One of my favorite speakers was the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Whenever he would speak he always had fire in his belly. Whether he was being comical or addressing Parliament, he always was fully committed to whatever it was he said. Sometimes when I’m bored on the internet, I pop on over to this quote website I like and read some of the more remarkable things he has said. He once uttered these familiar words, “If you’re going through hell, keep going!” Once when addressing the British resolve and commitment to World War Two, he said, “We will never, never, ever give up!”
His first ever speech as Prime Minister he addressed Parliament and the public with words that were hard to swallow. He saw something perhaps the rest the world didn’t. Germany was rearming its military and steadily advancing toward what would become World War Two he said that their policy would be to wage war against its enemies with all the strength that God could give them. He would later go on to tell them that in the face of this crisis he could only offer them “Blood, toil, tears and sweat.” He knew that by being in opposition to evil he would be aligning his nation in the line of fire, but for the cause of the greater good. In this passage of scripture we find Jesus pulling no punches when addressing anyone who would be his follower.
Jesus wanted there to be no misconceptions about what it meant to follow him. He would reveal the truth about what it meant and those who accepted His terms could be true followers of Christ. They would need to take up their cross, be willing to lay down their life and live by the example He set.
This gospel has been used by so many people to justify suffering. Got a rotten marriage, a child addicted to heroin? Hey, take up your cross. Your mother won’t speak to you, your nephew schizophrenic? That’s your cross. Bad boss, lousy neighbors, a toothache? Hey, Take it up, bear it, bow your head and walk your road.That the horrors and indignities visited on human beings by fate, by chance, or by accident are somehow to be carried around without complaint, like a cross.
Now its true that we all do have our crosses to bear Christ Himself tells us that we must take it up. Now it isn’t that as Christians we are called to be in despair of our situation and be in constant dread because of our circumstance, rather quite the opposite. His commands are that of a dying man but orders to pursue a purpose driven life. Jesus, unlike us, knew exactly what his purpose was. In Matthew 10:34 Jesus says, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus came to defeat death and make eternal life accessible for all those who would grasp their cross, take it up and acknowledge Him as Lord and savior. Our cross is the call to purpose.
Jesus is telling us that its not going to be an easy road and if we wish to come after Him we will endure all of what He did for His sake. We often remember the event of the cross and resurrection and don’t consider the road that led to them. Jesus didn’t simply die on a cross and miraculously rise on the third day. He was beaten, mocked, ridiculed and deserted.
We are called to approach our cross with the same dignity and courage to embrace the consequences of fully devoting ourselves to the cause of Christ. Jesus tells us to take up our cross. In order to take up anything we must first lay a few things down.
Not everyone has ever been down. I don’t mean that sad, or momentary feeling of defeat. I’m talking about that (using scaled hand gestures) defeated (move down), rock bottom (move down), desperate (move down), then hear kind of down. It’s in those moments when we are so beat up my the world and circumstance that we do either one of two things. We either give up or we look up. Christ tells us to look up and even more so to look ahead. Scripture tells us that, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” In this instant salvation, holding on to your life is like trying grab sand, the more you squeeze the more sand that escapes from your hand. Jesus is telling us to let go of the sand because when we do we will then be able to enjoy the beach.
What is it worth? What is the value of your soul to you? In ancient times the Egyptians would bury their pharaohs with all kinds gold, jewels, spices, royal clothing and other riches so that his prestige and wealth may be carried over into the next life. Well I hope the economy in the afterlife is better than it is here because even will Bill Gates dies, he will have as much money in his pockets as he did when he was born, zero dollars and zero cents. Christ poses for us a very real question for us. What does it matter, the wealth we accumulate when even our bodies will fade? All the riches in the world cannot come close to the value of one soul. All these things will pass, but the soul is eternal. The truth is that everyone of us will live forever, but the value we place on our eternal soul now will determine how we spend the rest of eternity.
Jesus says give up everything in this life even your life itself if necessary because at the end of the day it is the most cherished and valuable possession you will ever have.
You ever meet a person that has an answer to everything? Isn’t it annoying? When I think about it, it doesn’t so much bother me that the person has an answer for everything, it bothers me when they are right. When we make excuses, the last thing we want to hear is logic. Good, sound logic and reasonable judgement can ruin a good excuse. That’s what we don’t like; to be backed into a corner by reason.
Jesus did exactly that in Luke 9:57-62. “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
These verses are telling us that we need to take up Jesus’ mission and lay down what concerns us. Once we have done these things then we can be ready to live like Him. Jesus didn’t take up His cross and stand there. He took it up and went forward. We too mustn’t stand there, rather live out how Christ has commanded us.
Nicholas Cage, despite all his financial woes, still has it in him to every now and then to put out a good movie. I look pass the “Ghost Rider” blunder and both of the “National Treasure” spoofs and see the “Face Off” Nick Cage. A few years ago he put out a so so movie called “Next”. He played a Las Vegas magician who actually could see the future in short two minute burst if they involved him. I wish that when I was younger I had a way to know what was going to happen next to keep myself out of trouble. We don’t have to wish do we? In fact, Jesus tells us exactly what will happen in verse 38, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Jesus doesn’t warn of the several possible scenarios that may occur if we choose not to heed His warning. He tells us exactly what will happen. He says if you, THEN I. Jesus doesn’t give ultimatums. He just makes promises. We must remember that not everyone who came to Jesus chose to follow Him, quite the contrary, we learn of many who actually and literally turn their backs on God. To follow Him is a choice. As they say, no one is hold ing a gun to heads and forcing us to look at our lives and live it out for Jesus. However, the alternative is far more severe. Jesus tells us that if we are ashamed of Him than He will be ashamed of us, but if we live for Him than He will be sure to remember us before our Father in heaven.
Keith Hernandez is one of baseball's top players. He is a lifetime .300 hitter who has won numerous Golden Glove awards for excellence in fielding. He's won a batting championship for having the highest average, the Most Valuable Player award in his league, and even the World Series. Yet with all his accomplishments, he has missed out on something crucially important to him; his father's acceptance and recognition that what he has accomplished is valuable. This is what he had to say in a very candid interview about his relationship with his father: "One day Keith asked his father, 'Dad, I have a lifetime 300 batting average. What more do you want?' His father replied, 'But someday you're going to look back and say, "I could have done more."'"
How terrible it must be not to be recognized by your father and how much worst by your heavenly Father and to look back at life when its too late and say, “I could have done more.”
Jesus told the people, hey, you know that cruel and unusual way to die the cross. Well, I’m headed that way and if you want to be my follower look forward to it in your own lives. By the way, its going to dangerous and trying. Oh and did I mention that you might die! Can you imagine hearing that? I can safely assume that it weeded out the less committed. He would have told them that they would be mocked, wrongfully accused, abused and betrayed. Then I can imagine the Lord saying, “But it will be worth it.”
He commanded us to take up our cross and all that comes with it. We are instructed to be prepared to lose everything including the very lives that we are to live out for Him. When we put these things into history we know that to take up a cross wasn’t a noble feat. It was a severe form of capitol punishment that was reserved for the vilest offenders. Why would Jesus command us to be associated with such a symbol?
To be set apart.
Jesus lived and commands us to live in direct opposition to the world. We are to be in the world but not of it as He was not. To take up our cross is a call to holiness. We are to take up our cross and embrace the separation from the conformity of this world. To take it up, sets us apart, to lay down ourselves is to forsake our former selves and live out the life that Jesus commands us to. The song says holiness is what I long for; holiness is what I need. The scripture agrees.
The end result is acceptance by the Father through holy living and faith in Christ, but the path can be long and hard, but its worth it.