In its modern sense, challenge means to prove one’s courage or worth, to fight a battle, engage in a contest of skill. Some people enjoy challenge, others don’t.
If we ask a mountain climber why he does it, he’s likely to reply: “Because it’s there!” Probably most of us would prefer to stay on the lower slopes. We can meet challenge or retreat from it.
What, then, is the challenge of Christ? Perhaps we tend to think of Jesus in the terms of childhood prayers – “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” So he was. But, he was also a man of courage, fighting against the weakness of human nature, always trying to please God and not himself. “Not my will, but Thine be done”, he said.
Can we face up to the challenge which Christ issues? “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me.” What does it mean – “deny ourselves”? It means to have a sincere desire to change our nature to leave self behind – this ego which rules our lives – and replace it with a desire to please God.
The change involved will vary from one person to another. The Bible tells us about Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. The challenge for him was to give up his position, his reputation, and his fine friends. The challenge for the murderers of Jesus was to yield to the remorse in their hearts and sincerely repent. For others it may be different again. It all depends on the kind of sinners we are when the gospel reaches us.