Take Up Your Cross

In Matthew 16:24-28 we hear some hard words from Jesus that are often talked about but I don’t really believe that we fully grasp the truth that is found in His words.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what can a person give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’” NET

Jesus gives perhaps the clearest presentation of discipleship found in the Bible. In this passage Jesus shares with His disciples what we might call the thee laws of discipleship:

1> The Law of self-denial: “deny himself”

2> The Law of sacrifice: “take up his cross”

3> The Law of submission: “follow me”

But the Lord does not just leave them (and us) with these responsibilities. He qualifies them by pointing out the rewards that belong to those who are disciples:

1> PERMANENCE OF DISCIPLESHIP: “For whoever would save his life will lose it,” meaning that joy and fulfillment are found when we exchange our lives for the life of Christ.

2> PRICE OF DISCIPLESHIP: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” We all get only one chance to live by faith as believers. It is priceless and well worth the cost to us personally of following Jesus and fulfilling His commands.

3> PRIZE OF DISCIPLESHIP: “He will repay each person according to what he has done.”

The truths found in the Gospel according to Matthew are also found elsewhere in the New Testament.

Luke 17:33 (NET) states, “Remember Lotʼs wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.”

We also see a similar point being made in the Gospel according to John the apostle.

John 12:25 (NET) “The one who loves his life destroys it, and the one who hates his life in this world guards it for eternal life.”

And then in the history of the early Church in Acts 14:22 (NET) we read, “They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.’”

Obviously it is costly to be a true disciple of Jesus. And its cost is exceeded only by its reward. We gain life by losing it as we suffer much for the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24;14). But as we share the Gospel with others – and maybe suffer for our obedience to the Great Commission – we recognize that we are ushering in the return of Jesus. In His own words we read, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 NET).

So, as disciples we must be willing to lose our lives for the sake of this Gospel of the Kingdom as we look to the second coming of Jesus once the Gospel has been heard by every nation (people and language group). 

A reminder then of The Great Commission for which we are to invest (lose) our lives …

“Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 NET).

Time to think about taking up our individual crosses, doing to self, and thus investing life in spreading and proclamation of the Gospel to the many who have yet to hear the Good News that Jesus saves. 

Salt of the Earth

In 2022 I believe the Holy Spirit is leading us to discover in greater depth who we are “in Christ.” And, as a result, we will be able to live fuller and more productive lives in the Kingdom. As I was reading the Scriptures the other night I slowly maneuvered through the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) and into the Similitudes (Matthew 5:13-16).

In Matthew 5:13 we read, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavour, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people.”

The Message Version renders this verse as: “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.”

The Passion Translation: ““Your lives are like salt among the people. But if you, like salt, become bland, how can your ‘saltiness’ be restored? Flavourless salt is good for nothing and will be thrown out and trampled on by others.”

Sometimes we read a familiar passage like this and it just sort of slides by. Your mind and your heart go, “Yup, I know that.” But unless you pause and think about what the people listening in person to Jesus teach at that time in Galilee heard and understood you can miss the intent of the verse and the application for today in our culture and time.

Salt is both a preservative and a flavour enhancer. No doubt its use as a preservative is what Jesus had mostly in view here. Pure salt cannot lose its flavour or effectiveness, but the salt that is common in the Dead Sea area is contaminated with gypsum and other minerals and may have a flat taste or be ineffective as a preservative. Such mineral salts were useful for little more than keeping footpaths free of vegetation. Thus the comment “trampled on by people.” 

So, if we are the “salt” then we can either be pure and thus useful to the Kingdom and ministering in such as a way as to preserve people’s souls, seeing them come into the Kingdom and following Jesus. Or, we can be contaminated by the world and thus having lost our saltiness and effectiveness in the world. Of little to no value to the Kingdom and living like those who don’t follow Jesus and don’t worship and serve the Lord. 

Both forms are called salt. Both types of people can be called Christian. But there are Christians and then there are Christians if you know what I mean. 

As we start 2022 it is a good time to examine our hearts and lives to see if we are the true “salt of the earth” or simply something people can walk on and over without us having any impact at all on them? Are we cultural Christians or the real deal as believers? Are we part of a “Christian” sub-culture or leading in a counter-culture that is impacting the world? Are we part of the world’s system or are we truly living in the Kingdom and by Kingdom principles?

So, before we get too far into the new year of the Lord 2022 – it might be a good idea to take a good hard look at your faith and how it is being expressed in your life and within the community in which you live. Salt of the earth or…?