Finding Life on the Other Side of the Cross
by Pastor Gene
It sounds like a paradox. It’s one of the most difficult verses in the New Testament to wrap our minds around. It’s disarmingly simple, yet deeper than the deepest ocean.
“Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Jesus is not speaking of martyrdom, per se, but of an active following.
The full context reveals His meaning. Jesus had just predicted His own soon-coming suffering and death. Peter didn’t like this and made his opinion known to all. He said, “This shall never happen to you!”
Now we can all sympathize with Peter. He loved Jesus and didn’t want to see Him die. But that’s exactly the point! That’s what Peter wanted, not what God wanted. The Father’s perfect will for Jesus was that He suffer and die, vicariously (in our place), because, in so doing He would make it possible for us to find our way home to God. So, Acts 2:23 says that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”
Peter’s love for Jesus is commendable, but, unfortunately, was out of step with God’s heart.
After rebuking Peter, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). So, in light of Peter’s seemingly-noble (and down-right heroic sounding) declaration that Jesus would NEVER go to the cross, the Lord explained what following Him really means. It means laying aside our preferences, regardless of how ‘godly’ they may seem, and submitting wholly to God’s will.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
To deny myself means to lay down my own agenda, my own desires, my own preferences. To take up my cross means to take up the Father’s agenda for my life.
Jesus modeled this for us. Do you remember what He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, that night of terrible suffering? “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
In those all-too-infrequent moments when I’m gut-wrenchingly honest with myself I bow my head and admit, ‘Father, there’s an awful lot of my agenda that I haven’t given over to You. Please help me to take up my cross more faithfully.”
The cross, as we all know, was an instrument of death and it represents the very place where the believer loses his life. Every one of Jesus hearers would have understood exactly what Jesus meant by saying this. In the 1st century, when a man picked up his cross and began walking down the road, he wasn’t coming back.
But then, following this puzzling demand that all who would follow Him must first themselves die, Jesus says a line – just one line – that dials the whole picture from a fuzzy black-and-white to glorious Technicolor clarity: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
There it is! There’s the reason I have to die! Because its only then that I truly begin to live. When I lose my life for His sake, I really find it!
The life that I so desire is within my grasp, if I want it. Jesus won it for me and desires to give it to me. But – here’s the corker – it’s only found on the other side of the cross.
It’s only when I deny myself (‘cross out’ my agenda) and take up my cross (pick up the Father’s agenda), that I truly begin to live.
The experience of resurrection life – right NOW, in time – is mine, if I want it.
But it’s only found on the other side of the cross.
To consider …
- Have you wrestled with Jesus’ seeming paradox? What does “whoever wants to save his life will lose it” mean to you? What does “whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” mean to you?
- Following Jesus, according to Matthew 16:24, means (1) denying myself, (2) picking up my cross and (3) following after Jesus.
- Consider each of these elements.
- Would you agree that many Christians think they can do 3 without first doing 1 & 2?
- What do each of these mean to you?
- What is Jesus asking you to actually do here? What does it mean to “deny” and “take up” and “follow”?
- How does holding my life back from God keep me from experiencing the life He truly desires for me to have.
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