It is at this point that Jesus presents concepts that, well, that ruin the apostles’ night. Jesus never feared being a wet blanket if being one led to the saving of those he loves. As the evening breeze rolled through the countryside, Jesus impressed three critical commands upon his men. In the midst of their feverish desire to be power brokers of the new kingdom, the master teacher lays down the conditions for success in his kingdom. He knew that they were molding his kingdom into the image of their desires but now The Lord calmly but forcefully establishes himself as the one who makes the rules. Let’s look at the three conditions: And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23 KJV) Now when you had your mind on glory, this is the ultimate wet blanket. Before I deal with the three conditions, I want to address that first phrase: “if any man will come after me.”
Based on the account of the apostle John in John 6, the desire to make Jesus king had caused the apostles to forget something critical: if Jesus was to be king he had to be Lord now. The twelve had forgotten that they were following him. They felt that he needed their guidance. In this simple phrase the master put things back into proper perspective. Life in his kingdom was a function of coming after him. Next he highlighted the three conditions for growth as followers: deny yourself, take up your cross daily, follow me. Although these conditions are not linear (meaning they don’t really happen separately or in this order) let’s look at each separately.
Is that a rooster I hear?
Whenever we hear the concept of self-denial our minds turn to food. We think that Jesus is calling us to give up cheesecake to demonstrate our commitment to squelching joy in order to look holy. I want to take a different approach to this idea of denying yourself that you’ll see is more in line with the rest of the passage in Luke 9. Remember when Peter told Jesus he was willing to go to the death for him, and Jesus let him know that not only would he wimp out but that he would deny the savior three times before the rooster crowed. What did Peter’s denial entail? When confronted three times about his connection with The Lord, Peter declared, emphatically, with curses, that he didn’t know him and NEVER had any connection with that man. Then the rooster crowed. Peter was ashamed to be associated with Jesus. Jesus is calling us to turn the tables. He wants us to be ashamed to be associated with sin.
He calls us to accept his salvation and transforming power and deny our connection with the old man of sin and death. Deny him once then deny him again and deny him until the rooster crows. It may sound like a rooster to you, but it’s really the sound of God crowing over your hard fought victory! But this time denial brings power not shame. God is calling us to publicly renounce all relations with the kingdom of Satan. This is a daily work of a lifetime that brings joy and victory not shame and defeat. But here is the critical point on denial: it is not merely a function of elimination. The denial Jesus speaks of is primarily a function of identification. We deny the old man by declaring Jesus Lord by our actions and words. In 1 John the apostle says this: He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. (1 John 2:6 KJV) The greatest self denial is being transformed by the renewing of our minds as Paul says in Romans 12:2. Put permanent God-fortified distance between yourself and your past life of rebellion. This is not merely a behavior change. This is an attitude change.
Give us Barabbas
Denial demands an attitude change because our struggle against sin is rarely a struggle against sin; it’s usually a struggle against God! If you’re honest, the agony is in knowing that something we want so much is wrong. We identify with it–we can taste it, feel it, we’re stimulated to the breaking point by it and God is saying no. At that very moment our minds and bodies are screaming yes! Ask yourself the question: At that moment, are you frustrated with sin or with God? In the middle of a porn movie, do you want to talk to your pastor about ministry? Do you want to read Counsel on Diet & Food as you are eating your cheesecake? Remember how before Jesus went to Golgotha, the people were given a choice Jesus or Barabbas? Who did the religious leaders choose? Barabbas–because they did not identify with Jesus. They wanted to destroy him and everything about him that frustrated their ambitions and security. When we identify with sin, we want to avoid or destroy anything that threatens our ungodly ambitions, desires or the security of our status quo. When I’m in sin, Jesus and his people are a threat! I scream, “GIVE ME BARABBAS!”
The conversation with God about denial must take place when the spirit brings me to the realization that I am enslaved and I can’t break free. It has to happen when I realize how stupid I feel screaming give me Barabbas when I know it’s satanic but I can’t stop. Denial is a critical component of that hated word: repentance. We must seek spiritual power to denounce all connection with Satan’s kingdom, identify with God’s and turn in his direction.
Crosses are not crises
The second command or condition Jesus set was to take up your cross daily. Most of us think that a cross is some crisis or trial in life that we must bear. You’ve heard it a thousand times: we all have a cross to bear! So for one person it’s that evil co-worker. For another it’s an illness. And for you it may just be cheesecake–your problem is that you keep eating your cross! Everybody is carrying these crosses; is it doing us any good? I submit that this concept of crosses as crises is not what Jesus was dealing with. The cross was an instrument for execution. People who died on crosses were convicted criminals who had committed capital offenses. So here’s what I pull from the command to take up your cross daily. Jesus is saying that each day we must acknowledge that we are guilty sinners before God and voluntarily submit to the penalty for sin which is death. Then we must accept the fact that the only hope for life is Jesus substitutionary death on our behalf.
When was the last time you picked up your cross?
Most of us have never personalized the cross. To us the cross is one of those background facts that is a given in our theology. It is an abstract symbol, a poetic theme but it has no concrete impact on daily life. Christian life for most of us is our work in the church, our praise and worship practices and our devotional life. We generally have no clue as to how to pick up a cross. We have come to a place in life where sin is no longer a term we use to describe the trouble in our lives. We have issues, generational curses, emotional crises, syndromes but not sin. We’ve externalized sin by changing the terms and shifting the blame, but Jesus died for our sins not our syndromes.
So we must make the cross personal by studying the scenes of his sacrifice and seeing ourselves as the cause of the cross. Does that concept disturb you? Then you may be in the same position as Cain–going through religious motions while refusing to accept the simple fact of personal guilt and responsibility. Are you offering to God what he commands or are you giving him what you feel is good enough for Him? You may feel that you’re not a bad person; your problem is not sin. If this is you, you’re not spending enough time with God in his word or in real prayer. No one can spend honest time with God in his word and in prayer and not see his or her sinfulness in 3D. It is only through a daily encounter with God through his word that we see the holiness of The Lord and the dreadful ugliness of sin. Satan’s master strategy for the destruction of God’s people is to drive a wedge between us and his word. When this happens, we cannot see sin as a present horror.
When the new man sees the horror and sinful ugliness of the old man he cries, “crucify him!!!” The old man is forced to pick up the cross–the instrument of death–and march to Golgotha to die. As Paul put it, I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 KJV) The death concept takes us back to the beginning where we deny self. As we renounce the old life and deny any connection with the sin of our past, we sound the death Nell for the evil in our lives. Daily immersion in the light of God’s word obliterates the darkness and connects us with the father whom to know is life eternal.
To be continued