Subject 13 : The Gospel According to MATTHEW

[Chapter 16-5] Deny Yourself and Follow the Lord (Matthew 16:24-27)

Deny Yourself and Follow the Lord
(Matthew 16:24-27)
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.’”
Before I begin, I would like to first give my thanks to the Lord for saving many brothers and sisters during this Discipleship Training Camp (DTC). As the hour is already getting late, I will try to finish my sermon as quickly as possible. Through this DTC, our God has saved all the souls of the Gospel Class. I am sure that more people would have given their testimony of salvation if there were more time for this. But as we were pressed for time, not everyone was able to testify today. To those who were not able to give their testimony here, I ask you to each return to your respective churches and give your testimony of salvation there. If you have any questions, I encourage you to not hesitate to ask, and I also admonish you to lead your life of faith diligently. It’s the weak and insufficient children of God whom our Lord wants to hold and bless. 
By nature, the last day of any DTC is when I am least popular. That’s because today is the day when our children at the camp sing special praises. They are undoubtedly the most popular. When the cute children sing and dance, all the adults are so rejoiced in their hearts that they don’t know what to do. The second most popular group next to the children at the camp is our adult brothers, and it’s probably because they can’t sing that well, and so all the other saints encourage them even more. Even so, they have been preparing their praise since lunchtime. Even from my room, I could hear the sound of someone playing the guitar and everyone singing praise together. After praising and hearing themselves singing, the adult brothers were inspired, congratulating each other, “Wow! We sing so well!” The fact that our adult brothers can even sing at this level is something that we can all be proud of. Encouraging each other to find enough confidence in themselves, they came out here and gave praise and thanks to God.
Next to them, the third most popular group is the Gospel Class. In today’s evening hours we shared some time with the souls from the Gospel Class, who gave their testimony of salvation and glorified God. When they testified how the Lord has saved them, it was so heartwarming for both those testifying and those listening alike and we all felt so grateful to God. It’s my heart’s desire that the Lord would protect them all. Regardless of how the attendees at our Gospel Class came here, whether they came here by force, deception, or out of their own volition, I believe that the very fact that they all came to this place together and heard the Word of God is the greatest gift of their entire lifetime.
This afternoon we also performed the baptismal rite and it was so blessed and wonderful. Sitting on the bank, I saw our saints being baptized. Before the evening service I had a chance to view some video footage of this baptism with our ministers and it was so much fun to watch. Some ministers gave a benediction for quite a while after baptizing, but other ministers kept the ceremony simple, baptizing the saints, raising them from the water, and then praying tersely, “Thank You, Lord. Please bless this brother.” As I saw how some ministers prayed for blessings simply like this while others prayed for a while, it came to my mind that even when one is baptized, he should be careful with the line that he chooses. Since God’s servants are asking for His blessings, it would be better to pick the right line and be baptized by a minister who would pray for you a lot. After all, this is not an everyday opportunity. Given how the real baptism that we receive by faith after being born again comes only once in a lifetime, it’s such an inspirational experience. That’s because at that moment we have to truthfully confess our faith to God and God’s servants will pray for us. Just a while ago, as our ministers watched the video footage of the baptismal ceremony, they even joked to each other, saying, “Look! That lazy pastor is slacking off even while performing baptism!” But by no means am I suggesting here that it’s right to pray for long or wrong to pray short. It was a truly beautiful sight to see how baptism was given and received by faith. 
For the duration of this Discipleship Training Camp God provided us with good weather. He has given us His Word and His grace, not to mention good food to enjoy; as well as enabling His servants and His people to meet together, God has clothed us in great blessings beyond words. Back at home it was so hot that I couldn’t do anything but sweat, but here in In-je Discipleship Training Center, its cool, clear weather was so refreshing that even my heart was refreshed and I am very thankful for that. Before I came to this DTC, I was completely exhausted, barely able to breathe. But now that I’ve come here and met my coworkers and my brothers and sisters and have cooled myself in the refreshing creek water, I feel very much alive. It had seemed as if I had done all my duties to God with a great deal of suffering, but now that I’ve come to this center and shared the Word with you over the last few days, I can appreciate once again what a great blessing it is that I came to be born again by believing in the Lord and to serve Him. 
For those who came to the Gospel Class this week, you have my thanks for patiently listening to the Word for so long. I believe that our ministers’ wives have labored particularly hard. The kitchen was nice and warm during the winter, but it was way too hot this summer. I got to see how their faces were all swollen. So I thought to myself, “It must have been really hard for them. We didn’t prepare for this. I didn’t realize that the kitchen would get so hot.” I hadn’t considered this yet, as it was the first time that we held summer DTC in this building after its construction. I promise that the kitchen will be cool next summer. As the Apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” if God strengthens us, then everything that we desire will indeed be accomplished. To all our ministers’ wives, you have worked very hard in the kitchen and you have our sincerest thanks for your labor. 
I would also like to thank each and every one of our ministers for laboring in various forms and ways. One of them came down with a cold in the summer and lost quite a bit of weight. This pastor was happy that his face looked less chubby, but he was less happy to hear another pastor jokingly saying to him, “It looks as though the weight you lost from the face all went to your belly.” Our ministers just can’t tolerate to see any of them happy—I am, of course, just joking here myself. Thanks to God’s grace, we all had a wonderful time at this DTC. There were some hardships while preparing this camp, but I am still thankful to God. I will try to keep today’s sermon short, speaking in clear and simple terms.

From Now On, You Must Learn to Deny Yourself

Today, we just read Matthew 16:24. This passage says, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.’” If we, the righteous, want to become Jesus Christ’s disciples, then we must follow the Lord. And anyone who wants to follow the Lord must cast aside his carnal thoughts and mind. But is it easy to forsake one’s carnal thoughts? No, it’s not easy at all. Yet despite this, you and I, the born-again saints, must still deny ourselves, deny our thoughts that desire to live for our own flesh, and follow Jesus. Only those who follow Jesus even in their most difficult trials can become the Lord’s disciples. That’s because the Lord Himself said in today’s Scripture passage, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
Everyone who wants to follow the Lord has his own cross to bear. Whatever makes it so hard and difficult for you to follow the Lord is your cross. But we must never give up following the Lord just because of some hardships. That’s because this way of following the Lord is the way of life. And it’s also because it is the way of blessings to deny oneself, take up one’s cross, and follow Jesus. Even though it’s hard and difficult for us to follow the Lord, we must still deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. Precisely because it is the way of the Lord to follow Him no matter what kind of hardships we face, we must endure any and all trials and continue to follow the Lord. Since following the Lord is the way to assure our own lives, it is even more imperative that we follow Him. 
In verses 25-27 in today’s Scripture passage, the Lord said, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” Here, the words “his life” or the equivalent is mentioned four times. 
Following the Lord means denying oneself and taking up one’s cross and this, in turn, means that following the Lord is the same as forsaking one’s own life. Considering how to follow the Lord is the same as forsaking one’s life, if we were to find it too hard to deny ourselves and resign ourselves from following the Lord, then we would end up dead. On the other hand, if we were to follow the Lord after being born again and receiving the remission of sins, then we would attain God’s blessings. This salvation that we once received—that is, the remission of our sins—is to receive new life. When Jesus Christ died on the Cross instead of us, who were doomed to hell for our sins, we, too, died with Him once and when He rose from the dead again, we also rose with Him. By believing in this, we have received new life from God. Before we were born again, the life that we had was that of a sinner, but now after we were born again, we have attained new life as righteous people. 
Given how we have received the remission of our sins and attained new life as the righteous, it’s an extremely important question whether or not we would follow the Lord as His redeemed people after receiving this new life as the righteous. It’s when the born-again righteous people follow the Lord that they can maintain this life, be blessed more to prosper more and grow more, and give birth to many children to receive even more blessings. Those who follow the Lord will forever enjoy all the blessings and splendor given by God and they will never lose the eternal life that they attained. In contrast, those who do not deny themselves and give up following the Lord over their own hardships will lose their lives. This is the very message that today’s Scripture passage is teaching us.

You Cannot Follow the Lord Unless You Deny Your Own Thoughts

You and I have received the remission of our sins by hearing the gospel. It’s priceless that we have heard the gospel and received the remission of sins. One of our brothers testified that it had taken him 37 long years to finally hear the gospel of the water and the Spirit. For some of you, it may have taken 20 years, and for others it may have taken 40 or even 50 years. Like this, the very fact that you have received the remission of your sins is a tremendous blessing. There are countless people in this world who die without hearing this gospel of life even once. Yet you have heard this Word and have attained something truly priceless. After all, what could be more important than for someone who was doomed to hell to receive new life? This is a marvelous gift of life. 
Whoever receives the remission of sin attains new life from God. We all have thus attained new life through the remission of sin by grace. However, if we cast aside our cross and do not follow the Lord, then we will not be able to maintain this new life. There is nothing more foolish than to receive new life and then fail to keep it and grow it. We, the righteous, can live the most blessed life when we cherish this precious new life. Once we have attained this new life, we have to grow it and spread it to others, so that they may also become God’s children. However, even though we all try to follow the Lord like this, there is one thing that prevents us from denying ourselves and makes us give up our effort to follow the Lord even at the slightest hardship, and that is none other than our flesh. This flesh and its carnal thoughts that you and I have, hamper us from our spiritual thoughts desiring to always follow the Lord. 
Our carnal thoughts that care only about the welfare of the flesh have no desire to follow the Lord. Just as the Apostle Paul said, “to be carnally minded is death,” our flesh can never fulfill the will of the Lord, no matter how our spirits yearn to follow the Lord. That is why the Lord said to His disciples, “If any of you wants to follow Me, then receive the remission of sin first. And abide with Me in the Church, be taught with My Word, eat the Word with the heart and be filled, receive unwavering faith into the heart, and find help by praying.” In other words, if we, the born-again want to follow the Lord blessed in both body and spirit, then we must deny ourselves. 
We must deny ourselves. Whether we like this or not, we must still deny our flesh. Self-denial is extremely difficult. If you were told to just sit and do nothing but deny yourself, you would probably die of frustration. Nonetheless, if we want to follow the Lord, then we must first of all deny ourselves, and if we want to deny ourselves, then we must accept and take the Word of God enthusiastically. As well, if the Lord said that this gospel is indeed right and that it is proper for the church to orient itself to the spreading of the gospel, then we must think proactively and look for the proper life of faith, asking ourselves, “What can I do to fulfill the will of the Lord?” Our flesh is bound to do something anyways if it has any time to spare, and so we should use this flesh for the Lord. After all, God gave us our hands to work, our legs to walk, our eyes to see, our lips to speak, and our noses to breathe.
For you and me to follow the Lord, we must know how to deny ourselves. No matter how our thoughts and our standards may seem to be right, we must forsake our thoughts and our own standards and instead follow the Word of the Lord. And no matter what kind of hardships we may face, we must hold onto what Jesus said to us, that we must deny ourselves to follow Him. Like the flock following the guidance of the shepherd, we must follow our Lord in complete obedience. Yet despite this, some people still refuse to follow the Lord just because it’s too hard for them to deny themselves, they cannot break down their own stubbornness because they are just too pigheaded, and claim that their personalities and characters are simply not cut out to lead a life of faith. Such people have not denied themselves. 
It’s true that many people are not cut out for the life of faith. There also are some people who say, “I will teach, but I hate being taught by someone else,” but they must deny this as well. And then there are those who are quick-tempered; these people must deny their rash personality also. No matter what, we must deny ourselves. Only when we deny ourselves can we follow the Lord. No matter how hard and difficult it is to deny ourselves, we must still deny ourselves and follow the Lord, for this is the very way of life. If you want to follow the Lord, then self-denial is something that’s inevitable for you. Since this is the right answer, it’s far more profitable for us to focus on what it is that we must do in order to deny ourselves and follow the Lord faithfully. When we think about what tasks God has entrusted to us, it’s a whole lot easier for us to deny ourselves and follow the Lord. 
I am sure that you are quite familiar with today’s Scripture passage, but let’s once again turn to the previous passage. Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples then answered, saying, “Some say that You are John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others say that You are one of the prophets.” Jesus then asked the disciples again, “What about you then? Who do you think I am?” To this, Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter gave the right answer. Jesus was very happy with him. 
So Peter was all pumped up with confidence before the other disciples. Given how Jesus said to Peter, “You are right; it is the Father who has revealed this to you,” the other disciples must have said, “Wow, Peter, you are so amazing!” So Peter was very happy to have been commended by Jesus. However, Jesus went on to say, “Soon, I will go to Jerusalem, and I will be seized by the Jewish elders, slapped and stripped by Roman soldiers, and crucified. I will die like this, but I will be raised the third day.” Peter was shocked to hear this, as Jesus Christ, his teacher, his King, his Prophet, his High Priest, the Son of the Almighty God, and the Savior who saved his life and had praised him just a short while ago, suddenly said that He would die. So Peter held onto Jesus and tried hard to dissuade Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” 
Then Jesus changed His composure all of a sudden and rebuked Peter, saying, “You are a demon! Get behind Me, Satan!” Peter must have been quite baffled to see how Jesus changed so abruptly like this, when just a short while ago, He had commended Peter effusively, saying to him, “Your faith is indeed right; you are truly amazing.” 
Peter was so dedicated to Jesus that he was willing to say, “Lord, I will follow You until the day I die,” and he did try really hard to follow the Lord with an unwavering heart. Yet despite this, he was told all of a sudden that the Lord, the teacher whom he had decided to follow, would die. Would any of you ever be happy to hear that one of your beloved ones would die? No, of course not. That’s why Peter had tried to hold back Jesus, saying, “You shall never do this,” all because he was overflowing with his love for Jesus. Yet Jesus actually got angry at Peter and rebuked him very harshly, saying to him, “You wretched man! You are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men. Get behind Me, Satan! Get out of My sight and go away! You are an offense to Me!”
So Peter didn’t know which tune he should follow and figured that it would be better for him to just remain quiet. The other disciples were no different. Given how Peter was the first among all the disciples and how Jesus had rebuked him all of a sudden after commending him only a short while ago, all the other disciples were also on their toes, thinking, “Phew! Good thing that I kept myself quiet, or otherwise I would have been scolded!” So the rest of the disciples calmed down and stayed still. 
Had Peter not denied his thoughts, saying to himself, “Jesus is so fickle! One minute He is praising me and the next minute He is scolding me,” then from this moment on, he would not have been able to follow Jesus. However, Jesus said at that moment, “If you want to follow Me, you must deny yourself, pick up your cross, and then follow Me.” As the Lord said, “Deny yourself if you want to follow Me,” it was then that Peter and the rest of the disciples were really educated in this respect. This is the lesson that they learned: “Oh, so we must deny ourselves. Whatever the Lord says is right and commends us for is right, and we should proceed by faith trusting in His Word; and whatever He says is wrong and rebukes us for, we should realize that it is wrong, deny ourselves, and follow Him by faith.” 
Everyone who wants to follow the Lord must deny himself like this and follow Him with his cross on his back. To this, Jesus added some further explanation, saying, “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it.” Jesus’ Word is very difficult to understand. So some people think, “Jesus says one thing here, but He says something else different later on. I just can’t understand what He means. One minute He seems to speak to sinners, but the next minute He seems to speak to the righteous. So there is no way I can understand all this.” Actually, this also happens to me when I preach. Although there are many righteous people here, sometimes there are also sinners present. I also go back and forth in my sermons, sometimes speaking to sinners and other times to the righteous. So you need to grasp what’s on my mind when you listen to me. The same goes when you listen to the Word of Jesus. Although many people say that it’s too hard to understand His Word, this Word of Jesus is surprisingly simple.
Where it says here, “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it,” this means that if one tries to keep his life, he will lose it. And where it says, “Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it,” this is made possible because the Lord is the One who can give us eternal life. Some people may think, “Wow, Jesus is so completely arbitrary! Doesn’t this all boil down to asking me to lay down my life for Him?” However, this passage means that Jesus will give new life to all those who hold onto the Word of Truth, deny themselves, and follow the will of the Lord. He has dominion over life and death and is able to give and take away life at His will. Our Lord then went on to say, “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” This passage means that following the Lord is as important as one’s life. 
My fellow believers, what Jesus said to His disciples in today’s Scripture passage applies to you and me equally. We have been born again. If we have been born again, then we are now God’s children. And if we are God’s children, then we should live in His Kingdom. The Kingdom of God now on this earth is His Church. Once we are born again, our lives of faith should be led with our sight set on God, feeding on His spoken Word, believing in this Word of God, and following Him faithfully. That is the way of life in the Kingdom of God. Just as it is a matter of fact for any good citizen to follow the laws of his country and obey all its legal statues and requirements, if we have indeed received the remission of our sins from God and become His born-again people on this earth, then so is it a matter of fact for our laws to change and our thoughts to be transformed. For us, the born-again, the way of life and the way of thinking have all changed now. 
Our faith in the Lord has been transformed. Our acts have changed as well. Everything has changed. Just as there is a hymn that sings, “♪All my life has changed; A new life of being born again♪” our everything has indeed changed. From the moment we received the remission of our sins, the standard of our values has changed. The standard of our acts has changed and so has the standard of faith been transformed. Life itself has changed. Our blessings have changed in their essence. We have been transformed into new creatures to live not just for 60 or 70 years, but forever. Since our everything has changed, we should live our lives as changed people now that we have received the remission of our sins. That is why once remitted from our sins, we must cast aside our own thoughts. Now it is no longer our own minds and thoughts that are important for us, but what God is saying is what’s most important for us. 
You and I must follow the Lord. The way of following the Lord is the very way of life, the way to maintain life, and the way to be blessed, and that is why it’s so indispensable for all of us to follow the Lord. It is my heart-felt admonition to all of you that now that every law has changed for you, if you really want to follow the Lord, then you must cast aside your thoughts and your stubbornness, and believe in and follow what the Lord is saying in this written Word. Once born again, you must abide in God’s Church and unite yourself with its work of spreading the gospel together—it is then that you can keep the salvation and new life that you have received and continue to receive blessings from God in your life according to His time. When you hear the Word and learn it through God’s church, believe in it, carry out God’s work with the church, pray together, serve the Lord from whatever position that you’ve been assigned to by the church, support the gospel ministry, and follow the Lord, you will be able to keep your life. And let me make it clear to you that when you carry out God’s work in your life, even though you may sometimes struggle so much that you feel completely exhausted, you will actually live more energetically. And even though it may seem as if you will lose much, in fact you will be blessed and gain much.
Do you understand what I am saying? Perhaps I have spoken too quickly up until now that some of you may have had a hard time trying to understand me. Do you understand what I am saying? I, too, am insufficient, but I still follow the will of the Lord at His command. Even though I am insufficient, when I denied myself and followed the Lord, I was led by Him to follow His footsteps even more energetically and strengthened by the Lord. If I had not denied myself and refused to follow the Lord’s Word, I would have lost my salvation and perished away.
Now that you and I have received the remission of our sins, let us all follow the Lord no matter what. Let us truly participate in the works that the Lord wants to fulfill through us, let us receive and enjoy in time everything that the Lord wants to give to us, let us serve God, and having thus lived the rest of our lives in this way, let us all stand before the Lord fearlessly. Let us all go to Him at that time. It is written, “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” Our Lord will surely reward us for all the tears that we shed and all the hardships that we endure for the sake of the gospel as His redeemed people. He promised that on this earth also, He would reward by a hundred-fold all those who deny themselves and follow Him even in their trials. For those who truly deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow the Lord, it’s inevitable for there to be much persecution and suffering at the beginning. One day, however, those who ask the Lord for His help and continue to follow Him even amid such trials will come to experience for themselves how the Lord would reward them for all their hardships and pain. Such people will be rewarded by a hundred-fold on this earth also, and there is no one among them who would not receive eternal life in the next world to come. 
That is what God Himself promised us. And that is why we the born-again must follow the Lord, for none other than this is the very way of blessings and happiness.
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