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Today’s post is written by Rob Freyer, a recently baptized member of NewLife.
“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "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 and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:34-36)
Jesus speaks these words to his disciples and the rest of the population surrounding him, and it can be understood as both a challenge and a command for those who at this point still aren't sure who he is ... a prophet, John the Baptist, or some other figure of importance. This statement is a make or break ultimatum. Will these people follow, and what are they willing to give up to do so?
First, Christ says “if anyone would come after me." By this he is asking his disciples “who will serve in my stead, continuing my work, in the ways I have shown, in my absence,” as he has just informed them of God's grand plan involving his own life sacrifice. He is also asking all present, “who will pursue me with their whole heart, soul, and life; and furthermore, what will you do with your own lives if you are to emulate mine?”
Jesus instructs, “He Must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Deny yourself: this is the first step in following Jesus. Take up your cross: this is the second requirement. Pause for a moment and consider this ... Christ denied himself life in the flesh, life in this world, and took up His cross, which bore the weight of the world and all its disobedience, disbelief, cruelty, unrighteousness, and the total obscenity of sin. And to where did he carry that cross - that symbol of humiliation, suffering, and death? Through the streets of injustice, mockery, abuse, and scorn; up the roads of the Via Delarosa, the Way of Suffering; to the top of a mountain, called Golgotha, The Place of the Skull, joining criminals for a brutal crucifixion and a sinner's death - total abandonment by God the Father. He did this out of obedience, faith, and love for His Father and for His people. He ends his commandment to his audience with the call for them to follow him. Yes, follow him to the death. In Kyle Idleman's book Not A Fan, he explains that when we take up our cross, “We die to our own desires, our pursuits, and our plans. When we become followers of Jesus, that is the end of us.”
However; Jesus leaves off with a promise: “whoever shall lose his life for my sake shall save it.” The sacrifice of one's earthly life and his self as he knows him entirely will bring forth true life eternally. The choice is between the now and the later; the immediately visual and the spiritual unseen hope of an eternal promise from the Christ and savior.
The same sentiments are expressed in Romans 6 - that those who are baptized with Christ into death shall receive the promise of eternal life and glory with Him in his resurrection. For Romans 6:11 says “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
I was myself baptized just recently, and in sharing my testimony pledged to the best of my ability to do the very same Christ is asking of his audience and of us all. Yet, it is only because Jesus already did this for me that I could possibly even dare to do it for him. It will take willpower, self-control, self-sacrifice, and above all the moving and changing force of the Holy Spirit to develop my heart and change my desires. Carrying a cross, my cross, will mean denying myself the things that my sinful nature cry out for - things that have become comforts, habits, and addictions. It will mean saying no to worldly pleasures so that I might experience the greater pleasure of living for Christ and the constant intellectual and spiritual pursuit of what that truly means! It will mean being willing to suffer the ridicule and rejection of others, to be willing to go against the common tide, in order to be faithful to the one who endured death for me and my failures.
So ask yourself today, right now, and again in the moments of temptation that await: will you be a Follower of Jesus Christ, or merely a Fan, like the crowd around Jesus, sticking around for the free food and hoping to witness a miracle. What does taking up your cross mean in your life? What is God asking you to deny yourself, to lay down, or to pick up? Do you truly believe that if you are willing to lose your life for His sake, that the life you will receive from Him will be infinitely better? And if you believe, will you act? Mark 8:34-36 is a heavy commission from the Lord of Lords, and many turned away upon hearing it. My prayer for our church is that we will follow our Lord closer, and not fall away in apathy.
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