Jesus uses crucifixion as a symbol for the sacrifice of self (“…let him deny himself, take up his cross,” Mark 8:34). Jesus preferred for the Father to remove His cup of suffering but ultimately deferred to His Father’s will. Jesus knew that in following Him we would face similar choices with eternity-altering outcomes. He calls us to sacrifice what we prefer or, at times, what we love for the sake of His kingdom.
The familiar story of the rich young ruler comes to mind (Mark 10:17-31). Jesus does not expect all of His followers to sell everything and give to the poor (although some among us may feel compelled to do so). To be more precise, the young man’s unwillingness to give up what was dearest to him stood in the way of heaven. He would not deny himself.
The rich young ruler teaches all of us to examine our lives with the question, “What must I sacrifice in order to inherit eternal life?” Some choose a spiritual path different from their parents, grandparents, children, etc. Others purposely join small and/or struggling congregations to help the kingdom while others abandon their preferences in order to truthfully worship God. A few dedicate their “retirement years” to advancing the interests of God’s kingdom. Some avoid sin by denying their homosexual attraction. These are real sacrifices. They can be painful and inconvenient. The allure to choose the easier path tugs on the heart. Occasionally, the world ridicules the choice. Even fellow Christians may doubt the wisdom of such sacrifices. And yet, “the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again”(2 Corinthians 5:14-15).