Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their 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 they have done. “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Jesus says, “If you wanna become my follower, you have to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Most of us imagine that taking up one’s cross means dealing with the struggles we face. However, in Jesus’ time taking up one’s cross meant only one thing: it meant death. This essentially means that Jesus is telling his followers — that’s us — that we need to deny ourselves and die to ourselves. I am sure we don’t find either command appealing, so let me offer you another way of looking at this that might change the way you think.
Let us say you owned an ancient black and white television — you know those boxy things with dials and knobs. One day, somebody offers you a brand new ultra slim 65 inch 4K UHD TV in exchange at no cost. Would you accept the offer or not? Or someone offers you the latest model of the phone that you bought five years ago, again at no cost? You’d be pretty stupid not to accept the offer, right? Well, what Jesus is offering is kinda like that. He is asking us to trade-in our old life for a brand new one, and promising to replace everything we give up in it with something more wonderful.
This is what we often don’t realize. There is a young man I speak of very often because he is a remarkable case study in point. Extremely rich, he went to Jesus one day wanting to know about admission into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, buddy, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). Scripture says the man went away sad because he thought he was getting a terrible deal. He believed he was being asked to give up the treasure he had for rubbish, when it truth he was being asked to give up rubbish for treasure.
We can make the same mistake, partly because we have this terrible habit of getting attached to things. While we were growing up, I am sure that we had a favorite possession. Most kids do. Whether it is a curly-haired doll, a cuddly teddy bear, a comfortable blanket, or a colorful pillow, almost every child has that one thing in the world they just can't live without. Even when the doll starts falling apart, the teddy bear gets raggedy, the blanket gets tattered, and the pillow gets lumpy, the child continues to cling to his/her favorite possession.
We might have given up that teddy bear that provided some psychological benefits to us as children, but we have become attached to other things that offer no benefits whatsoever. On the contrary, they cause damage. We can trade them in for the wonderful things that Jesus offers. And what are these wonderful things? Well, to mention a few, he offers forgiveness and acceptance; love and joy, peace and patience; liberty and freedom. In short, abundant life. We get some of it right away, but are promised all of it later, forever. And to assure us that the promise will be honored, he has given us his Holy Spirit “who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (see Ephesians 1:14).
So, let us realize that this “denying and dying” Jesus tells us to do is actually about “gaining and living”. Let us do both joyfully, because truly, they are reasons for joy!
May the Spirit be with you.