And He said to all, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (ESV)
I stopped at this familiar verse when reading through the Scripture passages for today. I realized there was danger in the familiarity because I do not often stop to think about what it really means and how to live out what Jesus is saying here. It is also difficult to spend time diving deeper than the familiarity because then I think about how imperfectly I carry out this instruction.
If anyone would come after me: This is an invitation, a call to travel the road with Jesus. Turn from sin and turn toward Christ. We are not required to do this. It is our choice to lay down our lives and follow Jesus, not an imperative. So if you do not yearn or recognize value in traveling this road with Jesus, then there is no need to proceed further in this blog post!
Let him deny himself: This is a paradox. Our ultimate joy and satisfaction is found not by selfish ambition but by godly ambition. We are not laying aside desires and passions but redirecting ours to be His. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says that we are not our own; we were bought with a price. Galatians 2:20 says that I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
And take up his cross daily: Our normal human instinct is to avoid suffering. There is an aspect of being crucified with Christ, of identifying with Him and the suffering He experienced, of union with Him. In suffering we recognize our utter dependence on God. It gives us opportunity to fully surrender to Him. God draws us nearer to Himself when He walks with us through suffering than at any other time. There is also an aspect of publicly recognizing that what Jesus did for us on the cross was right and necessary. We deserve the death He died. He paid our penalty so that we may have abundant life!
And follow me: Ah, to follow Jesus. Fellowship with Him. Abide in Him. Enjoy Him. There is nothing sweeter, more fulfilling, more satisfactory, than to be with Jesus and follow Him through this life and into eternity. Only in following Jesus, like a horse with blinders or an athlete running the race with endurance, do we experience deep joy, peace that passes all understanding, and contentment. We have the same attitude toward death and life that Jesus has. We lay aside our selfish fear and worry, instead trusting God to lead us and be with us through every moment of every day, no matter the circumstance. Jesus is our prize, our great reward.