Scripture: Luke 9:18-27 (ESV)
Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
Jesus begins to reinterpret for his disciples who the Messiah is and what he has come to do. Contrary to all expectations, Jesus explains that yes, he is the messiah, but that he is heading to a cross, not a throne. His disciples expected a Daniel 7 kind of Messiah (see Daniel 7:13,14), but Jesus is embracing Isaiah 53. “The Son of Man,” Jesus says, “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk. 9:22).
Discipleship is all about learning Jesus by following him. And this Jesus who goes to the cross is still the one we follow. He is still the one we are called to learn. Christian formation means growth into his likeness. True messiahship completely shapes true discipleship.
And since true messiahship leads directly to the cross, true discipleship will, too. Understandably, we’re eager to convince ourselves that following Jesus will lead somewhere else. But according to Jesus, it doesn’t. “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Lk. 9:23). The image of discipleship that Jesus gives us is the image of a condemned man taking upon himself the instrument of his own execution and marching to his death.
Spend some time this week reflecting on your life. How is the Spirit inviting you to die to yourself in new ways so that you can be alive to Jesus? How are you tempted to bypass the cross on your way to the crown? Do you have practices in place that help you to die to your self-centeredness? If not, what concrete actions of self-denial could you take?
Dying to ourselves is ultimately for the purpose of living more and more for God. Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Spend some time thanking God for his costly, self-giving love. Our cross-bearing is never the main thing. His cross-bearing is.