Take Up Your Cross
I've always thought that this statement by Jesus is very interesting. It doesn't really seem that strange to us (despite big cultural differences) because Jesus died on a cross, making that image very familiar to us. Because the cross has become the symbol of our salvation, I think it makes it more difficult to really understand how the disciples probably reacted to what Jesus was saying here. The cross had no connotation of salvation for them at this point: it was merely a cultural image of shame, punishment, and gore that only the worst people were subjected to. And here Jesus says to "take up your cross"! "Walk to your execution! Go! Die to follow me!" This must have been very shocking to them.
Also, I want to take a minute to be a little pastor-nerdy here and talk about what's going on in the Greek in this passage. Please understand: you can definitely understand completely clearly what the Bible and this passage says without knowing the original languages, but sometimes knowing them reveals things that are easier to miss in English or get lost in translation. The point of interest here is in the three verbs: ἀρνησάσθω (deny oneself), ἀράτω (take up one's cross), and ἀκολουθείτω (follow [Jesus]). The first two verbs are in the greek "aorist" tense (think in english past, present, future), which is basically a tense that is general. The author is making no statement about when or how the verb acts, only that it is in this case an imperative (command) to do something. The final verb, however, to "follow Jesus" is in the PRESENT tense, a tense that often indicates CONTINUOUS action. So what does that mean? "This means that discipleship involves the fundamental commitment of self-denial and bearing one’s cross, while the call to follow Jesus is constant, growing out of the base commitments."  (bolding mine) I find in interesting the things that grammar can sometimes convey. <End of Pastoral nerdiness>
Bock summarizes the rest of the passage nicely:
"Verse 24 summarizes the point nicely. If you try to save your life by preserving yourself from the opposition of the world and/or by accommodating yourself to the world, what results is loss of real life. On the other hand, if you are willing to lose your life for the sake of the things of God, then what you save is real life. In the ancient world, choosing for Jesus meant certain opposition from people in the world. That opposition might express itself in the type of scorn Jesus saw, the type of ridicule the early church faced, beatings such as Paul experienced, or even death such as Stephen faced. The Christian faith was new and, in its Jewish context, was a threat to well-established traditions. If someone desired popularity and acceptance, he or she did not accept Christ. But the cost of popular acclaim was great, since the choice meant forfeiting the opportunity of salvation. Only those willing to line up with God and face popular rejection would respond to the gospel and enter into life. Thus, from the beginning, the choice of Jesus had built into it a sense of going a different way." 
This concept was absolutely life changing for me when I was in High School. Though it's simple, one of the most spiritually-forming books I read in my early Christian years was "Jesus Freaks: Stories of Those Who Stood for Jesus". If anyone wants to borrow it, let me know!
 Ibid, 266.