Just as we are called to confess Christ, we are also called to deny ourselves to follow Him.
The crowds were huge. The miracles were many. His fame had spread beyond Galilee to Jerusalem. Pilgrims seeking God were coming to Galilee rather than traveling to the Temple. When they came to Jesus they saw the power of God at work, undeniable miracles, signs, and wonders. In Jerusalem they saw politics as usual dressed in the finery of hypocrisy. They were tired of mumbling rabbis so they came to Jesus to hear the Word of God proclaimed in power and authority.
A Change of Subject
Jesus knew it was time to take His teaching deeper. Yes, He had come to touch and heal a hurting humanity but He had also come to die a redeeming death. Yes, He was the Word of God made flesh, but He was also the Sin Bearer prophesied by Isaiah. This hard message must be delivered. If not, His death would be seen as tragedy rather than triumph.
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things…
His disciples were not ready for this class. Peter took Jesus aside and tried to get Him back on topic. Jesus’ rebuke was sharp:
“Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
Peter’s face burned red and none of the others dared even to look at him for they knew they were just as guilty.
The Things of God
It is not surprising that men would be primarily concerned about “the things of men:” food, clothing, shelter, power, position, wealth, influence. The surprising thing was that their eyes could be elevated to a higher vision, their passions could flow to others and not to self only, their minds could conceive of eternal truth, not just matters of the here and now. Yet, this surprising transformation in men was precisely what Jesus had come to bring about. He called all the people nearer, including his embarrassed disciples, and taught them this new and very ancient truth. To follow Him, there would be a heavy cost.
“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
Jesus turned life upside down. Personal success was found in self-denial. To lose one’s life in Jesus was to find it. If someone gained the whole world there would be no profit in it if he lost his own soul in the process.
For the first time Jesus spoke of His cross. An implement of death, it provides eternal life for all who believe. He spoke of other crosses, one for each person who could follow Him. Although demanding the denial of self, this cross would be a thing of life—a life’s work we do for Him. If we would follow Him, we must deny ourselves, find our cross—God’s will for us—and do it.
This is the life we were created to live. We dare not bargain it away on “the things of men.”
“…what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” 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. 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. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 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.”
Lord Jesus, thank You for taking up Your cross, for denying Your humanity and submitting to the plan of the Father for Your earthly life. It was not plan B. It was so for the beginning, that You would create human life, see it fall into sin, and then enter it through the virgin’s womb, live it to perfection and then die unworthily for those of us so worthy of death. Your cross, an instrument of torture, has become an implement of life. Help me today to be faithful in bearing my cross—Your plan for me—that I might bring someone closer to You. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.
Take Up Thy Cross and Follow Me
Words and Music: Alfred H. Ackley
1. I walked one day along a country road,
And there a stranger journeyed too,
Bent low beneath the burden of His load:
It was a cross, a cross I knew.
“Take up thy cross and follow Me,”
I hear the blessed Savior call;
How can I make a lesser sacrifice,
When Jesus gave His all?
2. I cried, “Lord Jesus,” and He spoke my name;
I saw His hands all bruised and torn;
I stooped to kiss away the marks of shame,
The shame for me that He had borne.
3. “Oh, let me bear Thy cross, dear Lord,” I cried,
And, lo, a cross for me appeared,
The one, forgotten, I had cast aside,
The one, so long, that I had feared.
4. My cross I’ll carry till the crown appears—
The way I journey soon will end—
Where God Himself shall wipe away all tears,
And friend hold fellowship with friend.
<em> © 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved</em>