“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”[i]
What does it mean to take up our crosses and follow Jesus? What does it mean to lose our lives for Christ’s sake?
In the context of this passage, it means that we should embrace Jesus and His words, and not be ashamed of them. If we read the first two verses in the context of the third verse, taking up our crosses daily means daily embracing Jesus and His words and not being ashamed of doing that.
Wide is the road that leads away from Jesus. Narrow is the gate through which we must go to be saved. Following Jesus has never been the popular way. It costs, above all things, the thing that we seek most. It costs our pride, our reputation in the world. It costs our ability to fit in with the world. It costs our self-esteem and self-promotion.
Am I really following Jesus? If my reputation is good, if I fit in with people wherever I go, am I really following Jesus?
I think there is a danger in becoming caustic as a way of living out these words of Jesus. Jesus wasn’t caustic. He attracted sinners and people in need. He always loved people, first and foremost. If people don’t like us because we are caustic, this is not what it means to take up our crosses.
Still, Jesus was candid, and He didn’t pull any punches. He challenged people where they lived in the places where they have dug in. Many of those people in Jesus’ day were religious and political leaders.
Where have I dug in? If we are going to preach the Gospel, we must be sold out to it. We are tempted to apply Jesus’ words at other people, without applying them to ourselves first. Jesus spent more time criticizing the religious people than the sinners.
I’m afraid I often don’t even see the ramparts of my own fiercely protected self. I am so used to these trenches along the battle lines that are set up to preserve my own selfish ways that I don’t realize how dug in I am.
Taking up our crosses means to let down those protective walls of respectability that we hide behind. It doesn’t mean to come out with our righteous guns blazing, but to let our humble, loving lights shine. Let the chips fall where they will.
Oh God! Help me to see my self as I really am and to love your words more than me and to love others more than myself. Father please cleanse me from the sin that entangles me from my waking and weighs heavy on my heart as I lay down to sleep. Jesus please forgive me for any time that I’ve ever felt shame at the mention of Your name or Your words. Please keep me from being a whitewashed tomb like the Pharisee and help me to follow in your ways.
[i] Luke 9:23-26