Even as we head with great enthusiasm into Spring and Summer, I think it would be profitable to take a look back at the Easter holiday that we just celebrated. Christmas and Easter are the historical bookends of the Christian faith, and it is vital that we live in their truths even as we go about our lives post-holiday.
Easter is a glorious celebration, but it absolutely depends upon Good Friday: If Jesus doesn’t die, He can’t be resurrected. And Good Friday gives us plenty to think about. Jesus—the Creator and Lover of the universe—is subjected to the most humiliating treatment and the most agonizing death. Astonishingly, we mark it with Good Friday. Not Bad Friday; nor Black Friday. And it is good, very good, as far as we are concerned. Jesus’s submission to this treatment and death pays our sin debt; that, along with His resurrection, opens for us a path to heaven to live in the company of the Holy Trinity for eternity.
But more astonishing still is that Jesus considered that long-ago Friday good. The author of Hebrews teaches us that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him. Our Lord and Savior wanted restored relationship with us so much that He paid for that joy with His dignity and His life. And while Jesus’s death and resurrection have glorious eternal consequences, the events of Easter weekend are relevant to us in the moments of our lives in the here and now as we walk toward heaven.
Jesus challenged His disciples with these words: Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24). If we apply Jesus’s future modeling to this passage, then we have some serious issues to consider.
Just as Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him, He invites us to view a life of faith as one of pursuing joy. I am afraid that I, for one, too often settle for comfort, for peace, for happiness. C.S. Lewis observes: “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
So what does it look like to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus? While most of us will not be asked to submit to execution for the kingdom of God, there are plenty of opportunities to practice the denial of self that enables us to follow Jesus and experience His joy. Can we put aside our pride and apologize when we have done something hurtful, intentional or not? Can we put our hurt in the Lord’s redemptive hands and forgive someone who has hurt us? Can we offer kindness and patience to someone we really don’t like? Can we put aside our plans when the Lord calls us to use our gifts in His service or move out of our comfort zone to minister to someone in need?
It is important to be clear that choosing self-denial in random fashion will not generate the joy we are looking for. It is the self-denial that we practice at His bidding that makes us able to follow Christ faithfully that brings His joy. And the joy of Christ often comes at the cost of discomfort. This concept is counterintuitive and difficult for us accept let alone welcome. But if we remind ourselves that the willingness to be uncomfortable, and even to suffer, is a privilege that brings God glory and us the joy of heaven.