Summary: Jesus tells us the cost of discipleship and the values we must hold to follow Him.
(My illustrations are from my files, primarily. No intention is implied that they are original. I have simply used them too much to remember where I found them. Variations of them can all be found on the internet, even on this site).
Jesus addresses the crowd to share with them the values required for discipleship.
I. The Plan.
Mar 8:34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
To follow, there is something you have to lay down. There is something you have to pick up. There is a way you have to go.
I cannot address this verse without pointing out one thing. There is an attraction to follow Jesus. For me, that attraction is really simple. First, my life didn't work. My way failed me. My resources were inadequate. In my efforts to find purpose, value and meaning in life, I was never satisfied.
Many would be fine with such dissatisfaction. Settling in life is considered a sane reality to some. But that urge to find purpose, value and meaning really never dies. And add to that the call of God, it creates a thirst that demand satisfaction.
When you turn down all the static of this life, you can hear His call. He has placed in you the desire to come to Him. Be still now and listen. But that invitation consists of these three requirements.
A. Lay down your life.
We often look at the death of Jesus and recognize that He laid down His life for us on the cross. However, there is another way to lay down your life besides death. It is not "dying for", but also "living for".
Here, the Greek word used implies disowning one's self. Giving up ownership is a prerequisite to following Jesus. This is where many people find difficulty.
Ill. I have been told that there is a certain live animal trap that, if the trapped animal would simply back up a little, the trapping devise would relax and he could escape.
That is the shape of mankind. If we would just let go of control of our lives, we would find the freedom we push for. If you give up the rights, responsibility and control of your life to Jesus Christ, you will find abundant life. Giving up is the first step.
Throughout this Christian life, we must continue to say "no" to ourselves. However, you will never successfully get past this step unless you admit that there is something naturally and inherent in you that resists laying down your life.
Many Christians continue to live to satisfy their own natural cravings. Paul described the enemies of the Kingdom of God to the Philippians, saying, "Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things."
This will be a lifelong struggle, and denying self is just a first step. However, it is worth the effort to lay down your life, give up your rights and say "no" to your natural tendencies.
That is a requirement for discipleship and a value to which we must cling.
B. Pick up the purpose.
What did Jesus mean about taking up his cross?
In the previous text, Peter has just tried to call Jesus away from His God-given purpose. After that statement, Jesus said, "I want you to hear this, but I want the whole crowd to hear it."
Setting down your plans, rights and desires is an important step. Picking up the destiny of God is another. The cross was Jesus destiny. All He did in life led Him to His destined purpose.
Jesus told the disciples that you need to also find your destiny in His kingdom. No, you will not find it until you lay down your life, giving it all to Him.
Many start until they find out what He has in mind, and they, having set their hand to the plow, look back.
Nothing is more fulfilling than finding and living out the purpose God has for you. But nothing is more scary than to let go and pick up.
C. Follow me.
You deny your self, pick up God's purpose for your life, and then you go.
The word "follow" implies walking behind. However, the Greek implies going the same with with, accompanying. Jesus is saying, if I will deny myself and pick up His purpose, He will walk with me. He will never leave me or forsake me. There is nothing I can go through that surprises Him. There is nothing that I can encounter that He cannot handle for His glory and my good.
As David said, He is my shield, my shelter, my rock and my fortress.