Yesterday, out of my study of Scripture, I came to a realization about something. There is a particular quote of Jesus that has been spiritualized and, as such, the force of what Jesus said has been greatly mitigated. It is a quote which is found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and a related quote is found in John’s gospel. What is this quote? “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me, for whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:33-35; Luke 9:23-26) There is also an additional time in Luke’s gospel where Jesus says something similar (Luke 17:33). In John’s gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying, “The one who loves his life loses it, and the one hates his life in this world will keep it unto eternal life.” (John 12:25)
I have seen many who have view and interpreted these words to be, in some way, speaking about the denial of one’s wants and desires; in other words, quality of life and giving that up for Christ’s sake in order to follow him. Allow me to share why I now struggle with this approach.
The context in which Jesus said these words is that of physical death, that of his own on the cross. (Luke 17:33 is the exception because Jesus is talking about his return, not his death on the cross, but physical death is still the context because he references Lot’s wife) By connecting these statements with his own actual, physical death, he is making a connection to the reality that any who follow him must be willing and prepared, each and every day, to give up his/her physical life for Jesus’ sake, just as Jesus would give up his life, and Jesus wasn’t talking about giving up his life in terms of desires and wants, but in not actually breathing any longer. He’s talking about his followers being required to be willing and prepared, on a daily basis, to be martyrs for him. He’s talking about a person denying his/her actual, breathing life, not some aspect of quality of life. This speaks to the commitment level Jesus expected of any who would follow him. Spiritualizing this statement actually lessens the severity, force, and extreme nature of what Jesus said.
So, if you are a follower of Jesus, when you arose from your bed this morning, were you ready and willing to be a martyr for the cause of Jesus today if God called you to be one? Were you ready to take your last breathe today if that’s what God deemed would move forward the cause of Christ? Tomorrow, will you be ready and prepared to die for the cause of Christ? How about the day after? Our level of readiness and willingness reveals the true depth of our belief in and commitment to Christ.
As Lt. Warf said in one of the Star Trek movies (the Next Generation editions), “Maybe today is a good day to die!” for the cause of Christ (italics mine).