes this bold statement: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
What Peter now knew was the truth about Jesus. He was totally correct years earlier in Luke 9:20 when he said Jesus was the Christ of God. But in Acts 2, that truth had sunk down deep in and there was no turning away. What Peter shows us is that when we know the truth about Jesus’ identity, we freely want to follow him with full commitment.
There is a link, then, between the information of Luke 9:20 and the commands of Luke 9:23-27. When we realize the depth of what it means that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior, the Chosen One, we will naturally want to give our lives to follow him.
And so we need to ask ourselves, Self, do you really, fully get who he is?
About ten years ago, a Christian researcher wrote a book discusses the main spiritual beliefs of American Christians. Just remember the letters MTD. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Most Christians he said believe that.
Moralistic – God just wants me to have good morals. God wants me to be good.
Therapeutic – God just wants to be my therapy buddy. God wants me to be happy.
Deism – God is out there, but generally not involved.
That’s MTD, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. God wants me to be good, to be happy, and other than that, he’s not really involved. That’s how many people understand what it means to follow Jesus.
But scroll back up there and read Jesus’ words one more time.
We don’t serve an MTD God, and we don’t preach an MTD faith. Instead we say what Jesus said.
Being a disciple of Jesus means full-blown commitment.
The tricky part is how to deny yourself, how to take up your cross daily, how to follow Jesus through the many facets of our lives. What does a self-denier, cross carrier, Jesus-follower look like at the office, at school, at home, on the sports field, on the job, with your neighbors?
I urge you to practice this self-denying, cross-carrying, Jesus following with love, with humility, with abundant grace. Preach the Gospel, the good news of love, by doing deeds of love before you utter the words of the message of love. Do your neighbors know you love them? Do your co-workers know you love them? Showing that kind of love might require loads of self-sacrifice. Showing that kind of love might require the pain of carrying your cross.
Let us be a people that show we know Jesus is the Messiah, by doing what he did.