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Friday, March 30, 2012

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me

Then Jesus said to them all: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it.”  (Luke 9:23-24) 

Those words of Jesus warn us that suffering in some form is part of the ministry of Christ.  What does it mean for us to take up our cross and follow Jesus?  How do we do this and what would our “cross” look like?

Every person alive suffers pain, disappointment and troubles.  This cross that Jesus asks us to take up is not the cross of suffering that we all face by just being human. But rather this cross is about a special suffering that comes from following Jesus.

What does Jesus mean here by saying that we “must deny ourselves”?  The spirit of this world projects a strong message that we should strive to be important, and that we should act that out, use impression management, etc.  I have known Christians in leadership who have taken leadership classes where they were taught how to impress and intimidate.  One lesson they were taught was that if someone were to come to them with a request that the leader didn’t like, the leader could  intimidate the person by telling him/her that he was so angered by the request that he would need a cooling off period of two weeks before discussing the request. 

You see, to appear “important” in the eyes of others sometimes we have to play games that the Lord would not have us play!  But when we deny ourselves as Jesus calls us to do and we take the role of loving and serving, some people will not respect us.  I’ve seen it happen.  Is that what Jesus means when He calls us to take up our cross?         

 Jesus tried to tell his disciples why they would be persecuted -or why the cross.  Let’s listen:  “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you because you would be part of it.  But because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  …If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”  (John 15:18,19,& 20b)

Jesus seems to be telling us that His followers are set apart from the spirit of this world even though they are living in the world.  Scripture says that when we believe in Jesus we receive the Holy Spirit, and the spirit of this world is at odds with the Holy Spirit that is in us and guides us.  So we don’t fit or belong even though we may not recognize it, and sometimes we may experience persecution because of this unseen spiritual battle. 

Being a disciple of Christ can be costly.  Down through history there have been thousands of martyrs who have actually given up their lives in defense of the Word of God.  But those of us who live in countries where we are free to practice our faith and not fear martyrdom, can still suffer persecution. 

  In his book “Sources of Strength” p. 226, Jimmy Carter writes: “Living as Jesus commands is not easy and sometimes not even safe.  If we work every day for the Lord, speaking out against injustice and hatred, sharing what we have, and seeking opportunities to help those who cannot help themselves, we will probably not run the risk of losing our lives, as Jesus did, but we may suffer in other ways.  Maybe people will think we’re a little odd; maybe some will look down on us.  If we’re in business maybe we’ll lose a few customers, because some people may find that being around us makes them uncomfortable; maybe we’ll even find ourselves isolated from some of our closest friends and family, who don’t share our beliefs and values.  To accept, with God’s help, any of these forms of deprivation is one way to take up our cross.”

Persecution may be especially hard to understand when it comes from inside the family. Jesus warned us about this.  His words in Matthew 11:35-36 tell us: “I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.”  If one family member is following Jesus and another is not, it can cause a problem in their relationship. Amos 3:3 says: “How can two walk together unless they be agreed” The pain of losing the love of a family member is indeed a cross that some Christians have to bear.  Can we accept this form of persecution and continue leaving the door open and loving our rejecting family member?  Is this taking up a cross?

There are many pastors today who preach a prosperity gospel.  They tell us that God wants us to be rich, drive flashy cars, and have fun times, etc.  This culture wants a pleasant non-threatening Jesus.  We like to dictate the terms and assemble a Jesus that suits our wishes. 

But Jesus wants us to follow Him and not a made up imitation.  He wants us to have the real deal – to live an authentic life. When we read the sixteen chapters of Mark we find that the first eight chapters – the first half of Mark- teach us how to accumulate, how to build and how to produce.  And the last half of Mark – those last eight chapters teach us how to give away what we have accumulated, how to let go and how to die.  That is the real deal.  

Soon it will be Good Friday and we will be remembering Jesus’ death.  Even though his disciples begged Him not to go to Jerusalem, Jesus went knowing that He would be put to death when He got there.  Scripture says that He “set His face towards Jerusalem”. (Luke 9:51)   For Jesus, going to Jerusalem meant taking up His cross.  And Jesus asks us to take up our cross and follow Him there also.  We too must set our faces towards Jerusalem. When we follow Jesus we will share in His victory, but we must also share in His cross.  So let’s take up our cross and follow Him.   

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