Jesus Foretells His Death, Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus
by Abri Nelson
When I read the gospels, I am always struck by how active Jesus is; he is always healing, asking questions, and telling stories. In Luke 5-8, Jesus heals eight named individuals as well as members of crowds and multitudes, and he gains quite the reputation for miracles.
This comes to a climax right before our passage in Luke 9, when Jesus asks Peter: “But who do you say I am?” Peter responds, “The Christ of God.” Christ in Greek means savior, and Luke builds the case for Jesus’ identity as Messiah, as Christ, in the previous eight chapters: He heals the sick and binds up the brokenhearted, restoring captives and comforting those who mourn, fulfilling the prophecies in Isaiah 61.
You might expect Jesus to beam with pride, but He cautions the disciples not to tell anyone about his identity and instead foretells his death. Why? Jesus reorients the disciples’ view to an eternal rather than a temporal perspective: the Messiah came to save, but he also came to die.
In verses 22 and 23, Jesus points toward the suffering he will endure to fulfill the eternal purposes for his incarnation, and then invites the disciples to share in that suffering. Suffering? If Jesus came to heal the sick and bind up the brokenhearted, why do they then suffer?
Jesus points not to an end for his disciples but a process: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” The Greek word for “deny” here is arneomai, to deny oneself/one’s own interests. The Message paraphrase of this passage says, “You’re not in the driver’s seat – I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how … What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?”
I think, perhaps, we can lose ourselves in the temporal realities of our lives and forget the bigger purposes for why Christ came, and our invitation to his redemptive plan for the world. Our individual lives certainly matter to God, but we are not saved to have a better life or to go to heaven. Every day, we are sanctified by Christ to become who we are supposed to be, more like him. We are called to die to our vision for our life and take up God’s vision for the world. Looking at the world with an eternal perspective enables us to see our Father’s business and to be about His business.
In Lent, like Jesus, we walk toward the cross, reorienting our temporal perspective for an eternal one. As we cast our eyes on Christ, may we see what God is doing in the world around us, beyond our individual lives. We are but dust, but His purposes will stand.
Jesus, I lay my life at the foot of the cross. Give me eyes to see how the pieces of my life fit into your eternal plan.
Abri Nelson works as a freelance writer and a high school journalism teacher for Arlington Public Schools. She has been attending The Falls Church Anglican with her family since 2006 and currently leads an evening Bible study on the topic of engaging with God in waiting.