Each month we’ll be hearing from one of our Regional Ministers, to encourage us along the way as we continue empowering missional disciples in our communities across the West of England.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
The cross means different things to different people. From a piece of jewellery and for others it is a symbol of their commitment to Christ. For Christians around the world, the cross is an experience, it takes the form of daily and life-threatening persecution.
For every Christian, the beauty and brutality of the cross is an inescapable reality. I believe the way of the cross is about Christian discipleship. Discipleship means forsaking everything to follow Christ.
Take up Your Cross
In Christ’s definition of discipleship in Luke 9:23, the things he mentions cannot be separated from each other and are not progressive steps in the Christian life.
If he had intended a progression, we would have expected him to put “follow me” first, then the matter of self-denial, and perhaps lastly the matter of taking up his cross. That is not what Jesus is doing, He is spelling out everything that being his disciple entails: (1) self-denial, (2) taking up the cross, and (3) following.
Marked by the Cross
In times of persecution, those who are becoming Christians count the cost carefully before taking up Christ’s cross. They are not offered false promises of an easy life. This is so different to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” saying, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.”
The Cross a Dangerous Choice
Those who first heard these words and decided to follow Jesus had already made a risky choice. It was a perilous time in Roman occupied Israel. Jesus’ followers knew he was the Messiah, and they thought that meant Jesus would soon be overthrowing the oppressors, restoring the temple, and establishing a new kingdom. But instead of defeating the Romans, Jesus ended up crucified. And his followers were left with a command to exchange their dreams for a cross. Through Jesus’ crucifixion, He makes it clear that following him is not without cost. In fact, it is a dangerous choice that inevitably leads to death.
Jesus calls us to a Crucified life
Jesus’ life and death show us that the cross is not optional, taking up one’s cross is required for all who follow Jesus Christ.
So what are our crosses we are to bear? They are not simply trials or hardships. Or even suffering, illnesses, or disabilities cannot properly be called crosses. A cross is a choice. We take up our cross when we walk in Christ’s steps and embrace his life, forsaking our wants for the sake of the gospel.
Cross-bearing involves prayer and Bible study, as these are necessary for discipleship. Cross-bearing also involves what Jesus listed in Matthew 25:31-46: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, receiving the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the one who is in prison. These things involve denying ourselves time, money, and convenience, even when our efforts seem utterly fruitless.
Following Jesus in Cross-bearing
There is only one purpose for a cross, and that is to put the crucified person to death. Death on a cross is a slow death, but it is a certain one, and there is no escaping that for Christ’s true followers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died for his commitment to Christ, understood this principle. He wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
If that is what “the way of the cross” means, why would anyone take up their cross and do it?
The only thing that way a person can become a cross-bearer of self-denial and discipleship is fixing our eyes on Jesus and what he has done for us. Jesus is our only model for self-denial. He is the very image of cross-bearing. And it is for love of him and a desire to be like him that we take up our cross and willingly follow him.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
As you think about your life, past and present, in what ways have you walked the way of the cross? Are there ways you are loving people even as Christ loved you and gave himself up for you? When have you received this kind of sacrificial love from others?
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, for your supreme act of love through Christ, I give you thanks and praise. O Lord Jesus, thank you for loving me and giving up yourself for me. Teach me, Lord, how to love others in this way. Help me when I rather not love so sacrificially and open my heart to those around me.
May I come to see my life, my whole life, as one big opportunity to glorify you, to live for the praise of your glory. Amen.