From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.”
The goal of the gospel is that we might have life eternal, but the path of the Christian is the way of death. It is not only Jesus who must choose to travel to Jerusalem and certain death. Each of his disciples are called to carry their own cross on their journey towards glory.
Martin Luther speaks of a ‘Theology of the Cross’ illuminating our understanding, not only of the ways of God among us, but also of the Christian life. It is the Cross that defines how we are to live. In the passage above Jesus reminds us that we need to be ready to lose our life if we would save it; to let go of what we are or what we have, if we are to be truly liberated.
He offers an illustration: Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24,25)
Of course hyperbole is employed in his words, but his point is clear. We are liberated and made fruitful only as we embrace the principle of the Cross. We learn from the grain of wheat that through death comes new life.
Ironically it is the message of the Cross that sets us free from our pervasive fear of death. Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. (Heb2:14,15)
As death loses its sting, the fear of it is no longer a determinative or controlling force in our lives. We are truly free.
Speak, O Lord, to my fearful heat, Show me again how death itself Lies conquered in the field No more to reign. Embolden me to live faithfully For you and for the truth.
Now, Faithful, play the man, Speak for thy God: Fear not the wicked’s malice, nor their rod: Speak boldly, man, the truth is on thy side; Die for it, and to life in triumph ride.