Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
One of the main problems with this passage is how used to hearing them we have become as Christians. There comes a point where a difficult saying of Jesus is so familiar it washes over us without causing a stir in our hearts.
It’s kind of like how people are constantly outraged at something in our society these days. You’ve probably noticed with the advent of social media, that people become outraged at any picture that causes a stir, or like that United Airlines flight how that guy got dragged off and everyone was baying for blood and boycotting the airline, or Coopers brewery being shunned by the public for having their beer featured in an advert they didn’t make, or the latest dumb thing that a “politician” in the US has said.
Outrage here, outrage there, left, right and centre. A friend of mine the other day said “Man, there is just so much outrage about everything I’m getting tired from it. I don’t think I can physically keep up with the level of outrage demanded of me. I have outrage fatigue.” Does this sound familiar? Maybe you’re young and fresh and don’t suffer the same yet, but we certainly don’t have an unlimited supply of outrage.
Yet we get fatigued in the same way about shocking things Jesus says. He says things that should blow our mind or rock us to the core, and we’re so familiar with it we can barely even tell you the most difficult part of the passage we just read.
And yet this passage is Jesus being brutally honest about the hard things in the Christian life. He says that to be a Christian is difficult. We need to leave our old ways and to follow him.
I was talking with a Pastor recently who says that when people say they want to be baptised, he says to them “That’s great! Now, do you realise what you are saying in your baptism? Jesus is your ultimate reality now, and following him is more important than anything else. He guarantees you that there will be things that you will have to change to follow him, both in your character and your actions. He can ask anything of you, even up to your own life. Do you still want to do this?”
I like that he says this, because it’s removing any false pretence that we can give to God whatever we like and still be mostly in control of our lives.
Thankfully, Jesus isn’t telling us something he hasn’t done himself. Directly before this, Jesus has said that He (The Son of Man) will suffer many things, be rejected, killed and raised to life (Luke 9:22). Are we really surprised life is going to be a struggle for us if we follow him?
But even more, here Jesus makes it abundantly clear that there’s no point trying to save your life by clinging to it. The tighter you hold on to your life, the faster it will slip through your fingers. If you somehow gained control of the whole world, it would be at the cost of your soul.
In writing this, I am assuming those reading already know why we might follow Jesus. The good news that Jesus preached is that all are made right before God through him and welcomed into the kingdom. It’s why Paul said that even his best credentials were nothing compared to gaining Jesus:
I count everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.
So, Jesus suffered, and we are called into that as a disciple of Jesus. But no matter how bad things seem, having Jesus is greater than anything you may suffer in this life, even to the point of death.
Isaac Watts says it best in his hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (1707):
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.