“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)
Today, the cross has a different meaning than it did when Jesus was on the earth. Today the cross is seen as a fashion statement by many. Celebrities have been seen with gold crosses on their necklaces or earrings, crosses are printed onto t-shirts, crosses are used as decor in homes, but the irony is that, at times, the cross is on these items and worn by people that have no religious affiliation whatsoever. When we read the New Testament and read of the cross, we are not reading of a fashion statement that was made in popular culture. As a matter of fact, when a cross was used there was a stigma that was attached. The Romans had perfected the art of crucifixion and it was an unpleasant scene (to put it lightly) that was reserved for the lowest of the low, those guilty of the worst crimes, and was never to be used as a form of execution for a Roman citizen. The cross, during the first century, would be our equivalent to a lynching, gas chamber, electric chair, and was a symbol of death and torture. On several occasions, Jesus taught the necessity of being a servant in the kingdom of Christ, but one of the most emphatic statements He made regarding stewardship can be found in Luke 9:23, when Jesus states that if anyone will come after Him, they must deny themselves, take up their cross (a form of execution) and follow Him. The greatest need in the world today is not more money, more fame, more material possessions, but the greatest need is for more who are willing to deny themselves and follow Jesus Christ.
If one desires to become a follower of Jesus, they must take heed to His teaching of how to enlist as His follower. If we want to be a servant in the kingdom of Christ and begin living our lives as Jesus would have us to, we must first take care of our problem of sin. On many occasions, Jesus emphasized the need to repent of sin (Matt. 4:17; Luke 13:3, 5). The first statement recorded in Jesus public ministry addresses the need to “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17), and the end of His ministry Jesus shed His blood for the remission of sins, proving the extreme need to be rid of sin if we desire to follow Him. Jesus also commanded that we must believe He is the One sent by God the Father to take on our sins. Unless we believe that Jesus is the Christ, we will “die in your sins” (John 8:24), but those that “believe and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Why would one desire to follow Jesus unless they truly believed He is the Messiah sent on behalf of mankind? Believing in Him, one must be willing to confess He is the Christ. If we confess Him before men, He will confess us before the Father but if we deny Him before men, He will deny us before the Father (Matt. 10:32-33). This confession is more than mere lip service, uttering words of confession regarding our belief, but this confession is our putting into practice the doctrine of Christ and doing all we can to be faithful followers of His. If we desire to follow Jesus, we must be baptized into His body. There have been many that have denied that baptism is essential for salvation, and many that have quoted John 3:16 to prove that baptism is not essential for salvation, but may we remind those that have done such of the context of that passage and the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3:3-5) which addresses the need to be baptized. Jesus conjoined belief and baptism, stating that if one desires to be saved, they MUST do both (Mark 16:16). The apostles preached the Gospel for the first time after the ascension of Jesus, and after convincing some of their guilt of sin, they cried out “what must we do” and the apostles conjoined repentance with baptism, and those that obeyed the preaching of the apostles were saved and added to the church of Christ (Acts 2:37-47). After following this pattern that Jesus has set forth, one can begin to be a faithful follower of Jesus. If one desires to race in the Daytona 500, they cannot do so without qualifying for the race first, if one wanted to play baseball for the Atlanta Braves they would need to be on the roster, if one wanted to play football for the Dallas Cowboys, they will need to tryout first. When discussing the need to be a servant of Jesus, we are discussing something far greater than any sporting event, and to participate we must follow the qualifications set forth by Jesus Christ.
After one has done all to be added to the body of Christ, now there is a great responsibility laid upon each one to serve to the best of their abilities. As Jesus is speaking to the multitude, He states that the following after Him is a “daily” service (Luke 9:23). Being a servant of Christ is not something that is only done on Sundays and is not something that we cease to do because we have responsibilities at work or at home, but as we are fulfilling our earthly duties, we are doing such as a servant, first and foremost, of Jesus, as He is the emphasis of our lives, and the focus in all that we do. Now that we have been added to the body of Christ, we are not attempting to glorify self, but we are willing to deny ourselves to glorify God. Jesus is our perfect example of self-denial and sacrifice (1 Peter 2:21; Phil. 2:5-7), and through His life on earth, especially through His crucifixion, He remained faithful to His mission of being a “minister” and “ransom” for many (Mark 10:45). As we go through our daily lives, we must be willing to make sacrifices, if necessary, and follow Jesus.
After our service has ended, and we have been faithful unto death, then we can begin our rest and receive the rewards of being a faithful servant and follower of Jesus. Jesus never promised that being a servant of His would be easy. He told His apostles that the world would hate them (John 16:33), but this conversation began by Jesus comforting them, telling them of the rewards of being faithful to Him (John 14:1-3). Jesus gave the parable of the faithful servants (Matt. 25:14ff.) and those that were faithful were told “well done” “enter in.” Those that take up their cross and follow Jesus, being faithful to Him every day, will be rewarded accordingly, but we must remember what will be told to the unfaithful and those that do not follow Him, as they will be told to “depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41) and these “shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal” (Matt. 25:46).
Are you willing to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus? If you will do all things to qualify for service, and serve Him faithfully, you can be blessed eternally. The choice is yours to make!