“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
The events of Holy Week, leading up to Easter, are sobering reminders to us that our faith is founded on a blood sacrifice motivated by love, by suffering, death, burial and resurrection of our Savior, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.
If we fail to acknowledge this truth then we risk losing a sense of the profound depth of God’s love for us, and even more importantly, the overwhelming significance of what it means to be truly born again by His Spirit, because without the shedding of blood there can be no redemption, no atonement for sin, and therefore, no opportunity for righteousness that leads to life. Without the blood of Christ we would all be dead in our sins and destined for hell forever.
Without the cross on which Jesus suffered and died we would have no pathway into the presence of God. On that cross all the sins of the world were laid on Him. On that cross, the fullness of the law of sin and death was satisfied. On that cross Innocence hung in the place of the guilty, of every man, woman and child conceived in sin and born of corruptible seed by the will of man. [1 Peter 1:23]
On that cross, the Lamb of God (the Agnus Dei) took away the sins of the world suffering and dying in our place.
Jesus came to earth with one overarching purpose, to die for the sins of the world. That’s it. He was born for the purpose of dying. He was born to be our substitutionary sacrifice. When Jesus died on the cross the chains, that held us in bondage to death, fell off and were broken for all eternity.
When Jesus died on the cross my sins were exchanged for His righteousness, my guilt for His innocence, my shame for His glory, my sickness for His healing, my poverty for His riches, my weakness for His strength, my fear for His love, His perfect love.
Now, I live in His righteousness, in His purity, in His limitlessness, in His more-than-abundant supply, in His wisdom, in His authority and power, in His love. And in that authority, love and power I am commissioned daily to take up my cross and follow Him.
Jesus bore His cross with a singleness of purpose, to please the Father. When Peter rebuked Him for saying, He would go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and be killed and rise again on the third day, all Peter heard, apparently, was that Jesus would suffer and die. [Matthew 16:21-24] And that was enough for him to resort to the brokenness of his sinful human nature and take a defensive posture of telling God how things will be.
To Jesus, Peter’s denial of His most fundament purpose for becoming a man was like a slap in the face. But Jesus knew that it was not Peter speaking from His own heart, but Satan himself choosing that moment to add yet another dimension of temptation to Jesus, to appeal to His humanity and cause Him to surrender to the human instinct of self-preservation.
But He did not come to save His own life but to give it away a ransom for many, for everyone who would believe on Him. That was His cross to bear.
Now Jesus calls us to come after Him, to follow His steps, His ways, His words, His heart and His manner of forgiveness, of mercy, grace, love, acceptance and forgiveness, to take up our cross daily and follow Him.
What is our cross?
God’s purpose for our lives is to glorify Him. Bearing our cross daily is to be acutely aware that our lives have been redeemed with a precious price, the most costly in all the world, for all time, the past, the present and for all time to come, so that we may choose to deny ourselves in order to please Him.
Peter wasn’t rebuked because He didn’t love Jesus. He did love Him. He was rebuked because he accounted his defense of Jesus and his attempted denial of Him fulfilling His purpose, greater than His obedience to God’s higher purpose which was the way of suffering and death, burial and RESURRECTION. This is the higher calling, that we recognize His death had to happen, so that souls would be saved and delivered from the bondage of sin and death by His love for all of us.
In the taking up of our cross daily we can say with Jesus, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
Holy Week shines a light on that prayer in our hearts, being ready to die so that we can truly live. In denying to ourselves and laying down our lives we make room for the life and light of Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord to shine through us. That light and love dispels the darkness of sin and death and drives away all fear so that love can prevail.
To follow Jesus is to follow Him all the way to the victory of the Resurrection. That is the goal of our journey. The cross is the pathway. The destination is life and that more abundantly, now and forever.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:4-9