Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
Familiarity discourages exploration. We don't dig in a hole when we think we've already found its bottom. We yawn at repetition. This verse is an excavation we've witnessed many times. Many shovel-wielding preachers have shown us what's found here. It interests us every time, in an obligatory sense. The diamonds are pretty, but we're not sure what to do with them. We feel like we need to be affected by this call but if we're honest, we've assumed it applies mostly to those overseas who face the harshest forms of persecution.
Let's get our shovels out one more time, however, and see that there are diamonds yet to be uncovered and enjoyed. We might even find use for them.
Jesus had just called Peter "Satan." Peter wouldn't stand for Jesus' death wish. This flew in the face of Peter's expectations of Jesus as a leader, as a Messiah. But Jesus knew Peter's heart was not interested in Jesus defining Jesus, Peter had already defined him. Jesus wasn't supposed to be killed by the enemy; he was supposed to be the conquering Messiah.
Satan tries to redefine Jesus all the time. Satan leads us to set our minds on the things of man and not the things of God. This was Peter's problem. This is our problem.
After this exchange with Peter, Jesus delivers this radical call to self-denial. Jesus not only gets to define himself, he also defines his followers. Just as he embraced his self-sacrificing mission, he bids his followers "come and die."
The man-centered mind needs a call to self-denial. What does it look like to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow? These three commands are the opposite of the man-centered mind. A mind set on the things of this world says to us, "Take up your shield, fortify yourself, and chart your own course." The cross is a place of vulnerability, exposure, and pain. We naturally want to avoid this place at all costs. The shield is so much more comfortable. Any challenging word, any question to our integrity or competence is easily deflected. Behind the shield is a fortified composure that trembles at the thought of weakness, of self-denial. We charge forward asserting our self-confident competence, following no one. What could they know anyway?
Cross-carrying embraces vulnerability, embraces death. Self-denial forsakes self-indulgence. Self-denial is the world's fool. Instead of storing up in fear of winter, he gives generously in hope of spring. Instead of feverishly checking his armor, he strips down and seizes that which he would kill him. He knows that death is the best thing that could ever happen to him. He knows that the one who loses his life will save it.
How then? When your weakness is exposed, do you seize a shield or the cross? When you hear what Jesus wants from you, are you afraid that your resources will be depleted if winter should come? When Jesus leads you through a risky mountain pass, do you try to chart your own course that is less exposed? Take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow Jesus. It will cost you everything, I promise. It will give you everything, He promises.