Throughout His ministry, Jesus told the people to take up their crosses and to follow Him. In connection with this command, He also told the hearer to “deny himself.” What does this mean? How do we live this today?
First of all, for Jesus to speak about crosses would have been very real to His audience. Today, about the only place we see crosses are in Churches and in jewelry. They have become decorations. At the time of Christ, crosses dotted the landscape and were a torturous way to die. The reader will probably have heard a description of this torturous manner of death.
For the hearer at Jesus time, it was more than an academic matter. Most knew people who had been crucified and had seen their painful, slow deaths. For Jesus to call His hearers to “take up your cross and follow me” was to take upon themselves a death sentence.
Jesus would later go to the cross to pay the penalty for sin: the sins of all believers. What Jesus suffered for sin is far greater than His time on the cross or His physical suffering of crucifixion. He suffered in His Spirit. He suffered the wrath of God against sin…He being God and therefore infinite could suffer in a short time the infinite wrath of God against sin. As the Apostles’ Creed states, He suffered hell. He was able to suffer this in a short time. Yet we must not minimize this.
Yet in Gethsemane Jesus, on the precipice of His final sacrifice shrunk back…however having sought and found no other way stayed the course to save all who believe in Him.
I should also note that Jesus’ suffering was longer than His time on the cross. His payment for our sins goes back to His conception and birth. “That all the time He was on earth,” He who is Lord over all things was suffering for our sins.
It must also be realized that our worst sufferings on this earth are not worthy to be compared to Jesus’ sufferings. They differ in what those sufferings are (He suffered Hell), and in magnitude, to quote the writer to the Hebrews, “[we] have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (Heb 12:4).
So, back to my original question. How do we deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him? Denying ourselves is not about trivial matters, it means joining God in judgment against our sins. Taking up our crosses means to live ready to die for our Savior. Following after Christ means joining Him outside the camp of man’s approval bearing His reproach.
Rev. James Grossmann
Salem Ebenezer Reformed Church