Rise Up and Follow: Loving Jesus for All He Is Worth
The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:37–38)
With these words, the commissioning of Matthew 10 reaches its crescendo. What began with Jesus calling his disciples, and progressed through his warning them of persecution and asking for their unwavering allegiance, ends here —
And not surprisingly, it is all about love.
If you follow me, Jesus has essentially warned, all of heaven and hell will go to war in your life. You will have to hold the line against betrayal, persecution, heartbreak, suffering, and death. Do it. Do it no matter what it costs you. Do it because you love me.
It’s All About Love
I feel the need to point out that these are not the words of an ordinary man, an ordinary religious teacher or philosopher. In fact, there is no equivalent to these words of Jesus in any other world religion or philosophy. There is no one else demanding that we love them above mother and father, children and friends, country and peace and life itself.
Only Jesus. Only Jesus has the nerve. Only Jesus has the right.
I should amend the above statement: biblical Judaism, the religion of the Old Testament, does have equivalent words. This is because Jesus is Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, in the flesh, and Yahweh said similar things to the prophets.
Jesus’ words here in Matthew 10 are simply a reiteration of the greatest commandment of the law, found in Deuteronomy 6:5:
Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
And Deuteronomy 10:12:
And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you except to fear the LORD your God by walking in all His ways, to love Him, and to worship the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul?
From Genesis to Revelation, the witness is clear: God wants our love. This is not a slight thing for him, a whim or a preference. It is a burning, consuming fire in the center of his Being.
You are never to bow down to another god because Yahweh, being jealous by nature, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14)
For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24)
The Jealousy of God
Not only Jesus, but the New Testament letters echo this theme of God’s jealousy — of His burning desire to be loved by us. He wants to be loved first and foremost, with undivided loyalty and faithfulness.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, “Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you think it’s without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously?” (James 4:4–5).
Paul spoke of the Lord’s jealous desire for our love in marital terms:
For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband — to present a pure virgin to Christ. But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a complete and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2–3)
In writing about the Lord’s jealousy, I’m tempted to soften my wording because human jealousy so often results in awful, destructive, controlling behavior that is the opposite of love. In fact, Scripture warns us against jealousy in many places.
Yet it’s clear from Paul’s use of the term “godly jealousy” in 2 Corinthians 11 that jealousy is not always bad or misplaced, just as anger — an equally destructive emotion in human hands — is not always bad or misplaced. Sometimes it is the only appropriate emotion.
We can trust that God is far more capable of handling anger and jealousy in a wise and loving way than we are. But that doesn’t mean he is not truly jealous, or truly angry.
So in the end, I don’t want to soften anything here. Jesus is calling us to love him more than anyone or anything else, including our own families, comfort, and lives. And he has every right to ask it, because he is worthy.
Rise Up and Follow
In the end, this is what all of Christianity boils down to: Jesus is worthy. He is worthy to be loved. He is worthy to be worshipped. He is worthy of our spirits, souls, bodies, minds. He is worthy of everything we could ever possibly give.
And he asks for our love — not simply in soft, fuzzy, feel-good terms. He asks for our love in the blood and grit and suffering way that real love in a broken world must always be.
It’s interesting that Jesus rarely speaks of “worthiness” on the part of those who follow him. From the very beginning of this series, we’ve seen over and over that the kingdom is a gift of grace. That Jesus’ coming is an act of grace. That we do nothing to deserve him, or his kingdom, or his forgiveness.
Yet here, he speaks of worth. Here, he is asking us to put our lives on the line. He is asking us to leave behind half-heartedness and lip service and hedging our bets. He is asking us to go all-in for him and to give him everything.
He is asking us to rise up and follow.
“Follow” is a key word here. “Take up your cross and follow Me,” Jesus says — in other words, he goes first.
In these verses, Jesus asks for nothing from us that he has not given first. Is it too much for us to love him above father and mother? Yet, he left heaven for us. Is it too much for us to love him more than our children? Yet he put his people before his own life. Is it too much to take up our cross and follow?
Yet he went first.
He loved us to this extent. He is worthy of our love.
Worthy Is the Lamb Who Was Slain
When Jesus issued this challenge to his disciples, his cross was still in the future. I think they sensed his love for them, but he hadn’t proven it yet.
Years later, long after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, John saw a vision in which all of heaven broke into praise of the worthiness of Jesus. Powerfully, their worship centers not around Jesus’ beauty, power, or splendor, but around his crucified love — his offering of himself for our sake:
When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:
You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because You were slaughtered,
and You redeemed people
for God by Your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.
You made them a kingdom
and priests to our God,
and they will reign on the earth.
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels around the throne, and also of the living creatures and of the elders. Their number was countless thousands, plus thousands of thousands. They said with a loud voice:
The Lamb who was slaughtered is worthy
to receive power and riches
and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and blessing!
I heard every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them say:
Blessing and honor and glory and dominion
to the One seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb, forever and ever!
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:8–14)
I think sometimes that we are guilty of watering down too much the vision we are called to follow. Human beings were made for a radical love. We were made to surrender ourselves to something and someone greater than we are.
The vision we are called to embrace is that of a Lamb slain out of love. It is the vision of a God who is a jealous, consuming fire. It is the vision of a Bridegroom who wants our “complete and pure devotion.”
We simply need to decide for ourselves. Is he worthy?
In writing these words, I’m not trying to oversimplify something very difficult to walk out — and yet it is simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple, because it’s love.
Love is extraordinarily difficult. It’s also extraordinarily clarifying, extraordinarily simplifying. Love brings everything in life, and in us, into focus.
Do I love Jesus the way he wants to be loved? I don’t know. I am human, and dust, and not able to comprehend my own heart. I probably don’t. You probably don’t.
So what are we supposed to do, confronted with words like this challenge of Jesus? What do we do, when he asks us to be worthy of him?
It’s simple … we rise up and follow.
Love is proven, over the course of a lifetime, through what we do. It’s proven through the continual gravitation of our hearts. It’s proven by the times we get back from up a fall. It’s proven by the forgiveness we ask for. It’s proven by our trying again.
Eugene Peterson said that discipleship is “a long obedience in the same direction.” That’s what love is too.
How do we be worthy of Jesus? How do we follow him? How do we be loyal? How do we love him more than father or mother, son or daughter, comfort or peace or life itself?
By picking the path of love and putting one foot in front of another, that’s how.
By hefting the cross when it presents itself, and picking it back up when we drop it. By choosing Jesus when it comes down to choice. By making one prayer, one decision, one day at a time.
Our lives will demonstrate what we believe to be worthy of our worship.
This is Part 153 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
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