Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? -Matt 16:24-26
Discipleship is just one of a preponderance of Lenten “D” words. “Denial,” “Difficulty,” “Death,” “Delay” each name parts of our Lenten journey. Even “the Devil” would have brought to mind Jesus’ forty-day-wilderness fast when Satan came a tempting (Matt 4:1-11). “Discipleship” is a broad term applied to “following Jesus.” He is the master to whom we apprentice ourselves to on our spiritual journey.
And yet in following Jesus, those other “D” words come into focus:
- Denial-The first order for would-be disciples is: deny oneself. Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves . . . When you are an apprentice, your will is not your own. You do the bidding of your master, the tasks or projects you are given. Not many of us have been apprenticed, but maybe we’ve been interns or at least know how a job constrains our freedom to act out our every whim. What Jesus is saying is that, as our master, his will, will guide us, his mission will become our own, and that he sets the agenda for our life.
- Death– Would-be disciples take up their crosses and follow Jesus. When Christ was compelled to carry a cross at the end of the gospel, he was on the way to Golgotha. Cross-carrying is a vivid image of joining Jesus on his death march. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (Cost of Discipleship, 89). This language is stronger than ‘denial.’ Following Jesus is a lifestyle of total self-sacrifice.
- Difficulty– None of this easy. Following Jesus is hard. Again, following Jesus is hard.
- the Devil– We remember in Lent, Jesus’ wilderness temptation. Forty days of fasting culminated with a visit from the Prince of Darkness who tried to push God’s Son off His mission. It is interesting to note that the things the devil tries to tempt Jesus with are the antithesis of Jesus’ call to discipleship:
- “Make bread from stones”—You’re life doesn’t have to be difficult. There is an easy way.
- “Use God’s angels to save yourself” You don’t really have to die!
- “Bow to me and You will have power, riches, and anything you desire”—you do not need to deny yourself.
If this is the way the Devil tried to get Jesus off track, how much more his disciples?
- Delay– Would-be disciples know about delayed gratification. Jesus predates pop-psychology and the ‘marshmallow test,” but he offered a challenge of his own. You know those psychological experiments where they place a child in the room with a marshmallow and tell them if they don’t eat the marshmallow for x amount of time, they will get two marshmallows? Jesus version was to forgo life now to gain Abundant life for all eternity. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? Would-be disciples are confident that blessings, resurrection, and glorification await them if they follow Jesus; however, they know that these things come by way of the cross. It is in losing our lives we find it but first the dying.