Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 (NIV)
A few years ago, the pastor at the church I attended preached on John 3:16. I wrote a devotion* about that experience (the beautiful simplicity of God’s love for me). I was blessed again this week when my pastor preached on this familiar passage from Matthew. The ‘truth’ that overlays both experiences is that God’s word is timeless and ALIVE. There is always something new to learn from a passage. Whether I have studied Jesus one day or 60 years, I will never know everything!
“If anyone would come after me…” I am a disciple of Jesus. I made a decision 12 years ago that I would follow Jesus. I knew it wouldn’t be easy though it is a fairly simple point. So Jesus, in His perfect wisdom, tells me that IF I decide to follow Him – here is what I need to do:
“…he must deny himself…” I don’t need the contemporary, gender-neutral language to know that Jesus is speaking to ME. And there is the first difficult step: denying ME. I believe that means that I walk in confidence and strength and focus not because of ME but because of who I follow. I am truly following Jesus then my mind isn’t on myself and how I can move ahead or be blessed. It is about being blessed because I am OBEDIENT to the One who is my Creator and Lord! I give up MY way and keep my eyes ahead on Jesus who is going before me in everything that I do.
“…take up his cross…” Ah. Every day there is a cross to pick up. Some crosses are bigger, heavier, and more easily identified than others. A frequent cross that I carry is my job. I really don’t like my 40 hour/week job much. It’s physically difficult and even dangerous, emotionally draining, and spiritually battle-heavy. Those words describe it when my eyes are turned to ME. When I look up and turn my ears to Jesus’ directions, my job is FULL of Kingdom work! Opportunities to glorify God are endless! Yes, I must choose to pick up the cross but I don’t have to carry alone! Jesus will carry the weight of my cross just as He carried a cross 2000 years ago if we are walking in the same direction!
“…and follow me…” When I am placing my feet right in the footsteps of Jesus, I am right in the center of His will. How TOTALLY COOL is that??? I don’t have to figure “it” out. I don’t have to make “it” happen. I just have to follow Jesus and that happens after I have denied myself and taken up my cross.
How blessed I have been this week to think over this Scripture and the words given to my pastor. And let’s not forget the rest of Jesus’ words in this passage:
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Matthew 16:25-28 (NIV)