Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25
Jesus was born into a world where his people were oppressed by a vicious and violent empire. His world was full of turmoil and division. The Zealots believed that God was calling them to violent overthrow of the Roman government. The Sadducees believed that following a strict reading of the Mosaic Law would bring prosperity. There were countless other competing ideas: the Pharisees strict piety, the Samaritans tribal regionalism, the Hellenists drive to imitate the Greeks.
Into this world, Jesus came. Satan himself tempted Jesus from the beginning to display his power and dominate the world with his authority. The Pharisees and the Zealots and the Samaritans all sought to influence him. In this world of political and social and ideological turmoil, Jesus taught that the kingdom of God was something different.
God’s kingdom does not overcome through violent oppression, fearful intimidation or divisive hatred. God’s kingdom, Jesus said, was a kingdom built on loving God and loving others.
When the violent oppressors of Rome and Judea arrested Jesus and executed him by torturing him on a cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus went to the cross because he knew his sacrifice was the only way to begin this kingdom of God.
In Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, God began His program of changing the world through changing one heart at a time, through faith and hope and love. When we accept Christ as our Savior, we join God’s kingdom and His plan to save the world by saving us. And we commit ourselves to doing it the way Jesus did, through loving sacrifice and selfless service.