“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?”
The cross of Jesus Christ is sometimes viewed as only a stepping stone into salvation and eternal life. If we just allow the cross to do its work in a moment of belief and confession, we’ll have the best of eternal and earthly blessings, no questions asked. While this contains some truth, it is only part of the truth. The cross is not only necessary for a moment of salvation (as it most definitely is), but it is also necessary as a way of life. The cross is not merely the event of the death of Jesus or the single day of our salvation, but an act daily continued throughout our entire lives. This is the way of the cross.
Often, we wonder what the cross can do for us, what it can give to us, and how it can benefit us. But the question we should ask is this: what can we do in and for the cross, out of a grateful response to the love God portrayed through it? Anything less than the way of the cross is not worthy of the One who gave His son to death upon it. When the supposed freedom to “do and live as we please” so often becomes bondage, it is better to be bound to the cross in complete surrender and obedience instead.
In Luke 9:23 Jesus basically says, “If you want to follow me, start walking towards your execution under the weight of the cross, the object of my suffering and death. Do so every day.” The cross was an object of shame; carrying a cross implied that you were a criminal, deserving of a slow, painful death. Most likely, many individuals witnessing Jesus on his walk towards Golgotha and his crucifixion thereupon assumed he was a despised criminal who had committed an evil act. Little did they know that it was for them he staggered under the weight of the tree, and it was for them he would die upon it.
Now it’s our turn. Some crosses will be heavier than others, and each cross will look different. For a persecuted Christian abroad, it may mean the threat or reality of death and suffering. For a wealthy American, it may mean leaving comfort, security, and prosperity to bring the gospel to an unreached people, or serving the poor in their hometown. For a father and mother, it may mean the laying down of dreams and desires to build and nurture those of their children instead. Whatever it may be, it comes down to simple obedience, just as Jesus was obedient even unto death. Can we expect anything less for ourselves? If we follow Jesus, we must go the way of the cross.
Lest we think this burden too heavy to bear, let us remember the heaviest weight of all, the one Jesus Himself had to bear. It was not the wooden cross alone, but the wrath of God the Father. As one author states:
“What happened on the cross was not primarily about nails being thrust into Jesus’ hands and feet but about the wrath due your sin and my sin being thrust upon his soul. In that holy moment, all the righteous wrath and justice of God due us came rushing down like a torrent on Christ himself…One preacher described it as if you and I were standing a short hundred yards away from a dam of water ten thousand miles high and ten thousand miles wide. All of a sudden that dam was breached, and a torrential flood of water came crashing toward us. Right before it reached our feet, the ground in front of us opened up and swallowed it all. At the Cross, Christ drank the fill cup of the wrath of God, and when he had downed the last drop, he turned the cup over and cried out, ‘It is finished.’”
Because of the cross, we have hope. Thus, in our lives, the way of the cross is the way to hope. In “losing” ourselves to the cross, we gain abundant life. The cross is not only a stepping stone into the way of Christ – it is the way of Christ. The cross is not a one-time encounter, but a daily act of the true disciple. Just as Christ chose the cross, we must surrender ourselves to it also.
By the words of Jesus Himself, there is no other way to know and be like Him than the way of the cross.
(To read the full September issue of HM Magazine, go here.)