Shoulder Your Cross
This reading is an interesting passage for a few reasons. Jesus has very plainly laid out for his disciples the events that will take place over the next few weeks – from His Jerusalem entrance, to His execution to His resurrection. But it’s His words to the disciples about their conduct that I want to focus on today.
Then Jesus said to the disciples, "If any of you wants to be My follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow Me." - Matthew 16:24
This verse is broken into three parts, three requirements of us, as Jesus' followers. And as simple as it might sound, I think maybe the first part of this verse, for most of us, may be the hardest. Jesus said to be His followers, we must put aside our selfish ambition (NLB). The New International Version says we must deny ourselves, and The Message Bible says we must let Him lead ... we’re not in the driver's seat, He is. In every single version of the Scriptures, the meaning seems to be the same – my central focus is to no longer be on me.
Oswald Chambers put it this way:
"It is not a question of giving up sin, but of giving up my right to myself, my natural independence, and my self-will ... Beware of refusing to go to the funeral of your own independence."
Ouch! It’s only natural for us to take offense at such a statement. But that's the whole point. As we are totally committed to Jesus, we find ourselves moving beyond the natural to the supernatural. But to do this, we must first completely let go of what comes naturally – to put myself first.
I heard a preacher make a statement about love a few years ago that has never left me, and it sure clears up this passage for me: “The opposite of love is not hate... the opposite of love is selfishness.” Think about it. When you truly love someone, the most natural thing for you to do, is the unnatural – to put their interests before your own. And that's just what Jesus is saying. We are to put His interests first.
The second part of that verse is extremely interesting if you think about it. The next thing Jesus said we should do is shoulder your cross. Looking back on the whole salvation story, this statement makes complete sense to us. But Jesus wasn’t looking back with His disciples; He was looking forward. And from their viewpoint, a cross wasn’t even on a distant horizon.
I think this part of Jesus’ statement was as much for us as for them. We know what He meant by the “Cross” – we’ve seen Him submit to its calloused cruelty, its shameful suffering. We know just what He meant by shoulder your Cross, because we've witnessed Jesus do it. And we know He did it for us.
Which leads us to His last point: Follow me... Perhaps two of the most comforting words in all of Scripture. We’re not doing this alone. We don't have to "make it up as we go." And we’re not intended to follow Someone who doesn’t know the way.
Jesus has already been there. He's carried the Cross… and He's prepared the way for us to follow. Its' a way lined with challenges – but one that leads to triumph.
Of course we'll never choose “suffering”, but we will choose God. And whatever happens after that, we know we’re not in it alone. The One Who went to the Cross walks right beside us as we carry ours.
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