Based on a series of sermons preached in PCC Prayer Meetings in 2021
“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
We have been considering what it means to follow Christ. We have looked at Him from numerous angles: His walk, His attitudes, His prayers, His ministry and His desires. In this study, we want to consider His death. We want to consider it not from the perspective of His vicarious atonement, but from the angle of His exemplary self-sacrifice. We want to consider how we must die as He died.
Now, this question does not have a straightforward answer. Very few of us are called to die literally in the manner and circumstance Christ did. The closest anyone would get to that would be those who are called to be martyrs. Martyrs are simply witnesses of Christ who died while taking a stand for Christ. It would appear that very few of us will be martyred today.
The next closest will be to experience severe dangers for the gospel’s sake. The apostle Paul says, “I die daily” (1 Cor 15:31), and that he always bears about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:10). But again, very few of us today will be privileged to live with such dangers to our lives.
How, then, are we to imitate Christ in His death? The answer may be found in Luke 9:23—“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.”
Here, in brief, is the Lord’s description of the Christian life. He tells us that there are three elements: denial, death and devotion.
a. What’s denial? It’s not as some suppose denying ourselves things such as smoking, alcohol, gambling, gaming, clubbing, Sunday sports, etc. Some of us may feel we need to give up these things when we become Christians. Well, there are some things you should give up. But if you think that the Lord is talking about these things, you misunderstand Him. The Lord says, “Let him deny himself [full-stop],” not “let him deny himself this or that.” It is about denying yourself, not denying things.
It is about surrendering to the Lord yourself, your body and soul, your will and your affections. It is about ceasing to seek your own happiness as the chief goal of your life. It is about being willing to renounce whatever is necessary for you to glorify God.
b. What’s devotion? Well, it’s basically to keep your eyes on Christ and to follow Him closely. The Lord says, “follow me.” Once a week, I follow my wife to the supermarket. She doesn’t like to bring me shopping because she feels she’s wasting my time. But I tell her I am pleased to be her mule. Now, to be an effective mule, I must keep my eyes on my wife and follow her closely. Sometimes I get distracted, and I lose sight of her. Then I have to look all over for her while she ends up having to hug the things she has collected because her mule is nowhere to be found.
We are not called to be mules of Christ, but sheep and lambs, and yes, willing slaves. Therefore, it behoves us to keep our eyes peeled upon the Lord our Master, and our ears open to our Shepherd. Only such a life is truly worthwhile.
c. But what about death? The Lord tells us that we must take up our cross daily. Why do we denote that as ‘death’? It is obvious, isn’t it? The Lord Jesus would die on the cross. As our Lord would bear His cross to die for us, He will have us bear our cross daily to die in imitation of Him.
What is it to bear our cross?
1. What Cross-Bearing Is Not?
It is not to die a martyr’s death. We can’t literally die daily. It is not merely about suffering. Some of us have chronic illnesses, and may think that that is a cross we must bear. But the better description of that for a believer would be a thorn in the flesh. Some of us may be facing economic hardship due to bad business decisions. That’s not the cross we have to bear. You have no choice but to carry the burden, but it is not your cross. Some of us are suffering ongoing conflicts in our marriages and family. That’s not really your cross. Even unbelievers face these types of difficulties.
2. What Is Cross-Bearing?
Simply stated, to take up the cross daily is to bear witness for the Lord in all our responsibilities, in every situation, including those that will bring us much pain. Our Lord suffered much as He carried His cross to fulfil the Father’s will. So, if we are to imitate Him in His death, we must be willing to suffer daily for His name’s sake.
What does that involve?
Think of Tom. He is a Christian. He loves basketball and is in the school basketball team. The team members are very close as they spend much time practising together and “hanging out” together. Sometimes after their practice games, they would have dinner together and chitchat. Let us listen in to them for a while. What are they talking about? Jack says, “Have you heard of those wackos who built an ark in Kentucky?” Harry chips in, “Yeah, and they think God created the world in six days. How weird!” Everyone laughs; everyone except Tom. Tom is the only believer in the team, and he believes that God is the Creator. What does he do? Does he remain silent? Or does he speak up and risk being mocked and sidelined by the rest of the team? This is his cross. Will he bear it?
Think of Nabeel. He grew up in a very devout Muslim family. One day, after much struggle, he is converted to Christianity. He immediately faces the question: does he tell his parents and sister, and risk breaking their hearts and being ostracized by all his relatives? This has become his cross for him to bear.
Or think of Jane. She was converted to Christianity while pursuing a law degree. She was sent to one of the top law firms for her internship. She is very pleased with that attachment as she hopes to work in that firm eventually. One day, while working overtime making photocopies for her supervisor, she catches the attention of one of the young partners in the company, who is very influential. He invites her out for a drink. She does not want to offend him, so she agrees. During their conversation, he talks about his marriage and how unhappy he is. Then, under the influence of alcohol, he becomes feely-touchy. Jane is uncomfortable with how brazen he has become. What does she do? Does she quietly let him do with her as he pleases and perhaps find herself being favoured by him? Or does she bear her cross and risk drastically cutting her chances of being employed by the company?
To bear one’s cross, you see, is not just suffering, but suffering because of one’s testimony for Christ. It involves serving the Lord in the circumstances in which the Lord has placed you, even if it means losing everything important to us in this world. It involves dying for Christ. “For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” asks the Lord.
3. Why Bear Your Cross?
The cross of Christ is necessary for our salvation. But make no mistake, our cross-bearing is also, in a sense, as Calvin puts it, necessary for our salvation. Is this not what the Lord Jesus says in the next verse? “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (v. 24).
One unwilling to bear his cross is ashamed of Christ and regards the idol he is tempted with—to be greater than the Father. This idol may be a prestigious job, the love of men, the acceptance of friends, wealth, convenience, pleasure, etc. One who refuses to deny himself and die to these things cannot expect the Father’s heavenly smile. “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels,” says the Lord (v. 26).
But willing and faithful cross-bearing has other benefits too. In his little Golden Booklet of the true Christian Life, Calvin reminds us that the cross we are to bear makes us humble, hopeful, obedient, and disciplined; and brings repentance, God’s favour and spiritual joy. It is a reality that if we are to enjoy a truly meaningful and blessed Christian walk in union with Christ, then we cannot but bear the cross that He has appointed for us. And we must bear it cheerfully, willingly and faithfully.
In dying daily by cross-bearing, in imitation of Christ, we may truly live the eternal life that Christ has appointed for us, and purchased for us by His blood.
May the Lord grant us grace to bear our crosses! Amen.