MATTHEW 16:24-26: “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” NKJV
OBSERVATION: What does it mean to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus? This is such a familiar verse, yet do we understand what Jesus was saying? How do we lose our life so that we can save it? These words, without the context of the event, can lead us in so many different directions.
One of the most used, and incorrect interpretations of this verse, sees one’s cross as the trials and burdens of this life. How many times have you heard someone say – “We all have our cross to bear!” Yet, this understanding of Jesus’ words ignores the context of this passage of Scripture. Jesus was not talking about the burdens we will have to carry in this life. He was speaking of our attitudes and perspectives in life.
Jesus, alone with His disciples, turned to them and asked – “Who do men say that I am?” The disciples followed with some of the common misconceptions of Jesus’ identity that were held by the Jews. He then turned the question around. He said – “But who do you say that I am?” As usual, Peter was the first to respond. He confessed – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”
This was not merely a guess on Peter’s part. This was a revelation that was given to him by the Father. Jesus responded,
- “Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 16:17 NKJV
This confession of Jesus’ identity, this truth of His deity, is revealed to be the very foundation on which the church would be built. Jesus would not only be the foundation of the church, but He would also be its victory over the gates of hell, and the key to the church’s power in prayer!
- “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19 NKJV
From this truth, Jesus begins to unveil God’s plan of redemption. He tells them about His upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection. This is the center of the context of Jesus’ call to pick up our cross. Peter, having received this great revelation from the Father, now stands rebuking Jesus regarding His call to die. Peter cannot fathom Jesus falling into the hands of sinful men and suffering such a fate. in fact, Peter declared that he would be the one who would stand between Jesus and this fateful outcome!
No doubt Peter thought he was being loyal to Jesus and that he was doing the right thing in pledging to protect Him. Yet, Jesus, looking through Peter to the very source of his opposition, rebukes the root of this misconception.
- “But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16:23 NKJV
Jesus was not calling Peter, Satan. Jesus was revealing the very source of Peter’s thinking. It did not come from the Father. It was counter to the Father’s will. On the outside, it seemed correct and even galant. Yet, stripped of its veneer, the reality of the source of this statement was laid bare. What a stark revelation. One moment we can receive divine revelation from the Father and the very next be deceived by the enemy! What is the answer?
- “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
Taking up one’s cross and following Jesus has nothing to do with suffering. Granted, all who live a godly life in Christ will suffer persecution. However, our personal suffering was not the center point of thought in these words. The center point was our choice of living by the wisdom of this world or the wisdom of God. In every moment of life, at every point of decision, we have the choice to receive revelation from God or rely on our own understanding. The cross is the place of decision.
Note the progression of thought. To be a disciple of Jesus we must, 1) deny ourselves, 2) take up our cross, and 3) follow Jesus. The cross stands between us and Jesus. At the juncture of salvation, it is the crossroads of faith and unbelief. At the juncture of discipleship, it is the choice between self-reliance and surrender that is evidenced in obedience. When Peter confessed – “You are the Christ,” he was walking in revelation and surrender. When he rebuked Jesus he was succumbing to self-reliance and the wisdom of this world.
In every moment of life, in every decision, we have two pathways we can follow. The first is to listen to the conventional wisdom of this world. The second is to deny this wisdom, surrender to the wisdom of God (deny ourselves and pick up our cross), and follow Jesus. Picking up one’s cross is about our direction in life. It is not about the burdens of life. When we resist the cross we find ourselves carrying the heavy burdens of life. When we pick up our cross we are met with the empowering and all-sufficient grace of God! In the words of the old hymn,
The cross before me, the world behind me, no turning back, no turning back!
This is what it means to pick up our cross and follow Jesus! Lord, grant me the grace to pause at every decision in life and choose Your cross!
In Jesus Name!