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. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38 ESV
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:5-11 ESV
Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt was a man from New York City, who was sailing on a ship named the Lusitania in 1915 while World War I was raging in Europe. The Lusitania had almost reached England when it was torpedoed by Germans from a U-Boat, and it began to sink. Mr. Vanderbilt didn’t seem to think of himself, even though he couldn’t swim. He and his valet, Ronald Denyer, helped as many people–women and children–to the safety of the ship’s lifeboats as they could. A steward on the ship saw him and shouted, “Hurry, Mr. Vanderbilt, or it will be too late!” but he only smiled and continued to help others. He made no effort to push his way through the crowds of people who were hurrying to get into lifeboats. Mr. Vanderbilt died when the boat sank. He gave up his life to save others.
Jesus told the people who wanted to follow him that they would have to take up their cross to do that. He said that people who wanted to save their lives would lose it, but people who were willing to lose their lives would save it. Jesus calls his followers to put others’ needs before their own, and to give ourselves in service to others. He calls us to die to the sin that is in our lives, and to go God’s way instead of our own. Our soul is more precious than anything we could possibly gain in this world, so no matter what we lose in following Christ, it is better to do that than to be ashamed of him and to turn away from following him. If we become ashamed of Jesus and reject him, we will lose the eternal life he came to give us.
These teachings of Jesus can be scary, because we always struggle with selfishness and wanting to do things our own way. But Jesus came to die for all our sins, including our sins of selfishness. He forgives us and helps us every day. He helps us to put our trust in his forgiveness rather than trying to earn our way to heaven by our own good works. Trusting Jesus instead of ourselves is the biggest way we deny ourselves. The Lord sends us his Holy Spirit to help us continue to trust him, to turn away from sin, and to learn to live a life of service to others.
Dear Jesus, please help us to take up our cross and follow you every day. Amen