West Point Grey United Church
Feb 25, 2024

Deny Yourself and Take Your Cross

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Mark 8:31–38

Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16

17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty;[a] walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram,[b] but your name shall be Abraham,[c] for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her and also give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Mark 8:31-38

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”34 He called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If any wish to come[a] after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[b] will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words[c] in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”



Today’s story took place in the city of Philippi. This was an attractive place for religious worship in Jesus’ day, a lot of temples were built in this city. People came over here to worship many different gods. It is ironic that it is just in this place that Jesus accepted the title of Messiah.

About six years ago, a group of people from our church went to Israel-Palestine. 

We arrived in this city and stood in front of the worship places.  In order to bring some of this scripture to life, we engaged in a little of role-play. Our local tour guide played Jesus; he asked us, “Who do people say I am?”  Assuming the role of Peter, I replied, “You are the Messiah.” The tour guide said, “Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me.” I wore a look of confusion, I remained wondering, “What does this mean, and how can we achieve it?”

I would like to ask you to ponder today’s story, imagine You’ve been travelling with your teacher for three years. You’ve been present and watched as the crowds approach him for his teaching and miracle healing. Even a week ago, Jesus accepted his title of Messiah after Peter’s confession. (Mark 8:27-28). Then Jesus began to talk quite openly that he would suffer, be rejected, and die on the cross. Of course, Peter protested,” Wouldn’t you? What a stupid thing to say, Jesus.  Everyone knows that that kind of thing doesn’t happen to the Messiah.  It’s ridiculous.  You’re going to ruin morale here.”  In hearing Peter’s rebuke, Jesus heard the voice of Satan once more, the voice that haunted him in the wilderness some days before. Jesus rebuked Peter and told them whoever wanted to be his disciples must deny themselves, take their cross, and follow him. 

When I think of denying myself before, I think of becoming a parent. When my husband and I were newlyweds, we were double-income and had no kids. We could go wherever we want. We just enjoyed ourselves, just two of us, together right now and in that moment. And then came kid – John. There is a saying in Chinese: “Raising a child is like tending three acres of crops.” It means that children must be carefully taken care of so that they can grow as well as crops. So, with the kid, you know, diapers, formula milk, doctor’s appointments, and then elementary school, piano lessons, swimming club, and then high school and university. So, being a parent is exhausting physically, emotionally, and financially. So, sometimes, I was proud of saying that being a parent taught me in many ways to deny myself.  Now, I understand this kind of denying yourself only denies your previous lifestyle, which is not the meaning of what Jesus said.

How might the story of Abraham and Sarah, as told in today’s scripture, relate to the concept of self-denial? Their decision to leave behind a comfortable, secure life, for one that centers around a relationship with God.  By taking this step, they open themselves up to the possibility of a richer, more meaningful life. Self-denial, then, is not just a matter of giving up one’s previous life, which is what I understood when I became a mother, but of embracing a new relationship with God. It’s a call that Jesus himself issued to his followers.

“SELF” is always an obstacle to God’s work in us. During the Lenten season, some people like to practice fasting from bad habits and let themselves have more time to reflect, repent and pray for their spiritual growth.  I think it is a specific window of time during Lent where we can say no to ourselves, which is a good purpose for practicing self-denial, a reminder that we are disciples who would like to deny ourselves so we can create space to say YES to God.  But we need to understand that we occasionally give up things or activities, which does not really mean denying ourselves. Jesus says that to deny ourselves is when we totally, continually surrender ourselves to Christ and obey His will. 

Let’s talk about taking up your cross. There is a misunderstanding about cross-bearing. I bet you have heard that some people have a problem that causes trouble or worry for a long time; they would say seriously, “Well, that is my cross to bear.” When they say to bear this cross, it means it is a burden they put up with. The commentary on the Bible says that cross-bearing does not refer to some frustration in your life. Rather, it involves the way of the cross. Jesus asked his disciples to visualize a condemned man, required to carry his cross on the way to the place of execution, as Jesus was required to do. The meaning of taking up your cross is to ask you to submit fully to God, just like Jesus.  This is following Jesus at its simplest: He carried a cross and walked down death row; so must those who follow Him.

Denying yourself equals taking up your cross; the two expressed the same idea.  In the book of Luke, it says,” deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”(Luke 9:23). Luke adds one word, “daily”: So, taking up my cross is persistently carrying on the particular form of self-denial and fully submit to God, which is the character of discipleship requires. 

Peter’s life perfectly illustrates self-denial and taking up the cross. We observe that the early life of Peter is a self-centred, inconsistent, and impulsive personality. His focus was primarily on himself, leading him to rebuke Jesus (Mark 8:32), and his own interest drove him.  His self-centredness makes Peter deny knowing Jesus three times when Jesus was on the way to execution (Mark 14:66–72). However, in the book of Acts, we witness a new Peter. By the end of his life, Peter was crucified upside down. It is believed that Peter requested this form of crucifixion as he felt he was unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus. Peter is the model of servant leadership in the Christian Church. In the book of 1 Peter, Peter wrote, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).  A rich relationship was built between Peter and God by denying himself and taking his cross.

To “deny yourself and take up your cross” invites us to say YES to God, to submit to God fully, and to embrace a new, abundant relationship with God. The Bible tells us that Abraham, Sarah, and Peter transformed their life and had a rich relationship with God by denying themselves and taking up their cross.  The Lenten period is a good time for us to examine ourselves and make a U-turn to God.  The church is the body of Christ; let’s make a deep belonging to his body and build closer relationships with Christ. Be a faithful disciple. Amen

Now we have entered into the second Lent, I would like to invite you to ponder these two questions: 

  1. What are the obstacles to you spending time with God? 
  2. How to Overcome them?