Then Jesus said to his disciples, â€œIf anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.â€Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Matthew 16:24 (NIV)
A few years ago, the pastor at the church I attended preached on John 3:16. I wrote a devotion* about that experience (the beautiful simplicity of Godâ€™s love for me). I was blessed again this week when my pastor preached on this familiar passage from Matthew. The â€˜truthâ€™ that overlays both experiences is that Godâ€™s word is timeless and ALIVE. There is always something new to learn from a passage. Whether I have studied Jesus one day or 60 years, I will never know everything!
â€œIf anyone would come after meâ€¦â€ I am a disciple of Jesus. I made a decision 12 years ago that I would follow Jesus. I knew it wouldnâ€™t be easy though it is a fairly simple point. So Jesus, in His perfect wisdom, tells me that IF I decide to follow Him â€“ here is what I need to do:
â€œâ€¦he must deny himselfâ€¦â€ I donâ€™t need the contemporary, gender-neutral language to know that Jesus is speaking to ME. And there is the first difficult step: denying ME. I believe that means that I walk in confidence and strength and focus not because of ME but because of who I follow. I am truly following Jesus then my mind isnâ€™t on myself and how I can move ahead or be blessed. It is about being blessed because I am OBEDIENT to the One who is my Creator and Lord! I give up MY way and keep my eyes ahead on Jesus who is going before me in everything that I do.
â€œâ€¦take up his crossâ€¦â€ Ah. Every day there is a cross to pick up. Some crosses are bigger, heavier, and more easily identified than others. A frequent cross that I carry is my job. I really donâ€™t like my 40 hour/week job much. Itâ€™s physically difficult and even dangerous, emotionally draining, and spiritually battle-heavy. Those words describe it when my eyes are turned to ME. When I look up and turn my ears to Jesusâ€™ directions, my job is FULL of Kingdom work! Opportunities to glorify God are endless! Yes, I must choose to pick up the cross but I donâ€™t have to carry alone! Jesus will carry the weight of my cross just as He carried a cross 2000 years ago if we are walking in the same direction!
â€œâ€¦and follow meâ€¦â€ When I am placing my feet right in the footsteps of Jesus, I am right in the center of His will. How TOTALLY COOL is that??? I donâ€™t have to figure â€œitâ€ out. I donâ€™t have to make â€œitâ€ happen. I just have to follow Jesus and that happens after I have denied myself and taken up my cross.
How blessed I have been this week to think over this Scripture and the words given to my pastor. And letâ€™s not forget the rest of Jesusâ€™ words in this passage:
â€œFor whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Fatherâ€™s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.â€Â Â Â Â Matthew 16:25-28 (NIV)