Text: Luke 9:18-27
Luke 9:23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
Jesus has attracted to himself not only a group of 12 disciples, but also a large number of admirers. Events such as the Transfiguration, and Peter’s confession, have marked a change of direction in his ministry. Hitherto, he has been occupied for much of the time in the north, around Galilee. Now he sets off towards Jerusalem, and to certain death.
‘Then he said to them all’ – At this point Jesus addresses the crowd, for he is about to say affects everyone who would follow him.
We can best understand these verses by remembering that people entertained very mistaken views about the nature of Christ’s work and mission. Peter could not bear the idea of a suffering Saviour, Matthew 16:22 ‘Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.’ The disciples generally hoped for worldly honours and rewards in the kingdom of God. And people generally thought that the Messianic kingdom would be the means of the overthrown of Roman oppression. Our Lord has insisted that it is all very different, not only in relation to himself, but also in relation to what his disciples can expect. Christian discipleship is not an easy option. True, it offers a crown in the life to come, but a cross in the present life.
We need to listen to this lesson in our own day. Christians will try, it seems, almost anything to convince outsiders that following Christ is fun, is easy, costs nothing and brings untold satisfaction and fulfilment. John 10:10 ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.’ But there is also a cost for anyone who would follow Jesus.
1. “He must deny himself.”
This is a phrase which, like the one which follows, has been terribly weakened by Christians over the years. To many it means, perhaps, giving up something for Lent. ‘To deny self does not mean to deny things. It means to give yourself wholly to Christ and share in His shame and death. To take up a cross does not mean to carry burdens or have problems. I heard of a lady who said that her asthma was the cross she had to bear! To take up the cross means to identify with Christ in His rejection, shame, suffering, and death’. ‘It is a decisive saying no to oneself, to ones hopes and plans and ambitions, to ones likes and dislikes, to ones nearest and dearest, for the sake of Christ.’ (Source unknown)
‘Our Lord did not ask us [simply] to give up the things of earth, but to exchange them for better things.’ (Fulton Sheen) ‘He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.’ ‘All of the great spiritual delights we long for come into the world of a Christian’s experience attended with the birth-pangs of self-denial.’ (Walter Chantry)
2. “He must take up his cross daily”
‘Jesus [and his contemporaries] well knew what crucifixion meant. When he was a lad of about eleven years of age, Judas the Galilaean had led a rebellion against Rome. He had raided the royal armoury at Sepphoris, which was only four miles from Nazareth. The Roman vengeance was swift and sudden. Sepphoris was burned to the ground; its inhabitants were sold into slavery; and two thousand of the rebels were crucified on crosses which were set in lines along the roadside that they might be a dreadful warning to others tempted to rebel. To take up our cross means to be prepared to face things like that for loyalty to Jesus; it means to be ready to endure the worst that man can do to us for the sake of being true to him.’
It means death of self; the sacrifice of self-interest, self righteousness, and self-importance.
It means the imitation of Christ, a willingness to follow him wherever the path may lead. ‘When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.’ The true disciple is not simply an admirer. He is the person who will follow Jesus wherever he leads, even though that may mean pain, persecution and sacrifice. In the Roman world, the cross stood for pain, rejection, shame, and guilt. Crucifixion was not a topic for polite conversation. But the disciple is to take up his cross. He is voluntarily and habitually to share in the sufferings of Christ, Phil 3:10. To take up one’s cross means to share in the surrender, the suffering and the sacrifice of Christ. We cannot crucify ourselves, but we can offer up our bodies in the service of God, Rom 12:1f.
Take particular notice of the words, “to them all” and “daily”. No person is excused, and no day is excepted.
This is expected of every disciple. There are many who admire Jesus, but few who are willing to following to this extent.
We are to take up the cross ‘daily’. That is to say, habitually, and in the details of life. It sometimes seems easier to trust God with the ‘years’ of our lives than with the ‘days’. We have faith and obedience in general, but not in particular. But cross-carrying is a daily assignment.
Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
But if we follow our Savour in the pain, then we shall also share in his joy: Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.