Wednesday, March 03, 2010

If Anyone...

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

            At times, I am grieved because it seems that, for many believers, this verse means nothing.  Many of us are walking along with Jesus but have no idea what we’ve signed up for.  More importantly, we have no idea who it is we follow.  We’re part of the church because we grew up in it.  We’re involved because we’re pursuing our own ambitions in music, ministry, or whatever else interests us.  We think being religious is the right thing to do.  A thousand motives, a swarm of reasons, yet no inkling that we have been called to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily.  We take the name of our Husband but have no intention of following the Lamb wherever He goes (Rev. 14:4).  We call Him Master but find His example beneath us (John 13:15-17).   
            Jesus has only one destination throughout the gospels: the cross.  While He marches steadily closer to His end, the disciples get excited that the demons obey them, they try to one-up each other, they criticize those outside their group, they fight amongst themselves, they turn away people who need ministry, they pledge their unwavering devotion to Him.  Jesus’s entire focus is on Calvary.  The disciples are focused on everything but.  To put it another way, they are focused on all that Jesus is bearing to the cross for judgment.  Then, when the cross comes, the disciples scatter.  The cross reveals that their devotion is to many things besides Him, and in the shadow of its judgment, there is nothing left that binds them to Him.  
            God help us repent of being engrossed in things that God has judged (1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:15, 16).  God help us repent of thinking God will be satisfied with anything less than our whole selves (Mark 10:17-22).  God help us see that any gospel which says, “Never!  The cross shall never happen to you!” does not have in mind the things of God but the things of men (Matt. 16:21-23).  God help us put aside our thoughts and our ways as we see His face set like flint toward the giving up of Himself (Luke 9:51).  “[L]et us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1, 2).     



Richard said...

I am thinking about the troparion (hymn) that gets sung over and over at the Orthodox Easter service...

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας, καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι ζωὴν χαρισάμενος.


"Christ rose (stood up) from (the land of) dead people, trampling on death by means of death, and giving freely life to those in the tombs."

There's a lot of theology packed into that, but the thing I'd like to point out is that the first use of "death," θανάτῳ, is an instrumental dative, or dative of means. Death, or the crucifixion if you like, is not itself the end but rather a means to an end -- death's own destruction. ἔσχατος ἐχθρὸς καταργεῖται ὁ θάνατος, St. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 15:26 -- death is the final enemy being abolished. By means of death Christ shows his power over death. St. Paul may indeed say that he strives to know one thing only and that Christ crucified, but he also says that if Christ is not risen we are the most pitied of men. Good Friday is ultimately meaningless without Easter, in other words.

I'm tempted to want to invoke a vaguely Christological Tolkien reference, and I may as well. Aragorn has to go to the Paths of the Dead in order to return as king, but the Paths of the Dead are not in and of itself his purpose, his telos -- the kingship is. By means of going through the Paths of the Dead Aragorn shows his actual power to be king, but it is not the same as it being his destination.

mrteague said...


You're spot on. I think I'm more addressing a concern I have that many in the church seem unwilling to fellowship in His sufferings. To parallel the gospels, we love to throng around Jesus if He is feeding, healing, teaching or doing other things that please and benefit us. But many of us scatter when it comes to knowing Him in His death. Or, we get caught up in things (i.e. the classic example of the church splitting over choosing the color of the carpet). There are whole segments of Protestant Christianity whose "gospel" says we can enjoy newness of life or experience His glory without suffering with Him. So this entry is really just expressing my recent disappointment with a lack of focus I see. We're called to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, yet too often get entangled in the "Christian periphery," so to speak. Having said all that, you're absolutely right. Death is only the path unto resurrection. I think you remember my entry (was it last Easter?) about not minimizing His death or resurrection. We get into dangerous distortions when we do that. Anyway, thanks for your comment. The body of Christ is faithful to balance itself :)

Larisa said...

This is wonderful Teague! What a great read before church this morning!

Teague said...

Thanks, Larisa :)

Richard said...

Teague, I thought of your post when I read this:

mrteague said...


That's a really good article. What Fr. Stephen says really resonates with me. Thanks for sharing.