“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matt. 16:24
I recall many years ago being in a church building during a coffee hour. The guest speaker was winsome and articulate. She had the ladies in the palm of her hand. I heard only about 10 minutes of her talk however I listened with morbid fascination. The first sentence I heard was, “God wants you to be happy as a Christian doesn’t He?” Then she said, “We all have a right to be happy don’t we.”
In my head, I quickly scanned all the Scriptures I knew to figure out where God says He wants us to be happy. I came up with nothing. So now that the speaker had my interest I wanted for 10 minutes for her to quote the verse of the Bible where this was said.
Somehow the speaker never got around to telling us where in Scripture it was God’s primary purpose to make us happy. Also this thing about a right to happiness did not make much sense either. Do I then, in order to be happy, have the right to be born in Canada where there are very few earthquakes than to be born in Japan where there are many?
With the enormous suffering going on now in Japan I suppose millions of Japanese people would have liked the right to be happy. Or they would have liked the right to have been born in a country that did not experience earthquakes. Do we have any more right to be happy than to be born in a country that is safe from tsunamis? C. S. Lewis argues very well that we do not have any more “right” to be happy that we have to be 6 feet tall.
So this Christian speaker seemed to me to be a long way from the truth of Scripture in what she said that day so long ago. Certainly her line of reasoning sounds very appealing. Also God does talk about His people and their joy. But what God is concerned about having for His people is primarily that they be like Jesus. Happiness will follow in due course but we are not to make it our goal in life.
Some people, who believe in Jesus, have missed much concerning what it means to be a Christian. They think having Jesus in your life is only a part of living. Jesus, to them, is a celestial lackey Who is called on stage when life gets difficult. Otherwise He stays at a comfortable distance.
This is an illusion. If you invite the Lord into your life He invades it in every part. He comes not simply to have residence, but to take charge of your entire existence. He is the ruler in your life and uses you in this world as it pleases Him. One great scholar worded it like this, “Jesus invites us to come to Him and die.”
Our verse quoting Jesus made a lot more sense to the people of His day that it does to us. You see when people of Jesus’ day saw a person carrying a cross down the road, they instantly knew it was a one way trip and they would never see the person again. A cross in Jesus’ day meant death. It meant the end of the road for the unhappy person carrying it.
Today, in the minds of many believers, their cross is the burden they bear for Jesus. Nothing could be farther from the meaning of Jesus’ statement than that. When Jesus invites us to follow Him he is calling us to die to self and live for Him. If we truly come to Jesus we recognize that we are now expendable for His sake. All we do from now on in life must be done in reference to Jesus and His will.
Our will must die. We no longer worry about our reputation but that of Jesus. All our actions are to be done in order to please the One who suffered and died for us. Whatever Jesus calls on us to do, live the good life, live a life of misery and suffering, die a terrible death like Peter was promised by Jesus, it does not matter. What matters is what Jesus meant when He prophesied how awful Peter’s death as an old man would be. Peter would die in torment and that pain and suffering would bring glory to God.
How about you? Have you come to Jesus in order to die or instead to have a happy life? Are you a pleasure seeker and are looking for a decent way to have it so you thought coming to Jesus would be the respectable way to have a happy life? If your first or primary goal in life is happiness, you will not survive. If your first purpose in life is to honour God then you will not only survive but end up with a happiness nothing in this world can give.