Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.‘Matthew 16:24
This week is my wife’s and my 22nd wedding anniversary.
When I think back on the kid I was 22 years ago, I realize I had absolutely no idea what it meant to be married and have a wife that I was supposed to love and give myself up for like Christ loved and gave Himself up for the church.
I had absolutely no clue.
It wasn’t until 3 or 4 years into our marriage that I came to faith in Jesus and then it was still a long time after that before I began to see how selfishness ruled so much of my life.
Right after we were married, I would have been able to say, “I have a wife now.” But I had no idea what that truly meant and how God wanted me to live out that role as a husband.
For most Christians, I would say we all face a similar struggle in our relationship with Jesus.
At some point in our lives, whether as a kid or for others like me later as an adult, God revealed Himself to us and we came to believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We believed and began to see Jesus as our King.
And though at that point we would have been quick to acknowledge that yes, Jesus is now our Lord and Savior, many of us have likely struggled with what that really means for our lives.
How do we live with Jesus as our King today?
Jesus Sets Our Path
Matthew 16:24-27 reveals to us the path Jesus calls us to follow as we live with Him as our King. Verse 24 says, “Then Jesus told his disciples, If any would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
First, we must deny ourselves.
Our hearts desperately want ourselves to be kings of the universe. We want our way, we want it now, and we want it no questions asked. And the world encourages us to think this way. Our world tells us to indulge ourselves, embrace every selfish desire and impulse.
But when we place our faith in Jesus, the new, redeemed heart He gives us and the power Jesus provides to us through His Spirit now living within us gives us the ability to now say no to ourselves.
Because we have a better King than ourselves in Jesus, we can now say no to our own attempts at self-righteousness. We can demonstrate self-control in our lives and say no to our impulses that just want more and more unhealthy things. We can set aside our own plans, our own purposes, our own agendas, and instead see Jesus’ plans and purposes as better. So we must deny ourselves.
Take Up Your Cross
Second, Jesus says to “take up your cross.”
This would have been an incredibly striking statement to Jesus’ disciples. To anyone at that place at that time, a cross was synonymous with death by execution. So to take up your cross meant, “Pick up your cross and let’s go die.”
If Jesus had a marketing strategist or publicist back then, they would have told Him, “Jesus, nobody is going to follow you if you talk like this.” That’s like the least appealing marketing strategy there is.
But praise God it’s not a marketing strategy. It’s the true path to life that Jesus calls us to follow. Not to fear suffering in this life, but to trust Jesus through it. This dying to ourselves, this being crucified with Christ, frees us to live for Christ.
When we die to ourselves and place our faith in Christ instead, He now lives within us and empowers us to live as He wants us to live. The King who suffered in our place to save us from our sins now calls us to follow Him. How we face suffering with our faith in Christ shows a watching world that Christ is worth it all. He’s worth giving up the empty promises of this world so we can have Him for eternity.
So we deny ourselves and pick up our cross.
Third, we follow Jesus.
We not only turn from sin in our lives, but we now also turn to the good works Jesus has purposed for us to do. We live to obey Jesus’ Word and reflect His ways to the world. Obedience to Jesus becomes the central piece of our following Him as King.
Why Live This Way?
As a dad, I’ve used the phrase “because I said so” with my kids far more than I care to admit.
But even though He is King, Jesus doesn’t use that line with us. He calls us to obey Him, but He also explains why.
Jesus gives us three reasons why we should lay down our lives to follow Him in verses 25-27 of Matthew 16. Each reason starts with the word “for.”
So why live this way?
This Is How You Find True Life
First, verse 25, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Live this way because this is how you find true life. This is true life now and true life for all eternity.
This Is The Only True Good For Your Soul
Second, verse 26, “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?”
So live this way because this is the only true good for your soul. Your soul is more valuable than the whole world and living this way – giving yourself for the sake of knowing and following Jesus – is the only true good for your soul. So don’t give your soul to live for empty things.
Jesus Is Coming Back
Third, verse 27, “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.”
Live this way because Jesus is coming back. Eternal reward awaits those who have lived this way. Eternal punishment awaits those who do not.
I No Longer Live For Myself
Like I said in the beginning, in my years before coming to know and follow Jesus and even in the immediate years after, selfishness ruled much of my life. The longer I follow Jesus, the more he graciously shows me the areas of my life still impacted by my selfishness.
Along with His call for me to deny myself, pick up my cross, and follow Him, Jesus has also given me this reminder through the Apostle Paul that He brings to my mind when I slip back into my selfish ways.
“[A]nd he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)
I no longer live for myself.
He died in my place so that I would live for Him as the one, true King. I follow His purposes, His ways, His plans instead of my own. I die to the empty promises of this world and live to serve as He came to serve instead.
Jesus is a gracious King. He’s a far better King than I could ever be. So I can willingly lay down any claim I think I have to the throne of my heart and follow Jesus as King instead.