Luke 9:23 And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Immediately prior to this Jesus had asked the disciples who the people thought he was and then asked them who they thought he was. Peter makes that grand pronouncement of recognition, “The Christ of God.” Jesus tells them not to let this out though the reasoning might not be readily discernible to us. Let’s break this verse down and see what we can find.
If – contrary to the teachings of some religious groups out in the world a person has a choice whether to follow Jesus or not. We have a choice whether or not to follow Jesus. That choice has been evidenced ever since the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were told not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil but it was still there available to them. Decide. Eat or not eat. They made the wrong choice. Joshua told the Israelites at the end of his life, “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Jos 24:15, bold mine) Joshua told them he had chosen; now they needed to make a choice. From our readings of the book of Judges we can see that the choice which Israel made at that time did not last many generations after this. This should be a lesson to us today, also. Every generation must make its own choice AND all of us need to make that choice every day. Jesus now tells them that there is a choice whether or not to come after Him, too.
Deny himself – We have to put Jesus first in our lives. I know it is tough. I am selfish, too. I like what I like, especially TV. The Cowboys are finally playing well and I am home to watch it but, it is now time to go to services. My favorite movie is on and Bible class is right in the middle of it. Family or friends arrive as I am walking out to the car to go to worship. What decision do I make? What decision do you make? What is more important – what I want or Jesus? Jesus. No question about it. The followers of Jesus were called disciples. A disciple is a learner of some particular philosopher or master. But even more than that, they are followers (I Cor. 11:1). They have given up all to go after Him. Do you remember the cults of the 1960’s and ‘70’s? The followers of those cults quite often turned over everything they had to join with this or that teacher. That is one way of denying one self. The person now has nothing. What Jesus wants is what we should want. And what does Jesus want from us? Love God with all you have. Love your neighbor as yourself. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Obey Him. Make more disciples. (Mt. 22:37, 39; Mt. 7:12; Jn. 14:15; Mt. 28:19)
Take up his cross daily – The problem for some is that they want to be followers on their terms, when they want to, when it is convenient, when something more important has not come up, when they don’t have an excuse not to. This is a 24/7/365 lifestyle – DAILY. We are not talking of picking up a literal cross and putting it on our shoulders and carrying it all over an area like some do today to show their piety. No, we are taking on the responsibility of making those new disciples whenever opportunities arise or making the opportunity happen ourselves. We are loving God with all we have no matter the circumstances in our lives. The parallel accounts in Matthew and Mark do not include the word daily but it has to be implied at least because things change in our lives every day. We just got a job or promotion to make us very well off or we just lost a job or promotion so, no money. We have great health or we just received a terrible diagnosis. A grandchild is born or we just lost our grandparent. The good and bad happen every day and we have to shoulder them every day and follow Jesus.
Follow Me – A Christian is more than just a follower. A Christian is a learner and a believer and a follower. There are many out in the world that are learners about Jesus but don’t really care to follow Him. There are many believers in, and followers of, Jesus out there but they have no clue what Jesus has for them to learn. They are following something they think is Jesus but they don’t really know what that means. That cross to bear in the previous phrase may be more than a person wants to handle. These people may figuratively or literally cut out a verse or passage they do not want to follow. That is not what Jesus means when He speaks of following Him. There are more things to learn than “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Do you remember the next phrase in that song? “For the Bible tells me so.” Well, a person has to read the Bible to find out what that means and what all is entailed in Jesus loving them. The last words of Jesus in Matthew are this command to the apostles, Mat 28:20 “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” And Jesus told them in John 14:15, and it would apply to us also, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” A disciple cannot be JUST a learner or JUST a believer but he MUST be those AND a follower of His commands too.
In the next three verses Jesus gives a reason for someone to take up his cross daily and follow Him.
Luk 9:24 - 26 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.
Here we see three contrasts between the physical and spiritual but all teach the same message. If a person saves his physical life, then he will lose his spiritual life, and hell awaits. If a person loses his physical life for Jesus, he will gain heaven. What good does it do a person if he has lots of money here on earth when he doesn’t have any treasure in heaven? Nothing. If a person does not follow Jesus on earth, Jesus will not have him follow Him in heaven. Ultimately, if you try to live without Christ here on earth, you will be without Christ in the afterlife.
By Mike Stubbs
From Expository Files 21.4; April 2014