To paraphrase pastor and writer A. W. Tozer: “One thing you knew about a man walking out of town with a cross on his back: He wasn’t coming back!”

This may sound straightforward and perhaps even a little flippant, but Tozer didn’t mean it that way. He was helping us see what true commitment means. In essence, he was asking: “Are we really dead to ourselves, to the world?”

It must have been confusing for Jesus’ listeners when he said, “If you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). The crowds had enthusiastically followed Him and now He offered them what? A form of torture and execution? This wasn’t something they would have expected from Him. He was at least a rabbi—a teacher—to them, and perhaps the promised Messiah. So why would He refer to such a hideous Roman punishment? It’s possible the crowd thinned out a bit at that point!

Jesus also talked about “hating” one’s own family (Luke 14:26). Now we can get around this one quite comfortably by saying that our love for Jesus should be so great that, in comparison, all other affections seem as hatred. But let’s ponder these things. Jesus wants all of our attention, every scrap of our lives. By taking up the cross we’re saying that we have died, are dying, and will die each day to all that we want, all our agendas, hopes, dreams, and plans. Why? Because of our love for Him, our understanding of our need for Him, and our certainty that we will spend eternity with Him.

What a huge challenge the crowd heard from Jesus that day—a challenge for us today. But Jesus’ loving example makes sense of it all. He “gave up his life for us” (1 John 3:16). By His power, may we do the same for Him and others!

NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Mark 14:26-52