Consider yourself blessed if you truly understand the cost of Christianity. You see, the cost of following Jesus is not often preached on Sunday mornings. I could list countless red-letter verses where Jesus warned those who would follow Him of the cost. In fact, I have already done so in previous blogs. For the purpose of this blog, I will quote but one such verse (MT 16:24 NIV):
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
In our last blog, we discussed that Jesus fully understood the cost of our salvation. Fully God yet fully man, he chose to endure a gruesome beating and tortuous death to pay the price for our sin, but He was tempted to turn away. What man wouldn’t be fearful? How could the thought of running away not occur to Him?
No, it is not sacreligious to speak of the temptation of Jesus during His Passion. Too often we emphasize only His godly perfection and relegate the temptation to His wilderness experience. The point of His birth as a man was to overcome the sinful nature inherent in man. He came to redeem mankind, to conquer sin and death, to restore us to the image of God, and to make us worthy to rule with Him in Glory (Daniel 7:27). Only One who bore both the nature and frailties of man and the nature and power of God could be found worthy serve as sacrifice of the cumulative sins of mankind.
As Christians we are told to deny ourselves and take up our own cross and follow Him. The clause “to take up your cross” explicitly implies that we should suffer the death of our carnal, sinful, nature. It implies also that we should consider Christ of such great value (and ourselves of such little value) that we are ready to die physically for Him if asked.
The Apostle Paul understood just that. While we learn theology through Paul’s letters, we learn his bio in the work of Luke that we know as the Acts of the Apostles. The wonderful thing about Luke is that he wrote two works, one of which is a sequel to the other. We learn about the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. We learn about the birth, growth, persecution, and scattering of the Church in Acts.
There are many other parallels in the literary styles of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, but only one that we will note here. In Luke, we view six trials of Jesus before His crucifixion. The writer makes clear in his narrative that Jesus is innocent in all six trials*. The powers that be – the governors of Judea and Galilee – find that Jesus had broken no laws. Nonetheless, Christ is punished unto death.
In Acts, we see that Paul also endured six trials. In each, he too was found to have broken no laws. He was brought before Porcius Festus and Marcus Antonius Felix, governors of Judea. Like Pontius Pilate before them, both men allowed the sentiment of the ruling class Jews and the public to sway them. Festus sends Paul to Rome where the apostle would – tradition tells – face the Emporer Nero who eventually condemns the apostle to death**.
Is Luke making out Paul to be a replacement for Christ, a new messiah? Not at all. He is emphasizing that, like Paul, we must bear our cross and be willing to follow Christ to our deaths. Paul says in Acts 20:20-24 (NIV), Paul declares,
“You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
A few paragraphs later, he reiterates the same sentiment:
Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” – Acts 21:13 NIV
Paul’s eyes were open wide and he knew exactly what awaited him in Jerusalem,
And, he went anyway.
Would you? Would I? I would like to think so. It is that kind of faith – the kind that says, “Lead me to the cross” – that Christ expects of us.
* Six may significant in that it represents man in the Bible.
** Many scholars believe that Paul won his appeal to Nero and, afterward, ministered in Spain, a journey that was not recorded in Acts. Later, he was again arrested and condemned to death in Rome.