Luke 9 23 is a popular verse among Christians. It’s a reminder that we will need to take up our cross if we want to follow Jesus.
Since this verse is such a key part of the Christian faith, let’s spend a few minutes unpacking Luke 9 23 so we can get a better understanding of what it means to take up your cross.
What is the Meaning of Luke 9 23?
Before we can zero in on our verse, let’s put it in the proper context. Luke 9 begins with Jesus sending out the twelve disciples. He gives them power and authority to heal the sick and spread the good news about the kingdom of God.
Herod the tetrarch heard all that Jesus had done and wanted to meet Him. The rumors about Jesus are swirling around. People believe He’s the reincarnated Elijah or one of the old prophets.
We don’t how much time passed in this passage, but the disciples return with a report of all they had done among the people. Jesus takes His disciples to a deserted place named Bethsaida but the multitudes follow.
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Jesus had compassion for the people and healed them. He also taught about the kingdom of God. When it got late, the disciples went to Jesus and told Him to send the people away so they could buy food. But Jesus used five loaves and two fish to feed the multitude.
When the disciples and Jesus are finally alone, Jesus asked them who they thought He was. The response is mixed. But Jesus wanted to know who the disciples thought He was, Peter’s response was that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus warned them not to tell anyone and then predicted His suffering and death.
And this is where our verse comes in,
Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. — (Luke 9:23 NKJV)
Let’s geek out on the Greek words in Luke 9 23 for a little bit. We’ll focus on the key words and phrases.
The word translated as desires is thélō, (pronounced thel’-o); and could have been translated as choose or prefer (literally or figuratively). It is interesting to note that this word is an active one which denotes an action being taken rather than something being done to the person.
The Greek word for deny is aparnéomai, (pronounced ap-ar-neh’-om-ahee) and could have been translated as to deny utterly, disown, or abstain. In the biblical context it means to forget one’s self, lose sight of one’s self and one’s own interests.
Interestingly, one of the root words for aparnéomai is arnéomai, (pronounced ar-neh’-om-ahee) which could translate as reject, deny, or refuse. It is used to convey a disregard of a person’s own interests or when they prove false to themselves. Arnéomai is to act entirely unlike oneself.
The word translated as “take up” is aírō, (pronounced ah’-ee-ro). In Hebraism, aírō could also mean to expiate sin. Aírō also means carry, lift up, loose, make to doubt, put away, remove, take (away, up). In the Bible, it could also used to mean “to take away from another what is his or what is committed to him”.
The word for “cross” is the Greek staurós, (pronounced stow-ros’) which means a stake or post (as set upright), i.e. (specially), a pole or cross (as an instrument of capital punishment). Figuratively, staurós refers to exposure to death, i.e. self-denial. It also refers to, by implication, the atonement of Christ.
Finally, akolouthéō, (pronounced ak-ol-oo-theh’-o) was translated as follow could also mean to be in the same way with, i.e. to accompany (specially, as a disciple).
I hope you’re beginning to see the picture. But let’s go through it together.
Take Up Your Cross Meaning
Luke 9 23 is often the reference verse used when people are being encouraged to take up their cross. As you read through the Greek definitions above, you may have felt the stirring of the deeper meaning of this verse and what it means to take up your cross.
Christ’s statement begins with a conditional word, “if”. This suggests that what follows is optional and carries conditions. Another way to think about Luke 9 23 is like this:
If anyone desires to come after Me, then let him deny himself
If anyone desires to come after Me, then take up your cross daily,
If anyone desires to come after Me, then follow Me.
Taking up the cross to follow Jesus, means to put away your old self, desires, and behavior to act in the way God commands. To take up your cross means to follow in the footsteps of Christ. He loved, taught, had compassion for the people. He was also tormented, hated, and afflicted unto death.
When we take up our cross and follow Him, it means we are willing to follow in His footsteps…even if it leads to our death for His sake.
What does it mean to deny oneself?
Have you ever had a craving? A desire for something that was so intense it was almost as though you were tasting it as your mind pictured it? What if someone offered you the very thing you were craving with that intensity? Could you say no? Could you just say, “No, thank you, I’m full.”?
I’m using this analogy as an illustration of how it may feel to deny yourself. When we choose to follow Christ, we have to give up those things that seem “natural” and go against our very nature.
It is our nature to sin, but we have to go against that.
It is our nature to judge others, we have to remember that judgment belongs to God.
And don’t think it’s going to be easy. In fact, you may finally understand what Paul meant when he said, “For I do not understand my own actions. for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15, 18-19 NKJV)”.
We have to continually submit ourselves to Christ in spite of how we may be feeling, in spite of what’s going on at work, in spite of the condition of our family life. Being a disciple means we follow Christ. Full stop. No excuses. No distractions.
He leads. We follow. That’s it.
When we deny ourselves, we choose to put away the things we would ordinarily choose for ourselves. We put what God requires over our own desires.
How Luke 9 23 Applies to Us
Jamaicans like to talk about crosses. For us, crosses mean trouble. So we’re tempted to interpret taking up our cross as taking up trouble. In other words, being a follower of Christ will often mean that we will have some type of trouble or difficulty to bear.
But taking up your cross is a little more than that though. Each person’s walk is going to have its unique features. It will include those things that you wish it didn’t – the death of a loved one, loss of a job, financial worry, friendships that end.
But it will also have those things that make you happy – marriage, good friendships, prosperity, times when the food basket is miraculously replenished, beautiful sunsets, and other blessings.
At the end of the day, taking up your cross has to do with your willingness to follow Christ in spite of what happens in our lives, in spite of what happens to us. The two verses that follow make this even clearer:
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? (Luke 9:24-25 NKJV)
What’s the point of having a long life here on earth, if we’re doomed to eternal death? What’s the point of becoming the richest person on earth if we don’t share in the reward that Christ has for His faithful followers?
Do you know what’s so fascinating about those two words? If we’re following, it must mean Someone is ahead of us. When we choose to follow Christ, He remains ahead of us. If we keep our eyes on Him, we would have no need to fear. We would have a guide, an encourager, a leader.
He leads. We follow. Nothing could be clearer than that.
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
As we study this verse, another thing becomes evident: discipleship is voluntary. Jesus said, “If any man will”. He’s not going to force us to follow Him or to serve Him. We have to choose. This choice is available to every individual.
How do you take up your cross? What does denying self mean for you? What is your “cross”? How do you take it up every day to follow Jesus?
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