I’ve been wondering for a long time about Matthew 16:24. That’s where Jesus says to His 12, if any man would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. He’s talking about the cross but he hasn’t even been to the cross yet. How did they know what he meant? And what is the cross that we are supposed to take up?
This is a great question and one that confuses many people for various reasons. Questions like this are why I know the Lord had me change our Faith Fix devotional to this format!
The first thing to understand here is that all the Gospels were written after Jesus had lived, died, and been resurrected. Though we often see “words of Christ in red,” this can be confusing. Some of these things could have been direct quotations or they could have been how the disciples remembered it. For some time I’ve thought that the emphasis on red letters in scripture can be misleading as they are no more the Word of God than the rest of scripture. ALL SCRIPTURE was written by man, inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16). Too often people in general focus on what is written in red thinking somehow that is more Holy. This is a fallacy that keeps people from embracing the whole truth. The whole Bible is the whole counsel of God!
That said, even if Jesus had said those words exactly, the people of that time could still have understanding. Jesus was not the only, the first, nor the last person to be executed on a cross. The crucifixion was a common method of execution for the Romans. Though His death would have certainly been worse, no one else took the weight of the sin of the world upon them for example, many people died publicly by crucifixion. This leads into the next point, “How is this applicable to us?”
Let’s look at this similarly in another Gospel. I might add here, this shows the absolute genius of God! Ever wonder why there are four different Gospels with variation in wording? This is because God used the point of view from several people (one by the way who wasn’t even there) to bring about the glory of His truth! That would be a great Faith Fix question for another time should someone ask it! There’s a lot in that, but perhaps another time.
Let’s go back to this other Gospel. As told in Luke 9:23, “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’” Let me bring to your attention the words, “…take up his cross DAILY.” Obviously one cannot be continually crucified, so God must be saying something else. The point to what Jesus is telling them and us is, we all are called to serve Him according to His plan. His plan will require us to crucify some things. Remember Galatians 5:24 where Paul says, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
In reality, this crucifixion is very similar to circumcision which is to be of the heart. It is true, there are some people that are called to be martyrs for Christ. That said, not all who die because they are Christians are true martyrs (maybe another Faith Fix another time, should somebody ask!). I believe that those called to be martyrs are given the grace to do so, just look at Stephen.
We must take up our cross and follow Jesus! To do so means to sell out to God and His plan, sacrificing ourselves (consecrating our hearts), to His plan. It may mean we don’t do the things we desire in order to fulfill His calling. I never desired in my flesh to pastor. I would prefer in my natural life not to live holy at all, but God’s plan for me is so much greater and I love Him too much to live as I did. So I follow Him and when the weekends are here and I want to be doing what I want, I pick up my cross. When people attack me while I’m trying to help them, I pick up my cross. I say these things as a Christian not as a pastor.
What Jesus is telling us all is that though He desires to bless us, though His plans for us are great, there will always be an aspect of crucifying the flesh. Are you willing to pick up your cross and follow Him, or is your life too important to you? Jesus said that whoever loves his life will lose it. He also said, “I lay down my life willingly.” What would Jesus do? If we desire to be like Jesus, we must embrace our cross, whatever that may be!
Please remember, we answer Faith Fix questions as though they were asked generally. In the answer we are never implying that the one who has asked them is wrong, off, or doing badly. This is why we keep them anonymous. The questions and answers are always meant to stir the faith of believers!