Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me (Matthew 16:24).
Resurrection Sunday has now come and gone. It is a day in which the cross is highlighted perhaps more than any other. Preachers around the world take the opportunity to share the Gospel news of the cross and the glorious victory Jesus purchased for us. As with most Sunday sermons, the emphasis is on Jesus’ cross…not our own. Yet, here stands Christ’s message in Matthew 16:24, with the spotlight on you and me.
To really understand what these words imply our lives, we must first understand what they meant to the first disciples. Jesus spoke these words before being nailed to His cross. He’d been talking a lot about His death, but the reality had not yet set in. Thus, the image of ‘carry your cross’ was a very literal one. It meant that you were sentenced to die by the Roman authorities. It meant you were condemned, a dead man carrying a wooden cross up a hill upon which you would be slowly put to death. Not a comforting image, is it?
So what is Christ telling us, and all His disciples through the ages? This is a very powerful and challenging statement about discipleship. Being His disciples has three criteria. First, we must ‘deny ourselves.’ Deny is a strong word and the very same one that was used to describe Peter when he denied Christ. It is an absolute disownment. Thus, our first criteria is to disown ourselves. We have to truly embrace Jesus not just as Savior, but as Lord. He is Lord and He is in control. He is so totally in control of us that we no longer even consider ourselves as calling the shots. Our fingerprints and our DNA should all be traceable back to Christ.
The second criteria is to ‘take up our cross.’ As stated, the cross is an instrument of death. Not only are we identifying our new selves in Christ, we are willing to take upon us the punishment that comes with the territory. As soldiers become instruments of the military they serve, so to do we become Christ’s instruments. And like soldiers on the front line, the nature of our work lends itself to conflict. While we do not face intense persecution as our Christian ancestors or brothers in the developing world endure, we do feel the ramifications of self-denial. This world does not promote such things, but the opposite. Do as you please, when you please…you deserve it…you are entitled to it. Yet, Christ tells us that there are things about ourselves that we must crucify, and that obedience has its price.
This brings us to the last criteria for being a discipline: that we must ‘follow Him.’ Having given ourselves to Him and having taken upon us the cross, we must also follow in His path. Yet, the battle over sin does not end at the point of salvation. We have to battle selfish urges and sinful desires all the days of our lives. Even on our best days, we stray away from following Him. We find ourselves subconsciously saying to ourselves, ‘I do what I want.’ And we plead with God, ‘can’t you just cut a little off that cross so that it is easier to carry?’
Yet, what would happen if that cross were a little easier to bear? What if His path was a little smoother and wider? What if we got to rent our new identity in Christ, and put it back on the shelf when not convenient. Well, I am going to leave on a cliffhanger with this one. I encourage you to think about this query in the weeks ahead. If you want a little hint, check out this month’s video in the link later in this edition of Koinonia.
– Pastor Justin
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