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Let’s read Matthew 16:24-26, “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”  There are two things mentioned here for someone to be a true follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The first is that he must deny himself.  Secondly, he must take up his cross.  We read in Luke 9:23 that this must be a daily activity.  It says, “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

To deny yourself means to surrender your will to the Lord without trying to please yourself.  It’s to put away the idea of living a life of pleasure; of living a life of giving in to fleshly desires.  To follow the Lord, we have to put Him above ourselves and seek to do those things which please Him.  As the Apostle Paul says to young Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:4, “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.”  To follow the Lord our desire must be to please Him and not please ourselves.  Our desire should be like the desire of the Lord Jesus where it is written of Him in Psalms 40:8, “I delight to do thy will, O my God…”  We can only do that if we refuse to seek to satisfy our fleshly desires and have our hearts and minds on the Lord Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to take up our cross?  It was Roman custom that a convicted criminal would carry his own cross to the place of crucifixion.  We read of the Lord Jesus in John 19:17 which says, “And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha.”  A cross is a symbol of suffering, of shame, and of death.  How does this apply to the life of the believer?  What does it mean that we have a cross and that we have to carry it daily?

To live a life of self-denial; to live a life that is concerned with following the Lord will bring about a life of suffering.  When the Apostle Paul was first saved, the Lord sent a message to him through a man named Ananias.  Acts 9:16 says, “For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”  The Lord didn’t speak of the great things that Paul would do, of the great miracles he would perform, of the epistles he would write that would instruct the church.  He spoke of how that Paul would suffer great things because of his testimony for the Lord.  Paul came to understand the necessity and privilege of suffering for Christ’s sake.  He wrote in Philippians 1:29, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.”  Paul would later write to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:10-12, “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience,  Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”

In the world we live in, those who seek to live for the Lord are often persecuted.  Persecution can come in many ways.  Perhaps by speaking of the Lord often, we may lose friends.  We may be passed over for a promotion at work, or even possibly be fired because we stand up for the Lord and the values He teaches us in His word.  Today, there are so many groups that advocate things that are unscriptural.  If we speak against those things, we may become the target of hate groups.  We may be ostracized by society as a whole and be considered narrow-minded or self-righteous.  I’m not talking about people who simply attend church, but those who truly put the Lord first in their lives and seek to live in such a way that honors the Lord.  Those people have never been in the majority and have never been accepted by society.

Is it worth it?  Is a life of following Christ worth a life of suffering and persecution?  Let’s look at some of the things that the Apostle Paul suffered in his life.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”  After he was saved, Paul certainly lived a life of suffering.  Listen to what he wrote in 1 Timothy 1:12 near the end of his life.  He wrote, “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.”  After a lifetime of suffering for the Lord, Paul was still so thankful for the life of ministry the Lord allowed him to have.

What about you, dear friend?  Will you do as the Lord asks and deny yourself and take up your cross daily and follow Him?  It will involve suffering, but it will also involve glorifying our precious savior.  He suffered greatly for us.  How wonderful that we might suffer for Him.  Just keep in mind the words of Paul in Romans 8:18 where he writes, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”