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encouragement Ministry theology

Take Up Your Cross!

The Banias Waterfall, Caesarea Phillippi
Photo by Grace Seifert

Thoughts from Matthew 16…

Matthew 16:24-28
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”b

Mark 8:34 – 9:1
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

Luke 9:23-27
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

This is the paradox of following Jesus Christ. Those who try to save their life will lose it. Those who lose their life will save it.

Jesus is taking His disciples from death to glory. He starts out with the announcement of His upcoming betrayal and death, and He ends his charge to them with the promise that He will come back in glory with the angels.

Likewise, if we are truly His followers, we must follow Him in His death. We must deny our own rights, pick up the ultimate humiliation and death – a Roman cross. That is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Note that the contrast is by hyperbole. You will never own the entire world, nor will you sell your own soul. But what is important to you? Is success in this world more important than your soul? Because if you live for what you can gain in this world, you will lose the rewards from Jesus Christ, and may be in danger of losing your very soul.a

The successful in this world have no value in Christ’s kingdom. Those who lay aside their worldly rights will be rewarded in Jesus Christ’s kingdom.

What does it mean to deny yourself? We commonly use this term for dieting and physical training. We sacrifice an immediate pleasure in order to gain something greater in the long term. Although this is a meaningful application, the self-denial that Jesus is talking about here is much greater than passing up a favorite dessert or pressing harder in your workout routine. Jesus is saying to lay aside your pleasures, relationships, and even your human rights for the sake of His kingdom. But the point is not to be an ascetic nor a stoic. Rather, remember that your personal rights are meaningless in comparison to the rewards that will come from Jesus Christ himself.

The point is not about actions, it is about priority.

For example, Peter and the other disciples were shocked to find out that their leader was going to die. What is the value of following the Messiah if he was going to leave them? In answer, Jesus said that if you are to follow Him, then be prepared to die like Him. We need to die to sin (Romans 6), but we also need to die to our own rights. We need to give up the right to defend ourselves when we are maligned or persecuted. We are to give up the right to speak up and set the record straight when friends or family speak against us. 

Jesus never promises that He will even things out in this life. Instead, He promises the opposite. If you were going to follow Him, life will never be fair.

He said to “take up your cross”. They didn’t know yet that Jesus would die on a cross, but this was a common expression in that day. It meant to die in the most miserable, humiliating, and degrading way. This was total debasement and humiliation.c d  Are you willing to do that for Jesus Christ? Because that is what it will mean to be his disciple.

So what are your priorities? Are you looking to get ahead in this world? Are you looking to have a happy, successful life, and to be a nice Christian? What if that isn’t God’s plan for you? What will you be willing to let go? Your wealth or physical comfort? What about your health? Your family? Your reputation? 

There is no way that we can predict what our life will be like. We often fear the worst kinds of life if we give it to Jesus, such as dying as a martyr or being handicapped for life. Jesus never gives us an outline of what specific hardships we will see in our life. We often fear the worst things yet He assures us that He will never give us more than we can handle. But the main issue is, what will it take to get you to look to Jesus so closely — so closely that nothing else matters. That you’re willing to lay aside everything to follow him. He is all that matters. That is what it means to follow him!

Jesus outlines two paths in this passage. The first path is the way of the world. It starts out in glory and ends in death. The second path is the way of Jesus Christ. it starts in death and ends in glory. Which path will you choose?

Previous post: Who Do People Say That I Am?


References

[1] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 16:13-28, pages 200-210

[2] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 16, The Church and the Kingdom

[3] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Address 32, Peter’s Confession and True Discipleship, Luke 9:18-26

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 16:13-28, pages 47-49

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Mark 8:27-30, pages 112-113

[6] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Luke 9:18-26, pages 166-167

[7] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book III, CHAPTER XXXVII: THE GREAT CONFESSION, THE GREAT COMMISSION, THE GREAT INSTRUCTION, THE GREAT TEMPTATION, THE GREAT DECISION (St. Matthew 16:13-28; St. Mark 8:27, 9: 1; St. Luke 9:18-27.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.viii.xxxvii.html

[8] Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, Lecture 9, https://www.christianity.com/jesus/life-of-jesus/harmony-of-the-gospels/19-jesus-finds-solitude-with-his-apostles-far-north-in-galilee.html

[9] Stephen Davey, Will the Real Disciples Please Stand Up?, Mark 8:34-38, 2/28/1988

[10] John MacArthur, Winning by Losing: The Paradox of Discipleship, Matthew 16:24-28, Oct 24, 1982

[11] John MacArthur, Preview of the Second Coming, Part 1, Matthew 16:27-28, Oct 31, 1982

[12] D.A. Carson, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Zondervan, 2010, Matthew 16:13-28


Notes

[a] The expression, “forfeits his soul” (Matthew 16:26), cannot mean that you could lose your salvation, as that would conflict with other Scripture (e.g. John 10:27-29). But the greater warning is that you may be like the poor soil in Matthew 13, and your worldly accomplishments prevent you from every trusting in Jesus Christ. Jesus also immediately mentions rewards, showing that even for those who believe, they will lose rewards with him when they are caught up in the things of this world.

[b] Matthew 16:28 says, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”. Although some commentators have applied this statement to the second coming of Jesus Christ in Revelation, this would not happen in the lifetime of the apostles. Nor could this refer to the resurrection or the ascension of Jesus Christ, nor Pentecost, since none of these events presented the Lord as coming in His kingdom. The best explanation therefore is that this refers to the next scene 6 days later, when Jesus was transfigured and stood with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17). Peter, James, and John witnessed the Lord on that mountain and Peter would later write later that he was an “eyewitness of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16-18).1 2

[c] The cross was such a humiliating way to die that it was never mentioned in polite Roman society. Roman citizens were guaranteed to never have to die on a cross. “In the Roman world, the cross was a symbol of shame, guilt, suffering, and rejection. There could be no more despicable way to die.” – Warren Wiersbe3

[d] Jesus does not reveal to His disciples that He will die on a cross until His final journey to Jerusalem (Matthew 20:19).

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