Take Up Your Cross (Part Two)- Matthew 26:39-42

In our previous post, we examined Jesus’ statements that those who would truly be His disciples must take up their cross and follow Him. We then determined that taking up your cross means to “deny yourself”, and that denying yourself involves “emptying yourself”. This raises the question as to just what is an “empty self”, how do we empty ourselves? We will look now at two different scenes in two different gardens, in order to see just what is meant by “self” and what it means to empty it. We begin, then, in Genesis 3:1-7, with the story of the fall of man and the first incidence of the “self” Jesus refers to. Adam and Eve are in the garden of Eden, and have been commanded by God that they may eat from any tree but one, and Eve here is interacting with a serpent, who is trying to get her to eat from the forbidden tree. The serpent deceives Eve and gets her to eat from the forbidden tree, telling her she would not die like God said but that she actually would truly live, that she would be “like God” (verse 5), which is what she was created to be. The serpent here tells Eve that she will not die if she eats, but that she will truly live, she will be all she was meant to be, that by denying her the tree, God was keeping her from being her true self. Eve buys what the serpent is selling, eats from the tree and gives to Adam, who eats also. We then find, in verse 7, that “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked”, they both became “self-conscious, self-aware”, the “self” Jesus refers to was born. This self is characterized by a desire to be independent, to go our own way, to chart our own course and call the shots in our lives. We then turn to another garden, to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here Jesus is struggling with what He knows he must do, praying that “this cup may be taken from me” (Matthew 26:39). The cup he refers to here is the cup of God’s wrath, which is to be poured out upon sin, the sin which is about to be placed upon Him, which He is about to bear for all mankind, and which will bring the separation from His Father which He dreads. Jesus here clearly tells us He does not want to go to the cross, asking the Father if there is not some other way in which sin could be dealt with, if it was possible for the cup to be taken from him. The answer obviously is no, for in verse 42, we find Jesus praying “if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done”. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve chose to do their own will rather than God’s, chose to say not thy will, but my will be done, and “created” the “self”. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus chose to do God’s will rather than His own, chose to say “not my will, but thy will be done”, denying the “self”. This is the “emptying” of himself which Paul refers to in Philippians 2, the “denying” yourself which Jesus tells us all His true disciples must do. To deny ourselves, then, is to deny our “right” to do our own thing, to chart our own course, to call the shots in our own lives. Jesus here gave up his “right” to self-determination and allowed His Father to chart the course of His life, to follow the Father’s course for His life, even if it led to a cross. That is what he tells us all of His true disciples will also do. They will not follow the lead of Adam, saying not thy will but my will be done, but will follow the lead of Jesus, saying not my will but thy will be done. This is true discipleship, this is what it means to “take up our cross” and follow Him. Jesus call to a cross is not a call to Calvary, but to Gethsemane, a call to say “not my will but thy will be done”, a call to deny “self”, to deny independence and a right to go our own way, to embrace dependence and choose to go God’s way. This is the discipleship to which Jesus calls each of His followers, may we all hear and answer this call moment by moment, emptying ourselves and in so doing becoming our true selves, the selves God created and calls us to be, and which our enemy wants to keep us from being.

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