Beginning the Journey (for new Christians)
1, 2, and 3 John
1 & 2 Thessalonians
1 & 2 Timothy
2 Peter, Jude
7 Last Words of Christ
Christ Powered Life (Rom 5-8)
David, Life of
Jesus and the Kingdom
Lamb of God
Names of God
Sermon on the Mount
#37. Taking Up Your Cross Daily (Luke 9:22-26)by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Other online lessons from Luke | Lessons in book format
 And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
 Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."
You and the other disciples have left the crowds behind to spend some intimate time with Jesus. He has been praying and now he asks who you think he is. Peter answers boldly for you all, "You are the Christ of God."
Everyone is silent for a moment as the wonder of that statement sinks in. Then Jesus solemnly warns you not to spread the word at this time. You nod. You understand.
Predicting Jesus' Death
But now Jesus moves from the heady theme of him being the Messiah to a topic you steadfastly refuse to understand. Jesus predicts his own horrible death.
"The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." (9:22)
You are shocked, flabbergasted. One minute he's the Messiah and the next he is executed by the Jewish religious leaders. It does not make sense. It does not compute.
In Matthew's Gospel we read Peter's brash rebuke, "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!" And we read Jesus' own stiff rebuke: "Get behind me.... You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (Matthew 16:23).
Jesus is right. You are thinking about his triumphal reign on David's throne as Messiah -- all Jews long for the Messiah to overthrow the hated Roman oppressors and restore the Kingdom to Israel. Yes, it is on men's minds everywhere.
But Jesus' death? That is not in your mind at all -- why is it in God's mind?
The Three Predictions of Jesus' Death
This is the first of three predictions of Jesus' death:
suffer, rejected, killed, be raised
delivered, (killed, be raised)
delivered, condemned, Gentiles, mocked, spat upon, scourged, killed (crucified, Mt.), raised
How does the Messiah prepare his disciples to understand the unthinkable? He can't, really. He just repeats it several times, so after the unthinkable occurs the disciples will understand that this is not a mistake, but God's plan from the beginning. Even after Jesus' final prediction of his death, Luke records, "The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about" (18:34).
First Prediction of Jesus' Death (9:22)
Let's examine the elements of Jesus' First Prediction. It's nearly the same in each of the Synoptic Gospels:
The Son of Man
Notice that Jesus doesn't now take on the new title of Messiah. Instead he reverts to his accustomed self-designation, Son of Man, taken from Daniel 7:13-14:
"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed."
See more in my essay, "The Son of Man." http://jesuswalk.com/lessons/son-of-man.htm But the title Son of Man, when you understand it, does nothing to soften the horror of what Jesus is saying. Whether the Messiah or the heavenly, glorious Son of Man being killed seems absolutely antithetical to reason.
Suffer many things
The Greek word is pascho, "suffer, endure, undergo." While Jesus doesn't refer to it here, the idea of the Glorious Son of Man suffering is reminiscent of Isaiah's prophecy of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).
"Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:4-5)
In this fifty-third chapter of Isaiah we see the key to understanding Jesus' death. In some way he is bearing our sins upon himself, our punishment, our wounds.
We see some similar clues in John the Baptist's statement as he pointed his own disciples to Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29; cf. 1:36). By this saying John seems to be referring to the Old Testament system of atonement or "covering" for sin by sacrificing an animal in substitution for the person who had sinned. The theological term is "substitutionary atonement." Jesus died in our place.
Jesus also refers to the meaning of his death as he teaches servant leadership to his disciples: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). The word "ransom" in this verse is Greek lutron, a ransom price paid for the freeing or redemption of slaves. The word is used with the Greek preposition anti, "in order to indicate that one person or thing is, or is to be, replaced by another, 'instead of, in place of' ... 'in behalf of, for.' "
Jesus' twelve disciples did not understand these things. We modern-day disciples understand them only by hindsight. But we must never forget that our Messiah suffered and died for our sins. Much later in his life, Peter DID understand, and wrote: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24).
Be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes
The Suffering Servant was also said to be "Despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering" (Isaiah 53:3). While Jesus was in Galilee, he is mobbed by followers, but this very following is causing a severe reaction among the religious leaders of the status quo. If Jesus gains followers, they lose followers. It is as simple as that. After Jesus' retreat with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi, his confrontation with the religious leaders intensifies. Notice that "the elders, chief priests, and scribes" implies Jerusalem, where the elders of Israel make up the Jewish ruling body of the city, the Sanhedrin, and where the chief priests have charge of the temple worship. Matthew's record of Jesus' First Prediction notes explicitly, "he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things..." (Matthew 16:21).
The verb is apokteino, "kill someone." It is a general word that can include killing in war, suicide, accidental death, epidemics, or execution. The Jews occasionally executed people by stoning (John 8:5; 8:59; 10:31; Acts 5:26; 7:59; 14:19; 2 Corinthians 11:25), but by Jesus' time that was from spontaneous mob violence, rather than a legal condemnation and execution.
Since the Roman law prevailed, the Jewish leaders would have to get the Romans to carry out an execution, for "We have no right to execute anyone" (John 18:31). The Palestinian Talmud contains this statement: "Forty years before the destruction of the Temple they took from Israel the right to inflict capital punishment" (jSanh. 1.1; 7.2).. The Roman form of execution for common criminals was crucifixion. Though the word "crucifixion" is not used in Jesus' predictions of his death (except in Matthew 20:19), crucifixion was the sanctioned form of Roman execution, and is was assumed in the statement "be killed" -- since Jesus immediately speaks of taking up a cross in 9:23. This reference to the cross in 9:23 would have no meaning unless death by crucifixion is understood in 9:22.
On the third day be raised
In each prediction of Jesus' death he tells them that on the third day he will be raised. And though his disciples do not remember it, Jesus' enemies do (Matthew 27:63). The angels at the tomb have to remind the disciples that Jesus had indeed told them this (Luke 24:6-8).
Coming After Jesus (9:23a)
"Then he said to them all: 'If anyone would come after me....' " (9:23a)
The phrase, "then he said to them all," indicates that while the prediction of his death is for the Twelve's ears only, what he says now is of more general application, and he is now saying this (the Imperfect tense implies continued action in the past) regularly to groups of followers.
What does he mean, "Come after..."? The Greek word is common enough, erchomai, "come." The verb is used with an improper preposition opiso, "after." When the two words are used together, the meaning is, " 'come after someone, follow someone' (at the same time figuratively in the sense 'be an adherent')."
It is clear that Jesus is making a general statement about would-be disciples -- you and me -- anyone who would be his true follower.
Bearing One's Cross -- Avoiding Misunderstandings
"Then he said to them all: 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.' " (9:23-24)
The key to understanding this passage is to discern the meaning of "take up his cross." Unfortunately, our understanding of this phrase is clouded by the way the phrase is used in the English language. I searched the Internet for related phrases. I found a classic Greg Allman song that says:
"I have not come, yeah, to testify
about our bad, bad misfortune and I ain't here a wond'rin' why.
But I'll live on and I'll be strong
'Cause it just ain't my cross to bear."
The song closes with the lines:
"But in the end, baby, long towards the end of your road,
Don't reach out for me, babe, 'cause I'm not gonna carry your load.
But I'll live on and I'll be strong
'Cause it just ain't my cross to bear." 
Notice that the song equates "my cross" with loads, burdens, and misfortunes. This is an extremely common way of understanding "bearing one's cross," but it is not really what Jesus' meant.
Here's a snippet from Don Baird's webpage: "Being a fag who likes rock n roll is my cross to bear." He means that he chooses this life and music preference, even though he knows that it will be a heavy burden. Not far from Greg Allman's use of the phrase, "my cross to bear."
We see the same meaning in the Christian poem "It's Your Cross to Bear" by Barbara Philbrook:
"It's your cross to bear and I can't carry the burden for you,
as much as I wish that is what I could do."
Here it is again: "Bearing the cross is carrying a burden." One of the dictionary definitions of the English noun "cross" is "an affliction that tries one's virtue, steadfastness, or patience."
The reason I have spent time on this is because we must steadfastly resist this definition of bearing one's cross if we are to understand Jesus' powerful teaching in this passage. We can't import our own definition into the passage if we are to understand it.
Crucifixion in the Ancient World
The cross in Jesus' day was an instrument of torture and execution, pure and simple. There wasn't a figurative use of "cross" as a "burden" or "trial" in those days. Death on the cross was shameful, excruciating, and often protracted. An ancient Greek poem describes it this way:
"Punished with limbs outstretched, they see the stake as their fate;
they are fastened (and) nailed to it in the most bitter torment,
evil food for birds of prey and grim pickings for dogs."
From the Third Century BC onwards there is evidence of the use of crux as a vulgar taunt among the lower classes, found on the lips of slaves and prostitutes, the English equivalent of which might be "gallows-bird" or "hang-dog." Hengel says that the attitude of people of the ancient world was not casual or a matter of indifference. "It was an utterly offensive affair, 'obscene' in the original sense of the word."
There was no "norm" for execution on the cross, though it often included flogging beforehand, the victim carrying the beam to the place of execution, being nailed to it with outstretched arms, raised up, and seated on a small wooden peg. But Seneca indicates there were many variations: "I see crosses there, not just of one kind but made in many different ways: some have their victims with head down to the ground; some impale their private parts; others stretch out their arms on the gibbet."
Josephus, an eyewitness of Roman cruelty to the defenders at the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, gives us a gruesome picture:
"... They were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more... The main reason why he did not forbid that cruelty was this, that he hoped the Jews might perhaps yield at that sight, out of fear lest they might themselves afterwards be liable to the same cruel treatment. So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies."
Taking Up Your Cross Daily (9:23b)
The passages I have quoted from ancient sources are horrible and repugnant, but I have felt compelled to do so in order that we don't misunderstand Jesus. He isn't talking about a mere burden or trial or difficulty. He is talking about death. That is the context in vs. 23, "he must be killed...." Make no mistake, Jesus is not speaking figuratively here:
"Then he said to them all: 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.' " (9:23-24)
The first aspect of Jesus' teaching is "he must deny himself."
The Greek word is arneomai, " 1. 'refuse, disdain,' 3. 'deny, repudiate, disown someone or something,' often of apostasy from the Christian faith... 4. 'deny, disregard onself'=act in a wholly selfless way." Christianity is not an add-on to our already full, self-directed way of life. Discipleship means deliberately choosing to follow another person's way rather than making our own way.
The second aspect of Jesus' teaching is to "take up his cross."
The verb is Greek airo, "lift up, take up, pick up," "(lift up and) take or carry (along)." Jesus seems to be saying that just as a condemned man is forced to carry the crossbeam of his own cross, we are to "take up our cross." The exact phrase is used of Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus' cross to Golgotha (Mark 15:21), after Jesus' had begun to carry it (Greek bastazo), but was too weak to finish (John 19:17). Jesus is saying, let the disciples take up the position of a man already condemned to death, carrying the patibulum of his cross to the place of execution.
The third aspect of Jesus' instruction is to do it "daily."
The Greek words are kath hemeran, literally "daily, every day." This phrase is found only in Luke's Gospel, but the meaning is implied in Matthew and Mark.
The final aspect of Jesus' saying is to "follow me."
The Greek word is akoloutheo, "accompany, go along with," with transition to the figurative meaning, "follow" someone as a disciple. This is the common and characteristic word used for the way a disciple is to follow Jesus, and is the central concept of our JesusWalk' understanding of discipleship -- walking along with him wherever he leads.
The tense of the verbs is interesting: If anyone would come (present tense, continuous action) after me, he must deny (Aorist, single action in the past) himself and take up (Aorist, single action in the past) his cross daily and follow (present tense, continuous action) me. While the Aorist tense carries the idea of a single, punctiliar action in the past, in this sentence it is combined with the word "daily," so the sense is that the disciple is to deny himself and pick up his cross at the beginning of each day, so that he might succeed in continuing to follow Jesus throughout the day. Interesting!
The Apostle Paul understood well what this meant and lived it out day by day until the day he was beheaded by the Roman emperor. In three classic passages he expresses this concept in different ways:
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)
"For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:3)
"And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day -- I mean that, brothers -- just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised...." (1 Corinthians 15:30-32)
It is said of missionaries of the Nineteenth Century, embarking on missions overseas, that they often packed their belongings in a coffin instead of a trunk so they would have something to be buried in. They never expected to return.
The Paradox of Saving and Losing One's Life (9:24)
When you realize that only one of the Twelve Apostles died a natural death, you realize that Jesus isn't speaking figuratively about saving and losing one's life.
"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." (9:24)
"Survive at all costs," is a flawed philosophy by which to live. "Be faithful to Christ no matter what the cost," is the philosophy Jesus' disciples came to live by. In the First and Second Centuries there were many times when Christians face the decision to renounce Jesus and live, or maintain their Christian witness and be executed.
I can picture in my mind the frail Polycarp, white-haired Bishop of Smyrna, as he stands before the Roman proconsul about 155 AD in a stadium full of Romans chanting, "Away with the atheists!" (Christians were called "atheists" because they did not believe in the traditional Roman gods.) He is so old that Irenaeus tells us that in his youth Polycarp had been a disciple of the Apostle John himself. But soldiers haul him roughly into the arena full of the shouting populace.
"When the magistrate pressed him, and said, 'Swear, and I will release you; revile Christ,' Polycarp said, 'Eighty-six years have I been serving him, and he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?' "
Refusing to recant, he is bound to a stake and burned before the eyes of the multitude, after uttering a final prayer: "...Wherefore I praise you also for everything; I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal high priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom, with him, in the Holy Spirit, be glory unto you, both now and for the ages to come, Amen."
The earliest disciples took Jesus' saying literally, to deny themselves, to take up their own execution daily, if that is to be, and to follow after Jesus where he leads them.
Of course, the figurative sense is also true. When we fail to deny ourselves and seek Jesus' will for our lives, we are seeking to preserve our own futures. Surrender and trust are the way of the disciple. The temptation to focus on material things is strong. "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness," Jesus tells his disciples, "and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33).
Jesus' saying in Luke 9:24 is a paradox. We'd expect that by attempting to save ourselves we would succeed in doing so. But Jesus says that just the opposite is the case. Only by self-denial and surrender to Jesus' will de we save our lives in any lasting, eternal sense.
Gaining the Whole World while Losing Your Soul (9:25)
"What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" (9:25)
In Luke the word "self" is the common pronoun. But the verbs are very strong and stand in opposition to each other.
"Gain"is Greek kerdaino, " 'to procure gain, advantage, or profit, but more generally 'to win something' or 'to save oneself something.' ". We live in an exceedingly entrepreneurial time when getting rich from the Internet is a common dream driven by greed and self-aggrandizement. And some will succeed in amassing a large fortune through this single-minded vision. But it can be exceedingly costly.
"Lose"is Greek apollumi, "ruin, destroy, lose."
"Forfeit"is an even more evocative word, Greek zemioo, which originally meant "to disadvantage." Its meaning extends to "suffer damage or loss, forfeit, sustain injury," and its antithesis, "gain" suggests the commercial concept of profit and loss.
But the loss is too great -- one's self, one's life, one's soul.
I am amazed at what people will gamble on. How much of their personal fortune they will put at risk in order to gain more? Part of the story of stock market crashes is the story of borrowing money in order to purchase speculative stocks -- a scary business at best. But to gamble with one's eternal life? That IS a gamble. The game is to win the world, but the cost is losing yourself.
Have you ever felt like you have literally lost your soul to what you've been involved in? Lost your bearings? Lost your old sense of who you were? Lost respect for yourself? Felt utterly lost in the direction of your life? Lost?
You see, the choice to be a disciple of Jesus is not an option for the Christian believer. It is a necessity. We will either lay down our lives and follow Jesus, or we will seek to add Jesus to our own lives and risk deceiving ourselves about our religiousness and lose our very selves. Discipleship is not a more difficult path in Christianity. It is the only path to life. We either follow Jesus' path, or we lose our way.
Which path are you on?
Being Ashamed of Jesus and His Words (9:26)
"If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." (9:26)
We cannot be closet Christians, ashamed of what Jesus stands for and seeking to avoid the slander and persecution that comes with following him faithfully. The Apostle Paul says to young Timothy, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12). We must decide whether or not we will identify ourselves publicly with Jesus. If we're ashamed of him, he will be ashamed of us on the Day when he returns in his glory.
But there is a promise contained in this verse, the promise of Jesus coming again in glory. Paul puts it this way:
"Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself." (2 Timothy 2:11-13)
What will it be like when the Son of Man "comes in his glory, and in the glory of the Father, and of the holy angels"? It will be as we read in Daniel 7:14 at the beginning of our study: "He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed."
Jesus promises his disciples that some of them will see the Kingdom of God before they die (9:27). In the next lesson we'll discuss that that means. But for us, the return of Christ is ahead of us.
This is a Day to look forward to. It will be in a time of difficulty and convulsion of everything we count on, but Jesus says to expect it: "At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21:27-28). Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Father, we're so tempted to perceive the world we live in through the lenses of the materialistic people around us. It is so easy to want to accumulate wealth, to indulge ourselves rather than denying ourselves. Forgive us for losing sight of Jesus and his way. Help me to learn deeply what it means to take up my cross -- daily -- and follow wherever you go, whatever the cost. Teach me. I thank you for your amazing patience. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
"Then he said to them all: 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.' " (Luke 9:23)
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- Why was it so hard for the disciples to understand that the Messiah must be rejected and killed and rise the third day?
- What does it mean to take up your cross daily? If it doesn't mean bearing your own life's burdens (and I don't think it means that), then what DOES it mean?
- What kinds of attempts at "saving our lives" are actually self-destructive? Why is this such a paradox?
- If someone told you they thought they had lost themselves or lost their soul, how would you counsel them without giving them false assurance?
- How can we be unashamed of Jesus without it being difficult for non-Christians to want to be around us? Did unbelievers want to be around Jesus? What is the balance?
- BAGD633-634. While Greek pascho sounds like Greek pascha, as in Paschal, Passover lamb, they have no relation to each other. Pascho is an ancient Greek word while pascha is a transliteration of the Aramaic word for Passover.
- Leon Morris The Gospel According to John (NICNT series; Eerdmans, 1971), pp. 145-150, concludes that the Lamb refers to the sacrificial system in general, not to any single sacrifice such as the Passover lamb.
- Leon Morris discusses the use and meaning of the Greek word lutron in length in his classic book The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Eerdmans, 1955), chapter 1.
- Cf. pSanh. 1:18a, 37; Strack-Billerback 1:1027. The subject is discussed further in George R. Beasley-Murray, Word Biblical Commentary: John (Word, 1987), pp. 309-310; Leon Morris, John, pp. 786-788; C.K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John (Second Edition; Westminster, 1978), pp. 533-535; Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (Anchor Bible 29A; Doubleday, 1970), 2:848-850.
- "It's Not My Cross to Bear," by Gregg Allman, copyright ©1969, 1974, Metric Music Company, Inc. http://www.allmanbrothersband.com/music/lyrics/in.html
- Don Baird is a columnist in San Francisco. I don't quote him to put him down, but to illustrate the his common use of the phrase we're studying. DonBaird.com
- "It's Your Cross to Bear," by Barbara Philbrook. I see no copyright statement. http://www.fehq.org/public/barbara/itsyour.htm
- Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition; Merriam-Webster, 1993), p. 276.
- Psuedo-Manetho, Apotelesmatica 4:198ff, cited by Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Fortress Press, translated 1977), p. 9.
- Hengel, pp. 9-10.
- Hengel, p. 22.
- Seneca, Dialogue 6 (De consolatione ad Marciam) 20.3. Cited by Hengel, p. 25.
- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 5, 11, 1. http://bible.crosswalk.com/History/BC/FlaviusJosephus/?book=War_5&chapter=11
- BAGD406. The preposition kata is used distributively of time, "at, on, during". Also hemera 2. BAG 346.
- Ante-Nicene Fathers , Vol. 1, Fragments of the Lost Writings of Irenaeus, II. http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-64.htm#LOC_P9437_2768575
- Eusebius, Church History IV, 15, 20. http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-01/Npnf2-01-09.htm#P2433_1154140
- Heinrich Schlier, kerdos, kerdaino, TDNT 3:672-673.
- Albrecht Stumpff, zemia, zemioo, TDNT 2:888-892.
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