Theme: The Demands of Cross-Bearing
This week’s lessons teach us that Jesus’ command for Christians to take up their cross is not something that happens later in the Christian life, but at the very beginning. Indeed it is a critical idea of discipleship itself.
Scripture: Luke 9:23-26
Yesterday we looked at the first demand of taking up our cross. Today we want to look at four more.
2. The demand to take up our cross is perpetual. Earlier I said that following Christ requires perseverance for the reason that discipleship is not simply a door to be entered but a path to be followed. Having entered upon that path, the disciple proves the validity of His discipleship by pursuing it to the very end. Taking up the cross is like that. But when Jesus uses the word “daily,” saying, “take up your cross daily and follow me,” He is saying something stronger in that the cross must be taken up afresh each day.
When we turn our back on our past to follow Christ that is indeed taking up the cross. Having started out in that way, we must keep on. There is to be no turning back to bury a father or mother, purchase a piece of property, or whatever. Taking up the cross is also consciously and willingly to take up the self-denials and opportunities for serving others that each day brings.
3. Taking up our cross is intentional. This is the point I made earlier when I spoke of saying “No” to self in order that we might say “Yes” to God. It is implied in Christ’s command: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself take up his cross daily and follow me.” No one may take the cross up for you. A grandmother cannot take it up. A husband cannot take it up. It cannot be taken up for you by your children. You must do it. Furthermore, you must do it willingly. True, God must make you willing, for none of us is willing of himself. But when God works upon us so that what we cherished before we now repudiate, and what we despised before we now cherish—when He has done that, it is then of our own free will that we take up our cross and follow Jesus. The soldiers of Christ are not slaves. They are freed men and freed women who count it the greatest joy of their lives to be in His service.
4. Taking up our cross daily is painful. In Jesus’ day crosses were not the beautiful, polished, gold and silver ornaments we frequently see today. They were made of rough wood crudely shaped. To pick up a cross hurt the hands. To carry it on one’s back meant working the splinters of the wood into the skin of one’s shoulders. There was nothing pretty about a cross. A cross hurt. So does Christian service—at times. A moment ago I wrote that Christians count it joy to be engaged in Christ’s service, and that is true. Nothing must detract from that. But that joy is often found in pain, just as it was said of Jesus: “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross scorning its shame” (Heb. 12:2). The same text says that we are to run that race, having our eyes set on Christ as our example.
5. The final point is the most obvious of all: a cross is mortal. That is, it has one purpose and one purpose only—to put the crucified one to death. Death on a cross is a slow death, but it is a certain one. It is, as Chantry says, “Death to self-importance, self-satisfaction, self-absorption, self-advancement, self-dependence. . . . Death to self-interest because you serve Christ’s honor!”3
What does it really mean to speak of our cross-bearing as perpetual?
As our model for cross-bearing, in what ways was the cross painful for Jesus?
How is the theme of the mortality of cross-bearing applied to Christians?
Application: Taking up one’s cross and following Jesus at any cost is not easy. Ask the Lord for the grace to willingly and joyfully undergo all the painful consequences of obedience.
3Walter J. Chantry, The Shadow of the Cross: Studies in Self-Denial (Edinburgh, UK and Carlisle, Pa.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1981).