What we know: God knows us. He knows that we miss His goal for our lives. Jesus challenges us to face up to the fact that “we can’t fix ourselves”. He can transform us into new creatures. He shows us how to be born a second time to a new life.
The broad view: Jesus came to show us the way. Jesus is the way. Jesus is the truth. He alone is life. There is no “self-help”. There is only “God-help”. May I live that way today.
Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will save it. For what does it benefit someone if he gains the whole world, and yet 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 that of the Father and the holy angels. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” | Christian Standard Bible. (2020). (Lk 9:23–27). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
Jesus had already given a number of “hints” about His sacrificial death, but now He began to teach this truth clearly to His disciples. John the Baptist had presented Him as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29), and Jesus had predicted the “destruction” of the temple of His body (John 2:19). When He compared Himself to the serpent in the wilderness and to Jonah, Jesus was making statements about His suffering and death.
It is clear that the Twelve did not understand, partly because of their unbelief and immaturity, and partly because it was “hidden” from them by God. Jesus taught them as they were able to receive the truth. It must have shocked the men to hear that their own religious leaders would kill their Master.
Jesus did not stop with a private announcement of His own death. He also made a public declaration about a cross for every disciple. In his Gospel, Matthew tells us that this was necessary because of Peter’s desire to protect Jesus from suffering.
Keep in mind that Jesus is talking about discipleship and not sonship. We live in a world where all we need is the next self-help book and videos. Jesus destroys this idea. We have to deny ourselves. That is the way to God.
We are not saved from our sins because we take up a cross and follow Jesus, but because we trust the Savior who died on the cross for our sins. After we become children of God, then we become disciples.
The closest contemporary word to “disciple” is probably “apprentice.” A disciple is more than a student who learns lessons by means of lectures and books. He is one who learns by living and working with his teacher in a daily “hands on” experience. Too many Christians are content to be listeners who gain a lot of knowledge but who have never put that knowledge into practice.
In the Roman world, the cross was a symbol of shame, guilt, suffering, and rejection. There could be no more despicable way to die. Crucifixion was not mentioned in polite conversation, and the people would no more think of wearing crosses on their person than we would think of wearing gold or silver electric chairs.
Jesus laid down the stern requirements for discipleship. We must first say no to ourselves—not simply to pleasures or possessions, but to self—and then take up our cross and follow the Messiah Jesus daily. This means to be identified with Him in surrender, suffering, and sacrifice. You cannot crucify yourself; you can only yield your body and let God do the rest.
Of course, this kind of life seems foolish to the world; but to the disciple of Jesus, it is wisdom. To save your life is to lose it, and how can you ever get it back again? But to give your life to Jesus is to save it and to live it in fullness. If a person owned the whole world, he would still be too poor to buy back a lost life.
Discipleship is a daily discipline: we follow Jesus a step at a time, a day at a time. A weary cleaning woman said, “The trouble with life is that it’s so daily!” But she was wrong. One of the best things about life is that we can take it a day at a time.
Our motive should be to glorify the Messiah. Anyone who is ashamed of Jesus will never take up a cross and follow Him. But if we are ashamed of Him now, He will be ashamed of us when He comes again and we will be ashamed before Him.