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. 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 8:34-35
These are the most radical words Jesus says in all the Gospels. We want Jesus but not the cross. We like Jesus. We like His teaching. We like His stories. We like the way He treated people. As for His cross… that’s another story. But throughout the New Testament, we find this reality: Crown wearing requires Cross bearing. So how do we live in that place of cross bearing? Guy Gray, the Senior Pastor of River West Church (where I served before coming to Northshore), preached one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever heard from this passage. It’s stuck with me to this day. He had three words: Choice, Vision, and Follow-through.
#1 Choice. “If anyone wishes to come after Me.” The word wish is a word of desire. It’s a word of choice. I’m not going to get into the theological quagmire of “Do I choose God or does God choose me?” I’m simply taking what Jesus says at face value, in the plain language He spoke it to those original followers. “If you want to follow after Me… if you want to be a part of my kingdom, learn to deny yourself, take up your cross, learn to daily surrender your will to My will because that’s what it means to follow Me.” It’s a voluntary choice. Often times we’ll say, “I guess that’s my cross to bear.” And at times when we say it, it’s not what the verse actually means. If our boss at work is an ogre, then we say, “Oh, I guess this is my cross to bear.” No it’s not because no one would choose to have a terrible boss. If you had a choice, you’d get rid of him or her. Or if we get sick, even with a life-threatening illness, we’ll often say, “This is my cross to bear.” The sickness is not your cross to bear because being sick is not voluntary. Jesus is talking about choice here. Now what is your choice is how you live life in the midst of having a terrible boss or in the midst of a life-threatening disease. If you say, “I’m choosing to daily surrender my life to Jesus in the midst of this crisis and this pain,” then that is cross bearing. But cross bearing is always a choice… to surrender to Jesus or to not surrender to Him. And once again, don’t sanitize the cross… the cross is an instrument of death, so by implication, it’s going to be hard. So we need the next word… a word that tells us if it’s worth it to bear our cross.
#2 Vision. The vision of cross bearing is not simply about giving something up. It’s ultimately about wanting something more. If you have a vision for something more, even when it’s hard, you’ll choose to do it because of the overwhelmingly compelling nature of that vision. So what’s the vision that Jesus is talking about? What vision could make a daily cross bearing and surrender worth it? It’s a vision for life. “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.” We’re talking about life. We’re talking about meaning, purpose, and identity. We are talking about relationship with the God who created us and who loves us. And here’s why vision is so important. The world offers us a counterfeit vision for life… a “gaining the whole world” kind of vision. And if we’re honest, it sounds appetizing. All the money, sex, and power we could ever want. And some of us have gone down that road and some of us are still going down that road trying to gain the whole world. Ultimately it never lives up to what it said it would because it’s counterfeit. But Jesus offers us a depth to life that the world can never deliver… a meaning, a purpose, and an identity that far surpasses the world’s shallow offer. It’s that greater vision of Jesus’ kind of life that makes cross bearing worth it. And that vision for life is for today and into the beyond. It’s a choice informed by a vision for Someone and something more. So now we have to…
#3 Follow-through. In Luke’s accounting of Jesus’ radical statement about cross bearing, the word “daily” is included. It’s implicit here in Mark’s Gospel as well as Matthew’s. The choice to follow is a daily one. Every day, even though we’ve been saved by Jesus’ sacrificial, substitutionary death, as He died the death we should have died and paid the penalty we should have paid, following Jesus and following-through means we have to make a daily choice to surrender our lives to Him… to surrender our day to Him… to surrender our family to Him… to surrender our relationships to Him… to surrender our job to Him… to surrender our dreams and desires to Him. It’s a daily choice. It’s a daily following. It’s a daily cross bearing.
Remember, crown wearing requires cross bearing. And that cross bearing, that surrendering of our live for Jesus and His gospel is all about a choice to die unto ourselves and live for Him because the vision of life that He offers us far outweighs the world’s offer of counterfeit life. And to live in that place of life on a daily basis, it takes a commitment to follow-through. Let’s make that choice this year. Let’s have that vision this year. And as individuals, families, and as a church, let’s make that commitment to follow-through.