Take Up Your Cross

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must 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 for me and for the gospel will save it.”
(Mark 8:34-35)

This teaching of Jesus comes on the heels of Peter’s rebuke to Him over Jesus’ prediction of His death and in turn, Jesus’ rebuke to Peter due to his thoughts and affections pointing toward that of man’s rather than God’s. How easy for us to think like Peter! But Jesus calls us into a different way of thinking. He begins here by sharing with the crowd and His disciples this very important truth: If you want to follow me, you must deny self. What? Deny myself? Surely I heard wrong! No, Jesus is clear, if I desire to be His follower along this road called life, I must deny myself. His will over mine. He is to be Master and Lord over my life. All are invited to come after Him and follow in His way, but the cost is self denial.

“As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the LORD.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”
-Ezekiel 33:30-32

Jesus also calls us to bear a cross. What crosses has He allowed you to carry? One thing I am sure we can all agree on is that pain is everywhere. No one escapes its vast reach. But Jesus says to take it up. Why? There are many possible reasons for this command, but I believe one of the reasons is that He desires for us to go through these trials (crosses) with joy so that through His power we can be a witness to a hurting world. It is simply supernatural to embrace with joy what He allows, knowing it is for our good and His glory. There is a vast difference between suffering through a cross and enduring it with joy, confident of the outcome. It is said of Jesus in Hebrews 12:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)

Jesus turned the world upside down with His teaching: “Turn the other cheek;” “Go the extra mile;” “Love your enemies;” “Pray for those who persecute you.” All these seem easy when compared with “If you want to save your life, you must lose it.” It sounds like a dreadful experience, but in reality it is the very essence of abundant life. You will never be able to out give God.

Take It to Heart

The call is for all who will follow. Jesus desires more than lip service, emotional fervor, or even our deeds–He wants us. He wants to empower us to embrace with joy what He allows–confident of His love for us and certain that He will work all things out for our good.