Matthew 16:24 “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
Everybody in the world is need of salvation. The substitutionary death of Christ is for as many as will come to Him. If the entire world comes, there is more than enough grace to save them; yet, some choose to come while others refuse. Now, for those who come, they find a preliminary rest, and they must now be tutored in the comprehensive benefits of redemption (Ephesians 1-3, Colossians 1-2) in order to fully enter into their rest. This will lead to a lot of celebration.
God has made all things ready; He has only asked me to come and feast (Luke 14:16-17).
This is where the problem usually begins in the Christan life. Although many realize the need to be forgiven, and they do come to Christ and they are saved, yet they eventually turn down the offer of the actual feast they were invited to. Many rejoice at the discovery of what Christ has done and who we are now in Christ, but to settle down into their inheritance and feast on Christ, which is a different matter entirely, is dismissed. That is both an unfortunate and unpleasant irony! To be saved is only the beginning. You need to proceed to “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)
The first stage of our Christian experience is a period of celebration, where we just rejoice and stand in amazement at what God has done for us in Christ. But there is a second stage! It is a time of consecration, where we now enter into the responsibilities of our elevated position in Christ. This does not end the celebration, it only makes it richer. You are not only a child of God’s royal family anymore, you are now becoming a son (because of your Christ likeness), in whom God is well pleased. Galatians 4:1-6, Isaiah 9:6a, Matthew 3:17
“…let him deny himself…”
The enemy of our souls, who is the prince of this world, knows how to interfere and even frustrate the experience of salvation. And he does this by injecting the false notion that, “as long as you are saved, you don’t really need to feast on Christ… you don’t need to obey the word of God, you can keep living according to your old life, and you will make it to heaven. That is an illusion you need to wake up from. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these…of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things SHALL NOT inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21 emphasis ours)
Therefore, the LORD says “…let him deny himself…” That is, you… you yourself must deny your own self. Or else you will listen to these suggestions of the enemy of your soul, who is like “…a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He is ever on duty, looking for ways to deceive you and keep you in a state of deception. The only way to deal with him in this matter is not primarily by binding him. If there is anything to bind at all, it is your self. The scriptures didn’t say to ‘deny the devil’, it says to ‘deny yourself’. SUBMIT YOURSELVES therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7). When we submit to God, we are denying ourselves; and that is when we can resist any offer (of sin) from the devil.
Remember that the devil did not suddenly close up his entire evil enterprise because you became a Christian. He continues to refine his ways and methods to see how he can still gain you for himself, in spite of your claim of salvation.
Why deny self?
Self is the “image of God” compromised. Sin entered into the world through Adam, therefore all became sinners (Romans 5:17-19). Through sin, the image of God that we carried at creation has been exchanged for the image of the devil at the fall (Genesis 5:3). This image of the devil in every child of Adam works by exalting your own will over and above the will of God. Hence, the entire experience and exposure you have had in life, in living to please yourself is what we call “self”, which is the devil’s disguised agenda for your life. Please note this: the devil knows that by luring you to live for your self, to prefer your will over God’s, he is confirming before heaven and earth that you actually belong to him.
Once you deny yourself, the devil has no means of luring you again into his cosmic propaganda.
“…and take up his cross…”
In Matthew 11, after the invitation to come to receive salvation in verse 28, the LORD then presents the means by which the salvation received is perpetuated according to his plans. Let me note with you that our salvation is meant to be permanent, it was not made to be something that can be lost. Yet, the permanence that God intended depends on knowing His ways and living according to His plans. So we see the LORD introducing the yoke in verse 29.
Matthew 11:29 “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
Remember that there was a promise of rest in verse 28 for those who come, but in the look of things, it is quite clear that if you refuse to “take the yoke of Jesus” so as to learn of Him, the rest that was promised cannot be found. You will actually find rest for your soul when you settle down to feast on Christ (John 6:33-35). The rest is in what you feed on. It’s just like wanting nourishment without actually eating the food you have before you. The rest that Jesus promised, which is an indication of transformation, of the takeover of grace from all self-effort to change, and of walking in the newness of life, is only for those who will “learn of Christ”.
How do we learn of Him and feast on Him?
Exactly why He says to “take up your cross and follow him” (Luke 9:23) and “take my yoke upon you” (Matthew 11:29). Let us note that wherever grace meets faith, the cross goes to work, unless we frustrate it by refusing to deny ourselves. Taking up your cross and taking His yoke upon you suggests that this is a matter of your choice. In this case, to take up your cross is to live by the victory of Christ on the cross (John 19:30). Practically speaking, it is to:
1. Disown your will and ways
2. Choose God’s will and ways
John 6:38 “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”
But, we need to know what the cross is, that is, what it represents:
1. Taking up the cross is like carrying your obituary with you wherever you go. Galatians 2:20, 5:24
2. Taking up the cross is serving the *world* the notice of your death to it, and it’s death to you. Galatians 6:14
3. Taking up the cross is showing the *world* that there is no hope in the flesh, and that it must die. Colossians 3:3, 5
4. It is showing forth the receipt of the “dying of the LORD” that gives you the right to live like Him. 2 Corinthians 4:10
5. It is simply, “not my will, but thine be done”
Luke 22:42 “Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”
*The world as used here is not the earth, it is a system (gr: kosmos). It is the evil system of satanic government ruling over the mind of unsaved mankind (Ephesians 2:2, John 14:30).
Since the cross was not a place of pleasure but of pain, it means carrying the cross, in a sense, will mean bleeding, going through the pain of not having your own way. Yet there is a joy that comes with it. “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Hebrews 12:3). The cross is one side and it is a side of suffering and pain, but there is another side, which is the resurrection. This is the side of enjoying and pleasure.
The Cross: The Suffering Side
Philippians 1:29 “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake“
Philippians 3:10 “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death”
The Resurrection Life: The Enjoying Side
Psalm 16:11 “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
So, taking up your cross to follow Jesus is choosing to share in Christ’s suffering in order that you may share in His glory (Romans 8:17). What is this suffering? When we surrender our will (Luke 9:23), lose our lives (Matthew 16:25) and love the LORD Jesus more than father, mother, children and even ourselves (Luke 14:26), it is suffering. This makes every attempt of our flesh to rise again from the dead, to make us live like those who are not yet saved, to prove abortive.
What about the yoke?
In agriculture, a yoke is an instrument of gagging two animals (usually oxen) of the same nature together for a higher purpose. One is usually more experienced, while the other is less experienced. Binding their necks together makes the inexperienced one to go along with the experienced one to achieve the higher purpose. That yoke “makes” the inexperienced animal to become like the experienced one. Therefore, the yoke of Jesus is the means of binding and gagging ourselves to Him, so that the direction and character of our lives henceforth is determined by Him, and we only follow.
That yoke makes us to walk side by side with the LORD every single day of our lives. That is why without it, we cannot learn of Him. By taking His yoke, we seize to be in the general multitude of people who are admiring Jesus from afar but never following. This yoke is the evidence that we are learning Him, following Him and are becoming like Him. Whether you will take His yoke upon you or not, whether you will take up your cross or not is entirely up to you. Jesus will never force it on you. But it is the only way to find that true rest you are seeking for your soul.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are from the King James Version.
Picture credits: Highlands Baptist Church, Pinterest, Pastor’s Postings