I know, beloved.
That title is blunt. And quite possibly, even offensive.
But here's the thing.
When Jesus said ".....take up your cross and follow Me", He meant it.
Jesus came to this earth for a singular purpose; to save His people from death. To do that, He Himself, had to die in our place. And from the time He was born, every moment of His life, every step that He took, lead directly to the cross.
The cross, where He took the punishment that was rightfully ours to bear.
The cross, where He paid the outstanding debt that we owed.
The cross, where He endured His Father turning His face away from Him; and, on our behalf.
And interestingly enough, the very last steps Jesus took on the way to that cross, He, Himself, carried it. If we are going to follow Jesus, shouldn't we also be expected to take up our cross?
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
Jesus - Matthew 16:24b
There is a common misconception that the phrase "take up your cross" means that, at some point, we as Christians must accept some form of burdensome task, or experience a kind of hardship as we walk through life.
But, Jesus' command to take up your cross is much more than a symbol of the difficulties we may experience as humanity. Any person, Christian or not, will experience hardship. In this passage, Jesus is speaking to His disciples. And they knew that, at that time, the cross was an instrument of death. They understood, as we must learn to understand, that what He meant was, if they truly wanted to follow Him, they must be willing to die.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Let me share with you what the study portion of my Bible says in reference to this verse.
- deny himself; Cease to make self the object of his life and actions,
- take up his cross; the picture is of a man already condemned, required to carry the beam of his own cross to execution, cross bearing is a willingness to suffer and even die for the Lord’s sake
This ,"deny yourself", this “cross bearing”, and this “willingness to suffer” is where it starts to get a little bit dicey for us as Christians, to follow Christ.
I have to be honest; I’ve never really liked this whole “deny yourself” part. I don’t know about you but, self denial sort of rubs me the wrong way. Self denial sounds a lot like putting my personal desires and wishes aside. And, I’m not very good at that. I tend to lean toward selfishness. I tend to lean toward self gratification. Oh, I tell myself that it’s not selfishness, not really. But it is. It is selfishness. Because anytime I put my own desires before Christ, I’m walking in selfishness. Living for myself, rather than for Him. And it’s a part of myself that I don’t like at all.
But, what exactly does it mean to deny ourselves?
As I dug into what self denial looks like, I read a sermon titled “Take Up Your Cross” by Robert Cox. In that sermon he states;
“Denying self requires us to give up anything that we would want or seek that would hinder our doing the will of God. This does not mean that, if we want something, it is necessarily wrong. It means we must take our wants and desires down from the throne and place Jesus and His will as the governing power in our lives. There is room in each life for only one master.”
Denying ourselves means that we must put our selfish ambitions aside. But yet, it’s so much more than that. It is about bearing a burden; bearing it even, unto death. And while this does actually mean the possibility of a literal, physical death, even as Jesus physically died for our sakes, I believe it is also speaking of a different kind of death; a death to ourselves. It is a laying down of our own desires, and a giving up of our whole selves, for the sake of Jesus. For the sake of the cross.
If we truly desire to be followers of Christ, then we must follow Christ. We must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow in His footsteps. Even unto death. No, ESPECIALLY unto death.
But Oh, Beloveds! This is where it gets good! This is where real living begins! This is where your best life begins!
Let me explain…
In Romans 6, Paul writes, (The Message)
Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.
The more we deny ourselves, the more we take up our cross, and die to ourselves, the more alive we actually become in Jesus Christ.
Now, I don’t want to mislead you in any way. The way of the cross is not easy. It will likely be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. The way of the cross is fraught with trials and with tribulations. There will likely be pain and suffering; and much of it. And it will most certainly lead to death. Death of yourself. Death of your selfish ambition. Death of greed, of foul speaking, of drunkenness, of idolatry. Your own, thoughts and desires, your hopes and dreams may have to fall to way side.
You will need to serve, even when you don’t feel like serving. You will have to give more than you ever though you could possibly give. Dying to self is the hardest thing you might ever have to do. You cannot love anything, or anyone, including your spouse, your children, your mother or father, more than you love the way of the cross.
Matthew 10:37-38 says,
Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me, is not worthy of Me.
Scripture is very clear. If we want to follow Jesus, we must follow in the way of the cross. We must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. The way of the cross leads to death. But even more than that, the way of the cross leads to life; the fullness of life in Christ Jesus.
Matthew 16:24-26 The Message
“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?
Jesus is telling His disciples here that, following in His footsteps, following His way, is the way to finding themselves; their TRUE selves. Self help, is no help at all. It’s nothing. It leads to nothing. Self sacrifice, however, that leads to finding yourself.
Do you hear what Jesus is saying here? He is saying that, self-sacrifice, denying yourself, following in the way of the cross, is the only way to finding your TRUE SELF!
This is what it comes down to; Jesus has a plan and a purpose for you. A good plan. A wonderful plan. His plan for you, from before the beginning of time, was that you lead a purpose driven life. A life that points entirely to Jesus.
But here now, is where the rubber hits the road.
Are you following in the way of the cross?
Are you making the choice to deny yourself?
What are you holding back?
What is holding you back?
This is what I’d like to leave you with, Jesus Christ is so in love you. You are the apple of His eye. You are the reason He came to this earth, and walked the road that ultimately led to His death. He wants you. He wants all of you. With nothing held back.
He wants you to put aside any kind of desire that keeps you before Him. He wants you to follow in His footsteps. He wants to help you find your TRUE self as you follow the way of the cross. I promise you, if you choose to take up your cross, it won’t be easy.
But I can also promise you this, it will be a life worth living.