“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
These words, spoken by Jesus to his disciples after He predicts His death, are hard words for me to swallow. They were probably hard for the disciples to hear and maybe even for anyone else who reads these precious words.
Often times when I hear this verse, it is painted with negative connotations of “denying your desires” or “putting aside what you want for what Jesus wants” or “carrying a heavy, troublesome burden that is ‘your cross'”. It always leaves me feeling uneasy because people make it sound like following Jesus is this terrible drudgery of a thing that saps you of your desires and energy and isn’t really worth it.
But I know from my experience this is not true.
Because following Jesus has been the absolute, most amazing thing I have ever done and I continue to follow Him through the highs and lows of life.
Because He is worth it.
And while I know that following Him is hard and costly, God also supplies everything I need so that I can follow Him. It may be hard for me, but nothing is too hard for Him.
And so as I was studying this verse yesterday I came across some commentary that sheds new light on this passage. Interpretation that doesn’t leave me feeling unsettled or uneasy but reinforces that which I know to be true of my God and the consistency of His character.
The commentary regarding Mark 8:34 says this:
The goal of self-denial and taking up one’s cross is not pathological self-abasement or a martyr complex but being free to follow the Messiah. Self-denial means letting go of self-determination and replacing it with obedience to and dependence on the Messiah.
Is it possible that following Jesus for us is harder because we are not doing it as He intended us to?
Is it possible that The Church has been denying our own desires in attempts to follow Jesus when all He really wants us to do is rely on Him instead of ourselves?
Is it possible that following Jesus feels more costly to us because we are trying to do it by our own measly self-determination?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
I am sooooo guilty.
But what I love about the powerful message of the gospel is that I can repent of my prideful, self-determination to do everything on my own and believe that Jesus is more than enough for me.
I can turn to Him, depend upon Him and follow Him with a life-giving passion that draws me more deeply into a committed relationship with the God of the universe.
So what is the true cost of following Jesus?
If it isn’t the suffering, hardships and weary burdens, then what is it?
I believe the true cost is our pride. I believe that admitting we are wrong/inept/incompetent/scared/insecure …. fill in the blank, is the true continual cost in following Jesus day after day after day. And I believe that the infinite worth Christ has given us implies that this “cost” on our behalf is not really a cost at all, but rather an investment in the Kingdom of Heaven.
And I believe that there is no better investment than that.