34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? 37 Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
Jesus has gathered a group of people around Him that includes His disciples. Jesus begins to teach the crowd. He addresses this teaching to “Whoever desires to come after Me”. This indicates that there is a choice to be made. We have a choice to follow Jesus or not follow Jesus… this is free will that we are given.
The reality is… that some individuals will not choose to follow Jesus… or I should say that some individuals will “choose not to follow Jesus.” There will be plenty of people that want the blessings… you know – the miracles, the healing, the “fame” of being a Christian, the association with the long awaited Messiah. Then there are those that can’t stand to hear the name of Jesus and any reference to the cross or the Bible. We see many today that are offended by the name of Jesus. These offended people create their own organizations to fight against any presentation of the gospel or public references to Jesus. People are so offended by Jesus that they want any reminders of Christ removed… crosses, ten commandments, etc.
We also have plenty of people that profess to be Christians, however their lives look nothing like the Jesus of the Bible. They take His name, but their lives produce no fruit resembling that of the followers of Christ.
In our subject scripture, Jesus addresses those that desire to come after Him. In essence… Jesus is saying “If you want to come after me, if you want to follow me… here is what you need to do.” Then He lays out three parts… three steps really. To those that want to follow Jesus, He says… let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me
1- deny himself (note lowercase “h”)
2- take up his cross (note lowercase “h”)
3- follow Me (note capital “M”)
The first step, “deny himself”, requires a person to take inventory of their priorities and their motives. We need to ask ourselves… what are our priorities in life? This list could include fame, money, reputation, possessions… maybe just an easy life void of responsibility. We also need to ask ourselves what our motives are? Are we doing things that serve our own desires or that serve to glorify Christ.
We can’t serve our fleshly desires and a heavenly Father. Jesus taught this in Matthew 6…
24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. You must choose one master to serve…. For example: serve God or serve money.
Jesus continues… 25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Jesus asks this question to help us re-focus on the big picture. What all does life encompass? Is it just our physical needs on earth? No… life also includes our spiritual relationship with our Creator. Our spiritual life will continue long after our physical life, as we know it now.
Again, Jesus continues… 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
27Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? What does worrying produce? Think about that for a moment… has time spent worrying ever provided you with anything of value? Have you ever met anyone whose job occupation was Professional Worrier? No… because worrying is not productive. In fact, worrying is more often paralyzing. The more you worry, the more you find that you need to worry about! The more you worry, the less you accomplish.
The first step that Jesus gave us here, in order to follow Him, is to “deny self”. Put your own personal, fleshly desires aside. Rid yourself of the bondage that your flesh and this world place on you. Trying to please your flesh or trying to conform to this world only puts you in bondage to a master that can’t be satisfied. You may experience fleeting joy, but you will find yourself working harder and harder (sacrificing yourself for an ungrateful master) while accumulating more and more scars as your reward. Free yourself of the bondage of flesh and the world so that you can serve the loving God that became the sacrifice to free you from your sins.
Now that you have freed yourself from the chains of serving your flesh and this world… we look at the second step… The second step “take up his cross” requires one to turn to God for their purpose. God created each one of us with a purpose in mind. It’s important that we recognize that the word “his” is lowercase here. We are not instructed to take up Jesus’ cross here… He was appointed to carry that cross. We are to take up “our” cross. I am to take up “my” cross. You are to take up “your” cross.
We were each created as a masterpiece for specific purposes that God ordained in advance. Jeremiah 1:5 God said to Jeremiah… “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” These are such powerful words that God speaks to Jeremiah. In these words we can clearly see that Jeremiah was not an accident or just a random person. Jeremiah is the flesh and blood human being that God put advance thought into exactly how he would be created and what great plans lay ahead for him.
God told Jeremiah that he was created for a purpose. Jeremiah was designed and created with forethought for a very specific set of purposes. God had a set of tasks in mind that He wanted to accomplish when he created Jeremiah. Gad also had a set of tasks in mind that He wanted to accomplish when He created you. God designs talents and skills into us in accordance with His plans for us. God creates each of us with the abilities that we will need to be successful in all that He calls us to do.
Paul puts it like this in Romans 12… 1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. 3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:1-8)
As a result of God’s grace (not earned through any work on our part)… we each have been given individual spiritual gifts according to God’s predestined purpose for our life. We were designed and created (with forethought) with all of the gifts and talents necessary to accomplish what God intended to accomplish through us. Many of these gifts and talents have been, and continue to be, developed and honed as we continue to grow as Christians. That is part of Him continuing the work that He began… He designed us, created us and continues to develop us as His soldiers to carry out His works here on earth.
That brings us to the third step… “follow Me”… this requires one to put their focus on Jesus.
–“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself— Take inventory of your priorities and your motives to ensure that you are putting God first. Put aside your own fleshly & worldly desires, release yourself from those chains and bondage.
–take up his cross—Take ownership of the spiritual gifts that God has granted to you. Recognize that God has created you for a purpose and embrace the giftings and talents that God has built into you. Allow Him to continue to grow you and develop you; to train you as one of His soldiers to fight the good fight.
–and follow Me—turn your focus to Jesus to lead you in using your gifts to glorify Him
You need to do something with those spiritual gifts and talents that God has built into you. With these gifts comes the responsibility to use them according to the will of the One that gave them to you. As Paul encouraged the Romans… present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. When we each exercise our individual gifts according to God’s will… we see a group of individuals (known as the church) working together in harmony for the mutual benefit of everyone and glorifying God.
We are each created for a specific, and different, purpose. We each have a different cross to carry. At times we overlap and share in our burdens. At times, we walk parallel in our journeys. At other times we are called onto separate paths where we lose sight of one another. Think of Paul and Peter and John and how they traveled here and there as the Spirit lead them to different places at different times to minister to different people. Sometimes crossing paths or traveling together. At other times circling back to check on the spiritual health of the congregations and to rebuke and exhort and disciple them. Each carrying their own burden, their own cross…. each exercising the gifts that God had given to them.
In order for the church to accomplish this successfully… we must focus on Jesus and allow Him to lead and direct us…. Jesus showed us how to pour out mercy and grace on others. Jesus showed us how to break down cultural traditions that hindered the spreading of the gospel. Jesus showed us that the “least of these” were treasured souls. Jesus showed us patience and tenderness in teaching others the ways of God. Jesus showed us how to lay our lives down in order take up the cross and put the needs of others ahead of our own needs. He showed us that the needs of others trumps our own desires and comfort. We exercise all of these gifts with a love that only comes from Christ.
Jesus continues in verse 35… 35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
What does this world have to offer that you would trade your soul for? Let’s say for a minute that you had the opportunity to trade your soul for everything in the world. Let’s say that you decide to take that offer… you trade your soul for everything in the world. You now possess everything in this world… all of its precious treasures! How long will they last? How long will you get to keep those treasures? This world will face God’s righteous judgment and be destroyed… to be replaced with the new Jerusalem. Even if you made the trade… your soul for the world… you would only possess it for a short time. Your soul, however, has an eternal destiny.
This was the third temptation that was placed before Jesus when Satan came to tempt Him. Satan offered Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world and their glory (Matthew 4:8) if Jesus would simply fall down and worship him (Satan). Jesus’ response… “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” (Matthew 4:10) …serving the will of God above our own desires.
Look at verse 37… 37 Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
Here is another perspective to take… If you had lost your soul to an eternal damnation in hell… what would you be willing to do to get it back? If you stood face to face with Jesus… knowing that your soul was on a fixed path to an eternity of fiery torment and torture, eternal separation from your loving, heavenly Father… what would you be willing to do to save it?
In reality… this is the place where we find ourselves. You either are or were in this place at one time. If you have given your life to Christ… then you came to that place where you realized that you needed a savior. You came to the realization that you could not save yourself from an eternity of condemnation. You accepted the reality that your soul was condemned to an eternity in hell and you did something about it… you gave your life to Christ. If you have not given your life to Christ… whether you want to accept the fact or not, your sin separates you from God. There are only two eternal destinations… heaven and hell. If you have not given your life to Christ… then by default you are serving Satan in this world and are on a path alongside him to hell. This world, it has an expiration date.
So back to the question… If you stood face to face with Jesus… knowing that your soul was on a fixed path to an eternity of fiery torment and torture… what would you be willing to do to save it? – There is only one correct answer, only one acceptable response for what you can do to save your soul — give your life to Jesus… the Christ… the Messiah.
If you try to hang onto your life, serving yourself and this world, then you will have the same fate as this world… destruction. If you turn your life over to Christ (not my will, but yours be done), then you will have the same fate as Christ… eternity with the Father in Heaven. It seems really simple… in fact, it’s the simple truth!
This is not the politically correct answer that the world wants me to say or wants you to hear. However, it is the biblical truth that holds the key to your soul’s eternal destiny.
Jesus continues in verse 38… 38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
Jesus is returning at a date and time only known to the Father.
You set the terms for the return: If you have accepted Him… He will honor that choice by accepting you. If you have rejected Him… He will honor that choice by rejecting you.
The choice is entirely in your hands. The timing is in God the Father’s hands. The outcome is in your hands.
Now let’s back out to a wider view of this scripture. What is the context of this portion of scripture that we are studying? What is happening?
Jesus and the disciples are traveling to Caesarea and Philippi. On the road, Jesus asked the disciples the question “Who do you say that I am?”. To which Peter answer… “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. (Matthew 6:16) To which Jesus praised Peter “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)
Next, Jesus began to teach the disciples about what lay ahead for Him. Jesus explained that He must soon go to Jerusalem where He will suffer at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes. Then Jesus began to explain that He would die and be raised on the third day. This was too much for Peter to handle. Peter rebuked Jesus saying “This shall not happen to You!” (Matthew 16:22) Jesus replied to Peter “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
Note how quickly one can go from declaring Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God to rebuking Him. How often do we say that we are following Jesus, but our actions tell otherwise? We tell people that we are followers of Christ, but we are too busy to answer when He calls with an assignment to love on our neighbor.
Jesus gave us the literal, most graphic example of “taking up your cross”. He took up a cross that included ridicule, false accusations, beating, floggings, and death… all of these were punishments that belonged to you and I. Jesus took up His cross… and sacrificed Himself for us.
Taking up your cross requires sacrifice. Discipleship requires sacrifice. Jesus was very clear regarding this… These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
What has it cost you to follow Christ? As I was studying this scripture, I came across this list of questions to consider…
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing some of your closest friends?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means alienation from your family?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means the loss of your reputation?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your job?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your life?
Many individuals have taken up their cross, sacrificed for me. No one more so than Jesus. Many individuals have taken up their cross, sacrificed for you. Paul instructs us to present (our) bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is (our) reasonable service. Take up your cross… let Christ have control of your life.
Taking up your cross is not a type of punishment or penance. It is joining with the living God to bring grace, mercy, love, and hope to those that are lost and dying in their sins. It is joining in a real battle of biblical proportions that is occurring all around us in the world today (though the battle is not even recognized by many).
Choose to say “Away with you Satan!” Join God in bringing truth to a world without hope. Welcome into your life Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (Mark 8:34)
May your life be filled with sacrificial service to those that you encounter, bringing glory to the One that ransomed His Son on the cross to free you from your bondage of sin.