Come and Die!

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”

Luke 9:23

In the passage immediately preceding Luke 9:23-27, Jesus had asked his disciples who they thought he was. Peter replied, “You are the Messiah sent from God!” (9:20). Apparently accepting this identification, Jesus began to qualify it in a most unexpected manner. As Messiah, he would fulfill the calling of the Son of Man by suffering rejection and death, but then being raised from the dead (9:22).

As disconcerting as this must have been for those who heard it, Jesus quickly added to their discomfort. “If any of you wants to be my follower,” he said, “you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (9:23). As we read this, we immediately think of the crucifixion of Jesus, including its saving purpose and the resurrection that soon followed. But, remember, those who heard Jesus that day did not think of the cross as we do. Taking up one’s cross was what a person did who was about to be crucified by the Romans. So, on the surface, it would have appeared that Jesus was saying to his admirers: “If you’re going to follow me, you must follow me to martyrdom at the hands of Rome.” Not the best church growth preaching strategy!

Verse 24 seems at first glance to confirm the literal interpretation of Jesus’ call to the cross: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” Save it? How? When? Does this refer to life in the great hereafter? Or is Jesus talking about a different way of living today, a way that somehow requires a kind of death?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer goes on to explain in detail that this is not, for most Christians, a literal death, but rather a death to self. When we follow Jesus truly, we choose to die to our selfish desires, our need to win, our urge to control. We lay down our lives before our Lord so that we might receive them back from him imbued with new purpose and power. To be sure, the call of Jesus to die to ourselves is not an easy one. Yet in surrendering our life to Christ, we actually end up saving it, both now and in the world to come.

I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow. For now, consider the following questions.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When you hear Jesus speak of taking up your cross and giving up your life, how do you feel? Do you find yourself eager to blunt the sharp edge of Jesus’ words? Do you feel afraid and hesitant? Do you feel curious and confused? Or do you feel eager and hopeful? How might you live differently today if you were to take up your cross and follow Jesus?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, indeed, these are not easy words. They’re not exactly easy to understand, and they’re not at all easy to do. Of course, you are not calling us to the easy way. Sacrifice is never easy, even when it’s right, even when it leads to salvation. It was not easy for you, and it is not easy for us.

I must confess, Lord, that part of me wants to round off the sharp edge of your words. I want to avoid their challenge and discomfort. But I also want to live as your disciple, truly and fully. So help me to understand what you are saying. Help me to do it. By your grace, may I take up my cross today so that I might live fully for you.

All praise and glory be to you, Lord Jesus, Son of Man. Amen.