ACTS 14:21-22: “After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” NASB
OBSERVATION: What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Is it an invitation to a life of blessing and ease – or is it a call to pick up one’s cross and follow Jesus? There is a marked difference between the invitation to follow Jesus Christ that was given by Jesus and the Disciples – and the normal invitation that is given today.
Today, at the end of most sermons, an invitation is given to say the “Sinner’s Prayer” and ask Jesus into one’s life. It is usually prefaced with such words as – “God has a wonderful plan for your life!”, or, “Just give your life to Jesus and He will bless you!” While there is truth to these statements, they are incomplete without an understanding of the cross.
When Jesus called people He said – “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Jesus always called people to repentance and surrender before He called them to follow Him. When there were those who got caught up in the moment and wanted to follow Jesus because of the excitement of the miracles He performed, Jesus responded with a sobering challenge.
- “Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:19-22 NASB
In other words, Jesus was saying – Are you willing to give up everything to follow Me? Are you willing to give up your comfort? Are you willing to give up your position? Are you willing to give up your family? Are you willing to give up your life?
- “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” Luke 14:25-28 NASB
Imagine an altar call on an Easter Sunday morning, with a larger-than-normal attendance, where the preacher tries to talk the congregation out of accepting Jesus. This may seem extreme, and Jesus never turned someone sincere away. Yet, Jesus made it clear to those who heard His message and witnessed His miracles.
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS NOT A ROSE GARDEN!
It is a call to surrender. It is a call to sacrifice. It is a call to put Jesus before everything else in our life. It is a call to pick up our cross and count the cost of following Him! When you read the book of Acts, when you trace the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, it becomes evident right away…
IT WAS NO PICNIC IN A ROSE GARDEN!
In Lystra, after a wonderful miracle where a lame man was healed, when Paul had preached the Gospel, and the crowds had tried to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas claiming the gods were walking among them – this is what happened!
- “Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.” Acts 14:19
What did Paul and Barnabas do? Did they begin to evaluate their message or their technique? Did they succumb to the pressure and walk away in fear? No! They kept on preaching the full Gospel of Jesus Christ. The disciples gathered around Paul, he got up, miraculously protected by the Lord, and they pushed on to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the next town – Derbe! It is then we read Paul’s exhortation to the new believers he had led to the Lord.
- “After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:21-22 NASB
A rose garden is beautiful to look at but not to walk through. Roses have thorns. If you ever fell into a rose bush you know that it is no picnic. Paul is telling the disciples – the pathway to the Kingdom of God is to walk through the thorns. It is to call people to repent from their sins, pick up their cross, and follow Jesus. It is a call with a price that must be counted before it is embraced. It is a call that will bring joy to those who have been called unto salvation and animosity and hostility from those who have not.
It is time that we stop sugarcoating the invitation to follow Jesus. Jesus did not do this, the Disciples did not do this, and neither should we. The reality is that a sinner’s prayer does not save anyone. We must call people to the cross. The cross is the place where we die to ourselves and begin to live for Jesus. Without the cross, there is no conversion. Jesus called the rich young ruler to the cross – and then Jesus let him walk away.
Are we prepared to do the same?
Lord, forgive me for portraying the Christian life as a rose garden and not a call to the cross. Help me to speak the truth in love and preach the full Gospel. Help me to pick up my cross and follow Jesus so that I can help others find the way!
In Jesus’ Name!