What Is Your Cross?
Jesus once said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) This notion of “taking up your cross” has been understood as taking on some burden that is unpleasant or undesirable, but must be tolerated. Most commonly referred to by people in this way: “It’s the cross that I must bear”.
I invite you to go beyond this “Oh woe is me” mentality of self-promotion. (Look at me and the great burden that I must shoulder in my life.) Into actually understanding what Jesus was talking about. And how that truth relates to your life.
First, let’s look at the context of Jesus’ words. He was talking to his disciples, whom had recently returned from their first internship. As they were trying to get away with Jesus, to review the lessons learned on their internship, they encountered a large crowd. Jesus took time to teach and to heal and then we read of the miracle of the loaves and fish. Jesus fed over five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish.
After this, Jesus asked the disciples who the people thought he was. He then asked the disciples who they though he was. Peter, speaking for the disciples, correctly answered that Jesus was God’s Messiah. To which Jesus commanded them to keep this truth a secret.
Jesus then gave the disciples their first lesson on just who God’s Messiah really is. Not the warrior king come to rescue Israel from Rome. But the suffering servant that would be betrayed, arrested, tried, killed and then on the third day be raised from the dead.
This is the context into which Jesus speaks the words, “Deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”. The disciples are still reeling from the news that the one in whom they have literally invested their lives, is going to be arrested, tried, killed and then resurrected on the third day. Reeling from the juxtaposition between what they had been taught all their lives and the truth that Jesus just dropped on them. I believe that Jesus words mean so much more than simply carrying some sort of unpleasant or undesirable burden in your life.
At the time that Jesus was speaking, nobody knew that he was going to die by crucifixion. This method of capital punishment, to be nailed to two pieces of wood in the shape of a cross until you were dead, was reserved for the worst of the worst in Roman society. A person being crucified died because, in time, they lost the ability and the strength to hold their rib cage up off of their lungs. Thus, they lost the ability to breathe and they died because of asphyxiation.
For Jesus to refer to “their cross” that the disciples would have to “take up” in order to follow him, would have been seen as a gruesome and grotesque representation of the Roman occupation. It would have conjured up images of not only criminals, but also of the cruelty of Israel’s occupiers. For it was a death penalty for people who committed crimes against the empire.
Thus, it’s probably a good guess that this statement by Jesus so perplexed the disciples that they didn’t even know how to ask a clarifying question about its meaning. For they were totally silent in response. In fact, after this teaching of Jesus, Luke records that it was “About eight days” until the next teachable story.
So, being that nobody, besides Jesus, knew that Jesus was going to die on a cross. And knowing that the mere suggestion of a cross would conjure up images of occupation, criminals, pain, suffering and death in the minds of the disciples. What could Jesus’ reference possibly mean?
Think about this fact for a second. If Jesus came and taught all that he taught. Healed all that he healed. And performed every miracle that he performed. But then died of natural causes, he would have been a great guy. Conversely, if all Jesus did was come and die on the cross and on the third day rise again from the dead, he would be our Lord and Savior.
The cross was Jesus’ purpose for being. Not that his teachings and his healings and his miracles weren’t good. But his death and resurrection were great. Jesus came to die. Jesus came to pay the price for our sins. All of the rest was the proverbial icing on the cake.
If you understand that the cross was Jesus’ purpose for living. Than when Jesus commanded that his disciples (that’s you) “take up their crosses daily and follow me”, he isn’t talking about dying a horrific death at the hands of the Roman authorities. He’s not talking about some burden that is unpleasant or undesirable that must be shouldered. Jesus is inviting you to discover your purpose for being. To be who God has created, called and gifted you to be. And commanding that you be it, every single day of your life.
Follow Jesus as your example, your teacher, your guide, your Lord and your Savior. Because he took up his cross, you have the possibility of being all that God has created you to be. For you are free from the burden of sin and guilt and death.