"Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." - Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV)
There's a lot going on in these two verses. If I want to serve Jesus, I have to deny myself - my wants, my needs, my desires - and follow Him. He has to become the cornerstone of my life. I have to lose my life to find life. What in the world does that mean?
Hannah Whitall Smith observed, "The crucial question for each of us is this: What do you think of Jesus, and do you yet have a personal acquaintance with Him?" Let's break this down into two parts - the first part is what we think of Jesus. Some of us may think of Him as a Great Man, someone who was smart and revered in His time. Some of us may think of Him as the Son of God, beloved, sinless, perfect. Some of us may think of Him as a Friend, someone we can turn to in times of trouble. Some of us may think of Him as our Savior, coming to earth and dying for our sins. Some of us may think of Him as our Lord, the ruler of our lives. When I think of Jesus, I think of Him as all of these. The second part of the question - do you yet have a personal acquaintance with Him - is, to me, the most important part. Most people with tell you they believe in God - the devil believes in God (!) - but hesitate when it comes to believing in Jesus. To me, having a personal acquaintance with Jesus means having come to the knowledge that I am a sinner and am on my way to Hell. It doesn't matter if I'm a good person or do good works. It doesn't matter if I was baptized. It doesn't matter if I've confessed my sins to another human being. It doesn't matter if I've never stolen from anyone, murdered, committed adultery, abused a child or any number of things that the world judges as bad. I am heading to an eternity in Hell. Romans 3:23 (NIV) tells us, "For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." I admit, I'm a sinner. BUT, because of Jesus' love for me, I am a sinner saved by His grace. I am no longer heading to an eternity of suffering but an eternity spent in the Presence of Jesus. How do I know this? Romans 10:9-10 (NIV) says this: "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." So, my answer to the crucial question is this: I think of Jesus as God's Beloved Son, born of a virgin, sent to suffer, die and rise again so that I might be saved from the wrath of Hell. Yes, I have a personal acquaintance with Him because I have accepted Him as my Lord and Savior. I have confessed my sins to Him and He is living in my heart. I have been saved from Hell and Heaven is the prize that awaits me. But it doesn't end there.
Getting back to this passage in Matthew, now that I've accepted Jesus into my heart, there's work to be done. Jesus wants to be first in my life. He wants me to serve Him. As I said earlier, He wants me to deny myself first, then take up my cross - my troubles - and follow Him. Obedience to His Word, submission to His will, losing my life by placing my wants, desires and needs last, leads to finding life in Him - being filled with His love and compassion for other sinners, doing what He asks, going where He leads. I desire that others see He is not just some passing fancy for me, but is the foundation on which I stand and on which I live my life. Not an easy thing to do and I fail at it more often than not. However, when I fall, Jesus is right there to pick me back up, dust me off and point me in the right direction. The cornerstone of my life.
"The first step in a person's salvation is knowledge of their sin." - Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You, Lord, for the gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ. It is because of Your great love for all sinners that He came to be a Living Sacrifice for our sins. I thank You for my salvation and I ask that You fill me with the desire to share Your gift, Jesus, with everyone I meet. May He become the cornerstone of other's lives because of His light shining through my words and actions. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.