Matthew 16:24-25 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
Jesus’ disciples obviously heard what Jesus was saying, because Peter had just rebuked Jesus for talking about what He was going to go through. (verse 22) Jesus didn’t mince words! Many people today have never seen a dead person, but that certainly wasn’t the case back then. Executions were often public, just as Jesus’ crucifixion was, and the average life expectancy was much shorter in general. The disciples wouldn’t have taken Jesus’ words as metaphorical, the way we do today, but as literal, and they were shocking. Being told to “carry your cross” was graphic imagery indeed, and in Luke’s record of this teaching he even adds the word, daily. (Luke 9:23) That addition actually makes it clear that Jesus isn’t talking just about a literal piece of wood, but the imagery is still graphic in the extreme, if we really hear it the way Jesus said it. In thinking about this I remember James and John, the sons of Zebedee. James was the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred, (Acts 12:2) and John is said to have been the only one of the 12 to die a natural death, well past 90. However, both brothers took up their cross and gave their life for Jesus. I personally think James had far the easier road! We are very prone to try to “save our lives” in various ways, hanging onto things the Lord is telling us to discard, refusing risks into which the Lord is leading us, and in general “loving this world” (1 John 2:12) more than we love the things of God. We don’t like to think of martyrdom, and wonder if we would have the faith and courage to go through such a thing, but we forget about the whole “carry your cross” business of daily life. God does want us to enjoy life, and those who insist otherwise aren’t following the right Lord. (John 10:10) However, everything in this life, other than our fellowship with our eternal Lord, is temporal, and should be held lightly, even including physical life. When this life ends we will spend eternity with our Lord, so we need to choose our Lord wisely!
I grew up with the example of parents who loved and served God, and I have absolutely no question as to their eternal reward. I likewise have assurance of my own salvation, but that doesn’t mean I’m not tempted or distracted, and at times want to be through with the whole business! At such moments I indeed need to “Fix [my] eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of [my] faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. [I need to] consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that [I] will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3) Jesus repeatedly made it very clear that following Him isn’t “a walk in the park,” but the end result is more than worth it. As Paul said, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17) Looking at it that way, the daily slog, or even martyrdom, is a small price to pay.
Father, thank You for Your grace to me on so many levels. May I indeed take up my cross without complaining, whatever form that cross takes, and follow Christ faithfully, so that all of Your purposes for me may be fulfilled, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!