Taking Up the CrossLuke 9:23-26Theme: Self-denial.This week’s lessons teach us how to die to our selfishness so that we can live for Christ.
LessonThe idea of a cross tells us more about offering our gifts back to God, for it indicates how cross-bearing is to be done and what it involves. Walter J. Chantry, whom I mentioned earlier, is good in presenting these demands. I draw on his outline.
1. The demand to take up our cross is universal. The universal offer of the gospel means that the way of salvation is offered to everybody so that “whoever wishes” may come to Christ (Rev. 22:17). Not all do come; in fact, only those whom the Father draws come to Jesus (John 6:37, 44). But all may. Salvation is a universal offer. When we say that the demand to take up our cross is universal, we mean something different from that. This demand is for all who follow Christ. So “universal” in this sense means that all who follow Christ and are therefore being saved must be cross-bearers. That is, it is impossible to be a Christian without self-denial. The only way to avoid the cross is to follow the devil’s self-seeking path and perish with him in hell.
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 or her 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-denial 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 up the cross 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 us willing, for we are not willing of ourselves. 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!”1
1 Walter J. Chantry, The Shadow of the Cross: Studies in Self-Denial, p.25.
What did Jesus mean when he said we are to take up our cross daily?
List the five factors that are a vital part of cross-bearing.
Further StudyStudy the following passages about suffering in the Christian life: Hebrews 12:1-13; James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 4:1-5, 12-19; Jude 17-25.
ApplicationTo learn more about how to deny yourself, pick up a copy of Walter Chantry’s The Shadow of the Cross: Studies in Self-Denial.