“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” – Mark 1:22
Jesus Christ was the most significant human to have ever lived. He was the Word made flesh, living among those he created and redeemed by his own blood. The Lamb that was slain at the foundation of the world came down from Heaven to fulfill a mission of which he alone was capable. He knew who he was and why he was on earth. He had humbled himself by laying aside his deity as if it were an old coat and submitted himself to undeserved suffering at the hands of those for whom he came to save.
Everything Jesus said and did was in perfect obedience to the Father’s will. He was totally intentional, committed to the mission put before him. It is no wonder that he spoke with such authority. Those words came straight from the Father’s heart and out of the Lord’s mouth.
There were no ego issues to overcome. Jesus wasn’t worried about what people might think of him. In fact, his only concern was that they might crown him king before his mission was accomplished. He understood the evil ignorance of mankind and never entrusted himself to anybody’s manipulation, nor to their praise. To not be recognized nor received was part of the necessary suffering he would have to endure.
It is so difficult for us humans to grasp the concept of humility. We fail to see and feel the incredible power that flows out of insignificance. Most of us live in fear that we will not be loved, appreciated, understood, recognized, or received. We wrestle with our fear and nagging suspicion that somehow we may be a “nobody.”
Our culture encourages us to be all we can be and to make a difference. Self-esteem becomes our foremost concern and from the quest to achieve it we often find ourselves lost in our own failures. Sin is sneaky like that. Sometimes we say and do things with the subtle motivation of drawing attention to our own goodness, intelligence, or other possessed quality. We all want to be somebody.
There is the rub. The teachers of the Law probably meant well. They believed that they knew the Word of God and were qualified, as well as authorized, to teach it. Some of them were most likely good at it. But they all got in the way of the clear and clean message that God was sending through them. Their need to be important detracted from the authority of the words they spoke and the good works they did.
Jesus speaks to our misguided need for significance. He is brutally direct when he says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:23-25)
Denying one’s self can be difficult. No, it is actually impossible apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. It is easy to pretend to deny yourself by keeping some godly rules and practicing good spiritual habits.
There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they have no power in themselves to make us righteous. We feel good about ourselves when we faithfully do them and depressed about ourselves when we don’t. The self thing keeps being our main issue. How can we truly lose our life? How do we preserve our righteous self?
I think the Apostle Paul found the secret. He was a man with plenty of self issues. I’m sure his zeal must have been annoying to many. He often boasted. He manipulated. He even got into a bitter dispute with the “Son of Encouragement” over forgiveness, of all things!
It’s not like he was a perfect reflection of Jesus Christ. But he knew that. He realized that he was saved solely by his faith in God’s grace. His salvation, like ours, was secured by the blood of Jesus. That’s all we have. Everything else is pretty much nothing.
So, what was Paul’s secret to self denial? It is found in Galatians 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
In other words, I (self) am dead. I was crucified with Christ. I am no longer an issue. Christ is now my life by faith. He already validated me (self) by his love and his atoning death on a cross over two thousand years ago.
That love is new every morning. It makes it possible to pick up my cross daily and, with the help of the Holy Spirit), to pay whatever price is needed to follow the lover of my soul.
Have a blessed Easter. He has risen!
Peachtree City, Ga.
[LeRoy and Judy Curtis are missionaries who have served in Kenya and Costa Rica. This letter is excerpted from his pastoral outreach for April. Their email is email@example.com.]