Matt 16 context Jesus just basically slapped the Pharisees and Sadducees upside the head.
He warns the disciples to beware of the leaven of the religious. (A little leaven leavens the whole lump.).
Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ and Jesus says upon this rock I will build my church.
Jesus then predicts his Death and resurrection, and he says in v21 that he would go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, scribes, be killed, and then be raised on the third day.
Peter tells him no way, and Jesus rebukes him.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life on account of me will find it.”
There's 3 things there, deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.
“And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
There's a thought some have in the Christian human experience where they say something along the lines of... the cross carrying thing makes sense Jesus is saying you're going to have to suck it up, like He had to suck it up. The burdens of the life that come your way, that "cross", just accept them, be a good soldier and carry that stuff onward. The circumstances your facing just carry the heavy weight and push through it, like Jesus did... pick up that heavy thing and carry it on your back, Jesus had to do it, so... so do you.
This was some serious weight, jesus had just predicted all the abuse and suffering he was about to face from the religious leaders. Later he was in the garden before he was betrayed, sweating drops of blood, and he prayed "let this cup pass over me if possible, but nevertheless not my will but your will be done."
It's a lot of weight jesus carried, therefore you're going to have to carry some weight too...right? Sounds like a good logical conclusion.
However, this creates an issue, as God can't contradict himself and just a few chapters earlier Jesus says;
“Take my yoke on you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to carry and my burden is light.””
Hmmmm. Is Jesus speaking in parables again? On one hand we have extreme weight to the point of sweating blood, and the other hand a burden that is easy and light. Opposites. Maybe the Bible is bull...
“He made the one who did not know sin to be sin on our behalf, in order that we could become the righteousness of God in him.”
Exchange. Jesus who had no sin, became sin. He was spotless, but took our blemishes. He had no disease, but he carried our disease, he no reason to fear, but carried our fears, he had no hurts, be he carried our hurts, our pains, all our burdens, and sorrows, he had no worry, but he carried our worries. All our concerns, wrongs, bad attitudes, our gossip slander, our lack, every area we fall short or "Miss the mark", he hit the mark perfectly, and then he carried our short comings.
“who himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we may die to sins and live to righteousness, by whose wounds you were healed.”
“However, he was the one who lifted up our sicknesses, and he carried our pain, yet we ourselves assumed him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted. But he was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his wounds we were healed.”
Jesus' hands were empty. He was blameless. No blood on his hands. But He took in his hands all our junk, and carried it. He bore the burden on his own body and walked the junk to the crucifixion. He wasn't carrying his own, for he was spotless, he carried stuff that belonged to someone else, he took it upon himself and carried it. His cross wasn't weighted by his stuff or any of his own personal issues of life, his cross was weighted with someone else's stuff and someone else's burdens.
Galatians. 3:13 "...he became a curse for us..."
If Someone takes a $100 bill from your hand and puts it in their pocket and walks off, you no longer have that $100 bill in your possession. No matter what you think in your mind, no matter how many times you put your hand in your pocket to see if it's still there, that $100 is gone! Means 2 things, the $100 is gone, and your hand which used to be holding a $100 is now empty.
Likewise, all the junk Jesus took from our hand, he bore on himself and destroyed it... the junk is no longer in our possession. No more pet rocks. We're not meant to carry a burden Jesus already bore. It's a trick of the enemy to make us think we have to carry something that someone else already carried. All the junk is gone, it's been exchanged. Where disease was, now healing comes, where lack was now abundance comes, where sin was now righteousness (wrong choices now right choices), where fighting, fear anxiety, now comes peace, where sadness sorrow depression, now comes joy, where hatred and anger, now comes love, kindness, where self centered perspective, now comes a selfless perspective.
So what does he mean then "deny yourself and carry your cross and follow him"?
He means follow his MODEL. Be Christ like, like how he took upon himself someone else's problems and burdens, you likewise, help someone else and bare their burdens... pick up the weight of what their going through and help them carry it to the foot of the cross and then point them to Jesus and what he did for them.
“Carry the burdens of one another, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
“We love, because he first loved us.”
Our "cross" is not our junk. Jesus took care of our junk at his cross, so we could pick up our own "cross" and bare someone else's burden, like he did for us. When we engage in that selflessness and "lay down our lives" and then demonstrate Gods love, we find life. We find Purpose to help people ditch the junk and bring them into the kingdom by leading them to Jesus.
"...For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life on account of me will find it.”