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Jesus' eternal outlook on “success”

November 22, 2022

Daily Scripture

Luke 9:22-26

22 He said, “The Human One [or Son of Man] must suffer many things and be rejected—by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts—and be killed and be raised on the third day.”

23 Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. 24 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them. 25 What advantage do people have if they gain the whole world for themselves yet perish or lose their lives? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Human One [or Son of Man] will be ashamed of that person when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

Jesus told his closest followers he faced death on a cross. Then he “doubled down,” saying that he called ALL his followers to “take up their cross.” His disciples got uneasy when he spoke of suffering and crosses. Scholar Craig Evans wrote, “In that time there was no sentimentality attached to Jesus’ death, and certainly not to the cross, a horrifying symbol in Roman antiquity.” * But Jesus didn’t shrink from using the cross as a positive, yet hugely challenging, symbol of the cost of following him.

  • What does it mean to you to “take up your cross” to follow Jesus? “Taking up your cross,” wrote Pastor Myron Augsberger, involves three steps: “(1) making up one’s mind; (2) giving up one’s autonomy; and (3) taking up one’s identity.” ** In what ways, so far, have you made up your mind to follow Jesus, given up your autonomy to his leadership, and taken up your identity and purpose as a Christ-follower? In what ways are you asking God to help you grow in those life choices?
  • Jesus’ disciples’ initial belief that Jesus was the Messiah ruled out any idea of a cross. Scholar David Garland wrote that “most Jews… hoped for a Messiah [who] would be a kingly figure who would reign triumphantly as David had.” *** For what reason(s) do you think Jesus found it important to talk to his disciples in advance about his death? Had you been one of them, how easy or hard would it have been for you to accept what he said?

Lord Jesus, so many voices tell me that avoiding pain and sacrifice is always smart. Your call is highly counter-cultural. Let my lesser self die, so that a greater self, shaped by you, may be born. Amen.

GPS Insights

Picture of Denise Mersmann

Denise Mersmann

Denise serves as the Care Coordination Director for the churchwide Care Central department at Resurrection.

Years ago, I remember someone telling me that it was easy to say “yes” to marriage the first time, but the challenge was to keep saying “yes” every day for the rest of your life.

Their analogy was that after the big day, when the celebration had ended, the beautiful dress had been safely packed away, and the honeymoon was over, you had to continue to say “yes” to your marriage every day…sometimes more than once a day. Some days it’s really simple, but on those messy, frustrating, tiring days when everything seems to be harder than it should be (and it is all your partner’s fault), you still have keep saying “yes.” In fact, those are the days when instead of just saying yes, you might need to shout it at the top of your lungs. To remind yourself and everyone else that you are in this for all of this.

When I think about what it means to “take up my cross” and follow Jesus, it feels a little like saying “yes” to marriage. Step one: making up my mind; step two: giving up my autonomy; and step three: taking up the identity.

I mean, standing in front of my family and friends when I was confirmed, there was no doubt in my mind that I was all in. Why wouldn’t I be? God loved me, I loved God. Jesus died for my sins to be forgiven. What would cause me to not say yes to that? I said “yes” loudly and without any hesitation.

Then one day I realized that I wasn’t shouting “yes” like I had been. It was more like I was saying “yeah, okay.” I was watching religious people kill each other because they disagreed politically. People were being harassed and bullied in the name of religion because they fell in love with someone that others didn’t think was appropriate.

I was still on board, but I just wasn’t as vocal as before and I wasn’t at all okay with people claiming that their anger and hatred represented Christian values. “Christians” were making decisions that didn’t match my values or my beliefs, and I was suddenly being lumped in with people whose opinions I disagreed with and, in many cases, was offended by. I didn’t want to say “yes” if this is what I was saying yes to.

But as I remembered what Jesus truly stood for, in spite of those claiming to speak in His name, I was able to raise my voice a bit. This time with more of a “yes, but” as I spoke out. I began to raise my voice because I don’t believe that Jesus loves conditionally. I believe He loves. Period.

Then we found out that my dad, one of the kindest, most generous, most loving people I will ever have the privilege of knowing, had cancer. Less than a year after he was diagnosed, he died. Within a year, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. This person who matched my dad’s goodness, who loved big, and made everyone feel special, was now dealing with a life-threatening condition of her own. And, in the midst of it, I began to whisper “yes” with a little doubt in my voice.

Then without warning, my baby girl, our sweet Caroline, died in my arms as we waited to see our doctor.

Suddenly, nothing made sense. For the first time in my life, I was ready to say “no.” If God truly loved me, why was this happening to me? Why didn’t the bad things happen to the bad people? Why, when I loved Jesus, did it seem like he didn’t love me very much?

One evening a couple of weeks after Carrie died, just as I was about to hit rock bottom, I looked across our living room and there holding our three-year-old was the man I said “yes” to. The person who on our wedding day, standing in front of family and friends, I promised to love, honor, and cherish through sickness and health, for better and for worse.

Suddenly, it hit me: Just like I promised to love my husband in all circumstances, I had pledged the same to God many years ago on my confirmation day. To love Him, not just when life is going perfectly, but every day in sickness and health, good times and bad. And on that October night, twenty-six years ago, I realized that the true measure of my faith is not in how loudly I shout “yes” in the good times. Even when I can utter no more than “I’m trying,” my God, and my husband, will be by my side every step as I regain my voice.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* Craig A. Evans and N. T. Wright, Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened, ed. By Troy A. Miller. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, p. 4.

** Myron S. Augsberger, comment on Matthew 16:24 in The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 24: Matthew. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.

*** David E. Garland, comments on Mark in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Volume 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002, p. 255.