Take Up Your Cross: Come and Die

Text: Luke 9:23-26

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” —Luke 9:23

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Around the turn of the 20th century, there was a band of people who believed that. They became known as the “one-way” missionaries. When they departed for the mission field, they packed all of their belongings into a coffin and bought one-way tickets because they assumed they’d never return home safely.

Peter Milne was one of those missionaries. He felt called to a tribe of headhunters in the New Hebrides. All the other missionaries to this tribe had been martyred, but Milne didn’t shrink back to the shores of “safe” Christianity. He served in the New Hebrides for more than fifty years. The tribe buried him and wrote the following words on his tombstone, “When he came there was no light. When he left there was no darkness.” Milne’s story is a powerful depiction of the legacy God can write through a life that is willing to give Jesus nothing short of absolute surrender.

When Jesus told his followers to “take up their cross” and follow Him, every one of them would’ve understood the weight of those words. In our generation, many interpret the “cross” as some burden they have been given to carry: a physical illness, a difficult relationship, or an unappealing job. Such an interpretation would’ve never been on the radar of those early Christians. To a person in the first-century, the cross meant one thing and one thing only: death by the most painful, torturous, and humiliating fashion. Because the Romans forced convicted criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion, bearing a cross meant carrying their own execution apparatus while facing sheer ridicule all along that path to death.

For those early disciples, the charge to “take up your cross and follow” was a death sentence. One must be willing to die in order to follow Jesus. It’s a call to give up our own will, abandon self-preservation, and offer ourselves in complete surrender to God’s kingdom agenda, no matter what it might cost us. After each time that Jesus gave that cross-bearing command, He said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:24-25)

A.W. Tozer wrote:

“We talk about the deeper life and spiritual victory and becoming dead to ourselves—but we stay very busy rescuing ourselves from the cross. That part of ourselves that we rescue from the cross may be a very little part of us, but it is likely to be the seat of our spiritual troubles and defeats… In our day we want to die a piece at a time, so we can rescue little parts of ourselves from the cross.. A man who is always on the cross, just piece after piece, cannot be happy in that process. But when that man takes his place on the cross with Jesus Christ once and for all, and commends his spirit to God, lets go of everything and ceases to defend himself—sure, he has died, but there is a resurrection that follows!”

For each of us, rescuing ourselves from that cross might look a bit different. Maybe it’s in the refusal to let go of a toxic relationship or the unwillingness to turn from that habitual sin. It might be found in the way we try to vindicate ourselves or withhold forgiveness. We are trying to rescue ourselves from the cross when we cower from speaking up for God’s truth in fear of being “canceled” in a world that calls “evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).

Jesus never called us to behavioral modification. He never gave a lecture or a seminar on sin-management. He simply told His disciples to come and die to self, take up their cross, and follow Him. It wasn’t very complex for those early followers, nor should it be for us. Jesus demands death to our self-will and absolute surrender to His Lordship. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.  

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, teach us to take up our cross daily, die to self, and follow you in absolute surrender. Holy Spirit, enable us to do this with your indwelling presence and power. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for personal reflection, small group discussion, or dinner table conversations:

  1. When have you made a sacrifice for the sake of someone else?
  2. What are the conditions for discipleship with Jesus? (Luke 9:23)
  3. What kind of commitment does discipleship require? (vv.24-25)
  4. What did Jesus say would happen to anyone who is ashamed of Him and His words? (vv.26)
  5. With whom can you pray this week for the purpose of denying yourself and following Jesus?

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