Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
When Jesus said this, he had not yet been marked for crucifixion. There was no sense of “nobility” in the taking up of one’s cross. There was no selflessness or honor or great calling. The Cross and Jesus had yet to have been united into the horrifically miraculous Gift of Life to those who believed.
When Jesus said this, he was Rabbi Teacher talking to his disciples who had just experienced an amazing day of riding the wave of their teacher’s popularity – casting out demons in His name, and seeing the fish and loaves multiply beneath their touch.
Then to top off such a full and amazing day, Jesus brings it all back to what matters, “Who do you say that I am?” With excitement bubbling over, their hearts burst with the Truth, “You are the Holy One. God’s Messiah!”
But then Jesus continues…
because Jesus never stops with easy, and always leads to more
So he points to one condemned, walking past them, carrying his cross on the way to Golgotha and throws out this wet blanket of a conversation stopper:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
What must the disciples have been thinking?
For Jews, “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.” (Deut. 21-23) These “dead men walking” were brutal reminders of the hated Romans. It was “enemies of the state” who made their way to Golgotha’s heights.
Criminals, maybe foolish heroes. Maybe sons and brothers whose eye you didn’t want to catch and fates you didn’t want to contemplate … Marked men carrying their torture beams along the dusty road heading toward a gruesome death, eliciting words of contempt, judgments of stupidity, looks of pity and loss.
It was clear to the disciples they were not following someone safe. Jesus was a rebel. A man who spoke Truth as no one had ever spoken it before. One with authority, who wasn’t afraid to stand up to the religious leaders. One who broke rules they had followed all their lives.
Slapped back into Serious, maybe the disciples thought Jesus was rallying the troops, “If you follow me, we will take on Rome. You will become enemies of the state. We are here to establish Israel’s reign against this tyrannical state… so be prepared to die.”
But a cross?! God’s curse… Really, Lord?
For three years the disciples listened to Jesus teach them about God’s kingdom
… and yet still they didn’t understand.
They wanted thrones and crowns, power and rule.
They didn’t understand that God wants hearts first.
Every heart – his battleground.
Every Life – his desire.
And so here Jesus teaches them about the kingdom again. And here they see the object of Jesus’ lesson: a condemned man carrying the splintered weight of shame, walking the long road to Golgotha.
If you follow me, it will be just as if you were one of these carrying their cross. Cursed. Shamed. Sideways looks, mutters of contempt, head wags of pity, one big ol’ knocked-to-the-ground tribulation.
If you follow me your life will be upended… and you must keep getting up and stand.
You must give, to receive. Sow, to reap. Surrender, to win. Mourn, to rejoice. Forgive to be forgiven. Bless, don’t curse. Love those who persecute you. Do good to those who hate you. Turn the other cheek.
Take up your cross, the “cause” of laying down your life as lambs … and follow me to Golgotha.
What sayeth you now?
Jesus, you weren’t born to make my life on earth easy. You came to make it full and abundant. You came to bring the Father’s love to a lost and dying world. You came to save the lost. Me. “Them.” Let your heart and your purpose, become mine.
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world (of Rome, of a job, of ambitions, of pleasure, of knowledge…), and yet lose or forfeit their very self?