I was trying to find a better way of understanding what Jesus meant when he said “If you acknowledge me before other people, I will acknowledge you before God.” (Found in LK 12:8-9, MK 8:38, MT 10:32-33, LK 9:26)
What does the word ‘acknowledge’ mean? I looked it up, and then I looked up several of its synonyms. These are the words and phrases I found.
Acknowledge means – Profess, proclaim, speak for, put in a good word for, affirm, publicly declare, officially or publicly announce.
Declare means – Openly align oneself with. Express feelings of love for. Reveal the truth about. Thoroughly make clear. Admit the truth of. Recognize the fact of. Accept the validity of. Confirm, avow, openly claim.
All of this points to not just following Jesus, but admitting it openly. Does it imply going up to people and telling them about Jesus? I’m not sure. But it certainly means that if someone asks you if you are a follower of Jesus, you should say so.
But then let’s look at Peter, Jesus’ head disciple. He denied Jesus three times, when he needed him the most. But Jesus said all along that this was the person responsible for starting his church. So is Jesus going to deny he knows him to God when it is time to come back?
I certainly like the idea of living in such a way that people can tell you are a follower of Jesus by looking at what you do. They don’t have to see the rhinestone pin spelling out “Jesus” on your sweater, or notice the forearm tattoo of Jesus on the cross to get the clue. They should see it in what you do – that you are kind, you volunteer, you are patient, you serve. You help people, and you are helpful.
Is that acknowledging? I’m not sure. Surely some of what is in there is the idea that you can’t just say you follow Jesus, you actually have to do it. It isn’t an easy life – he tells us to deny ourselves and take up our crosses.
“You can only be my disciple if you deny your desires, bear your own cross, and follow me.” (LK 14:27, MK 8:34, MT 10:38, LK 9:23, MT 16:24)
Some translations indicate more about what it means to “deny ourselves”. We are to get over what we want and get into what God wants. We can no longer put our needs first. It isn’t about our desires or wishes. Jesus was asked to die in a gruesome and painful way – nearly naked, slowly suffocating, for hours in the hot sun. Not a nice way to go. He knew that was what God required of him, and he did it. He didn’t really want to, but he submitted to God. That is denying yourself. It is putting God’s wishes first, and trusting that God knows best.
Now, how interesting that Jesus said “Take up your cross” – did he know he was going to die in exactly that way? He knew he was going to die, sure, but did he know it was going to be crucifixion when he said “take up your cross”? Or was that a clever rewriting after the fact? The Gospels weren’t written immediately. People thought Jesus was coming back soon, so they didn’t think they needed to write it down. It was at least a hundred years later, after all the original witnesses had died, that the stories that had been passed on by word of mouth were written down.
In the big picture, you don’t even need “Take up your cross” if you deny yourself. That takes care of it. I get it as the idea of taking up your responsibility to God, your burden. I also like that each Gospel says “your” cross – not “The” cross or “A” cross – yours, specifically. Take up the duty that is specifically yours to do.
Let’s tie it into the idea of yokes instead.
28 “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (MT 11:28-30, HCSB)
Yokes are used with beasts of burden – cows, oxen, horses. They fit across the shoulders of two animals and help them do work together. The two animals need to be equivalent in size and ability to make this work – you wouldn’t put a 300 pound animal working with a 100 pound animal – it would be lopsided. But, it also means that both animals are now able to do more together than they would separately.
This is how we are with Jesus. We are to work with him, taking up his yoke and working together. We aren’t alone. He is working right along with us, and through us. When we take up the yoke of Jesus, we are suddenly able to do more than we could alone because we aren’t alone anymore.
But that doesn’t mean we work for our goals. This isn’t about tying into the power of Jesus to pay off your mortgage faster, as the prosperity liars say. And then it goes back into acknowledging Jesus. When others notice that we are able to do more than we could, we need to say where we are getting that power. We need to tell them about Jesus, and how being yoked with him means we aren’t doing it all by ourselves anymore.