Then he [Jesus] said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
The call to follow Christ is one of the main things that separates Christianity from all the other religions. In the other world religions, you’re called to embrace a set of beliefs or standards that were set down by the founder.
In Christianity, the main focus is committing yourself to an ongoing relationship with a person. When you become a follower of Jesus there are some teachings to believe, but the heart and soul of Christianity is getting to know a person who loves you and who wants to become intimately involved with your life. That person is the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). God’s glory refers to all that he’s revealed about himself. God is holy, too holy to ignore sin or tolerate sin in his presence.
From his perspective, sin is more than just casually breaking some of God’s laws. Ultimately, it’s a rebellion against the Lord and his right to rule over us. It’s saying, I want to call the shots. I want to control my own destiny. I want to sit on the throne of my heart and reign as the King of my life. Consequently, when we come to Christ, we need to receive his forgiveness, but we also need to turn away from our self-centered approach to life because Jesus has a better way for us to live.
What does it mean to follow Christ? In Luke 9:23, Jesus is saying that if you want to follow me, you’ve got to do it on my terms and not your terms! He’s reminding us that there are times when our desires will come into conflict with what God desires and when that happens, we need to say “no” to ourselves, and “yes” to what God wants for our lives.
For example, when you’re faced with a sticky situation and you think you could cleverly get out of it by lying, you don’t do it, because God tells us in his word to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). When you’re single and your hormones are raging, you don’t engage in pre-marital sex, because the Bible says, in First Thessalonians 4:3: “It is God’s will … that you should avoid sexual immorality.”
When someone hurts you and you’re tempted to retaliate out of anger, God says, don’t do it. Because, according to James 1:20, “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Or when you’re working on your taxes, you resist the temptation to cheat, because you know that, as a Christian, you answer to a higher authority than the IRS!
God’s principles in the scripture are not there to make us miserable — they’re to make us more like Christ. When Jesus talked about carrying your cross, he wasn’t referring to an expensive piece of jewelry. As we have seen, in the first century, whenever you saw a man carrying a cross, the bottom line is, he was on his way to die. Crucifixion was the most painful and degrading form of capital punishment in the ancient world. The cross was a person’s appointed place of death.
The pain of crucifixion was so great they had to invent a new word to describe it. It’s the word “excruciating,” which literally means “out of the cross.” The victim’s death was hastened by a loss of blood circulation, suffocation, and heart failure. Needless to say, going to the cross was a very painful thing!
What is the cross that you have to carry?
It’s not your job.
It’s not your spouse.
It’s not a mean teacher at school.
It’s not your mother in law.
It’s not a financial shortage or a health problem.
You could say, the cross is the point at which your will and God’s will cross. Every day we’re faced with all kinds of choices whether we’ll do things our way or God’s way. In fact, when Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane, just before he died, he prayed to God and said, “Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me.” The cup was a picture of his suffering on the cross. Then Jesus went on and said, “Nevertheless, it’s not my will, but yours be done.”
When Jesus said those words, he was choosing the way of the cross, fully knowing that the way of the cross would cost him everything! So what’s the modern equivalent to crucifixion? If Jesus was speaking today, perhaps he’d say, if you really want to follow me, then you’ve got to take up your electric chair, or your lethal injection, or your firing squad or gas chamber, and come and follow me.
However, if you think about it, there are big differences between then and now.
Today, a condemned criminal is strapped down and injected with poisons. Or, the person is secured to a chair, and subjected to a surge of electricity. The circumstances are highly controlled, and death is swift and predictable. In contrast, the crucifixions of the first century were much more painful than that, and the agony lasted for a lot longer time.
In some cases, when people were crucified, they were left on the cross for days, while the body rotted away, which enabled birds to come and ravage the corpse even more.
Isn’t it amazing that when Jesus was trying to describe what it meant to follow him, that he chose the image of a cross to explain what it’s all about? And isn’t it amazing that the cross is the most popular symbol of Christianity today? Because, the cross literally was an instrument of death.
Why did Jesus use the cross as a picture of authentic Christianity? He’s referring to total commitment. He’s talking about walking with him and carrying your cross all the way to your own execution.
So many people advertise the Christian gospel as a basically selfish one. Their message is: Come to Jesus and get health, wealth, happiness, prosperity, love, blessings, and everything you’ve ever wanted. In contrast, the message of Jesus is to come to me and give me your heart. This is the way to an abundant life here on earth and eternal life with him forever.
Even today, the sceptics remain. John Stott comments: “One of the saddest features of Islam is that it rejects the cross, declaring it inappropriate that a major prophet of God should come to such an ignominious end. The Koran sees no need for the sin-bearing death of a Saviour…. Hindus also, though they can accept its historicity, reject its saving significance” (Page 40-42, Stott). Another example of skepticism is found in the Unification Church which proclaims that Jesus’ mission was a failure and the cross was of no effect.
In stark contrast to that, the New Testament writers not only declare the immense value of Jesus’ death; they boldly proclaim that Jesus’ life didn’t end there. He was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and on the third day rose again, victorious over death and all the evil forces arrayed against him. Jesus is alive today and his Spirit gladly enters into the hearts of those who receive him by faith.
Thank you Jesus for dying for me on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins. Today, I pause to declare that you are the Master and Leader of my life and out of love for you, I choose the way of the cross. I am grateful that you will never let me go! I surrender all that I am and all that I have to you. I belong to you now. Please fill me with the power of your Spirit, so that I may live a life pleasing to you.
Are you willing to carry your cross today?