I’ve always wondered what Jesus meant in the Gospel of Luke about taking up our cross and following him. Just what is this cross and how do we pick it up?
Of course you are referring to Luke 9:23: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me,
And Luke 14:27: Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
This cross doesn’t mean following him to be a missionary in Brazil, or following his plan for us to enter into politics, or enduring some painful or difficult problem for his sake, or anything else like these.
Our cross is his cross.
What did he do with his cross? He carried it to Golgotha, and what did he do there? He died on it.
Jesus Christ is talking spiritually here about our own cross which we take to Golgotha and die there as we follow him at any price.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who was executed by the Germans three days before the end of World War II, put it best: “When Jesus Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
The purpose of the cross of Calvary is to mature us to look like Jesus.
I’d like to make this practical for you.
Let’s explore three aspects of dying on a cross which describe the cross we carry to Calvary:
1. Dying on a Cross Hurts.
He wept in agony at Gethsemane.
He was tried and convicted illegally and then beaten by the Pharisees. He was betrayed by his disciples and ridiculed and mocked by King Herod. Then he experienced the rejection of the crowds as they yelled “Crucify him! Crucify him! Then, he was scourged by Pilate and forced to carry his cross up to Golgotha. Can we imagine the pain? I think not.
He must have screamed as three spikes were pounded into his flesh. Then, the cross was lifted vertically and the bottom dropped into a stabilizing hole. He gasped and shook violently as the cross bottomed out.
Three hours later he cried, “My God My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 6:34). Imagine the pain of separation. For the first time in all eternity he was separated from fellowship with his father. That hurt.
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46).
As we struggle atop Golgotha, God brings us to a place of God-dependence. He does this by allowing all sorts of trials and troubles.
Alexander McLaren used to say, “Please be kind to everyone you meet, because everyone is fighting a battle.” Many of our battles are God-designed to bring us to maturity. That hurts!
Peter described the process of what happened on the cross: “Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by the fire, may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
In the same way, God uses the heat of the cross of Golgotha, to melt off our impurities and mature us to look like Jesus.
At the beginning of 1 Kings 17 Elijah is known as “Elijah the Tishbite.” First, he battled with King Ahab. Then, God led him to the brook, Kerith, where he was fed by God-sent ravens. Next, the book dried up. The word “Kerith” means “to cut.” Next, God led him to the smelter at Zarephath where he was humiliated by having to ask a woman for a meal. The word “Zarephath” means “to melt.”
Then and only then, is he called, “Elijah, the man of God.”
As A.W. Tozer says, God can never use a man greatly “until he has hurt him deeply.”
2. Dying on the Cross Takes Time.
It takes 100 years to grow a mighty oak tree.
God is in no hurry. He is working for eternity.
“He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
God doesn’t measure time as we do. He has his own timetable.
One day, I got to thinking about Psalm 90:4. “For 1000 years in your sight are like a day that just passed by.”
I decided to calculate that out. I figured that one year on earth equals approximately 84.6 seconds in heaven. Let’s imagine that your friend dies and you outlive them by 10 years. What that means is that your friend dies and you have 10 more years. Fifteen minutes later you show up in heaven! Your friend is most likely still standing in the line to meet Jesus. They will most likely give you a “cut” In line.
It is often God’s way to set a person aside so that self-confidence may die down.
It is well documented that Paul was called to be a missionary when he was 32 years old. However, he began his missionary ministry at the age of 49. God worked on him for 17 years before he set him free to minister.
A survey was made of spiritual men of the last generation, like Samuel Goforth, George Mueller, Hudson Taylor, F.B. Meyer, Madame Guyon, and Robert Murray McShane, asking the question, “How many years was it from the time you entered your life’s work until you begin to know Christ as your life? The combined average was 15 years.
This is not to discourage us, but to help us settle down with our sights on eternity.
“Not that I have already…been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining forward toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize to which Christ God has called me heavenward in Christ” (Philippians: 3:12-14).
Spiritual growth is a gradual process. The finer the organism, the longer the process.
3. Self-Crucifixion Is not Possible
No one ever committed suicide by crucifixion. Think about it, we may be able to nail in one hand, and both feet, but there’s no way we nail down the other hand.
Crucifixion is God’s work not ours!
Stop trying to figure out how and when God intends to do his work in your life.
Since we are all different, and need different processing, He custom designs the plan that he will use with us.
Some need more processing than others. Some he simply needs to bend. Others he must break.
The amount of processing is often a reflection of the work that he has for us to accomplish in the Kingdom. Some are called to be martyred in Pakistan. Others are called to take care of babies in the church nursery. Obviously, both are needed. However, how he applies the cross to one group will be different from how he applies the cross to another.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).
Remember, the problem with a living sacrifice is that it always wants to crawl off the altar!
Miles Stanford wrote: “It is more than comforting to realize that it is those who have plumbed the depths of their own failure to whom God invariably gives a call to shepherd others. This is not a call given to the gifted, the highly trained, or the polished as such… It takes a man who has discovered something of the measure of his own weakness to be patient with the foibles of others.”
Mandy, I hope this answers your question and gives you insight into how we take up our cross daily and follow Christ at any price.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.