The Lord Jesus took up his cross, knowing that at the end of the road he would be nailed to it and there die. The cross he carried was God-given, for on it he would die in the place of his people.
Christ told all who would follow him that they must be cross carriers: ‘If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me’ (Luke 9:23). The command is clear and there are no exceptions: ‘The crucified Christ has none but crucified followers.’ In Christ’s day terror must have filled the hearts of all who were ordered to take up their cross, because at the end of the road the carrier would be brutally nailed to the rough wood, raised up above the earth and there left to die a horrible death. Cross carrying was a most unpleasant experience – it hurt!
The cross of self-denial and death followed Christ like a shadow. Even in the manger the shadow of the cross fell upon his tiny form, the prospect of death was his constant companion. Christ, the second person of the Godhead, humbled himself, clothing himself in sinless flesh and blood, to live amongst a people who largely wanted him dead. He was constantly persecuted by the religious leaders, had no home to call his own, he hungered, was tempted, deserted by his own friends, spat upon, whipped, mocked and finally put to death on the cursed cross. This he endured in obedience to the Father, to make the salvation of his people certain.
Christ trembled before the cross. In the Garden of Gethsemane he cried out in horror, ‘O my Father, if this cup cannot pass away from me unless I drink it, your will be done!’ (Matthew 26:42). However, Christ would glorify his Father by obedient cross bearing. He also prayed, ‘But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’ (John 12:27-28).
Today many people misunderstand what Christ meant by a cross. Christians must carry God-given crosses, the trials and tribulations they suffer because they are Christians. These are not the cantankerous husband and the nagging wife, but the husband who is cruel because his wife is a Christian and the wife who nags her husband because he loves Christ.
All who love Christ must be prepared to suffer daily for his sake, for it is one of the marks of complete identity with Christ. The cross is taken up as the new Christian passes through the narrow gate. There must be a willingness to deny self, to endure persecution and humiliation for the sake of the Lord Jesus. There must be a daily willingness to sacrifice everything we possess – our money, family, work, ambitions, plans for the future, hobbies and even life itself, all for the sake of the Saviour. Yes, the cross is a lifetime burden for the Christian!
Jesus gave his people a wonderful promise: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake … for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven’ (Matthew 5:10-12). In the days of the Roman Empire, Christians were cast into the arenas to be torn to pieces by wild animals. And why? Because they would not deny their Lord and Saviour. They daily took up their God-given crosses to suffer and die for the Redeemer they loved. Throughout all ages the saints have carried the cross of self-denial, suffering the abuse of the world, that Christ might be glorified.
Have you suffered for Christ’s sake? Have you denied yourself the pleasures of the world, suffering the world’s rejection, because you love Christ supremely? When the road becomes rough what will you do? If you turn away from Christ there is only one pathway to tread and that leads to eternal hell. When many Jews rejected Christ he asked the disciples, ‘Do you also want to go away?’ To this question Peter replied, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (John 6:67-69).
Great were the sacrifices made by the martyrs, who willingly carried their God-given crosses! And why? They loved with all their heart and soul and being the God who saved them through his Son!
And is cross carrying worthwhile? Yes! Yes! Yes! All who carry their God-given crosses glorify Christ and will one day hear those tender words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant … Enter into the joy of your Lord’ (Matthew 25:21). The road may be difficult, our bodies may grow weary and we may wonder at times if we shall ever see Christ. However, remember that we can say, with the apostle Paul, ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Romans 8:37).
His grace enables us to cope with cross bearing. He will never let us down. So, daily take up your God-given cross and faithfully follow the footsteps of your Lord!