Once when Jesus was praying by himself, the disciples joined him, and he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others that one of the ancient prophets has come back to life.” He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ sent from God.” Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell this to anyone. He said, “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected–by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts–and be killed and be raised on the third day.” Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them. What advantage do people have if they gain the whole world for themselves yet perish or lose their lives? (Luk 9:18-25 CEB)
When Jesus was doing all the miracles he drew quite a crowd, thousands even. However, as the passion grew ever closer, the numbers dwindled. In fact, around the cross, there were only a handful of close disciples and family members. Thousands were there, but they were screaming for his crucifixion, one of the most horrific forms of punishment, so horrendous, it was not mentioned in polite society. And yet, that was the invitation given by Jesus. Deny yourself and follow me to the cross.
For many Christians, dying for their faith was an everyday reality. Polycarp, the 2nd-century Christian bishop of Smyrna was martyred for his faith. Bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him. His prayer was not for his rescue from death but that he might be counted worthy to suffer for the gospel sake.
Resurrection is coming, but we have to go to the cross first. This Lent season, dying to self, means giving up more than Facebook or chocolate, it calls us to daily leave something of ourselves behind so that it becomes all about Jesus. Death to self that I might live.