Taking Up the CrossLuke 9:23-26Theme: Self-denial.This week’s lessons teach us how to die to our selfishness so that we can live for Christ.
LessonIn last week’s study I wrote that there is a fatal flaw in the professing church today, a lack of true discipleship. Discipleship is talked about, of course. There are scores of books about it, particularly about what is called “discipling” other people. Words are not the problem. It is the lack of the thing itself. But what are we to say about this next theme: the need for self-denial, expressed as “taking up the cross”? In this area it is not only the thing that is lacking. It is an area about which we do not even speak.
This would be puzzling to the saints who have lived before us. If they could observe us today, they would never understand how we can profess to follow Jesus and at the same time ignore self-denial, for self-denial would be seen as the very essence of what it means to be Christ’s. Today, some argue about the essential marks of the church. It is customary to speak about faithful preaching of the Word and faithful administration of the sacraments as marks. To these some would add church discipline. What a shock it would be to many who pause at this point to learn that Martin Luther, among others, considered suffering to be a mark of the church and a badge of true discipleship. One of the memoranda drawn up in preparation for the drafting of the Augsburg Confession, the chief doctrinal statement of the Lutheran communions, defines the church as the community of those “who are persecuted and martyred for the gospel’s sake.” The definition seems extreme to easy-going, materialistic Christians. But it is not extreme in view of Christ’s words to those whom he challenged to come after him. To these he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
This is the great “hard” saying of Jesus about discipleship. We can perhaps handle the call to follow him, particularly if we do not think too deeply about what following the Lord Jesus Christ means. We can perhaps even handle the thought of being in Christ’s school and taking on his yoke. That at least seems only to involve hard work. But a cross? Self-denial? A cross means death – death to self, and that is not an easy thought to contemplate. No one wants to die. Yet that is what Jesus said each of his followers is to do daily.
Why do we not hear more about self-denial? The demand to take up the cross is not an isolated saying in the Bible. The theme is everywhere in Scripture. The command to “take up” or “bear” the cross occurs five times in Christ’s teaching (Matt. 10:38, 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23, 14:27). Some of these passages actually strengthen Luke 9:23. Matthew 10:38 says, “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” This last text teaches that there is no salvation apart from cross-bearing. Yet it is an extremely rare matter to hear any of these texts spoken of forcefully.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1966), pp. 100, 101. Original edition 1937.
What mark of the church is sorely missing today?
What is the great “hard” saying of Jesus pertaining to discipleship?
What does Matthew 10:38 teach about salvation?
Further StudyStudy the passages about self-denial to which Dr. Boice referred: Matt. 10:38, 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23, 14:27.
ReflectionMeditate on Luke 9:23-26.