Perhaps Jesus’ most well-known saying about discipleship is found in Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV): “Whoever wants to be my disciple” must deny oneself, take up a cross, and follow me. “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” See also Mark 8:34-35, Luke 16:23-24.
In Jesus’ day, taking up a cross meant humiliating death. Denying self and losing life meant just that. Trying to interpret this calling for U.S. Christians today is knotty. The chance of dying, or even suffering, because we are Christians is remote.
Do we take up our cross when we put up with a thankless job or even keep going under the strain of an illness? Do we deny ourselves and lose our lives when we give up leisure activity or a time-consuming job because they stand in the way of complete discipleship? Those examples founder when examined next to Jesus’ words on the cost of discipleship. I’m not sure how to apply Jesus’ calling in our world. But consider this.
When Jesus was dragging his cross to Golgotha, Simon of Cyrene was unexpectedly forced to carry Jesus’ cross. (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26) That comes to my mind when I think of taking up my cross. Jesus doesn’t force us to take up the cross. He asks us to take up our cross — and thus his — by carrying the crosses of others.
In Matthew 25, Jesus said that when his followers ministered to the hungry and thirsty, took in strangers, provided clothing to the needy, cared for the sick, and visited prisoners, they were actually doing all that for Jesus. Perhaps that’s the way we take up the cross, deny ourselves, and lose our lives.
All Jesus did was for others. Doesn’t he ask us to do the same?