In John 9, Jesus tells us that there are three things that we HAVE to do to be his disciples. First He told them that they had to set aside their selfish ambitions. (Read Part One Here) Jesus is telling us that in order to be devoted to Him, we have to let go of all of our selfish hopes and dreams, we have to come to terms with our jealousy, and give up our demand to have our own way. Simply we have to deny ourselves, but that is not the only thing He instructs us to do. The second thing takes us to a deeper place of devotion, and Jesus’ instruction calls for us to give deep consideration to the cost before beginning the path of discipleship. Jesus says the second thing we MUST do is:
“…take up your cross…” Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, & Luke 9:23 (ESV)
When we talk about crosses in 2018, we get a much different impression than those that would have heard Jesus’ words on this day. We’ve grown up surrounded by crosses hanging in churches and the walls of our homes, they are made into window decals, earrings, clothing, and hang from many people’s necklaces. We place them on business cards, have them tattooed onto our bodies, or use them in photos on social media. Now, this isn’t always a bad thing, the cross for us has become a symbol of Christianity, a reminder of where Jesus died for our sins, but like most “icons” they can quickly become hollow images with little to no meaning to the beholder. The simple fact is, a cross is a torture device, an instrument for punishment and pain, and it was most often used in the act of execution. This is the picture Jesus’ followers would have imagined when He told them that they would not only have to deny themselves but that they would also have to face death.
The cross took on multiple meanings even to the disciples, many of whom actually died either on a cross or by other cruel means of execution for their faith. Yet, some did not face death in this way. This wasn’t a promise that each one of Jesus’ followers would be martyred for their faith, but that in becoming like Jesus, it would mean we all would have to die to our flesh, to embrace the way of suffering instead of comfort, and to find strength through Jesus in our weakness. Like the act of “denying yourself,” to die to the flesh was not a one-time event. The gospel’s of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus’ three commands in almost the same way, yet Luke points out something that Matthew and Mark do not. Luke’s account contains one word that the other two do not:
“take up your cross DAILY…” Luke 9:23 (ESV)
So, this action of taking up your cross has to be done each day, but what does that look like in the lives of Christians today? Does this mean we should drive to the lethal injection chambers or electric chairs, awaiting our turn to be executed, or does it mean something more? The idea of awaiting our own execution would make anyone second guess committing to a way of life, yet this was the picture Jesus was painting of following Him, to follow Him we have to be willing to give up all that we have and embrace the way He called us to live.
For some modern believers, it has cost them their lives. When I read of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the day of his execution, we see a man at peace with losing his life on earth for what he believed. The book of martyrs is full of similar stories, and while it is my prayer that the believers I know and love won’t have to endure the things these people went through, it should never be out of the question in our minds what we would do if faced with the circumstances they faced. We should be willing to lay down our lives for what we believe. Maybe we will never have to make that sacrifice, but one thing is for sure, when we look at the lives of those that paid this price, it wasn’t just a price they paid at the moment of their deaths. They, like the apostle Paul spent a life embracing God’s way of weakness, rejecting personal pride and laying down their lives daily to put God and His Kingdom before their own.
It was by embracing this lifestyle that Paul found a way to be content in every situation he found himself in. Contentment is an ideal that is lost on many of us. We are constantly striving to fulfill ourselves with temporary things, the Kingdom of God is built for those who know there is something more, and they are willing to die to all the other things in life, in order to find real life in Christ. This is what the bible means when it says:
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:25 (ESV)
Like Paul’s encouragement to be content, Charles Spurgeon once wrote:
“I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”
Spurgeon learned that if we reject our suffering we will quickly become bitter with God and with people, but if we learned to embrace it as a way of life, it will draw us into a deeper relationship with God that we can imagine. This is what Jesus meant when He told us we would have to take up our cross every day. Instead of gauging how much we are blessed or how much God loves us by our bank accounts, our convenient parking spots, or our perfect health today, we should allow the Spirit of God to do His work in us to keep us humble and near to God. Does this sound like a miserable life to you? This is the cost you will have to count before moving forward, but know this, God doesn’t call us to set aside ourselves and lose our lives for nothing. In fact, He returns more than we give, and what He gives is better than anything we could ever get on our own. Never forget the same God who calls us to give up everything to follow Him also says:
“Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (our needs) will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 (ESV)
There is one final command to consider as we count the cost, we will look at that in Part Three, but for now, let us consider how we can carry our cross today.
Grace and Peace to You
Continue to Part Three.