“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.’” —Matthew 16:24
Jesus calls us to the desire to come after Him because ultimately, what you desire—or in this case who you desire—is what you will go after. Do any of us pursue something we don’t want?
If you put a plate of asparagus in front of me, I’m not going to touch it—that’s no temptation for me. But put a Swiss Roll in front of me, and the struggle is real. You cannot be tempted by something you don’t desire, but if you desire it, the pursuit is on.
The word desire means “to intend, to have in mind, to will.” If you want to pursue God, you first need to will yourself to do it. And desiring God comes has a flipside: You have to deny yourself.
When you are rooted in pride, your eyes are fixed only on what you selfishly desire. It’s only when you get to the end of yourself that Jesus reveals Himself to you.
“He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.” —Proverbs 3:34
God’s grace enters the scene when humility does. We all need to give up our old ways of life so that we can make room for a whole new existence.
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it.”—Matthew 16:25
Jesus’ purpose doesn’t stop with the call for us to deny ourselves; He also calls us to action. He tells us to take up our cross and follow Him—we enter into a partnership when we walk with Jesus. We don’t just give up our lives and then sit on our butts, we have to follow Him.
It’s amazing to see how many times Jesus expressed to the disciples that He was going to die and rise again on the third day. Jesus had never lied to them. Ever. That being the case, why weren’t all eleven disciples at the grave on the third day? I would have been there with communion ready! Someone should have been there with a basin and towel waiting to wash His feet!
Throughout His ministry on earth, Jesus gave the disciples many examples of how to live. One of them was, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” The only thing a cross was used for in that day was death. Jesus was going to be put to death. In the same way, we need to take up our cross and put to death our old life. We all carry the same cross, though what’s on that cross may look different for each of us: greed, envy, slander, lust, bitterness, etc. No matter what your sins have been, the Cross bears it all.
Jesus tells us that first we need to desire Him, then we have to deny ourselves, and finally we have to take up our cross and follow Him. It’s a comforting thing to know Jesus prepared the way for us. We know that we are equipped with whatever it takes to take up our cross. Whether that’s mercy, love, forgiveness, grace—you name it, we have it in Christ in order to accomplish the purpose God has for our lives.
But what are we really giving up?
“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?” —Matthew 16:26
What will a man give in exchange for his soul? Prestige? Status? The size of his house? What he drives down the road? When you leave this earth you cannot take a U-Haul with you. Nothing is worth the exchange of your soul. We are all stewards of what God has given us so we need to refuse to be bound by anything. God has set us free from all sin and temptation, but we have to let it go, not holding onto that which we were once bound to.
What are you going to lose your life for?
—LaMorris Crawford, Chaplain of the Cincinnati Bengals
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