“Whosoever would be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me.”
Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Him. But what is our cross and what does it mean to follow him with it?
You often hear believers advise those who are suffering and tormented by events in their lives to “leave it at the cross.” This implies that we can relieve ourselves of the terrible emotions, thoughts and pain that come with the tribulations we encounter as we live life. Is this what Jesus meant?
Is the cross a place of refuge, a kind of nepenthe that dulls the sharpness of our pain and relieves us of the vividness of our memories? Does the cross lead our imagination away from what might have been and focus our eyes on the moment before us? Does taking up our cross consist of laying down reality?
The key is to remember that in taking up our cross we are following Jesus. What did Jesus experience on the cross? Did he escape suffering? Was he able to put rejection from those He loved out of His mind? Was the cross a place of refuge from the bitterness of life? Did Jesus put down the past and stop thinking of the future? Was he focused on the moment? I think not. The cross is not a place to leave something behind. It is a place to embrace something we would rather not have.
“Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him”
Jesus could not bear the thought of the cross. Even knowing what it meant for humanity, Jesus asked His Father to spare Him. He sweated blood at the thought of facing the consequences of man’s sin and iniquity. But He submitted himself to Yahweh’s will, who was pleased to crush Him. Jesus trusted the promise of Yahweh, the Living God who offers resurrection life in exchange for death, beauty in exchange for ashes and everlasting joy for mourning.
It is a fearsome thing to take up our cross and follow Jesus. To recognize that we are helpless to mold our own life, but must rely solely on the grace and sovereign will of God takes courage. To listen to the voice of God’s Spirit amidst the cacophony of discouraging voices that crowd into our minds takes discipline and commitment. Refusing to look for a way of escape, but embracing truth and reality, without wavering, requires hoping that His passionate love for us will not fail. When we can no longer offer the LORD our faith to work with we must choose hope. Carrying our cross in the pursuit of Jesus is a journey that can only be taken one step at a time.
“5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
6 He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psalm 126
There is immense suffering at the cross. To carry your cross is to accept that God is responsible for time and space and all that happens within it to His children. When we face tragedy and heartbreak, and have done all we can to turn the heart of God and nothing has changed, our journey begins.
Of course, we must first seek Yahweh with all our heart and obey the voice of His Holy Spirit. But after we repent of our sins, resist Satan and deny the lying spirit of this world; after we have prayerfully immersed ourselves in the Word and nothing has changed, it is time to face the unchangeable, pick up our cross and commit our lives to a faithful creator.
It is then we are to follow Messiah out of the camp and onto a lonely hill outside of the city of God’s people. It is at this cross, when we choose to trust our creator more than we trust our own heart that we, in time, encounter the power of God. The cross we carry is within our own heart and it is when all we hope for has been lost that the power of God rises from deep within to carry us the rest of the way. It is through this cross that we find all things have worked for our good.
At the cross we remember the past and mourn what might have been. These are our precious seeds which we carry with weeping to the LORD. It is also where we look to the future to await the presence of the God of life, to witness life inexplicably and miraculously arising from death. At the cross our guilt is without meaning because there is no one to judge us, and our fear evaporates as we sense God’s presence. It is where discouragement is replaced with the knowledge that our Father holds the Universe between His little finger and thumb. It is where patience begins her perfect work and the fragility of hope is squeezed from the harshness of desperation.
When that which is perfect is come, that which is in part will be done away. In patience we possess our souls. Patience will do her work, if we do not hide or escape; if we do not save ourselves. If we wait on God, He will appear. If we run, we will lie down in sorrow.
If we endure the cross it is impossible for us to miss His resurrection life. Nothing can withstand the power of the cross. Jesus conquered death and sin through the cross. In the cross we are made strong. In the cross we become the men and women of God we were always destined to be.
We are created to be men and women of courage. We are made in the image of God. We are all called, as Messiah was called, to trust Yahweh with all of our heart and not lean on our own understanding. As we acknowledge God in all our ways, He will direct our path through death and disappointment into resurrection life. As we follow, we will find He is still with us. Like those who met him on the road to Emmaus after the crucifixion, let us not be slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared unto us. Like the saints before us, we will find that sorrow, tribulation and uncertainty will doubtless give way to joy.