Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
Mark 8:34 – 35
To ‘take up their cross’ is not something unfamiliar to believers, but what does it really mean? There are many different opinions, sometimes it seems like doing something religious means taking up the cross. To understand the meaning of Jesus’ command on this, we should try to think from the perspective of the followers in Jesus’ time. When Jesus turned to his disciples and those who followed him, and said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” They were probably very confused, or were shocked by the Lord Jesus! Remember, there were no magnificent buildings for churches, no one would wear crosses as fashion either.
At the time, the cross was a sign of horrible cruel torture. A 1st century Jewish History Scholar, Josephus, called the crucifixion as the “cruellest non-human way of death”. Not only did the tortured body suffer tremendous pain, but the body was nailed through and hung on the wood, so the lungs were also under great pressure. The whole body was supported by only a small wooden board and three iron nails pierced through the body. This was in addition to the torture and whipping Jesus suffered before being nailed. In addition to physical pain, the punishment of the cross was extremely humiliating. In order to serve as an example to others, this torture was usually done on a busy street, the victim was naked, verbally abused by soldiers and observers. The soldiers would deliberately prolong the time of torture, not letting the victim die, to intimidate others.
Generally speaking, those who were crucified were villains who deserved punishment or those who resisted or rebelled against the state power. Then why does following Jesus have to bear this punishment? Is this an imposed crime? Try to think about the purpose of following Jesus. When Jesus first mentioned about being crucified, Peter stopped him immediately. From this we could see that they did not understand the purpose of Jesus coming to the earth. They thought Jesus was to be the King on this earth, to overturn the Roman government and to lead the Jewish to political independence. No wonder why Lord Jesus asked them to bear the cross. “Taking up the cross” meant becoming a political prisoner, which was the exact opposite of what they thought was success (overthrowing the Roman government). Lord Jesus wanted them to understand that His coming was not to satisfy their ideas and needs, but to follow His steps, follow His will, and to fulfil God’s will. Lord Jesus was the only begotten Son of God, but He willingly became man and died in the most painful way on the cross. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He begged God in pain, but He still willingly walked on this path of suffering.
It is not hard to imagine, some of them left quietly after hearing such a shocking command from Jesus. As they thought they saved their lives by leaving Jesus, what they did not realise was that they lost the true life – the eternal life! True life comes from knowing our Lord Jesus, through whom we rebuild our relationship with God! John 17:3 “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” When followers of Christ are willing to offer their all to God, even their lives, they not only gain lives, but they also change the world! In ways they do not realise, they gain true freedom more than what they think, and they need! Brothers and Sisters, as we approach Easter, let us think upon the cross. Not only the cross of salvation where Jesus laid His life for us, but more so think about the cross the Lord has prepared for each of us.
This is not an easy path; this may not be a path we would like to walk on. However, this is a path to eternity, a path pleasing to God.
- Today, are we walking the narrow path of the cross? Or are we walking a wide path that leads to perish?
We have our dreams and goals that we want to achieve, all of which could be good. However, more importantly, we are willing to put all these into God’s hand. Beware of falling into the trap of following the Lord superficially but actually walking your own way.
- What dreams and goals do you have? Do you think they are in line with God’s will?
Perhaps we are able to figure everything out by our own wisdom, but at the cost of our lives, is that worth it? Although the path of following the Lord will be difficult, we will be provided with all that we need, as the Lord knows what we need.
- Is there anything in your life that you think needs to be changed, so that you can guarantee that you are able to work in the path following the Lord?
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.