By Whitney Woollard
Lately my self-talk has been more subtle than usual, but no less harmful. During an ongoing season of being stretched in about every imaginable way, I’ve caught myself offhandedly thinking, “Don’t you wish you chose an easier path?” Or, “Why can’t you just have a normal, more comfortable life?”
Undoubtedly, in these moments, I’m believing the lie that I can be a follower of Christ and a friend of the world. I want to experience all the benefits of salvation without the consequences of following Jesus. I want to follow Him and have a comfortable, convenient life. I start buying into the idea that my time is mine, my money is mine, my plans are mine, my family is mine, even my physical life is mine. But, when I stop and think about it, it’s actually quite ridiculous. As a Christian, I serve a crucified Messiah! To act as though this doesn’t have implications for my own life is simply foolish.
As a matter of fact, the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:24 make it clear what following a crucified Messiah will demand—devotion unto death.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
The literary context is key to understanding the full thrust of Jesus’ words. He says this to His disciples immediately after rebuking Peter for challenging His Messianic suffering (see Matt. 16:21-23). Surely Peter’s concern is not only for Jesus’ final destiny, but also for his own. You see, if Jesus were to go to Jerusalem, suffer many things and be killed (Matt. 16:21), it would have serious implications for anyone who identified with Him. Peter knows this and being influenced in some capacity by Satan (Matt. 16:23), attempts to prevent Jesus’ mission. Jesus, the condemned King on the road to His execution, rebukes Peter (Matt. 16:23) and goes on to make the disciples’ mission as explicit as His own (Matt. 16:24-28); His path would inevitably become theirs.
I SERVE A CRUCIFIED MESSIAH! TO ACT AS THOUGH THIS DOESN’T HAVE IMPLICATIONS FOR MY OWN LIFE IS SIMPLY FOOLISH.
Jesus is demanding nothing short of a willingness to die (literally!) for His sake. This is important to realize because language such as “cross bearing” and “self denial” is frequently used among Western Christians to mean they missed the latest episode of The Voice to go to community group or they had to do coffee with “that” person on their day off. But this isn’t what He had in mind. Jesus wasn’t only speaking about the demands on His disciples’ lives, He’s referring to the future of the disciples’ deaths.
If you think this seems a bit extreme, it’s helpful to finish reading the passage (see Matt. 16:24-28 for the full account). Jesus continues by providing three reasons, set off by the word “for” (Gk. gar), in verses 25-27 as to why His followers should give up their lives. This is why they (and disciples today!) should be willing to lose their lives.
To lose physical life for the sake of Jesus is to find the only true life, which transcends death. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:25)
To save physical life and succeed in attaining everything the world has to offer is to ultimately lose eternal life. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26)
To lose physical life out of loyalty to Jesus is to gain eternal reward on the final Day of Judgment. “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matt. 16:27)
What I find fascinating about Jesus’ words is that it isn’t a call to blind martyrdom. It’s a call to eternal life! Loss of life for the sake of mere self-denial is no gain. But, Jesus says the life lost out of love for Him and loyalty to His mission is true life gained. Followers of Jesus must be willing to give all, even their very own lives, for the sake of Him and His eternal life.
And this isn’t bad news; it’s good news!
For those of us on this side of the cross, we know we’ve been saved through the sacrificial life, death and resurrection of the crucified Messiah. We have a fuller picture of Jesus’ redemptive work than the disciples originally did at the moment of hearing these words. We understand that Jesus’ radical call to die is really an opportunity to live. We know there is a type of life that leads to death and a type of death that leads to life!
FOLLOWERS OF JESUS MUST BE WILLING TO GIVE ALL, EVEN THEIR VERY OWN LIVES, FOR THE SAKE OF HIM AND HIS ETERNAL LIFE.
Needless to say, the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:24 are incredibly convicting in light of my unbiblical self-talk. The temptation to ask, “Why can’t I just be a Christian and have a normal, more comfortable life?” doesn’t even make sense in view of Jesus’ words! When I say to myself, “Why can’t my path be easier? Perhaps I should have chosen option A instead of option B because it might have been a bit more comfortable,” I’m missing the entire point. Whether I chose path A or B in this lifetime isn’t of ultimate significance because thirteen years ago I chose to follow Christ.
I chose to follow a crucified Messiah knowing he demanded nothing short of my entire life. He demanded I be willing to die for Him. He demanded I be willing to be counted as a martyr for his sake. He demanded I be willing to lose this life so that I might gain eternal life. Therefore, every single decision I make while still breathing becomes subject to that first one.
WHETHER I CHOSE PATH A OR B IN THIS LIFETIME ISN’T OF ULTIMATE SIGNIFICANCE BECAUSE THIRTEEN YEARS AGO I CHOSE TO FOLLOW CHRIST.
I had to remind myself of that this week. I had to spend time considering the crucified Messiah and His cross-centered perspective. I had to meditate on the implications that following Him has for my life. I had to remember that if I’m truly willing to die for Jesus, how much more should I be willing to live for Him by sacrificing my personal comforts, cares, concerns, and choices for the sake of Him and His mission? As I preached the gospel to myself using the truths highlighted in Matthew 16:24-28, my unbiblical self-talk simply lost it’s power.