Matthew 10:38-39

Let me remind you once again that our Lord is preparing his chosen twelve for their very first mission – which will ultimately be their life’s work.  The scene is a nation locked in demonic corruption; and yet, there are a number who belong to the Shepherd, and they are called “lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  The remainder are called “wolves!”  And when the Gospel of the Kingdom is preached there will be a sharp “cutting asunder” between the two, regardless of their relationship!

The disciples are to go into all the towns and villages of Israel, unveiling the mysteries of the Kingdom, preaching the words of Christ, acknowledging their identification with the Lord Jesus Christ – the King – and receiving the blows of persecution and humiliation because of it.  They were to expect that; and they were to be humbled that they could share in the Lord’s persecution – for He had said that they would go through it all on account of Him, with Him, IN HIM.

Last week we learned that they – and we – were to understand the fact that the preaching of the Gospel would separate even families, for a man who identified with Christ in public would have enemies in his own household.  And that the more corrupt the situation, the more violent the separation.  Jesus made it very plain that the response that the apostles were to look for when they preached the truth was one that was appropriate (worthy), or balanced, to the preaching of the Coming of the King.  In other words, the proper response to the Gospel being preached was acknowledgment of the King in public and sharing His persecution!  And they were not to fear that!  In fact, if the members of their own family became their enemies, then they were not to fear loving Jesus more than them!

So these weren’t just the duties of the apostles; they were also the expected responses from those lost sheep!  In other words, the sheep were to respond to Christ and respond to persecution and rejection in the same way the apostles were to respond!

And that is the very issue which leads us to our text today, because Jesus here says, verse thirty-eight, that “he who isn’t receiving his cross and following behind Me isn’t My worthy one.”

Now, we’ll see exactly what it means to “receive one’s cross and follow behind Jesus” in a minute.  But right now we have to understand that whatever it is is a definition of “His worthy one.”  Right?  He says, “he who isn’t “receiving his cross and following behind Me isn’t My worthy one;” so it stands to reason that the positive is true, doesn’t it?  His “worthy one” is the one who is receiving his cross and following behind Him!

And the term “worthy one,” which we’ve already seen a number of times, is here used in exactly the same way in which it’s been used all those other times.  The “worthy one” is the one who responds in the appropriate manner to the “weight” of the Good News that he receives!  In other words, since this is the uncovering and unveiling and preaching of the coming of the Son of God / Son of Man / Prophet, Priest and King – the Long Awaited Messiah from God, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep; the King of Israel, David’s Great Son; and since this is the preaching of the Kingdom, which first begins with the destruction of the Old Covenant Nation and the establishment of the Word-wide Kingdom of God’s Anointed One, then it stands to reason that the response from one who recognizes Him as his Shepherd and Savior and Messiah and King, response will be a great deal more than just a flicker of recognition!  It will be more than just a private verbal assent!

And the response from the wolves will be a great deal more than just inattention and nonchalance!

So what is the response from those lost sheep when they’re found?  What is the response from the apostles as they meet with corrupt resistance?  What is the response which is expected of us when we hear the Truth preached?  Do we just flip it off or maybe give it a flicker of recognition and acknowledgment?

What is Christ requiring of those who hear the preaching of the apostles and recognize their Savior?  “Receiving his cross and following behind Me.”  What does that mean?  Well, it’s a summary statement of what’s already been said!  And what’s been said is this:  You’re going to be hated by all on account of Me:  And you’re going to be persecuted and rejected and humiliated and accused of evil and sent before the synagogue judges for torturous punishment!  And the people of your own household are going to participate in your persecution!  But don’t be afraid of them; because you will be “as” your King – you will be identified with Him.  And in His Father there is no chance – and He values you.

So acknowledge Me in public and understand the separation that will occur because of Me!  And love Me more than your household members!  Share My persecution.  Share My pain.  Share My humiliation.  Follow Me.  If I suffer, should you decline to suffer?  If I am rejected by men, should you be received by men?  Follow Me.

If I receive hatred and derision, then you receive hatred and derision:  In Me.  Follow Me.  My Father has exhibited Me before men.  And I suffer.  Now you acknowledge Me in public and share My suffering.  Follow Me.  Are you able to share the cup?  Follow Me.

Are you beginning to see?  Fear of suffering or death or shame because of Christ would prove us “unworthy” by revealing our true response to His suffering, wouldn’t it?

Over in chapter sixteen of this Gospel, Matthew records Jesus saying this again: 


“If any will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up (receive) his cross and follow Me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it.”


So, you see, it’s in this remarkable use of this word “cross” that the glory of this passage is to be understood.  We have to realize that this is the first time that we have recorded usage of the word.  And there is no possible way to make its usage correspond to any other idea other than the one which fits this context!

And explanations are myriad – in an agonizing attempt to avoid this context!  Lengthy discussions of such things as the shape of the Persian and Roman “stauros” or “cross” being similar to the Hebrew letter “Tau” which, in Hebrew folklore, is the sign of possession.  Therefore the Christian disciple belongs to Jesus and commits himself to follow Him.  Those kinds of explanations litter the literature.

But, as I say, the context is unavoidable.  Our Lord is here predicting His death – His ultimate “cutting off” – on the cross.  And the entire process of suffering and humiliation and death lead up to that one bloody sacrifice – the death of God the Son – on a cross!  And Jesus is here using that object, the cross, as the figurative centerpiece for all of His suffering inclusively!

And there is no doubt from this context that the Lord Jesus Christ, in the midst of a terribly corrupt nation, demanded of His disciples and their converts that they receive the same shame and rejection that He suffered, all figured by the term “cross.”

The announcement of the coming of the King produces open and public acknowledgment of His Sovereign rule – it produces from His people an identification with Him!  And it produces, on the other hand, ripping and tearing from the wolves – the same as He got!  This is the yoke!  The disciple of Jesus is a “cross-bearer.”  He begins that way!  And he remains there!  As His disciples become “as” their Master, the Sword of separation comes slashing through family and friends and the world order!  And the more corrupt the society, the more separation there is!  And the more separation there is, the more shame and rejection there is for the disciples of Christ!

Now, as I’ve said before, there’s no expiatory work done, no covering, no atonement – in the suffering of His disciples.  And this is so important, now.  I really don’t know if there’s any one thing more important for you to know in your Christian life than this – although there is no atonement for anybody because of our suffering in Christ, Jesus irrevocably links, here in verse thirty-nine, receiving the cross and following behind Him with finding or losing one’s life!

Let’s read it:  First – verse thirty-eight, which we’ve been studying:  “And he who isn’t taking his cross and following behind Me isn’t My worthy one.”  Now verse thirty-nine:  “He who has found his life will ruin it, and he who ruins his life on My account will find it.”

Now, the word “ruin” which I’ve used in the translation is “utter ruin.”  It’s the same word as utter destruction that’s been used before.  And I remind you that there is no termination or annihilation with God.  When God’s Word uses a term like this it’s always in the context of the continuation of God’s wrath eternally.  So terms such as utter ruin and utter destruction must include the ideas of eternal death and abandonment, and with an awareness of those things being punishment!

But back to my last premise:  Jesus now at verse thirty-nine, irrevocably links receiving the cross and following Him with finding or losing (ruining) one’s life!  How does His disciple receive the cross (which is the suffering of Christ) and follow Him?  By “utterly ruining” his life on account of Him!

The finder of his life is the one who utterly ruins it!  But the one who utterly ruins his life, on account of Christ, finds it! Now that’s a difficult concept to hold onto, isn’t it?  But I think that if you’ll follow me into a discussion of the word “life” here, the whole thing will become much clearer.

Jesus says that “he who has found his life will ruin it, and he who ruins his life on My account will find it.”  The word that He uses is the Greek word Psuche’, from which comes our word “psyche.”  And Psuche’ is neither – exactly – the English word “life”, nor the English word “soul”, although it seems that we have to choose one.  And I’ve chosen “life” for a number of reasons.

But Psuche’ faces two directions.  It animates the body (Psuche’ always refers to the body, but it usually is translated “soul”), and it contains the ego and the pneuma – the “I” and the “spirit.”

It’s generally accepted also that the Hebrew word “nephesh” is the reflexive term “self” in the Old Testament.  But the Greek word is always put in its place!  Psuche’ is always inserted (soul)!  But when Jesus uses this word, here, I have no doubt in my mind that it’s the reflexive “self” that He meant!

Now, it’s hard to translate Scripture like this in English, but let’s try it with our new words and definitions – starting with thirty-eight: 


“…and he who isn’t willingly submitting himself to suffering in My Name isn’t responding with the same weight as the Gospel which is preached!  He who has found his “self” will utterly ruin it, and he who utterly ruins his “self” on My account will find it.”


The Greek word “find” here is eureka!  A discovery!  So a finder, a discoverer, of one’s Psuche’ – his self – is the one who, frightened of physical suffering and pain and humiliation and death (which is here called “the cross”) succeeds in warding off all of that by denying Christ!  He will not submit to any of that suffering on account of Him, thereby denying His King!  In not submitting to Christ’s suffering, he refuses to acknowledge publicly that the King has come and submitting to Him!

You see, it’s the refusal to submit to the suffering of Christ that reveals the true nature of the “self!”  The one who discovers his “self” doesn’t want to submit that “self” to pain and humiliation for Christ.  But – the loser (destroyer, killer) of the “self” is the one who, although frightened of physical suffering and death, does not deny Christ, but publicly acknowledges Him and receives the persecution and humiliation!  In losing (killing, ruining) his “self” he finds it!

In losing the self in the suffering and death of Christ, he actually finds it!  And is this not the full manifestation of the divisions and separations brought by the Sword of Christ?  Not only do we have to suffer the loss of society and friends and even family, but the Sword of Christ pierces so deeply that there is a separation of self!!

If we shelter the self and keep it from confrontation and pain and humiliation and death, we will utterly ruin it.  And the reverse is also true – by acknowledging Him publicly and suffering with Him and in Him, the self is found!

The true loss of self in the suffering and humiliation of Christ isn’t found in waiting for some supreme act of surrender at the end; nor is it in some initial act of submission and yielding at the beginning of the Christian life!  The Sword of Christ separates the self from the beginning, and it’s a day by day process of slaying the self – dying to self and living to Christ.

And, you see, it’s the suffering of our Lord that we must participate in!  We don’t live in Him in order to just receive the “pleasant” things – we live in Him in order to share His suffering!  You see, the power is in the resurrected Lord Who suffered and died for us and Who shares His suffering with us!  You can’t have one without the other!  You can’t expect to be better than He is and decline to share His suffering and humiliation!

And that’s because in “bearing the cross” we become the companions of Christ!  The power of the suffering servant of God is such that when we join with Him in those sufferings it is said that we share in the “fellowship of the suffering of Christ.”  Or we experience a “communication of the death and suffering of Christ.”

So the Christian under persecution – the believer whose life is beset from all sides because of His identification with Christ – the one who publicly defends the Son of God with word and life, and whose life is thereby in shame and humiliation because of it – has to be ready to “embrace the fellowship of the Cross of Christ as a special favor from God,” knowing that Christ regards such sufferings as His Own!  This is suffering in common with Christ – sharing from Christ – and he is made a partaker of Christ’s shame and affliction!

And that’s exactly what the apostle Paul says in Colossians chapter one verse twenty-four:  “I Paul am made a minister… who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the Church….”

And this participation in all that Christ is is what Calvin calls “feeding upon Christ through faith.”  We actually become one in him and feed off Who He is and what He is.  And feed from the afflictions of God’s Son.

And the visible representation of that union in Him is the Lord’s table, which, in a minute, we’ll celebrate.  The figure is the sign and seal of covenantal union in the One Who came to save us.  In His body is our life!  And if we find our “self” we shall utterly ruin it.  But if we destroy the “self” for His sake and live in the Power of His body, then we shall find it.

So that very critical link between verse thirty-eight and thirty-nine, that’s so important to your life is this:  Bearing our cross means following behind Jesus in all His suffering – receiving a share in Him.  And when we gladly receive His suffering – without fear of open acknowledgement of His person, then we utterly ruin (slay, kill, destroy) the self; and discover the self!