Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Cross of True Disciples

We often hear people talk about or preach that we have to carry our cross...or maybe our crosses. But it occurred to me that when we say that, we often miss the true meaning of what Jesus was trying to tell us.
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23
And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.Luke 14:27
I think if we truly want to understand what it means to take up our cross daily...we need to consider His cross.

It seems people often focus on what the cross is...rather than what it does. Certainly the cross was a burden. It was heavy. I've seen references suggesting the upright post was 6ft-8ft tall and the cross beam 5ft-6ft long. The crossbeam itself likely weighted well over 100 lbs by some estimates. So it is easy to see how we could come to interpret "carry our cross" to mean we must accept the heavy burdens in our life...and forge onward despite them. These burdens are often seen as things like challenging relationships, or poverty, or poor health, or whatever it is that makes this life difficult and challenging for us. Now I'm no suggesting there is no value or validity in understanding Jesus' command this way. But I do think there is more to be gleaned...and possibly something that is more important than this.

Whatever the physical dimensions of the cross may have been...and however difficult it surely must have been for Jesus to carry after the suffering already endured...I think it's important that we remember what it is the cross actually did...and still does. Quite literally, the cross crucified Christ. It killed Him...killed His body. That's what a cross does. That is why it was kill and destroy the flesh. And really that is what the entire Passion is about. Jesus allows himself to be crucified physically, emotionally, and even spiritually ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"). In other words, He allows Himself to be humbled for the sake of others...for our sake.

And so I think maybe, when Jesus tell us we must "carry our cross" daily, He isn't telling us to endure or persevere all the things that annoy, and distract, and make us uncomfortable (such as challenging relationships, poverty, or illness)...but rather that everyday we must seek to crucify the attitudes and beliefs and thoughts within us that lead us to see these burdens as burdens in the first place....rather than as the work of God in our lives. He is telling us that where our flesh rebels against the pain of being humbled...we have to crucify it. Isn't this the lesson of the Saints and Martyrs? Isn't this what we are taught throughout the Bible?
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. John 16:20-22
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. Colossians 1:24

Of course this is all easier said than done...but we can't dismiss it or ignore it because it is difficult. It seems to me that this should be our goal. This is what we are to strive toward.

And so when we pick-up our crosses each day, what we are saying we really need to do is pick-up the tools needed to crucify our flesh. We need to destroy those parts of us that rebel against the work of God in us and in the of us like our selfishness...our envy...our pride...our self-righteousness. We need to be prepared to be humbled...and not simply be prepared...but we need to embrace it...even pray for it. This is the cross Jesus refers to...the one that crucifies....the one that destroys the flesh...the one that makes way for the resurrection. If we do this...then I believe we will be that much closer to being true disciples of Jesus.

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