Then Jesus said to 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. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. Matthew 16:24-27
Jesus gave this direction to His disciples after He had a confrontation with Peter. Peter challenged Jesus about His approaching arrest, death and resurrection. Peter would have none of it. Jesus responded strongly, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:21-23).
Peter didn’t want to lose Jesus. He had spent the last three and a half years with Jesus. Peter had given up his career to follow Jesus. He didn’t want things to end. Peter didn’t want to see Jesus suffer and die. He wasn’t objecting to taking up his own cross and following Jesus. He was objecting to Jesus doing it.
The “taking up the cross” part is a cause for some confusion. Every believer doesn’t have the gift of martyrdom. Some believers take this as carrying the enduring problems in their lives: (in a droll voice): “Well, I guess this is the cross I have to bear.” And, it could be anything from their mother-in-law moving in to watching football on an analog television.
The cross is a symbol of ultimate surrender. No one hanging on a cross is calling the shots for their own lives. But, we jump to the idea of carrying a cross to avoid a more personal command: “Deny yourself.”
The world encourages us to indulge ourselves. Why? Well, they make money off of our indulgences. Self-denial is not as profitable. Indulgence says, “You deserve it.” Denial says, “I could indulge myself, but I choose to deny myself for the sake of something greater.” Indulgence says, “Satisfaction is within your reach. You are in control.” Denial says, “I’m going to skip what is easily available and release control.” You cannot control the things of God.
Our indulgences result in shame, guilt, flab, failed health, hangovers, and failed relationships. Ultimately, indulgences lead to the loss of our souls. In fact, Jesus said that we could gain the whole world, yet lose our souls.
Solomon was the wealthiest man who ever lived. He possessed a higher percentage of the world’s wealth than Bill Gates, Cornelius Vanderbilt, or Sam Walton. There was nothing that Solomon couldn’t have. Yet, Solomon’s conclusion is this: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
What are you killing yourself to achieve? Financial success? Recognition? Pleasure and indulgence? The lasting things of life are brought by denial rather than indulgence. As Perry has said, “The most meaningful things in life can’t be touched, but they can be felt.”
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