Jesus said, “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.” (Matt. 16:24-25).
The people of Jesus’ day understood exactly what this meant: The cross was the means to a violent and humiliating death. Jesus demands total commitment from his followers; you must be committed even to the point of death. Those who refuse will not be counted worthy to enter into eternal life (cf. Matt. 10:38).
John Piper made the following observation:
It is a strange thing that, among folks who do not follow Jesus as their Lord and God, almost no one wants to say bad things about him. The same thing is true of crosses: They are nice to wear for jewelry, but nobody wants to die on one. The only crosses people want are domesticated ones. It makes sense, then, that a man who calculated his whole life to die on one would be dangerous to believe in.
- Piper, John. Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004. p. 118.