Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 (NIV)
What does this even mean? You may be asking. Jesus made this statement to his disciples when one of them (Peter) tried to discourage him when he talked about the things he would suffer and his eventual death. ‘Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”’ Matthew 16:22 (NIV)
Rather than Jesus saying a resounding ‘AMEN!’ to his prayers, he rebuked Peter for trying to discourage him because he saw that Peter was more concerned about his present comfort than his eternal purpose. Many Christians today have the same mindset as Peter. From the pews to the pulpit, we all pray vehemently against anything that constitutes discomfort and suffering. We have been made to believe that Christianity is a ticket to living a life of ease or any self-absorbed life that we fancy. We think it’s all about our self-interests and comfort. We, however, see Jesus disputing this notion and correcting this mindset in Matthew 16:24 after he had rebuked Peter. The Amplified version of this verse renders it very comprehensible, as seen below:
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me].”
The Greek word for ‘deny’ in this text is ‘aparneomai,’ and it means to refuse, decline, or strongly reject! So, to deny yourself means that you must set aside your selfish interests. You must refuse to be thinking about yourself all the time, decline your personal agenda in favour of God’s agenda, and strongly reject personal comfort in favour of divine purpose.
I experienced what it means to deny oneself, take up your cross and follow Christ some years back when certain people proposed to have our church closed down, and our members moved to join another congregation. Based on their reasons for wanting to do this, I could clearly see their self-interests at play, so I refused to consent to this proposal. My stand, however, led to fierce persecution, which I will save you the details here.
I believe that God’s agenda should supersede our personal agenda. This is because our personal agenda will only lead to present comfort and temporary gain. But on the other hand, God’s agenda is about our eternal purpose, our reason for existence. This is why Jesus sharply rebuked Peter when he tried to stop him from following God’s agenda and fulfilling his eternal purpose, “But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man”- Matthew 16:23 (ESV).
As you celebrate Easter, I encourage you to self-examine and reflect if you have put present comfort above your eternal purpose and make necessary adjustments. Jesus Christ has set us a worthy example.