The challenge presented to the disciples by the Lord Jesus was clear and plain: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mt 16.24). The three pillars of discipleship were clearly placed before these men who had followed the Lord, listened to His teaching, witnessed His power over nature, disease and death, and observed His manner of life. He was now telling them that He would "suffer many things…and be killed and be raised again the third day" (v.21). Eleven of them present rose to that challenge, and after its fulfilment went on to be faithful followers of the Lord, He who had risen from the dead.
But the words of the triumphant Servant, who is our Lord, ring down through the ages, still to be heeded and still powerful, centuries later. Today they change the lives of men and women who take up the challenge of Him who has become their Saviour. His call declares, "If any man will come after me", and is clear. The Christian life is affirmed as being one of seeking to follow the teaching and example of the One who died and rose again.
First, the word, "let him deny himself", shows that those who follow Him must know what it is to deny oneself. In a world where self-interest abounds, where success is valued by possessions, where personal "wants" guide many, the Lord declares that His followers must not be driven by selfish demands. The Christian walk consists of putting the Lord and His claims far above all others. Selfishness must not be allowed to raise its ugly head.
Second, the command is "to take up his cross". The cross which the believer is asked to take up is not the cross on which the Lord died at Calvary. That cross, and all that took place on it, was unique. Note that the Lord instructed each of us to "take up his cross", that is the cross of the believer. It is not a visible cross that the Christian carries. The cross, however, signifies how the Christian ought to live. Those who were crucified were finished with this world. The believer, likewise, has judged the world and no longer wishes to live in the manner of an unbeliever.
Neither should it be overlooked that the world does not wish a close relationship with those who follow the One who died on Calvary. When Christians move too closely to the world they must compromise, but will find that the world will not respond in like manner.
Third, the command is to "follow me". If the first two are not practised, the third cannot be either. The tense of the verb indicates that this has to be daily following, not an activity carried out in occasional bursts. What a challenge this is; to seek Christlikeness is an ambition that ought to rest in the hearts of all who have come to know Him. The desire of "Bartimæus, the son of Timæus" who, as the Lord passed by, sat by the road side calling, "Thou Son of David, have mercy on me" (Mk 10.48), was that his blindness would be cured. With this miracle carried out by the Lord, Scripture's last mention of the son of Timæus was that he "followed Jesus in the way" (Mk 10.52). No other desire gripped him. This now was his life.
We live today in a world where Christians are constantly being faced by an ungodly world which seeks to fill time and interest with that which is "attractive" and which is increasing immoral. It is seductive, time wasting and, sad to say, actively contrary to Scripture. It seeks to capture the mind, the heart, and the financial resources that the Lord has given. Scriptural standards have been set aside and what was once unacceptable is now regarded as desirable. The world seems to be winning! Let us ensure that in our lives the triumph of the Cross is seen so that we do seek genuinely to follow the example of the Lord. To please Him is the triumph to which we ought to aspire.