Jesus said we must take up our cross and follow Him, but what does that look like in real life?
Before we take up our cross, we must deny ourselves, because we can’t bend down and take up our cross until we first deny our own agenda in life. You can’t profess Christ until you deny yourself, and when you confess Christ, believe me, people will take notice, and they might deny knowing you because you belong to Christ. But that’s part of what it means to carry the cross. Persecution usually follows after a public profession of Christ. Your friends can’t understand what’s happened to you, but that’s because they’re still blinded by the god of this world (2nd Cor 4:3-4), and they haven’t yet been quickened by the Spirit of God (Eph 2:1-5), but if we are not willing to die to ourselves and live for Christ, then it’s going to be exceedingly difficult to take up our cross. Our flesh will fight us all the way (Rom 7:18-19). Only until we decide to have the funeral….the funeral of our own self-will, can we ever hope to take up our cross and follow Christ. Have the funeral. Trust in Christ. Deny yourself, and then take up your cross.
Take it Up
Jesus’ disciples must have been shocked when He told them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 15:24). They understood the horror of the cross, probably being witness to hundreds who were crucified in Jerusalem. Almost everyone knew about the cross at that time because the Roman’s placed the crucified bodies near the high traffic areas, like near roadways, so it would serve to be a deterrent to crime or rebellion, so the disciples, like most of us, probably struggle with this command, perhaps not even knowing what it means. It sounds very much like a call to action since it is we who must “take up” our cross. Jesus cannot do that for us, nor can anyone else. It must be us who take it up, meaning, we must bend down to receive it, and being on our knees is a great place to be to receive Christ. And while we’re down there, we must take up the cross, stand up, and carry it through our lives. If that weren’t bad enough, Jesus then tells us, “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:38). Doesn’t that get your attention? It does mine, so the first way we can take up our cross is to bend down in humble submission to the Lord, Jesus Christ, and take our cross. It is only after this that we can follow Him.
When we are told to take up our cross, notice that it’s our cross and not Jesus’ cross or someone else’s cross, so it’ll look different than someone else’s. Besides, it’s not wise to compare. The Apostle Paul wrote that we don’t “dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2nd Cor 10:12). Our own cross is unique to us. It might be losing a job because you refuse to “cook the books.” It might be someone telling lies about you because you trusted in Jesus Christ. Some of your family and friends will embrace this, but most will not. For other believers around the world, it could be the millions of who are being held prisoner and suffering torture or deprivation for the cause of Christ. That is what carrying the cross is. Carrying the cross is not having the washing machine break down, getting a flat tire, having someone take your parking space, or having a really bad day. The context of Jesus saying that we must take up our cross is persecution for His name’s sake. It has nothing to do with everything going wrong, but being willing to suffer shame for the sake of our Lord.
Have you ever noticed in the gospels that Jesus is always telling His chosen disciples, “Follow Me?” The amazing thing to me is they never stopped to think about it or ask Jesus, “Uh, Jesus, what will this cost me or how are we going to survive without jobs?’’ The Scriptures simply say that while Jesus was “walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matt 4:18-20). Did you catch that? They “immediately” left their nets, their boats, their family, their occupation, which was also their means of support. I find that incredible, but when Jesus calls you in Person, I suppose you follow…even immediately! For us, we follow Him by following His teachings and following what He commands the church to do (Matt 25:34-40). It’s not negotiable. His imperative commands demand that we “go into all the world” and “make disciples of all nations,” by teaching them the very same things He taught His disciples (Matt 28:18-20).
If we want to be His disciples, He calls you and me both to deny ourselves; to deny what we desire to do in life and replace it with a desire to do what He commands. Next, we must deny our nature and bend down to take up our cross and be willing to carry it when it becomes heavy laden with persecution. Also, we have to recognize that our cross will not be like our brother or sister’s cross. Some have a heavier burden than others, and we shouldn’t compare our burden with others, thinking ours is heavier that theirs. And finally, we must follow Him, and following Him includes daily dying to the self, carrying that cross of persecution, and following Him…all the way into the Kingdom.