Today, we will conclude our look at "who" Jesus is issuing His command in Acts 1:8 to: His followers. We have already seen that a true follower of Jesus Christ is one who desires Him and denies themselves. Today, we will see that the true follower of Jesus also follows Christ without qualification. If you have missed our previous posts on this topic, please go back and read them so that you can get the full message of Luke 9:23-26.
III. Follow Him without Qualification v23c, 26
A third way that we must respond to Jesus if we are to be His followers is to follow Him without qualification. He tells us in the latter part of verse 23, “Follow Me.” That is straightforward and plain enough. Stay one step behind me. Go where I go. Do what I do. Follow me. He adds in verse 26, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Stay close to me. Don’t be ashamed of me. Imagine Peter, following Jesus at a distance after his arrest. This distant following led to a clear and unequivocal denial that he even knew Jesus! If we are to be His followers we must follow Him closely, unashamedly, and without qualification.
When we consider verse 26 and Jesus’ teaching that “whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him” we must recognize that Jesus is not referring to the context of our modern, western churches. He does not mean that when you walk down an aisle and turn around to a bunch of smiling supportive faces that you are necessary unashamed.
What does Jesus mean? Keep in mind He has just pointed out that the one who would seek to save his life will lose it and the one who would lose his life for Christ’s sake would save it. He seems to have something more in mind than being embarrassed. There would come a time when Nero would send his soldiers to Christ’s followers and they would demand, “Say, Caesar is Lord, burn incense, and live, or refuse to do so and die.” How should a follower of Christ respond to this? We know how the early followers of Jesus responded when they were threatened for the cause of Christ. According to tradition, Matthew was killed by a sword in Ethiopia for not being ashamed. Mark was drug to death in Egypt for not being ashamed. Luke was hung in Greece. Peter was crucified upside down. James was thrown over a hundred feet down from the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. He survived the fall, and was beaten to death with a club. James, the brother of John was beheaded in Jerusalem. Bartholomew was beaten to death in Armenia. Andrew was beaten by 7 guards and crucified in Greece. Supposedly, he continued to preach to his tormentors for two days until he died.
Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India, Jude was shot with arrows, Barnabas was stoned, and Paul was beheaded. This is not unique to the early followers of Jesus. Since the first century, more than 43 million people have taken up their cross and followed Christ in martyrdom. Half of that number have taken up their cross in the last 100 years! That means that more people have been killed for Christ in the last century than in the previous 19 centuries of Christian history combined. It is no wonder that the word for witness in Acts 1:8 has evolved into our word martyr.
We must be willing to follow Jesus without qualification. Jesus seeks to make this abundantly clear. Consider His call in Luke 9:57-62. We read, “As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” What is He doing? According to those who know how to do evangelism today, He should have led them in a sinner’s prayer on the spot. But, Jesus asks, “Are you sure you want to follow Me, because it will likely mean homelessness?” “Do you mean it? Then, let someone else bury your dad.” “Am I worth it? Then, don’t even say good bye to your family.” In other words, Jesus requires total, superior, and exclusive devotion. Jesus does not solicit a hasty, emotional decision. Jesus never encouraged an unthinking, impulsive leap of faith into discipleship in hopes that later on they would be willing to pay the price. He demands that they count the cost first.
Consider Luke 14:26-33 as well. Jesus said in verses 26 and 27, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. He says over and over again, you cannot be my disciple, you cannot be my disciple, you cannot be my disciple! Here is what he is asking. If your family was to hate you because you come to me would you come? And if you had plans and ambitions and I asked you to do other than that would you be willing to do that? And if I asked you to take everything you have, sell it all and give it to the poor, would you be willing to do that? And even if I asked you to die in the cause, would you do that? He is asking, am I worth everything to you?
He goes on in verses 28 through 33, “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” In the first parable Jesus says, “Before you start to build, sit down and decide whether you can afford to follow me.” In the second parable he says, “Sit down and decide whether you can afford not to follow me because I, the King am coming.” You have to decide. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place! That is where we are right now as we consider what Jesus said it required to be His followers. It is the true followers of Jesus Christ who are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses.
As we consider what we have learned, we are going to have to answer 3 questions. Are we going to believe Jesus? Are we going to obey Jesus? I know the urge is to run back to the Jesus we have created in our own image. I know that the urge is to run back to the safety of our cultural Christianity. Resist that urge, for while that may ease our minds…the biblical Christ will save our souls! Are you willing to come to Christ on His terms? I know none of us are fully here yet. I would imagine, and hope, that we are wrestling with these things. But are you willing to take a step? Are you willing to begin moving in this direction? Are you willing to make it your goal to desire HIM above all else? Are you willing to make it your goal to deny yourself and die to self daily? Are you willing to make it your goal to follow Him without qualification? He is worth it.