Taking up Your Cross

By Jim Cole-Rous

 

Taking up your crossA Question of Identity

Matthew 16:15. “Who do you say that I am?”

Pastor Jim was asked to visit an elderly lady in a nursing home;he was aware that her memory was not very good. He walked up to her and asked, “Do you know who I am?” She smiled and said, “No, Sonny I don’t, but if you go over to the reception desk, they will tell you who you are!” That was not the answer he was expecting.

There are times when God asks his followers a question. In the Garden of Eden, God asked Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” God knew where they were, but they did not.

The disciples were visiting Caesarea Philippi near the foot of snow covered Mt. Hermon, when Jesus asked them “Who do you say that I am?” They had already said who others said He was, now for the first time Jesus openly challenged his disciples to say who they personally thought Him to be. Upon Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah; Jesus begins telling them of His forthcoming death. He was preparing the disciples for the coming events of His Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Against the peaceful backdrop of the verdant slopes and forest, Jesus speaks of the religious leaders preparing to maltreat him, kill him; and that he would arise from the dead three days later.
Peter is so upset he does not seem to take in the last part about resurrection. After Jesus rebuked Peter, He made an incredible statement to the disciples. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Vs. 24) Peter had tried to deflect Jesus from His destiny, and Jesus is here saying to them, the time has come to face up to your own cross; to pick it up right now, (aorist tense) and to follow Him.

The Cross was a familiar sight to the people in Israel. The Roman conquerors used it as a terrifying form of death with torture. Traveling the roads one would often come upon a person on a cross; sometimes taking three days to die.

Without having first really identified who Jesus is, you have no motivation to face the hardships that accompany the real follower of Jesus. You have to take a good look at who Jesus really is, in order to become a disciple in the true sense of the word. Six days after asking them who they thought He was, he took Peter, James and John up on the mountain, and was transfigured in front of them. They never forgot that experience. Peter wrote, we “were eyewitnesses of his majesty,” James remembered Jesus as “the Lord of Glory” and John said, “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” ( 2 Peter 1:16, James 2:1, John 1:14)

It took a while for the disciples to understand who Jesus really is, and perhaps you are somewhere in that process today. Before considering taking up your cross, spend some time reading the Gospels, for they record the factual accounts of Jesus life and teachings. Make up your mind about Jesus first, then you can think about being a cross carrying follower.

Prayer: “Lord Jesus, please open my understanding, as you did the first disciples, and help me to see you for who you really are. Amen.”

Discipleship and Confrontation

Mark 8:31-32 “the Son of Man must…be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly.”

Jannie was enrolled in Bible College and his girl friend lived 30 miles away. He slipped out one evening, and rode his Vespa Scooter to her home. It was near midnight when the Principal, working late in his office, heard the familiar sound of that Vespa approaching. He heard the motor cut out, and then the soft crunch of wheels on the gravel driveway. He slipped over to the dormitory where Jannie slept, and stood just inside the doorway of the darkened room.

Moments later there was a tap on the window, and Jannie began to enter through it. It was then that the light burst upon him, and the stern voice of the Principal was clearly heard saying, “Jannie, the window is not an entrance to this Bible College. Go to the front door and come in as you should!” Jannie never resorted to underhanded conduct again.

Peter rebuked Jesus, and Jesus turned and rebuked Peter! Peter was not ready to face the idea of Jesus dying; he was expecting Jesus to become King in Jerusalem. This was almost the end of Jesus ministry, and Jesus needed to confront Peter with the necessity of self-denial. Jesus was prepared to die on the Cross for our sins, but the dreams of Power and National Leadership were still very much part of the disciples’ mindset. When we set our own agenda, in Gods eyes, confrontation is sometimes necessary.

Jesus taught that before you can take up your cross, you first have to ‘deny yourself’ (Mark 8:34) When a soldier is ordered to serve in some place, he cannot have his own plans and ideas. He has to ‘deny himself’ and obey. When a Christian makes a commitment to be a disciple, there has to be a willingness to forgo your own ambitions and plans, and to find out what Jesus wants you to do.

My favorite verse is Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” 

The Rich Young Ruler came to Jesus, asking how to get eternal life. Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. About that time he stopped listening to what Jesus was saying. Jesus ended up by saying, “and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven.” (Matthew 19:21) Jesus was saying in effect, ‘You will have much more than you have now, you will not lose, but ultimately gain more by following me.’
When Jesus confronted the Rich Young Ruler, and when He confronted James, John, and Peter, He had their best interests at heart.

In Revelation 3:19 Jesus speaking to the seven churches said: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” Walter Chantry expressed it well when he wrote: "Religion without self-denial will not endure the judgment."

Prayer: “Lord Jesus, I call you ‘Lord', I dare not then make my own plans. Please show me your best and wonderful plan for my life as a follower of You. I take this second step with you today. Amen.”

What is our Cross?

Luke 9:23 “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

When the England was invaded by Hitler, Sir Winston Churchill called the nation to sacrifice saying, "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. .... Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour!”

Jesus challenges you and me to likewise be followers of Him, but what did He mean by taking up our cross daily? The people of Jesus’ day saw the cross as an equivalent to our ‘Electric Chair’ a method of execution for criminals.
There are various mentions of the Cross in the Bible. There is ‘Jesus Cross’, ‘The Preaching of the Cross’ and then there is ‘The Disciple’s (your) Cross’. Let’s try and sort this out.

Jesus carried his own cross towards Calvary, and after collapsing, Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry it for Him (Luke 23:26). ‘The Preaching of the Cross’ was the theology of the New Testament Church, explaining the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, so we might receive eternal life and forgiveness from God (1 Cor. 1:18). Finally there is our cross, ‘The Disciple’s Cross’ (Luke 14:27).

What, you ask, is our Cross? Some people see it as: My husband, my wife, my kids, my boss, my arthritis, the weather! None of these is correct. We need to understand the setting in which the carrying of a cross occurs in the New Testament.

First, historically, the only time a man was seen carrying his cross, was on his way to die! The Romans required the criminal to carry the cross-beam to a place of execution. The route chosen was always through the most populated part of the city, in order to make the people aware of who was being punished. It was a public witness that this person was forced to make, identifying him with the crime he had committed.

Jesus explanation will help us understand what our cross is all about. First we do not pick up our cross until we have made a commitment to follow Jesus. In so doing we deny ourselves, laying aside our own agenda for the sake of obedience to His plan for our life. Then we publicly identify ourselves as following in the footsteps of Jesus; ‘coming after Him’. He was condemned to die for claiming he was the Son of God.

Our witness to the world is that we believe He is the Son of God, who died to pay for our sins, and that there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12). The cross you voluntarily take up, is to walk in the ‘Public Market Place’ of life, openly identifying yourself as one who is following Jesus, even to the point of death. In Mark 8:38 Jesus makes it clear that we are not to be ashamed of Him, or He will be ashamed of us in the Day of Judgment.

T. Austin-Sparks said, "The unalterable basis of an open heaven is a grave, and a crisis at which you come to an end of your own self-life. It is the crisis of real experiential identification with Christ in His death."

Prayer: “Jesus, I now and here lay down my own self-pride, and commit to take up my cross, and let others know that I am unashamedly a follower of you. Amen.”

Conditions of Discipleship

Matt 16:25 “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

I had just finished my service in the South African Air Force when I heard the news of the death of Nate Saint and Jim Elliot in Ecuador. Using the Mission Aviation Fellowship plane, they with two more missionaries were trying to establish friendly relations with the Huaoroni (“Auca”) Indians who were considered very dangerous.

My Air Force Chaplain was the father of one of the founders of British M.A.F. and I had become interested in the idea of reaching unreached people with the message of Jesus using Aviation Technology. Nate, Jim and the others knew what they were risking, but had taken Jesus words in Matthew 16:25 literally. Jim Elliot summarized what Jesus said in his journal dated Oct. 28, 1949, about six years before his death,  saying:

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose."

This truth so impacted me, that I have invested the rest of my life in reaching people for Jesus.

The three things that motivated me were, firstly, Jesus saying 'follow me'. This was a command, an imperative in the Greek. Secondly there is no higher calling in life than to show others the way to peace with God and lastly, as Matthew Henry  put it so well, "The loss of other comforts for Christ, may possibly be made up in this world (Mark 10:30); but the loss of life cannot."

Every promise that God makes in the Scriptures, to the best of my knowledge, has conditions attached. Jesus made it clear that He was seeking followers who would do whatever He asked of them. Our following Him is to do what He needs done, to go where He sends us, and to believe that at all times He has our best interests at heart. Hebrews 11:13 speaks of those who died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off... then in verse 16 we are told that God 'hath prepared for them a city'.

The Heavenly City is going to be a reality when Jesus returns, and those who were really followers of Jesus will have a place in it. I for one am investing for Eternity.
Will you accept the conditions of discipleship? You may lose something now, but you will gain much more in the future. A.W. Tozer said: "Among the plastic saints of our times, Jesus has to do all the dying, and all we want to hear is another sermon about his dying."

Prayer: "Jesus, help me to make you look good in this world, by my obedience to you, and by the way I live out my life for you. Amen."

Quo Vadis?

John 13:36 "Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?"

Youcef Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old Iranian pastor, was arrested in October 2009 and later sentenced to death for converting to Christianity. He is currently still in prison, while the High Court has sent the case back to the lower court for retrial. He is fully aware that he may be executed; leaving behind his wife and two young sons. There are still many places in the world today where Christians are putting their lives on the line to follow Christ.

When Jesus talked to His disciples at the Last Supper, He told them that He was going away, and Peter asked the question, 'Lord, where are you going?  The phrase in the Vulgate Latin is 'Quo Vadis?' This was used in a novel by that title, portraying  Peter fleeing Rome during the persecution of Nero. He meets Jesus walking towards Rome, and asks the question,  'Quo Vadis?' - 'Where are you going?' The story goes on to show Peter returning to Rome to face his own crucifixion.

While this is based upon a questionable tradition, there is an underlying challenge. Where are you and I going to, when we take up our cross? The answer is plainly simple. To die; by the most painful means humans have ever devised.

You may live many years yet, in the physical sense, but the truth of the matter is we have to be ready to die at any time in the Lord's service. Jesus told Peter in John 13:36 that he could not follow now, but would follow later on. Jesus made it clear that Peter's work was not done yet. Later on Jesus said to Peter, in John 21:18, that he would one day be chained and taken to be crucified. Peter was a man, he did not love death, but he loved his Lord Jesus more than his own life.

To the Unbelieving Jews Jesus said (John 7:34) "Whither I go, ye cannot come". Here is good reason for us to be witnesses whatever the cost. Political correctness suggests everyone will one day be in heaven, but Jesus makes it clear that we must become believers and followers of Him, if we are to see the Glory He has promised His own.

The challenge is have we come to the place where we have fully submitted to Jesus? C. S. Lewis in Counting the Cost, put it this way. "The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self--all your wishes and precautions--to Christ." Once you have come to that place, then you can walk in the peace and leading of the Lord for the rest of your days.

Prayer: "Lord Jesus, you are the Son of God. You came alive again from the grave, and are seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. You will never call us to do what you do not empower us to accomplish. Help me to believe and follow you all the way. Amen".

Who must count the cost?

Luke 9:57 "As they went on their way, a certain man said unto Him, I will follow thee withersoever thou goest."

I was Director of Children's Ministries for a large congregation in Los Angeles in the early 1980's. A middle aged couple approached me, volunteering to teach in Children's Church. I asked them why they wished to do this. They told me the Lord had told them to do so.

In every respect they were competent, and so I appointed them to teach. Two months later they came to me, to tend their resignation! My reply was simple. "You are talking to the wrong person!"  They were surprised, and asked if I were not still the Director. I said yes, I am, but you said Jesus told you to do this, so you need to go to Him and resign. If He tells you it is O.K. then I will accept your decision.

They began to fuss, and said that I was being 'difficult', and they left. The real reason was that they had other things they wanted to do on Sundays that did not include going to Church. Sadly they did not progress in their walk with the Lord.

Jesus met up with three men who likewise volunteered to follow Him.

The first one was a man who had not thought through the requirements of discipleship. Impetuously he said he would follow Jesus. The Jewish people thought Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to declare himself King. This man withdrew when he found Jesus declaring he had not even a place to call His own.

The second man was called to follow Jesus. (Verse 59) His reply was that he would do so one day after he had first fulfilled his duty to his father. The implication was that his father was not dead yet, and he might follow Jesus in some future time. There is a temptation to think that our duty to our family will excuse us from our first duty to serve Jesus. The apostles all had family, but they followed Christ first, and still kept in touch with their family.

The third man is found in (verse 61). He volunteered to follow, but with certain conditions that were unacceptable to the Lord. If you go home and tell your family and friends that you are thinking about following Jesus, they will usually try to talk you out of such a course. Jesus pointed out that once you put your hand to the plow, you are committed, you must not look back, or the furrow will not be straight for the planting. Saying that one who looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God, Jesus was pointing to the imperative need to get the work done now.

The phrase 'looking back' is a reminder of Lot's wife, who never found deliverance as the rest of her family did.
Jesus is busy building His Church, and he is the one who counted the cost; and paid it in full for your salvation. He is not asking you to count the cost, but to serve Him whatever the cost!

Prayer: " Lord Jesus, Thank you for paying the ultimate price for me on the Cross. I ask for your help as I turn myself over to you without reserve, that I may be faithful to what you call me to be. Amen."

The process of Discipleship

Matthew 4:19 "And He saith unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men."

The little six-year-old boy could be seen in the Yorkshire field, pulling turnips with hands reddened by the cold. His family were living in poverty. The following year, at age seven, he joined his dad, working 12 hour shifts in a wool mill to help bring in enough to feed the family. He attended a revival the next year, and became a 'born again' Christian. Continuing as a believer, he grew up to become a respected plumber.

His wife preached for 20 years at a mission and he learned to read, under her teaching, but he was no preacher himself. When he heard how people were being filled with the Holy Spirit, he took time off to see for himself. On the 29th October 1907 he experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and returned home to tell his family.

His wife Mary Jane, knowing her husband's inability to preach, challenged his experience. She said, "On Sunday you will preach yourself, and I’ll see what there is in it.” As he began to preach under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, she became beside herself. Then she said in a voice that all around her could hear, “That’s not my Smith, Lord, that’s not my Smith!” At age 48, his life changed from being a follower of Jesus, to becoming a specially called international minister of the Gospel. You may know him as Smith Wigglesworth!

At the Jordan river, John the Baptist pointed to Jesus as the "Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) Two of John's disciples immediately began to follow Jesus. Andrew was one of those two, and he introduced his brother Peter to Jesus. They became disciples of Jesus, they believed on Him. This was the first level of discipleship.

Peter and Andrew, together with their partners James and John, went on with their normal lives and work, keeping the fishing business running. Then one day Jesus came walking along the shore, and found them busy fishing and mending equipment. It was here that Jesus gave them a call to become more than just believers. He called them to become his students. They immediately obeyed the call. This was level two.

A Rabbi would select his group and pour his life and teaching into them, with the intent that one day they would carry on his work. Jesus did that, and gathered 12 around him. After training and testing them for three years, Jesus began to talk to them about taking up their cross. He was challenging them to become the leaders he had been preparing them to be. This was the third level.

In these articles I have been leading you to understand the implications of taking up your cross. Have you determined where you now are in this process? I hope you are ready to move to the next level. You can move from being a Believer, to a Student, and to one day, like the apostles, walk in the Market Place of Life, carrying your Cross. I pray that you will.

Prayer: "Lord Jesus, I have been hearing your call, and I want to follow you, and make my life count in my generation. Help me to take the next step in my journey with you. Amen."