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.
April 07, 2023
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Good morning church family. This brought to mind something way back when I first met the Lord and was saved back in 1995 – I was a mom of a 13 year old son and 9 year old daughter. Life was crazy lots of things going on in our family and as Marc stated in a previous blog he was a functioning alcoholic. I was barely holding it together. Then a friend who a temporary worker invited another coworker to her church but God knew I was listening and asked her where is this? So the next Sunday two unwilling children in tow I drove the 45 min-1 hour to Swansea (I hated that highway by the way and never went up there lol). I sat in a service and heard about a Jesus who loved me and heard my cries and saw my tears – it took me three services because I needed to believe it was true and I asked Jesus into my heart. As all new believers I had a zeal but no knowledge and wanted my husband to know this too – little did I know it was not his time and it would take many more years and I believe a God was also teaching me what I needed to understand – laying down self. The church I attended had MANY activities and services and I wanted to be at EVERYTHING. I left tracts everywhere – I bugged him and badgered and cried and begged for him to come and see/do. But a woman who had been a believer with an unsaved husband for many many years said that I needed to be following 1 Peter 3 – “likewise wives be subject to your own husbands so that even if some do not obey the Word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external the braiding of the hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.” In my zeal I was taking up my own agenda going here going there doing what I thought and was visibly “good” serving in ministry but God revealed through this wise women what I needed to do was lay down my agenda – pick up my cross and die to self – which I won’t lie was hard but God is faithful. So I began to ask before I considered going to something and if he objected or complained I would not do it. Which he was at first surprised by.
Now I can hardly remember what it was like to be a believing wife of an unbelieving husband – he is such a man of God and many times shakes me up to remember what I am thinking/doing is not what I should be doing.
I also remember a comment from another friend recently that she mentioned when she was a kid and her mom went to a church ministry thing instead of spending time with her and how much that hurt – we must be sensitive to these things and sometimes have to say no even to the good things – because possibly your ministry at that time is to someone in your family who needs to see Jesus in you- laying down your “self” and your desires and loving them with an overwhelming love ❤️.
I was thinking about the whole dying for Christ , living for Christ thing. In my mind I feel that I could stand for Christ if someone was holding a gun to my head. But the hard thing for me is living for Christ. Where I am now is difficult. It’s hard to make the right decisions on how to control myself. Especially my emotions and how I react with them. But my mission field right now is at home being an example to 7-8 children. What they see is what they learn. So I need to die to my human reactions and live for how Christ wants me to show these children how to live in this world. And that’s hard.
Oh Lindsay, I can’t wait too see what God has in store for you after this season of caregiving for your brothers, sisters, and little niece! He is preparing you for something beautiful as what you are already doing is so beautiful in itself! Yes, it must be so hard but I suspect the fruit that will come will glorify God in a way you cannot even imagine! 💕
Thank you anne. There is that song that says making diamonds out of us. It’s a big diamond. When I can think about it I also try to remember that verse I think it might be in John that talks about hoping in things unseen.
Absolutely Lindsay you are an example and caretaker in this season it’s where God has you and you are laying down your life beautifully.
I think back to a time when I finally began to take seriously the life God was calling (and had been for a long time) me to. I knew I needed a church change and a heart change. It was going to mean losing friends and fun social times that had really become a distraction. I wondered how I would be able to survive if I gave up the worldly things that seemed like so much fun at the time. God didn’t remove everything at once but he removed enough that when I began to examine my own wants, desires, agenda, again and again, I knew that the things I had died to had really lost their allure and luster. When we started attending Harvest it was after some deep hurt, another round of cleansing and dying to self. I look back now and truly can see the blessings that have come – the enormous gain that comes from a life lived as a Follower of Jesus. There are things that still need to “go” in my life but every day I do ask Him to reveal them and take them. Always a work in progress……
You are a wonderful person and so caring and encouraging.
These posts are tough act to follow. They are all so beautifully written from Kerin to Anne to Lindsey to Joy! I love getting to know my church family this way. As I contemplate these, it emphasizes to me once again how much we all struggle and how much we really ARE on the same “playing field” : a term from baseball which by the way I do not play I’m not sports oriented but God keeps giving me that one! (😉)! I guess the best way I can describe what Jesus offers to us is a beautiful exchange!! ( this is also the title of a Hillsong song) what he asks us to give up and what he gives us in return cannot even be compared it’s like as the expression goes -“apples to oranges.” My life is so much richer every time I say OK lord have your way what do you want me to do in this situation and then I do what he requires of me, instead of what my flesh wants to do. I have to resist the pull of my flesh, daily, don’t get me wrong bc it’s very difficult! Sometimes I fail but I try not to give up.
I do believe that many people skip over (1) denying yourself and (2) picking up your cross and go right to (3) following Jesus. I think about our daily routines. I really think people skip #1 & 2 because they (I)really don’t THINK about it. It’s so easy to say “I follow Jesus”, but even saying “I will deny myself (MY wants/desires, MY will, my plan, my way of thinking — as “good” as our intentions may be, just like Peter), is hard! Have I mentioned that I tend to be task oriented?… and once I set MY plan in order, I don’t usually veer from it, I don’t see/hear, etc., anything else until MY plan is accomplished. HOW FOOLISH!! I need to be more sensitive, even in my day to day activities, to what the Spirit wants, what He would have me deny in my daily plan, pick up HIS plan, even if it seems like a “little thing”, and follow Him. Luke 16:10
Oh, Karen, I am right there with you–task oriented, and don’t get in my way! I am a woman with a plan and there is nothing worse than me with a foiled plan. God is still taking me back to that place where He asks me daily, “Will you be available to Me today? Will you join Me in the work that I am doing?” How many days have I said, “Nah, have you SEEN my date book?” (As if He doesn’t know what is on my calendar?? LOL!) In my home, my workplace, my neighborhood, my church, my classroom–God is calling me to be Jesus with skin on to those around me. I have such a head of steam on that I am trampling people rather than having divine appointments with them–there are more days I trample than meet–I believe Lord, help my unbelief..!
This has been a powerful message for me and where God has me in my life. I recently ended a 5 year relationship with someone who I loved and had great affection for. We were unable to make our relationship work and sin prevented God from blessing our union. I spent two years trying to “give it up” when the solution all along was “die to self”. The interesting thing about what has happened in my walk with God is that abundant life has appeared and it has given me courage to let go of other things that have slowed me down from running the race that God has called me to run. God is faithful!