"Deny Yourself, Pick Up Your Cross, and Follow Me."
I feel as if lately, we have been studying words or phrases that we often use in Christianity but do not stop to unpack them very often. For example, Jesus has a quote about “picking up your cross.” Specifically, the quote is, “If any want to become my disciple, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
What does it mean to deny yourself and pick up your cross? Does Jesus not want us the way we are? I was taught Jesus meets us where we are. Do we need to change to be welcomed by Jesus? And what about the cross? Are we to seek out our own execution? Should we seek to die a martyr death like Jesus did? I believe this would be taking the Bible literally or seriously but in the wrong way.
This quote is surrounded in context. The story around it is summarized as follows...
-Jesus asks the disciples who Jesus is.
-Jesus asks them who they think he is.
-Peter says Jesus is the Messiah, Son of the Living God.
-Peter is praised and given authority to bind in heaven what he binds on earth.
-Jesus draws disciples in and explains what the role and path of the messiah is according to the scriptures.
-Peter pulls Jesus aside and tells him, “No, that is not what the messiah is supposed to do.” He then seeks to use his new authority to make sure the messiah’s destiny goes to his liking.
-Peter is rebuked. He is called out to be following a path, not of his master, Jesus, but echoing the temptation of Satan in the wilderness.
-Then our quote follows.
This timeline summary shows us that the focus is on following Jesus and his identity and role as messiah. We are invited to follow Jesus and how the previous parts of the story play out give us the clue on what that looks like.
Let's work our way backwards through the quote so we can understand it better. We know we are to follow Jesus, so the last part is obvious. Follow Jesus, do as he did. The pick up your cross part is a little less obvious. Jesus is using his purpose and calling as a symbol. He as messiah is called to carry and die on the cross. However, that is not everyone's calling. Jesus is encouraging each of us to discern our own calling and be faithful to it. Just as Jesus did, we should be doing that in concert and communication with God the Father, led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Not everyone is meant to do the same thing. Each of us have unique gifts, talents, skills, and personality that God can and will use to build and spread his kingdom. The question is will we be brave enough to answer and walk faithfully in that calling?
Finally, denying ourselves can come to light. Jesus does not want us to change, but let go of our own ideas of who we are, what we are meant to be, and how we imagine our lives to play out. Sometimes we carry an idol of who we think we are and who we are supposed to be. Jesus invites us to let go of the perceived control of our lives and be ourselves. So often I hear stories of where people began in their education or career and ended up being somewhere completely different. Not because they changed or they are not using their gifts, talents, etc, but because they were open to possibilities they could never have imagined on their own. God is calling each of us to something bigger than we can imagine. Are we brave enough to come and see?
"Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me," says Jesus. In his invitation, we are called to be a disciple viewing and interacting with the world the way Jesus did. We are invited to find our purpose and calling in the world as we partner with God. We are invited to let go of selfish ideas and control over our lives and embrace a larger vision of what we can be.