I was thinking about this verse recently and what it really means.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24
……let him deny himself. Not a real popular sentiment in America. What does it really mean to deny myself? That nothing in my life should mean more to me than Jesus does. Nothing should be put ahead of Him. That I relinquish my will to Him.
…take up his cross. Why does he mention a cross? Jesus has just told them that he is going to suffer and die. (From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” 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.” Matt. 16:21-23)
Then he tells them to take up their cross and follow Him. He had just told them he was going to be killed. What must they have been thinking?
How about you? What do you think of when you think of Jesus and the cross? When I think of the cross I am remembering His sacrifice – Jesus taking God’s wrath for MY sin in my place. I think of His submission to the Father. Jesus prayed in the garden, “Not my will but thine.”
Read this explanation of Matt. 16:24-28 from Matthew Henry’s commentary:
Christ reveals his mind to his people gradually. From that time, when the apostles had made the full confession of Christ, that he was the Son of God, he began to show them of his sufferings. He spake this to set right the mistakes of his disciples about the outward pomp and power of his kingdom. Those that follow Christ, must not expect great or high things in this world. Peter would have Christ to dread suffering as much as he did; but we mistake, if we measure Christ’s love and patience by our own. We do not read of any thing said or done by any of his disciples, at any time, that Christ resented so much as this. Whoever takes us from that which is good, and would make us fear to do too much for God, speaks Satan’s language. Whatever appears to be a temptation to sin, must be resisted with abhorrence, and not be parleyed with. Those that decline suffering for Christ, savour more of the things of man than of the things of God.
Take up your cross and follow me. Only if it doesn’t hurt too much, or cost too much, or take too much away from me. Right? Am I willing to take up my cross and follow Jesus – deny my wants, my possessions, the people I love – and do whatever is being asked of me without thought to the cost? Yes! That is my prayer and it will continue to be my prayer until the day I die because it is not a natural action for me.
Only the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and the truth of the gospel can give us the grace we need to obey that charge – to take up our cross and follow Jesus. I am relieved by the testimony of Peter. He stated that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God – something he couldn’t know in his own wisdom – it was revealed to Him by the Holy Spirit. Then he turns around and counsels Jesus to avoid suffering and death. He later fails the Lord again by denying Him, but in the end Peter was obedient. He took up his cross and he followed Jesus. That isn’t because Peter was great. That is because our Lord is great. He preserves us to the end. In His power we will accomplish what He asks us to do.