In this sermon we hone in on one of the most important heart attitudes of discipleship: self-denial. This is one of the most radical ways in which the path of Jesus differs from the path of the world.
Bible Texts: Luke 9:22-25
This passage occurs at a pivotal moment in the gospel narrative. It follows a whole series of teaching and miracles that are all about establishing his identity, and in verses 18-20 the penny has finally dropped, and Peter is the first of the disciples to recognise that this Jesus they have been following is in fact the Christ. Immediately following this profession, Jesus moves the conversation on to what it means for him to be the Messiah and what it means to follow him as Messiah.
The Self-Denying Saviour: Jesus started by discussing his own Messianic mission. The popular expectation of the day was that the Messiah would come in glory and victory, overthrow the Roman occupiers and inaugurate a new golden age of Israel. Jesus explained that it was in fact a very different path that he was walking, and that path involved suffering rejection and crucifixion, before ultimately being raised in glory.
The Self-Denying Follower: If following Jesus means walking the path that Jesus walked, then this means that the disciple too must be willing to take up their cross. In the first instance, this was a very literal warning to men and women who were likely to suffer as associates of Jesus, and most of the original disciples were in fact martyred for their faith, as have been many subsequent followers of Jesus through the ages and to this day. Following Jesus involves readiness to suffer.
In addition to the very literal taking up of a cross, Luke makes a metaphor of it by suggesting that it is something to be done daily as we follow Jesus. The key idea is self denial. Just as Jesus chose not to focus on his own interests but others as he went to the cross, so the disciple of Jesus is one who is willing to lay down their own preferences and interests and instead prioritise loving God, loving other people and living out the mission of Jesus.
Losing Your Life to Save It: Jesus’ backs up his instruction with the counterintuitive idea that in attempting to save your life you lose it but in being willing to lose it for his sake you will find it. It would be easy to think of self-denial as purely about loss, but that isn’t quite right. It is a loss now because of the reward of following Jesus. It is in following him on the journey of discipleship that true life can be found. On the other hand, where we scramble after our own self-interest and build our life on what we see as best for now, then ultimately this will not lead to life.