And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, “Who do the people say that I am?” They answered and said, “John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again.” And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.”
And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
- Luke 9:18-27 NASB
These ten verses make up a brief scene in the middle of Luke's narrative while he sets the stage for Jesus to send out His disciples with the Good News, just a chapter later. Just before this, He gave His disciples the power and authority to heal and cast out demons, and then performed the great miracle of feeding the five thousand; just after, He will be glorified before Peter, James, and John on the mount.
And tucked in between is a passage familiar to most of us - at least for verse 23: "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me."
I don't know about you, but I tend to get stuck on this verse. Fixated. I forget what came before and what comes after, and instead of absorbing Christ's teaching in a practical way, my mind clouds over with fear and confusion.
Fear - because if these are the requirements of following Jesus, then I don't qualify, because I fail them every day.
And confusion - because why does it sound like Jesus is threatening His disciples? Why does it seem like He is asking something of us that He will never have to do Himself?
But this passage is ten verses, not one - and what do you know, the context holds the key.
Jesus begins the conversation with a question: "Who do the people say that I am?"
John the Baptist, Elijah, a resurrected prophet.
"But who do you say that I am?"
The Christ of God.
It seems like the next thing out of His mouth should be "Yes! I'm the Messiah you've been waiting for and the Rescuer of Israel and the King you need! I'm the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - I AM."
But instead He says, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day. If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me."
If anyone wishes to come after Me, this is the way that I'm going - the way of the Cross.
I have denied all My inherent rights as King in order to achieve the Kingdom, and if you want to join Me, so must you.
And there's the rub: "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?"
It is a fork in the road, and whichever direction we choose, the cost is high: Follow Him to the right and we must deny ourselves daily, but all that we let go will be counted back as gain when we come into the Kingdom. Diverge to the left, and we may gain all the world now only to render ourselves forfeit then.
The question isn't "Which way will cost me the least?" Either way will cost us everything. The real question is, "Where do I want to place my everything?" Will we entrust our everything to Him, or to ourselves?
Jesus chose to entrust His everything to God. He left behind all the rights and benefits of His place in the Godhead, He came to earth empty and helpless and impoverished. He disowned His throne in order to raise up a Kingdom.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
By contrast, Lucifer, the beautiful Angel of Light, chose to entrust his everything to himself. He clung hard to his status in the heavenly realm, and even that place of honor was not enough - he sought to gain the highest place. And he was thrown down to the lowest.
“You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you. By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you."
Either way will cost us everything.
When Jesus says "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself" He is not issuing a threat, or trying to incite guilt and fear in His disciples. He is simply summoning them to join Him along the way that He's going. And He is asking no more - or less - than the Father has asked of Him.
We have been summoned to follow Jesus in the way of the Cross.
And as one of our pastors noted in church recently, the way of the Cross is a one-way journey. There's no turning back.
But there is glory at the end of the road.
And we can know this for certain, because He has traveled it before us - He has already emptied Himself, already given up everything, and already been raised to exaltation as the firstfruits of our resurrection and the proof of the inheritance that awaits us.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:3-9