Scripture Reading: Genesis 47:13-48:22 / Matthew 16:21-17:13 / Proverbs 3:1-10
Clarence Jordan, the author of the “Cotton Patch” a New Testament children’s translation was getting a red-carpet tour of a beautiful church. With pride the minister pointed to the rich, imported pews and luxurious decorations. As they stepped outside into the darkness, a spotlight shone on the huge cross on top of the steeple. “That cross alone cost us $10,000”, the pastor said with a smile. “You got cheated,” said Jordan. “There was a time when Christians could get them for free.”
Our souls are filled with contemplation when we see a cross on a steeple, or on a chain, or on a cathedral wall but when we see a cross on someone’s back, we are impacted by the reality and truth of the cross. Jesus told 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.” (Matthey 16:24,25).
The Greek word for “deny”, means to utterly separate or to completely disown from something. Our human nature is prone to indulgence, not denial. Man insists on being first, being noticed and being praised. Some want to identify themselves with Christianity only for what they can get out of it…like God is the dispenser of life’s prizes. Following Christ requires self-denial and understanding that there is no getting without giving, gain without pain or reward without sacrifice.
Self-denial in and of itself is of no virtue. The proud Jewish religious leaders loved to display their “self-denial” and believed it was a means of righteousness. Self-denial does not start on the outside but it begins on the inside. The purpose of denying ourselves is to eliminate all obstacles that would block God’s will and way in our lives. Jesus is asking us to deny ourselves the right to be in charge of our lives and submit our will to His will. Denial drives a stake through our will, ego and need for control but it releases the loving will and compassionate desire of God in our lives.
Jesus says that denial is followed by the death of the cross. Poor condemned souls would march to the place of crucifixion with a cross of death strapped to their backs. Carrying one’s cross meant walking to one’s death. Taking His cross represents a willingness to endure persecution, rejection, reproach, shame, suffering and even martyrdom for Him. Following Him is not about the level of difficulty but the reality of death…. only a cause worth dying for is truly worth living for.
As we deny and die to ourselves by His cross, we will lose our lives but gain an identity that is life giving and everlasting. Instead of the temporary, we gain the eternal. We exchange the corruptible for the incorruptible and instead of being doomed for failure; we’re destined for success. It is said that a religion that gives nothing, costs nothing and suffers nothing is worth nothing. If we want to be a crown wearer in heaven…we must be His cross bearer here on earth!