CONTEXT: For this chapter, Matthew Henry breaks it down as follows: I. The commission Christ gave to his twelve apostles to go out for some time to preach the gospel and confirm it by miracles (v. 1-6). II. Herod’s terror at the growing greatness of our Lord Jesus (v. 7-9). III. The apostles’ return to Christ, his retirement with them into a place of solitude, the great resort of people to them notwithstanding, and his feeding five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes (v. 10-17). IV. His discourse with his disciples concerning himself and his own sufferings for them, and their for him (v. 18-27). V. Christ’s transfiguration (v. 28-36). VI. The cure of a lunatic child (v. 37-42). VII. The repeated notice Christ gave his disciples of his approaching sufferings (v. 43-45). VIII. His check to the ambition of his disciples (v. 46-48), and to their monopolizing the power over devils to themselves (v. 49, 50). IX. The rebuke he gave them for an over-due resentment of an affront given him by a village of the Samaritans (v. 51-56). X. The answers he gave to several that were inclined to follow him, but not considerately, or not zealously and heartily, so inclined (v. 57-62).
At a little over the one-third mark in the chapter Jesus, having performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand v.10-17, asks His disciples a most important question v.18, Whom say the people that I am?
Then after they give a myriad of responses He turns v.20, and asks, But whom say ye that I am? Peter answering said, The Christ of God.
After a little more conversation v.21-22, we get to our main text for today v.23. Here Jesus reminds anyone that claims Him as The Christ of God that there is a cost associated with that claim. Note that Jesus here v.23-25 is not suggesting a complete and total separation from all things in and of the world (food, shelter, essentials of life, etc.) in a legalistic manner. What Jesus is implying is the choice one has, to pick up their cross, and all the costs associated with it in following the true risen Christ or continue in a life of sin.
“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23). Self-denial is the highest sign of a sincere Christian. Hypocrites may have great knowledge and make large profession — but it is only the true-hearted saint who can deny himself for Christ. Self-denial is the foundation of godliness, and if this foundation is not well-laid, the whole building will fall. If there is any lust in our souls which we cannot deny — it will turn at length, either to scandal or apostasy. Self-denial is the thread which must run along through the whole work of piety. A man must deny self-esteem. Every man by nature has a high opinion of himself. He is drunk with spiritual pride. A proud man disdains the cross. He thinks himself too good to suffer. Oh deny self-esteem! Let the plumes of pride fall off! A man must deny carnal self. This I take to be the chief sense of the text. He must deny carnal ease. The flesh cries out for ease. It is loath to put its neck under Christ’s yoke or stretch itself upon the cross. The flesh cries out, “Oh! the cross of Christ is heavy! There are nails in that cross which will lacerate, and fetch blood!” We must deny our self-ease, and be as a deaf adder, stopping our ears to the charmings of the flesh! Those who lean on the soft pillow of sloth, will hardly take up the cross. This self-denying frame of heart is very hard. This is “to pluck out the right eye.” It is easier to overcome men and devils, than to overcome self. “Stronger is he who conquers himself, than he who conquers the strongest walled city.” Self is the idol, and how hard it is to sacrifice this idol and to turn self-seeking into self-denial! But though it is difficult—it is essential. A Christian must first lay down self — before he can take up the cross. Alas! how far are they then from self-denial, who cannot deny themselves in the least things; who in their diet or apparel, instead of martyring the flesh — pamper the flesh! Instead of taking up the cross — take up their cups! Is this self-denial, to let loose the reins to the flesh? Oh Christians, as ever you would be able to carry Christ’s cross, begin to deny yourselves. “Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for My sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will have eternal life!” (Matthew 19:29). Here is a very choice bargain!– Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes, on the Puritan Hard Drive.