Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
The cross has become a symbol of many things today. We see it depicted as a religious icon and in ornate jewelry. Yet the real cross of history was the symbol of a very cruel death. For people of the first century, the cross was a hated, despised symbol.
The Romans crucified many people on the roads leading into their cities as a warning to anyone who would dare to defy the powers of Rome.
So, when Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 16:24, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me (NKJV), the meaning was not lost on them.
Jesus made this statement at Caesarea Philippi, after He predicted His betrayal, crucifixion, and resurrection. At this point, Simon Peter took an authoritarian position and began to rebuke Jesus, saying, Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You! (verse 22 NKJV).
Essentially Peter was saying, Avoid the unpleasant! Avoid the difficulty! Don’t give up anything! Let’s just continue as we have been up to this point.
But Jesus was saying to Peter and the others, Look, if you want to be my disciples, then you, too, will have to deny yourself and take up your cross. Yet as you do that, you will find life as it was meant to be lived.
Sometimes we identify whatever is bothering us or plaguing us as our cross to bear. But that isn’t correct. The cross symbolizes the same thing to every person: it speaks of dying to self, of putting God’s will before our own.
The meaning of life, the purpose of life, is to know God. The best life to live is the Christian life. And to live it the most effectively, we must take up our cross and follow Jesus Christ