Matt.16:24 – 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”.
Jesus had just begun to tell them about His imminent death, that was disturbing enough for the disciples. They couldn’t begin to imagine life without Jesus present, let alone continuing in ministry. Then He hits them with something more radical than anything they could think of; they were to pick up their own cross and follow Jesus. This was so different from all their preconceived messianic hopes; they were going to be part of the great renaissance of the Davidic kingdom. Now they are being told of a coming crucifixion and personal crosses? Here is how Charles Spurgeon describes this verse.
“He had told them of his cross ; now he tells them of their own crosses.
They might now choose again whether they could and would follow him.
With their increased information as to his destiny, the question was again set before them, whether they would follow or forsake him. If they did continue to be his followers, it must be as cross-bearers and self-deniers.
Nor are the terms altered in these days. Do we accept them? Can we keep step in the long procession of cross-carriers, or will we fall in with the spirit of the age, and say fine things about Jesus, while we deny his substitutionary sacrifice, and shirk the personal self – denial which he demands? Our own wisdom, if it leads us to think lightly of “the precious blood”, must be utterly denied and even abhorred.”
The spirit of the age always resists the cross of Jesus. It has happened in every century for the last two thousand years. Still, the heart of the gospel is this; Christ came to save sinners. Without the blood of the cross there is no remission of sin. But now the disciples are being asked to go out even farther. “Leave your own life and take up Mine”, Jesus was asking them. It’s in the letting go of and forsaking of this life that freedom and real life finally begins.
So what exactly is Jesus getting at? He is calling His sons and daughters to forsake the system of this world and to follow Jesus. He knew that that kind of decision always leads to the cross. We aren’t carrying the cross just as a project of self denial, we are embracing Christ and His life that is far more precious than anything we leave behind.