Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Being a Christ-follower comes with a price tag. It requires taking up a cross, everyday voluntarily setting aside whatever would keep me from drawing spiritually closer to Jesus. We must be willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of Christ. The request is reasonable in light of what He did for us.
Matt. 10:38b “. . .and followeth after me,. . .”
Our text is the first mention of the word “cross” in the book of Matthew. A cross’ shadow was beginning to loom large across Jesus’ mind. He was justified in asking us to take a cross for Him because He would soon take up a cross for us.
A successful Christian life is lived with two inextricably connected crosses in mind, His and ours. To draw a mental image, consider one cross standing erect, Jesus’ blood flowing down it in our behalf. Nearby see a second cross lying on its side, ready to be picked up and carried. As our right arm lifts the latter, our left arm hugs the former, and we pray, “May the blood shed for us be spread o’er us.”
May power released then at Calvary’s cross enable me to lift my cross here today. His death for us empowers, rationalizes, and serves as the model for, our life for Him. His cross, our cross, therein is contained our existence as believers.
In the cross parade, Jesus went first. He bids us follow Him. As Alexander trudged through Persia, his soldiers were ready to mutiny against him due to ice and cold. When they finally stopped, refusing to go one step farther, Alexander dismounted his horse, and began making his way forward by means of a pickaxe. The army felt shame at having goaded their leader into such disgrace. First his friends, then captains, and finally all the army started marching, following him.
Be quick to take our cross. We servants are not greater than our Lord. We follow Jesus on rough, unpleasant paths He trod for us. To do less dishonors Him.
Matt. 10:38c “. . .is not worthy of me.”
How we respond to taking our cross reflects directly on Jesus. He measures our success or failure by the way we are interacting with our cross at a given time.
If we ignore our cross, seeking to live life according to our own desires and dictates, we forsake the path of duty. Walking on the right road in life requires a ticket. The passport that grants us entrance to the narrow path is a taken cross. Otherwise we roam aimlessly, living in ways that ultimately don’t count or matter.
If we hate our cross, gritting our teeth and angrily enduring our lot in life, we develop a disloyal, rebel heart, which merely creates new crosses for us to bear. Let’s not do this. Don’t go out of your way to make troubles. The Christian life is challenging enough without our creating extra obstacles for ourselves.
If we fear our cross, avoiding it for dread it will crush us, we rob our future. By not taking today’s cross we cheat ourselves of the exercise required to prepare us for heavier crosses yet to come. Only by flexing spiritual muscles today are we prepared for larger loads of tomorrow. The corridor of life yet holds new painful surprises, bigger disappointments, stronger temptations. But fear not. Take the cross today. In taking it daily we will be readied for whatever tomorrow brings.
If we embrace our cross, taking it bravely, eagerly, yea gladly, we find it almost always not as bad as we imagined it would be. Cross-bearing is more endurable when undertaken with love. Tenderly touching the erect cross makes it easier to lift the reclining cross. If I lift my cross with love, a collage of peaceful thoughts mushrooms in my soul. First, my cross is appointed by One who loves me. God in His loving providence determines which crosses shall be ours.
Second, people better than me have crosses harder than mine. In fact, their cross-bearing may be the very thing that has made them the heroes we deem them to be. In the end, taking a cross may be the greatest thing we ever accomplished.
Third, my cross is not dead weight. It is not a punishment, a cruel joke, or an inconvenience. It is a fruitful tree, blossoming into blessing and benefit for me.
Fourth, my cross will not last forever. Someday the same loving hand that chose my crosses will remove them all. In this life, the command is take, not lay down. Our crosses and our lives are concurrent, living and dying together. In Heaven, Jesus will take our crosses off our shoulders and lay them down for us.
Fifth, the cross God ordains for us comprises the best life we could ever live. We take our cross, believing life would not be better for us any other way, maybe easier and simpler, but not better in producing qualities that matter most.
I struggle here. My head accepts the fact, my heart stumbles in the reality. This cross-life is the best life I could ever live. The greatest saints ever embrace this, taking their crosses thankfully, cheerfully, as if receiving a favor, an honor.
“Christ’s cross is the sweetest burden that ever I bore; it is such a burden as wings are to a bird, or sails to a ship, to carry me forward to my harbor” (Samuel Rutherford). When I read testimonies like this, I feel terrible, guilty, and want to fall down and cry out, “Lord, increase my faith. I believe, help my unbelief.”
The cross God ordains for us comprises the best life we could ever live. Jesus, determined to drive this point home, now speaks another strong statement.
Matt. 10:39a “He that findeth his life shall lose it:. . .”
In other words, those who expend their energies pursuing the life they selfishly think they want will lose their chance to have the only life worth living. If we make our own personal pleasure our sole, constant aim, we will lose it. Only in serving God and others, in everyday voluntarily taking our cross, do we find the inner congruence we actually want. A selfish life always brings with it a lingering sharp inward prodding, a nagging that something more was meant to be had in life.
Pamper the flesh. With all its new nerve endings yearning to be stimulated, it will always scream for bigger, more exhilarating, thrills. Amass wealth. Even with all the stuff money can buy, it will never say enough, it always asks for more.
Chase fame. However much popularity it ever boasts, it will always crave a few more rounds of applause. Grasp for power. Whatever privileges it offers, it will always want a bigger throne to sit on. Stroke pride. After a lifetime of all the ego it can boost, it will still want to look better and seek more people to impress.
He who finds “his” life, the selfish life he superficially thinks he wants, will find himself climbing a lifelong ladder to reach a far-off sign reading “Contentment,” only to find when he reaches it that it instead reads “Counterfeit.”