From this morning’s Morning Prayer for All Saints Day.
And he said to all, â€œIf anyone would come after me, let himÂ deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.â€
What I find all the more striking about this passage is that it is followed immediately by the Transfiguration. The Apostles do get to see a glimpse of Christ in his glory and that is what prompts them, each one of them, to literally take up their cross and follow him. Almost every single one of them is killed for preaching repentance of sins and trust in the saving work of the cross.
It becomes more apparent to me year on year that unless we get a glimpse of Christ in glory then we will never truly be able to pick up our cross and follow him. Unless we see who Jesus really is, not the nice Jesus who wants everyone just to get on and be loving, but the holy, judging, saving, wrathful and merciful God in incarnate form who is to be feared and loved and adored and known, unless we see him we won’t really understand what he has done for us. The words and actions of Christ offer us not just grace but an explanation of why we need grace, and without the latter we simply cannot appreciate the former. If we don’t think we are sinners then we don’t need to be saved. If we don’t think our lives are broken, all parts of it including our sexuality, then we have no need to bring ourselves to Jesus to be healed.
And crucially, if we do not believe that Jesus needed to die on the cross for us, and if we refuse to recognise the sin in us that killed him there, why would we ever pick up that cross? When we take up his cross daily we take up the cross that crucified our sin. If we refuse to recognise it as sin then we will never deny ourselves and take up the cross. Rather we will want to save ourselves, we will want to glorify that which is broken, bless that which is sinful.
I am not ashamed of the words of Jesus. I am not ashamed when he says that out of my heart comes every form of depravity, broken sexual lust, anger and malice. I am not ashamed because I stand up and say “Yes, I am all of these things but Christ is more and he has taken those things upon himself and destroyed them utterly – I am now free”. And I do this because I see a God who will show me utter mercy despite the fact that I am the worst of sinners. He shows me mercy simply because I have recognised and admitted I am the worst of sinners. Others though despise me for doing this because in admitting my utter brokenness and depravity and sinfulness still to this very day, I force them to engage yet again with the deep corruption of their own heart and being, a corruption that they need to either confess in repentance or mask with the label of holiness.Jesus said that the mark of someone who follows him is that they have taken up their cross. Yet so many Christians deny the need for a cross to be taken up in the first place.And that makes me wonder whether they even got a proper glimpse of Jesus in the first place.