I was reading in the New Testament book of Matthew this week when I came to the following verse in 16:24: “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.'”
This is a verse that I find is often misunderstood among Christians. Many interpret it to mean a current burden being carried. Perhaps someone is dealing with a failed marriage, unemployment, financial difficulty, poor health — the list of life’s dilemmas goes on. We may hear a person, in the midst of such a painful predicament, say something like, “This is my cross to bear.” Actually, it’s a difficult circumstance to bear but it’s nothing to do with Jesus challenging one to “…take up his cross and follow Me.” Jesus was not referring to life’s troubles that come upon us all. He was referring to a change of heart; an attitude that comes with total surrender to Him.
Over the years I have had the humbling pleasure of knowing many people who truly “took up their crosses to follow Jesus.” When presented with the truth of salvation, they chose to follow Jesus even though they knew they would be shunned by their families and counted as dead. They chose Jesus even though they knew they would lose their jobs. They chose Jesus even though they knew they would be ridiculed throughout the community. They chose Jesus even though they knew a time would very likely come when they would be killed for their faith in Him. They heard Jesus say, “Will you take up your cross and follow me? Will you give Me total surrender no matter what the world may do to you?” They said yes. They counted the cost, made a conscious choice to pay whatever the price might be, and they followed Jesus in total surrender.
In our western churches, very often salvation presents itself to us in the following manner: we hear a sermon, make a decision to follow Jesus, and walk down an aisle to proclaim before all that we want to receive God’s free gift of salvation. If, after walking down the church aisle, we were asked the question: “Are you willing to lose your job, family, reputation, and possibly your life, to become a Christian today?” I wonder how many would go through with the prayer, and how many would walk away to reconsider?
Counting the cost to follow Jesus isn’t a scary thing; when we truly delve into the meaning, we discover it’s a joyful thing. It’s like Jesus is saying, “Do you want to go deeper into Me and find my treasures? Do you want to know the ecstasy that comes from total trust in Me? Do you want to be free from chains of fear and fly heights of jubilation instead? Then be willing to ‘take up your cross and follow me.’”
Such a command is not a burden to bear — it’s an attitude of surrender that sets us free from anything this world may do to us.
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, will find it.” Matthew 16:25