Friday, February 6, 2015

The centrality of dying to self and cross bearing for the Christian

Matthew 10:38 "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me."

Introduction and review
We ended yesterday's post on the meaning of the phrase "take up your cross", noting that the disciples of Jesus who were the Apostles in Acts ended up rejoicing in the face of persecution. They had taken up their cross in that situation, identifying with Jesus and loving Him above their own lives, comfort and self-preservation. 

We also discovered that when Jesus made these statements about "taking up the cross", there was a specific background event that would had stuck in the disciples mind. An attempted insurrection against Rome had taken place during or around the time of Jesus' childhood in Galilee. Thousands of Jews lost their lives and were crucified on crosses that lined the roadways of Galilee. In effect, that event would had been the "911" of their day. When Jesus told his disciples that they needed to "take up their cross" to follow Him, He was spelling out them that if need be, they would suffer the same end as all the followers of Judas the Galilean. How far are you and I willing to go and be in our discipleship journey with Jesus Christ? Today's post wants to look at all the instances Jesus makes this statement about "taking up the cross" to flesh out further insights. Unless Christians were willing to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow the Master, then they will fail to understand what it means to be a Christian who lives for and serves Jesus Christ.

1. Matthew 16:23-25  "But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me,Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."

Here we see the second occurrance of this phrase in Matthew's Gospel. It is in the context of Peter's grand confession of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi. One would think that after such an extraordinary revelation and confession, there would be no trouble. Yet, Peter is influenced by Satan and compelled to tell Jesus to skip the cross. It is at this point Jesus tells Peter the above statements. The cross alone can sustain the Christian, even in the midst of extraordinary illuminations received in seasons of insight from the Lord. Illuminations from the Spirit through the Word of God are needed and central to the Christian walk. Yet, the cross, not insights, is what enables the Christian faith to withstand the assaults of the enemy and move forward.

2. Mark 8:34-35  "And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it."

Mark's version of the scene at Caesarea Philippi includes an additional detail of Jesus addressing not only Peter and the disciples but the crowds. What are the requirements for following Him? Plain and simple: denying oneself and taking up the cross. Self-denial is so pre-requisite to following Jesus that it must be at the heart of saving faith itself. Some will try to pass off these verses on discipleship and Lordship as something one does after saving faith. However, the concepts of "self-denial" and "taking up one's cross" distinguishes genuine saving faith from its counterfeit version.

3. Luke 9:22-24 "saying, 'The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.' 23 And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it." 

Not only does "self-denial" and "cross-brearing" characterize the beginning of saving faith, but it also marks the tone of the walk of faith in sanctification. How frequent ought the Christian aim at "taking up the cross" and "denying self"? According to Luke's text, daily.

4. Luke 14:26-28 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?"

Dying to self and cross-bearing also enter into the realm of counting how much it is going to cost to follow Jesus. The short answer is everything. Self is the chief enemy of the Christian in their spiritual growth. Yes, Satan and his minions wage war and thus we know that we are in a spiritual battle. However, the self-life and desire to put my needs, my drives, my relationships above Jesus Christ is the internal struggle with which every Christian must battle. Preachers can be towers of exposition and slay devils with their sermons. However, preachers can yield to the flesh and instantly become weakened and anemic. Churchs and Christians must yield to the "death of self" message and recognize it as the heart of the Gospel itself. 

5. John 19:16-18 "So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified. 17 They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. 18 There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between."

Why was Jesus so insistent on this twin emphasis of "denying of self" and "taking up of the cross"? Certainly such truths would had caused people to think of the tragic event that lain at the background of these statements. However when Jesus taught the "death to self" message, He was also looking ahead to His own pending crucifixion. The time would come when He would take up His own cross in a literal sense, forever altering the significance of crucifixion. Jesus never thought of Himself apart from the cross. 

Concluding thoughts
In closing today I want to list out life applications that correspond to each of the verses above to enable the reader to see the significance behind "self-denial" and "cross bearing". Why are these truths so germane to the Gospel and the Christian life?

1. Central in saving faith. Mark 8:34-35; Luke 9:22-24

2. Central in sanctification (what follows from faith) Matthew 16:23-25; Luke 9:22-24; 14:26-28

3. Central to supernatural ministry. Matthew 10:38-42; Acts 5:29,41-42

4. Centers on the Son. John 19:16-18; Hebrews 12:1-3

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