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Deny Yourself, Take Up Your Cross, and Follow Me

August 28, 2016
Matthew 16:24-27
24
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny
themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their
life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for
someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in
exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with
his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
These are very heavy words from Jesus. But, they are important and they come
from someone who loved you enough to die for you. As we study Jesus’ words today,
remember that He tells you the truth, including all the challenges that you will face in
obeying Him. In fact, Jesus often makes the challenges seem more difficult than they
actually are—He uses the worst case scenario, that we ought to be ready to die for His
sake.
The devil does the opposite: he exaggerates the benefits of following him, but
hides all of the downsides. He does this because far from having your best interests in
mind, he has bad intentions towards you.
Let’s observe what’s going on in these verses:
1. This saying of Jesus is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Jesus explained
many times to all people what it would mean to be His disciple. He invited
everyone to follow Him, but asked them to understand what following Him would
mean.
2. Jesus had told His disciples how He would suffer and die, and then be resurrected
after three days. Peter, because he loved Jesus, tried to convince Jesus not to allow
this to happen. Jesus then explained what it meant to be His follower.
3. The 12 apostles remembered these words of Jesus. We know that they all followed
their Master in terms of their willingness to suffer and even die for His sake.
v. 24
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me.
Jesus says that anyone can be his disciple. No one can force you to do it—you
have to decide for yourself. Jesus also wants you to carefully consider and then to make
that decision. We should not be half-way in and half-way out. Either we are followers of
Jesus or not. He did not come to gather crowds, but to make disciples.
This call to discipleship has been the same through the ages. No matter the time or
place, this call of Jesus to follow Him has been the same.
Jesus lays out three conditions of discipleship:

1. “Deny yourself” – This is the prerequisite. If we are not ready to deny ourselves,
then there is no way that we can take up our cross and follow Him. To deny
yourself means that we cannot bargain with God, but that we agree to obey Him
no matter what. We give up control of our lives. Someone said that 70% of
hearing from God is being ready to obey Him, whatever He says.
Think about it like this: When we decide to follow Jesus, our old self is dead and
we have a new life in Christ.
2. “Take up your cross” – Jesus asks his followers to take up their cross. The
Romans made those who were going to be crucified carry their cross to the place
of crucifixion.
God has a unique calling for each person and part of that calling is going to
involve difficulty that you could otherwise avoid. It may be a responsibility to
care for others, the added difficulties of a physical limitation, or the time and
money that we spend to do God’s work. Whatever it is, you will ask yourself
many times, “Is this worth it?”
Jesus had His cup to drink; we also each have our own. But just as the suffering
that Jesus faced perfected Him, God uses our own individual cross to perfect us.
You see, He is not so interested as what we can do for Him in this life as who we
become, and the cross is an instrument that He uses to mold and shape us.
3. “Follow me” – Jesus reiterates that we must follow Him. He says, “If anyone
would come after me … he must follow me.” We should expect to see the same
type of opposition that Jesus faced in our lives. Similarly, we ought to see the
same type of miracles and results as we play our role in God’s church.
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for
I am gentle and humble at heart …” As we follow Jesus in our Christian walk, He
will teach us. We will learn more about Him. As Paul said, “I want to know Christ
and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings,
becoming like him in his death …”
As we follow Jesus, we will be led by His Spirit.
Romans 8:5
5
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh
desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on
what the Spirit desires.
All of this is very difficult! Jesus understood that better than anyone, which is
why He went on to explain why He was giving this advice.

I want to pause here to re-emphasize that Jesus has our best interests in mind.
Satan’s lie is that we cannot trust God to provide us with all that we need, and that to be
happy, we must take control of our lives and do things our own way. In reality, God
always desires what is best for us.
Here are the reasons that Jesus gives for denying ourselves, taking up our cross,
and following Him:
1. Jesus says the life we seek is found by taking His advice.
v. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life
for me will find it.
Our natures are in rebellion against God so that, left to ourselves, we will continue
down a path that separates us further and further from all good. If we want things
our way, we will have things our way, but it won’t be what we sought.
Instead, Jesus says that we will find what we are looking for when we are willing
to give control of our lives to God and to His purpose.
2. Jesus asks us to consider our priorities.
v. 26
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
God created things that are good, but they are worthless without God Himself.
What can you weigh to balance out your very self?
3. Jesus tells us what will happen at the end.
v. 27
For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and
then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
All Christians should look forward to Jesus’ return because that is when the
ledgers will be balanced. We may seem like foolish people here on earth, but
when He returns, we will seem immensely wise. We should live our lives here on
earth so that we can say, together with saints from throughout history, “Come,
Lord Jesus. Come.”
In conclusion, these are words from someone who loves you very much: Jesus,
who died for your sake, that you can have eternal life but also live to fulfill His purpose
here on earth. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. In doing so, you will
find true life and receive a reward when He returns.