“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’ ” (Matthew 16:24,25).
FOR JESUS, THE JOY WAS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CROSS. The “joy that was set before him” could only be His after He “endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). If we wish to follow Jesus, what will we do? We want the joy He now has with the Father, but will we follow Him to the cross? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
There have been some of the Lord’s disciples who have died by crucifixion as Jesus did. Peter seems to have suffered such a death (John 21:18,19). But that is not what the Lord was talking about when He said we must “take up our cross.” Regardless of what happens to our physical bodies, there is something else about us that must die. There is something that must be “denied.”
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself.” For all of us (at least those old enough to have committed sin), it is “self” that must be crucified. Paul said of his own conversion, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
God created us for the joy of living inside the limits of His love. He never wanted anything for us but “life.” Yet we rebelled. We threw off His restraints. And what we found was not greater life, but “death” in all of its many forms. So this “self” — this stubborn, greedy demand to grasp what is “ours” — is what got us into trouble. If we’re to be saved, it will have to be gotten rid of.
If we’re not willing to put our self-will to death, we make a tragic and foolish mistake. Jesus said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It is life’s ultimate irony that we only get what we’ve given up.
It sounds like a good thing to be “resurrected,” doesn’t it? But there is some dying that has to be done before a resurrection can take place. If there is anything other than God that we can’t or won’t give up, then the devil has our heart. “Give it up,” Jesus says. “Hold on to it, and you will die. But die, and you will live.”
“Without sacrifice there is no resurrection” (André Gide).