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?”
Jesus made the case for all to enter into a discipleship relationship with Him. And He clearly made known what this meant. He invited the crowd to bump up the commitment. He explained the details of the relationship by redesigning the relationship of rabbi and disciple.
In Jesus’ day, if a person wanted to become a follower of a rabbi or a certain rabbinical tradition, generally the parents of the young man would seek out the rabbi and make admission to have him accepted as a disciple. There would be requirements. They had to first seek the teacher, then be approved, then follow. But Jesus changed the procedure. He went after disciples. He invited them to come and to follow Him. He initiated the relationship.
And His call to the crowds here is to let those who wanted to change their level of commitment to do so. He invited each one to “come after me… take up his cross and follow me.” This was an appeal for discipleship. It was a concept that Jesus took hold of and re-engineered for the purposes of setting the standards for the lives of His followers. And Christians have been challenged by Jesus with these statements ever since.
What makes it challenging? These statements get to our heart, our passions, and our deepest desires. We are called to self-denial for the sake of Jesus. I do not commit to following Christ for the advancement of my own agenda, but for saving and life-changing commitment to the King. We are called to public humbling by “taking up” a cross. Jesus uses the spectacle of public execution to let His disciples in on the results of discipleship. It is not just self-denial. It is an attitude of self-death. And of course we are to follow after Jesus. The end result of the self-denial and self-death is a new relationship where Jesus sets the agenda for the course of our lives. I no longer dictate the direction or the deeds of my life… Jesus does.
And life and death hang in the balance. We are told that salvation is worth the sacrifice… that our souls are of more value than all the world. That giving up our own agenda for His will be more valuable than we can possibly imagine. And millions of believers have come to know this as true, even as they waited for eternity to bear fruit in their lives by this commitment.