June 18, 2009

Taking Up Your Cross

I am currently reading “The Paradoxes of Jesus” by Ralph Sockman. I was drawn to the book because I often find myself struggling to apply scripture’s seemingly contradictory guidance.

Today the chapter addressed Jesus’ dying by choice. The excerpt read,

“Jesus said, “I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself (John 10:17-18)”. And when he stood before Pilate at his trial, he seems restrained by an inner compulsion rather than by the power of the Roman law or the Jewish mob.”

It is the concept of being “restrained by an inner compulsion” which captures my attention here. Jesus was often restrained by an inner compulsion. I realize that Jesus did not ‘take up his cross’ only on the day when the crossbeams were laid on his shoulders and he walked up the hill to Golgotha. Could it be that in silencing his human instincts Jesus took up his cross and died daily? Could this be what God intends when he instructs us to do the same? Luke 9:23 reads, “Then he said to them all: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

“TAKE UP YOUR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME.”

Are you familiar with this command? It is a sentiment frequently echoed in the minds of Christian disciples. During times of spiritual unrest when all seems impossible and we’re commanded to sacrifice or endure something insurmountable, in light of the cross nothing appears too difficult. When we reflect on this instruction we hear God’s voice saying, “I did it first. Now, I expect you to do the same.” It is the Christian equivalent of The Little Engine That Could chanting to himself, “I think I can. I think I can.” as he lunged up a steep hill pulling a heavy load of coal on rusty, worn-out wheels.

“Take up your cross and follow me.”

You memorize it.

You repeat it.

But do you understand it in a way that you are actually successful at accomplishing it?

In order to apply the command take up your cross (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23) in a practical way, I redefine it as “Be restrained by an inner compulsion, silence your human nature today, in this place so that God may have His way with you.”

Taking up one’s cross is hard to accomplish because it always means battling the most difficult hurdle or making the most costly personal sacrifice. This struggle is well depicted in an encounter between Jesus and a rich, young man in Mark chapter 10. When the young man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus responded, "One thing you lack," he said. "Go. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." But the man went away sad because he had great wealth. There was a barrier between the man granting a lord control over his life. That barrier was the almighty dollar (ever wonder why it is called that?). The man’s passion for his bank account was greater than any devotion he could offer to Jesus. Because he refused to die to the idol of money, he walked away a sad slave to it.

This is what we must identify, my friends, to what or to who are you most loyal? To your job? To your vanity? Materialism? Cigarettes? An affair? What constitutes the line drawn in the sand which you refuse to cross should Jesus ask you to? This very question might be the key to your salvation.

In my adolescence the line I drew in the sand was public identification as a Christian. For five years I negotiated with God whether or not I would get publicly baptized. I remember those negotiations vividly. Eventually I ‘came out’ formally as a Christian at 13 and was publicly baptized. Swallowing my pride, confronting my fear and crossing that line secured my salvation because up to that point my public image was of most importance to me and it was a public persona which hid my relationship with Christ. Jesus was elevated to his proper place as Lord the day I publicly identified with Him. I know personally that being born again requires an initial form of dying.

So, what are you refusing God? Please consider this important question. There is a dying to be accomplished and without dying there is no resurrection to eternal life.

Here are examples of how it was done in Jesus’ day . . .

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers; Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.” When Simon and Andrew took up their ‘cross’; their livelihood died since they were fishermen and left their nets in order to follow Jesus.

“Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-22) When James and John took up their ‘cross’; their attachment to possessions and to family died because they abandoned their boat and their father in order to follow Jesus.

I realize that taking up your cross isn’t always as dramatic and monumental as the initial hearing of the command suggests. It doesn’t necessarily imply martyrdom, public persecution, and ruin of livelihood or reputation, but most of time it means that in some way, you must die to your personal will so that God may have His will instead.

Taking up your cross means crossing all the lines you have drawn in the sand between you and God. It means opening your fists and relinquishing anything you have been clutching to keep yourself in control. Taking up your cross is an active, personal choice. It is not comfortable. It is deliberate. It is the act of a sincere servant and it is the example of Jesus.

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