Take Up Your Cross
By Kasey Knowlton
“…If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” - Luke 9:23-25
For much of Christian culture today, the cost of following Jesus involves giving up a little time on a Sunday morning, sitting in an air-conditioned building, and sipping coffee while attempting to follow along with the sermon on a smart phone. These comforts and amenities of Western culture have lulled the Church to sleep. The command to “deny yourself” has seemingly been replaced with the tenets of a consumer-driven society; that is, to consume content in a comfortable environment and then head back home. This is more like a movie theater than a church and is hardly what Jesus had in mind.
To follow after Jesus, we are told that we must deny ourselves and “take up [our] cross daily.” The impact of this is lost on us, living so many centuries after crucifixion was outlawed. But for the Jews of Jesus’ day, this would have immediately conjured up images of pain and torture. They would have witnessed many crucifixions at that time. Most victims of crucifixion were first stripped naked and scourged, then made to carry a cross beam to the place of their eventual death, assuming they hadn’t died already from the severe whipping. What possessions they had on them, including clothing, were divided up among the soldiers performing the grisly act, after the victim had been tied or nailed in place to the cross beams. It is widely believed most people died from asphyxiation, unable to lift up their body enough to take in oxygen. Once deceased, family members could only remove and bury the body if given permission by Roman officials, and then only if the body hadn’t first been devoured by wild animals. It is no mystery, then, given the tortures of crucifixion, that the word “excruciating” was spawned, meaning, “out of the cross.”
The verses in Luke go on to say, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” It is human nature to seek self-preservation, is it not? Here, Christ is saying that one must be willing to give up His life in order to be saved. We follow Christ to Calvary in order to find salvation. The theological implications here are the basis for the gospel itself. As it states in Romans 10:9 – “…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” We trust in the works of Christ for our salvation with the understanding that following Him will cost us something, perhaps even our lives. It’s interesting to note that all but one of the disciples abandoned Jesus before His death on the cross. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 21:20), was the only apostle present at Christ’s crucifixion. He is also, based on history and tradition, the only one of the twelve to die of old age. All the other disciples were martyred for their faith. (This is not to discount the sufferings John endured for the faith, or to suggest that the other apostles died due to their abandonment of Christ, for all still lost their lives due to their faith. As the verses say, “but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”)
It is important to note that taking up our crosses to follow Jesus requires intentionality. It is an act of will, an on-purpose break with the cultural expectations of security, comfort, and convenience. It won’t happen without great effort. In taking up our crosses, we are giving up our entire lives to His service, which means that He is not only our Lord at church, but that He is over our entire calendar. I wonder how many of today’s church attendees who claim they will lay down their lives for Christ then become embittered if the service runs long? Christianity is not something we do certain days of the week. As the verse reminds us, we are to take up our crosses daily and follow Him. This may mean investing our time serving in our local church, discipling children, doing missionary work, or meeting the needs of orphans and widows. Scripture tells us that “…we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Taking up our crosses means giving our best in whatever the Lord has for us. In choosing the cross, we are giving up our lives to the cause of Christ. Mark 12:30 states, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” We are “taking up” our crosses, meaning we are willingly following our Lord, giving our lives, all that we are. It is not a half-hearted attempt to just be good people. To follow Jesus, we give all that we are, our very best, because Christ gave His all for us. “For while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
But we must also take up our crosses in the smaller moments of life, too. In my own self-examination of “dying daily,” I realize that I frequently grumble due to my discontentment over facing life’s inconveniences. Whether it be the frustrations of bad traffic, having trouble sleeping, something breaking that needs to be replaced – I’m embarrassed to say that I often whine in the same spirit as one of my young children. Certainly, we should rejoice in all that the Lord has blessed us with, including our modern conveniences. As it says in James 1:17, “Every good…and…perfect gift is from above.” But as Christ followers, we are not promised comfort or convenience. We should remember as much when life gets difficult.
I’d challenge anyone reading this today to seriously examine your life before the Lord. How are we being intentional with taking up your cross? Are there any hardships or adversities in our lives for being a Christ follower? Are we giving of our time and energies to the Lord? Are we doing it willingly, without complaint, giving our best? If not, perhaps it’s time to take a hard look at why this is the case. And as we do suffer hardship for the Lord, let us not forget the words of Christ: “In this world you will have troubles. But be brave, for I have defeated the world!” (John 16:33).