Our society is backwards. We are told constantly that we need to look after ourselves. We need “me” time. We need to “find ourself.” You have to focus on you, because nobody else will, the saying goes. But this is all backwards to kingdom thinking.
In the kingdom, Jesus is asking us to deny ourselves. He is commanding us to take our focus off of ourself and put it on the cross. While others are feeding into what your flesh wants to hear, Jesus tells us that our flesh has to be crucified.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Jesus didn’t cut corners with his disciples. He told them exactly what they needed to hear and that message was simple, if you don’t deny yourself, you can’t follow me. Jesus knew that the denial of one’s own interests, hopes and dreams was a difficult ask. He knew that our flesh would fight against that line of thought. After all if you don’t look after you, who will?
Denying yourself is more than just saying no to yourself, it really is a death sentence as Jesus describes it. We deny ourselves and then we join him in his crucifixion by taking up our cross and following Him up the hill to Calvary. Denying yourself means you have to die to everything. And if you don’t deny yourself, you will most certainly deny Jesus.
“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.”
Before Jesus went to the cross, he sat down with his disciples and warned them of what was coming. They, of course, did not believe Him, which is a good reminder that even though they followed him for years at this point and seen countless miracles, they still struggled to believe His word. The sheep were going to be scattered.
Peter was then informed of his upcoming denial. Peter thought that he was going to stand strong and deny himself. He thought he was ready to die for Jesus. Aren’t we all like this is some way? Don’t we all have plenty of courage when sitting with the savior on the mountain? Peter had plenty of courage when danger wasn’t present, but Jesus knew that when the time came, he too would scatter. He wasn’t quite ready to deny himself.
To be frank, Peter was scared. He had denied parts of his life, but Jesus requires you to deny it all, even life itself. And this is so hard for us. Even though we may say that we are ready to deny ourselves in this way, the only way for us to know if that’s completely true is to be tested. We have to face death. Jesus knew Peter was going to have an opportunity that very night to deny himself and He also knew that Peter wasn’t going to pass the test.
As the story goes, Jesus was captured and the sheep did scatter. Peter went on the run. Peter tried to hide, but he was too recognizable now. He had spent years with Jesus. And now, the test. Peter was asked to deny himself and embrace Jesus, but he wasn’t ready yet. He failed. Three times he failed. But the mark of a true man is not how many times he falls, but how many times he gets up.
Peter got back up. Peter repented with bitter tears. He realized he still had some growing to do. Fast forward to the other side of the cross and Peter is given the opportunity on the day of Pentecost to stand up publicly and proclaim Christ. He embraced Jesus even at the expense of his own life. Peter, shortly after Pentecost, would be thrown into jail on several occasions. He would, according to church tradition, ultimately give his life for Jesus, being crucified on a cross upside down, because he didn’t feel worthy to die in the same manner that Jesus had died.
So perhaps you are thinking that you have failed to deny yourself. Don’t fret, you have a lot in common with Peter. You may fail, but it’s not the end. Get back up. Deny yourself and embrace Jesus.