And he (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:23-27 (ESV)
The teaching of Jesus is amazingly counterintuitive. “Eat, drink and be merry,” the world tells us. “If only you buy this product or do this activity or drink this brand of beer, your life will be wonderful!” Jesus says, “Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Lose your life.” Jesus tells us exactly the opposite of what we want to hear, and instructs us to do exactly what we instinctively don’t want to do.
We want what we want when we want it. We want to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. Nobody left to his or her own devices is into denying his or her desires and passions. Life left to strictly human nature is all about self-preservation and self-aggrandizement.
Life as a hedonist (one who pursues pleasure) might be wonderful for a little while, at least until the money runs out, or age and disease and chronic pain take over. All the material things and all the money in the world cannot change the fact that we will age and we will die. Even the very oldest humans after the Flood have not managed to live beyond 120 years. Modern science has not progressed human health to the point where people are consistently able to live beyond 100 years. In the timeline of history one person’s lifespan is a rather insignificant period of time. Nobody gets out of life alive, to quote Axl Rose. Living for the temporary pleasures of this world is ultimately unsatisfying and unsustainable.
For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14 (ESV)
When we try to build a legacy in this world, we have to ask, how long do buildings, and even empires last? What are we working for?
The old Adam really wants to believe the serpent’s lie: “If you eat of the forbidden fruit, you will be as God.” In reality it was the beginning of separation and of enmity with God. The Fall sparked a rebellion that save for the grace and mercy of God in Christ, would land Adam and all his progeny in the fires of hell.
Jesus teaches us that our life in this world – life with its trouble and pain and loss- is fleeting and temporary. Our true life is bound up in Him. The way to this true life, eternal life, is in Christ alone, and it is found only in the cross. He gave His Blood, shed to cover our sins. His Body was broken, given to strengthen us for our earthly sojourn. He gives us the faith and the strength to follow Him. We cannot follow Him in the power of our own decisions or in the strength of our own will. We cannot carry the crosses we are given- save by His grace.
Death came to humanity in the Garden of Eden. Life was promised to humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane. The curse of death was broken as Jesus declared from the cross, “It is finished!”
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20
May we always find our identity in Christ and give away our life in the way of the cross as the apostle Paul did.