If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me, (Matthew 16:24).
I fully intend to get back to walking you through the book of Galatians, but once again I've been thinking about something Jesus said to the disciples. Back in November, we looked at the question Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do you say that I am." Shortly after asking the question he began to tell them that they were heading to Jerusalem where he was going to be put to death. Immediately, Simon Peter pulled him aside to tell him that would never happen and Jesus responded with the iconic rebuke, "Get thee behind me, Satan."
It is in this setting that we find today's verse. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem to die. If the disciples are going to go with him, they have to raise the bar on their commitment to him. If you were to summarize the challenge, you could do it using three words: deny, die, and follow. A few years ago I ran across a phrase that has become a consistent prayer for me. It goes like this: "Lord, I forfeit my agenda, and embrace yours." I think this phrase captures a great deal of what Jesus was asking from his followers.
Throughout Church history there has been a strong emphasis on self denial. Spirituality has often been measured by how much we give up. The things we are asked to give up are usually external in nature. But, there is a huge difference between self denial and denial of the Self. The latter is internal, at the deepest level of our being. You can give up almost everything you have and still be living for your own agenda. Self can be in control, even if you are living as a hermit without any material comforts. What Jesus asks his followers here is much deeper.
Taking up our cross is an image of dying to Self. It is another way of saying the same thing as deny your Self. Maybe a bit stronger. Deny and Die. That is the way of the Cross. I believe Jesus was calling his disciples to a new stage of relationship. They began as curious spectators. They became convinced that Jesus was a rabbi worth following. At a point in time he called them to be disciples. It involved leaving their jobs and families behind and following him. Now, he is inviting them to a life of full surrender.
Full surrender. I have a ways to go. How about you? How about putting a "S" on your hand today to remind you that Jesus calls you to deny your "Self", and to die to your "Self". The good news is that when we do, we can fully follow Him!