Luke 9:23



1.                  Where is your life going?  Where do you want it to go?  I'm afraid many of us are like Zoad, one of the characters of Dr. Seuss:

Did I ever tell you about the young Zoad?

Who came to a sign at the fork of the road

He looked one way and the other way too

The Zoad had to make up his mind what to do B

Well the Zoad scratched his head, and his chin and his pants B

And he said to himself, I'll be taking a chance.

If I go to Place One, that place may be hot

So how will I know if I like it or not?

On the other hand, though, I'll feel such a fool

If I go to Place Two and find it's too cool.

In that case I may catch a chill and turn blue

So Place One may be best and not Place Two.

Play safe, cried the Zoad,

I'll play safe, I'm no dunce.

I'll simply start off to both places at once!

And that's how the Zoad who would not take a chance

Went no place at all with a split in his pants.


2.                  But I know from the fact that we're here today that many of us want our lives to go farther than that!  And, I know that we have an idea that following Jesus could be the way for us to get where we want to go.  If so, we really need the message of our text.


a.                   It happened as soon as the disciples got to the place where they could confess that he was the Christ of God (v. 20).


b.                  He began to tell them that he must suffer many things and be rejected and be killed, then be raised (v. 22).  What an amazing act of grace!


c.                   And, precisely because that is what he would do, He said to all, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (v. 23).


i.                     This thought-provoking statement by the Lord implies that anyone who wants to come along behind him is welcome, and can do so.


ii.                   It also clearly states, however, that just as he must suffer, there are conditions that must be met by all who would come after him.


iii.                  In this verse, Jesus sets forth the three demands of discipleship which give the Christian life its strength, character and fulfillment – the demands which remove a Christian from the realm of indifferent, uncommitted, indecisive, spiritual free-agency.


3.                  Anyone who would come after Jesus must deny himself.


a.                   We usually make this demand more manageable by calling it self-denial and defining it in some sense that leaves us in charge, but willing to give up something we want or put up with something we don't want.  We would make it, if we could, into little more than acceptance of a few doctrines that tell us what we can’t do.


i.                     My dictionary, for example, defines self-denial as a restraint or limitation of one's own desires or interests.  So, self-denial becomes a matter of depriving yourself of something you want.


ii.                   I met a young lady once to whom this meant giving up her favorite candy for a few weeks during one season of the year.  Of course, she splurged right before that time and right after it, but she had given up something for Christ.


iii.                  Walter Lippman, in his A Preface To Morals, wrote, It is a fact and a most arresting one, that in all the great religious thinkers...it is taught that one of the conditions of happiness is to renounce some of the satisfactions which men normally crave.  Notice that some of the satisfactions.


b.                  Can you see how that trivializes what Jesus is saying?  Can you see what a low view of being a Christian it leaves?  Jesus had in mind something much more heroic.  We need to understand that the Lord didn't merely call for self-denial; he called for a denial of self.


i.                     Later in this Gospel, Luke describes how Peter denied the Lord “But he denied it … Woman, I do not know him.”  (22:57f).  The same verb is used as here in our text, and it's a strong word.   It means to forget that he exists, to cease to consider his interests to the slightest degree.  (noted in Geldenhuys, Luke, p. 278)


ii.                   We're supposed to behave towards ourselves as Peter did towards Jesus B we're to turn our back on thoughts of self, to renounce our will in favor or his, to disown our supposed right to go our own way in order to go his way.


iii.                  Denying ourselves isn't doing without a few things we really want; it isn't putting up with a few unpleasant things we really don't want; it is that inner resolve that really wants  Jesus to be the Lord of all.  It is to turn away from the idolatry of self-centeredness.


a.                   We're all so naturally self-centered  that the denial of self is the toughest demand that could have been issued.


i.                     I've read of the Kapauku Papuans, a tribe in the western portion of Papua New Guinea.  An anthropologist studied them and discovered that they make every decision based only on two considerations: I want or I need (Dan Anders, Gospel Advocate, September 1989, p. 56).   How much like them are we, really?  Maybe the only difference is “I want” or “I like”!


ii.                   Somewhere I ran across this pointed limerick:

There was once a nymph named Narcissus,

Who thought himself very delicious;

So he stared like a fool

At his face in a pool,

And his folly today is still with us.

(quoted in The Cross of Christ, John Stott, p. 275)


iii.                  We have to admit we do like to talk about me and think about I and that it causes us all kinds of trouble!


b.                  But, in our heart of hearts, we know that the denial of self is the right way to live.


i.                     Its what leads to fulfillment in so many areas of life: think of ways in which athletes, or musicians, or explorers have denied themselves and what has come of it.


ii.                   Jesus is our perfect model and teacher, and the denial of self is certainly how he approached life (cf. Mk. 10:45; Phil. 2:7; etc.) but made himself nothing.


iii.                  And, as you can see in our text, it is what he demanded as the first step toward coming after him.  It has to be.  Think about it: if Jesus is the good shepherd who came that we may have life and have it abundantly, then it surely stands to reason that we can't come behind him while we are set on ourselves!  If I wish to come after Jesus, self has to quit being the god of my little world.


4.                  Anyone who would come after Jesus must take up his cross daily.


a.                   We typically soften this demand by confusing burdens with the cross.  We use the words as if they were the same.


i.                     We talk as if our Across could be having big ears or flat feet.


ii.                   We make an unsatisfying marriage or advancing years the cross we have to bear.


iii.                  We say of some relatively minor inconvenience, Oh, that's the cross I have to carry.


b.                  That's not, however, how mention of the Across would have struck the people who heard Jesus set forth this demand in Luke 9:23.


i.                     This is the first time Across appears in Luke, and it would have hit them with a striking effect.


ii.                   William Barclay offered some context: Jesus well knew what crucifixion meant.  When he was a lad of about eleven years of age, Judas the Galilean had led a rebellion against Rome.  He had raided the royal armory at Sepphoris, which was only four miles from Nazareth.  The Roman vengeance was swift and sudden.  Sepphoris was burned to the ground; its inhabitants were sold into slavery; and two thousand of the rebels were crucified on crosses which were set in lines along the roadside that they might be a dreadful warning to others tempted to rebel.  (Luke, p. 121)


iii.                  Leon Morris described how the audience would have understood the Lord: When a man from one of their villages took up a cross and went off with a little band of Roman soldiers, he was on a one-way journey.  He'd not be back.  (The Gospel According to St. Luke, p. 170)


c.                   Obviously, there are some real big differences between burdens and crosses.


i.                     A burden is something placed on us as a part of life.  It simply comes our way because of how things are in this world.  A cross, on the other hand, is a load which is taken up voluntarily.  It is not laid on us.  We pick it up ourselves – by choice.


ii.                   A burden may be anything from a small inconvenience to a big problem.  A cross, however, is an instrument of death, a scandal, a shame.  There is a cost to it (Lk. 14:28).  It will affect every other relationship (Lk. 14:26).


iii.                  To take up your cross, then, is not merely to accept suffering or to put up with hardship; it is to make the same kind of no-matter-what commitment to the Father's will as Jesus made when he took up the cross.


d.                  It's the same commitment which is elsewhere in the New Testament referred to as being crucified with Christ.


i.                     Paul said, I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me...  (Gal. 2:20).  It's in that sense that Jesus was demanding our death if we are to come after him.


ii.                   It's a death which begins at baptism.


(1)               We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin (Rom. 6:6).


(2)               We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).


iii.                  But it's also a daily process.  Jesus said plainly that we must daily take up our cross. 


(1)               Those who have been baptized into Christ have died (Col. 3:3), but they must put to death those earthly things within them (Col. 3:5,8).


(2)               We have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24), but we must put to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13).


(3)               It's like a woman struggling with alcohol.  Depressed, lonely, she turns again and again to the bottle as the answer.  One day she changes her mind and pours all her liquor down the drain.  But that doesn't kill her thirst.  She fights that battle every day.


(4)               And so do some of us with thoughts of jealousy, or the lure of gossip, or the spirit of the critic, or the temptation of sexual impurity, or with other forms of selfishness.


(5)               So, on a daily basis, we have to take up the cross to dedicate ourselves to the Lord's way to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God.


5.                  Anyone who would come after Jesus must follow him.


a.                   It's interesting that this is the part of what Jesus requires that gets read over so easily.


i.                     The demands posed by denying self and taking up our cross are so striking that we overlook the purpose: to follow Christ!


ii.                   If you would come after Jesus, go the same way he goes.  Don't stand in idleness, or turn aside to another master, or lag behind in fear, or go on ahead in presumption, or depart in unbelief actively follow him.


iii.                  Learn how to live from him (Matt. 11:28).  Do the kind of thing he did when he washed feet (Jn. 13:15).  Put on the truth and righteousness and holiness that you have heard about him (Eph. 4:20f).  Walk in love as he loved (Eph. 5:2).  Think the way he did when he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death (Phil. 2:5f).  Follow in the steps of his example of suffering for doing good by continuing to entrust yourself to the one who judges justly (1 Pet. 2:21f).  Keep his word, knowing that whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (1 Jn. 2:6).  We look at the trail he has left, and then head out in the same direction (Anders, p. 57).  That's what following Jesus is.


b.                  We can begin now to see more clearly what the Lord means by the three demands in this whole picture.


i.                     He is not wanting us to loathe ourselves as worthless, nor to repress ourselves as useless; he is wanting us to discover ourselves as persons made in the image of God – to become what we were made to be.


ii.                   The denial of self and the taking up the cross he has spoken of are the cost of positive achievement (Fosdick).   Jim McGuiggan observed that when Jesus talks about counting the cost it isn't counting the cost to lose something, it's counting the cost to gain something!  In one of his parables a merchant in pearls saw a matchless pearl and wanted it.  He sold all that he had and bought it...(he denied himself all) but it was to gain what his heart cherished above all else. (The God of the Towel, p. 212)


iii.                  Think again of the athlete, the musician, the explorer …People who make one central choice and are willing to pay the price for that choice don't view themselves as deprived!  They've given up the lower in pursuit of the higher.  They know where their lives are going.


c.                   The next few verses show that this is what the conditions Jesus attached to coming after him are really about.


i.                     Verse 24 shows that following Jesus like this is the finding of life, not the losing of it.  It's the development of self, not the destruction of it.  This is how you find what you’re looking for.


ii.                   Verse 25 insists that even if it does prove to be costly, there is infinitely more profit in following Christ and gaining your soul than in gaining the whole world while destroying yourself.


iii.                  And, verse 26 promises that the day will come when we will be so glad that we made the deliberate choice to cast ourselves from the throne and place Jesus there as Lord, and that, unashamed of any costs that decision brought, we followed him only all of our days.


6.                  Based on a thirteenth century prayer, someone wrote:

Day by day, day by day, O dear Lord, three things I pray:

To see Thee more clearly, Love Thee more dearly, Follow Thee more nearly,

Day by day, by day, by day.


7.                  That spirit is the proper response of a heart that would come after Jesus.  It will make the choices that will produce a life that is going somewhere!  “We can’t go both places at once.”  Will you decide to follow him?  Are you following him all of your days?