How To – “Deny Yourself and Pick up the Cross”

                                                                            

Luke 9:23-25:

“And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose It, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25 For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?”

 

Context. Note the context in the previous passages (Luke 9:18-22), which is the identification of Christ (see the parallel account in Matt. 16:13-18):

 

“And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, ‘Who do the people say that I am?’ 19 They answered and said, ‘John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.’ 20 And He said to them, But who do you say that I am?’ And Peter answered and said, ‘The Christ of God.’ 21 But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, 22 saying, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised on the third day.’”

 

Jesus’ first questions to the “disciples” was regarding who “who do the people say that I am?” (they gave inadequate answers). Then, Jesus asked them specifically: “Who do you say that I am?” It was the most faulty, fearful yet devoted, disciple of them all, who correctly answered and confessed: “The Christ of God.” However, Peter’s full confession is recorded in the parallel account in Matt. 16:16: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 

Although Peter (like many of us) totally misunderstood Jesus’ mission (esp. Matt. 16:21-23), and made countless mistakes in both word and action, he rightfully saw Jesus as Lord, the Son of God (God in the flesh), the Messiah of Israel. As with all Christians, throughout Peter’s life, he had victories and failures (even after the resurrection; cf. Gal. 2:11), but he grew spiritually and doctrinally until the point of his death. Recalling, Jesus had prophesied of Peter’s death in John 21:14-19, “signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, follow Me!” (v. 19)—and he did just that – the rest of his life unto his death.

 

From the start of Peter’s journey as an apostle of Christ, to his death, in spite of his many mistakes in his Christian life, Jesus was his Lord and Savior. Although, his ongoing sanctification and understanding of the work and mission of Christ was developmental and progressive and at times faltered, his faith in the Christ as “the Son of the living God” was unwavering.

 

What I find interesting is that immediately after Peter’s high Christological Confession (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:18), Jesus foretold that He must “be killed” (Luke 9:22) Peter “criticized” the Lord Jesus for saying He must die: “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” Jesus, then, responds in Luke 9:23, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Matt. 16:23 adds, “Get behind me Satan”).

 

Jesus indicates to His disciples (who heard Jesus’ rebuke) that true discipleship can not be realized unless one is willing to forsake it all. This would mean fully trusting Him in all things. Job demonstrated this kind of trust when he said, “Though He slay me, I will trust in Him” (Job 13:15).

 

Peter eventually grew in knowledge and understanding of the Savior and His mission. This is apparent in John 6 regarding Jesus’ seemingly difficult statements of eating His flesh and drinking His blood (John 6:54). In response to this, “many of His disciples left” (v. 66), which prompted Jesus to ask (v. 67) “the twelve, ‘You do not want to leave also, do you?’ 68 Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 And we have already believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’”

 

Denying oneself involves humility before the Lord. Peter makes this point in 1 Pet. 5:6-7:

 

Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 having cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares about you (NASB).

 

In verse 6, the verb tapeinoō (“be humble”) is in the aorist imperative—, which indicates an urgent command, as in Be humble right now!—“under the mighty hand of God.” Keep in mind, the OT writers frequently used God’s hand as a symbol of discipline (Exod. 3:19; 6:1; Job 30:21; Ps. 32:4) and deliverance (Deut. 9:26; 32:32; Ezek. 20:34).

 

But how are we to be humble ourselves under the mighty hand God. The means of doing this is found in verse 7: “By casting all your cares [‘anxiety, worry’] on Him” (NET). The verb epiripsantes is the aorist participle of epiriptō (“to throw, cast upon”). So the verb would literally be translated as, “casting” (ESV, Holmen) or “having cast” (NASB 2020), or better “By casting” (NET). Unfortunately, translations such as the NIV (even the 2011 updated) make the participle independent of verse 6 by translating the participle as “Cast,” the beginning of a new sentence: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (NIV).

 

In other words, the very means of obeying the urgent commandment in verse 6 (“be humble under the mighty hand of God”) is found in the action of the participle: “By casting all your anxiety [or ‘worry’[1]] on Him—because He cares.”

 

9:23: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Both verbs arnēsasthō (“let him deny”) and aratō (“let him take up”) are in the aorist imperative—thus, as seen above, a commandment that stresses urgency— “Do it now!” commandment! Commenting on the parallel passage in Matt. 16:24, Calvin says of the phrase, “And let him take up his cross”:

 

As God trains his people in a peculiar manner, in order that they may be conformed to the image his Son, we need not wonder that this rule is strictly addressed to them. . . . (Calvin, Commentary of Matthew).

 

9:24 “For whoever wishes to save his life [psuchēn, “soul”] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Nothing is more important in this life than to live for and serve the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen? As seen, Peter came to understand this clearly: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (John 6:68). We as Christians have nowhere else to go except to the Lord Jesus—who has given us the words of eternal Life: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (see also 1 John 5:20). In our stressful, unpredictable lives all we can do is ask: “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

 

9:25 “For what good does it do a person if he gains the whole world, but loses or forfeits himself?” For us, nothing, but Christ matters. Without the Son, the soul will perish: “The one who has the Son has the life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (1 John 5:12; cf. John 3:36).

 

9:26 “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Contextually, this statement was in the present state of the looming event of His death. However, there seems to be wider application (whether the latter phrase is referring to the final Eschaton [Second Coming] or, as many see it, the Transfiguration in vv. 28-36). The term translated, “ashamed” is from epaischunomai. Note the prefix of the verb, epi (“on, upon”) with aischunō (“to dishonor, disgrace”).

 

This verb shows the personal aspect of the disgrace or dishonor. Paul is “not ashamed [same term] of the gospel” (Rom. 1:16). Christian teachers even more, should not be ashamed of the Son of God and His work; or that He alone is the only means of salvation. True believers who love the Lord should never be ashamed of proclaiming the Trinity and justification through faith alone.

 

As the Apostle Paul faced his last days of mortal life, he confidently declared:

 

For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day (2 Tim. 1:12).

 

Since “the world is passing away,” says John, “and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17), the believer must “deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Christ is only means of salvation; He is “the resurrection and the life” and “the true God of eternal life” (John 11:25-26; 1 John 5:20).

 

The Apostle Paul

 

The ultimate act of denying oneself and taking up one’s cross daily following Christ is found in 2 Tim. 4:6-8, which records some of Paul’s last words on earth:

 

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

 

In verse 7, there are three perfect indicatives: ēgōnismai (“I have fought”), teteleka (“I have finished”), and tetērēka (“I have kept”). Linguistically, the perfect tense denotes a past-completed action with continuous results. Thus, the literal rendering would be: “The good fight, I have fought, the course, I have finished, and the faith, I have kept”—summarizing Paul’s life in Christ from his conversion to his martyrdom in a Roman prison (c. A.D. 66).

 

As Paul did, we as Christians should understand that this life is transitory; we are passing through. Consider the inspiring words of Paul in Rom. 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

 

All true Christians in Him, are “slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6:18), “enslaved to God” (v. 22). Paul’s instructions in Col. 3:2-3, will motivate us to deny ourselves and take up our cross: “Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

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Notes

[1] The term anxious/worry is from the Greek word merimna, which carries the meaning of being “drawn in opposite directions; pulled apart from both sides.”

 

 

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