And when he had called the people to him with his disciples also, he said to them, Whoever will come after me, let him deny himself…
Our Lord had just foretold his own sufferings, and now he goes on to speak of his requirement - that his disciples should be willing to follow him in the way of the cross. Soon they would be involved in persecution and trials, which they would be unprepared to meet unless they had wholly surrendered themselves to him. He never hid from his disciples what it would cost them to follow him. Again and again, when there were signs of defection on the part of the people, he gave the twelve an opportunity of leaving him if they wished to do so (John 6:67). Only whole-hearted service is acceptable to our Lord. It seems strange that his definite announcements of his sufferings, death, and resurrection should have been so imperfectly understood by his disciples. This can only be accounted for by the fact that they often took figurative language literally (Matthew 16:1; John 4:33; John 11:12), and literal language figuratively (Matthew 15:15-17; John 6:70). In this passage some of the distinguishing points between a worldling and a Christian are suggested, and by them we may test ourselves.
I. THE ONE FOLLOWS THE WORLD, THE OTHER FOLLOWS CHRIST. Our Lord speaks here of following him, i.e. doing what he did, going where he went, etc. In any doubtful sphere let us fairly and frankly ask ourselves - Would the Lord be here? He did not confine himself to the synagogue or to the temple, but dwelt in the home at Nazareth, worked at the carpenter's bench, sat at the wedding feast, went out on the lake with the fishermen, etc. In our innocent enjoyments and ordinary work we may still be following him. Suggest occasions on which there is a distinct choice between the worldly and the Christ-like.
II. THE ONE INDULGES HIMSELF, THE OTHER DENIES HIMSELF. A complete surrender of will is called for if we would truly serve Christ. Whenever his will points in one way and our inclination points in another, we must deny ourselves. This is an indispensable condition of following. The true denier of self is the true confessor of Christ. Wishes, tastes, and appetites must be restrained and (where obedience to the Lord requires it) denied by a Christian.
III. THE ONE CARES FOR WHAT IS OUTWARD, THE OTHER FOR WHAT IS INWARD. Many desire to "gain the world," and in the attempt use selfish and sinful means, such as the Lord spurned when they were offered to him (Matthew 4:9). But what seems to us to be "gain" we must learn to "count loss for Christ" (Philippians 3:7, 8). His disciples cannot be content with the outward show of happiness. Character to them is far more important than circumstances. If the world be gained, nothing is gained; if the soul be lost, everything is lost.
IV. THE ONE SEEKS EASE, THE OTHER RISKS THE LOSS OF IT. We want a test of the different courses which are sometimes presented for our choice. Speaking broadly, two are possible to us, and our use of the one as of the other proclaims what manner of men we are. The worldling asks, "Which is the pleasantest and easiest thing to do?" the Christian asks, "Which is the right thing?" and will choose that, whatever its issues.
V. THE ONE FINDS DEATH A LOSS, THE OTHER A GAIN. Our life reaches far beyond things seen. Death is the grave of earthly pleasures, but it is the gateway of heavenly joys.
VI. THE ONE WILL BE ASHAMED, AND THE OTHER EXALTED, IN THE DAY OF JUDGMENT. Christ speaks here of his coming again, "in the glory of his Father," as his Representative in judgment and as the Founder of a new heaven and earth, in which righteousness will dwell. Around him will be "the holy angels" - those servants of God who rejoice over the penitent (Luke 15:10), who minister to the saints (Hebrews 1:14), and who will finally execute the judgments of the Lord (Matthew 13:41). Then he who knows us altogether will separate us, according to his unerring judgment of our characters. All will awake, "some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." (See also ver. 38.) - A.R.
Parallel VersesKJV: And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.