Monday often means stress, deadlines, burdens, and anxiety. It becomes the day when we dread the overly cheerful coworker who makes our day worse by suggesting, “Sounds like somebody has a cased of the Mondays.” Another day at work means worrying whether or not your boss is going to micro-manage you or ignore you. Work means worry about what your coworkers might say or the weight of being in a job that is underpaid and under appreciated. From the daily grind of bosses and deadlines to the grueling reality of balancing a budget and trying to put food on the table, work is often a weight - sometimes an unbearable one.
"Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." - Matthew 16:24
As human beings, everything within us seeks to serve our own wants. Humanity is curved inward on our desires and satisfactions. We turn friends and family members into objects. People become less than human as we make them the means of our satisfaction or success. Our jobs become a tool to validate ourselves or make ourselves worthwhile. Our marriages become an opportunity for a transaction of goods in hopes that we get the better end of the deal.
Because of the curving inward of the human heart, every area of life becomes the place where we serve ourself.
Martin Luther described this sin nature in his commentary on Romans:
"Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, [being] so deeply curved in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them (as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites), or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake."
This makes a command like, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me,” a bit difficult.
How does someone so turned inward towards his own interest deny his own self-interests? My entire being fights against the command to deny myself. All of the world around me suggests that I just do what makes me happy. But Jesus comes along and suggests that I, “Deny myself.”
That’s not easy when denying yourself means putting up with a boss that you hate for the sake of caring for your family.
That’s difficult when denying yourself means taking a job with less pay in order to do what God is leading you to do.
That’s painful when denying yourself means working hard without ever being appreciated in order to put your kids through college.
Imagine the difficulty of Monday morning at work for someone like Joseph.
Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. - Genesis 39:6-10
Joseph denies himself and it means that he loses his good job, with good pay and good benefits. Imagine the Monday morning after all this started. Joseph had to walk in, knowing the propositions he’s been denying repeatedly and he finds himself set up in a trap, still feeling a burden and punishment for something he didn’t do.
How do we deny ourselves and our interests at the cost of the things that so often are important to us?
“[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” - Phil 2:6-8
We don’t deny our own self-interests; I fail to make the right choice when the wrong choice is so alluring. Joseph does the right thing time and time again in the midst of his crazy job, but I don’t.
Jesus does what the old us never does. Jesus turns completely outward from himself and gives up his life for the interest of our well-being. Jesus denies himself. Jesus bears the cross. Jesus heart is curved towards the heart of man despite the inward curve of man’s heart.
Jesus’ denial of himself curves our hearts outward towards our neighbors. @@The death and resurrection of Jesus frees us from our slavish need to look out for our own self-interest.@@ Jesus us gives us everything we need so we are free to do what is right for the people around us.
As we deny ourselves in the midst of our daily lives, we experience pain and heartache. We experience burden, struggles, and loss. In the midst of the pains and toils of our daily work, we carry a daily cross in which we deny ourselves for the sakes of our neighbor. Instead of shirking the pain by separating from the secular world, we embrace it by finding a sacredness in the ordinary pain of work. In our daily work, we bear our crosses for the sake of our kids, for our spouses, and for our communities.
In the weight of a difficult job, the tension of raising kids, and the reality of being a good neighbor, Christians deny themselves for the sake of our neighbor as Christ has denied himself for us. As the body and blood of Jesus is broken and poured out for us so we are broken and poured out for our neighbors. As I embrace the pain and suffering of my daily cross, the me who seeks to serve only himself is put to death with Christ, and the new me is raised to life.
And as I serve my neighbors, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
“We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:6-11