“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.’” (Matthew 16:24)
Over the centuries, people have recognized that a cross is a symbol of suffering. Many from all walks of life have used the expression “to bear a cross” to describe difficult situations—from the serious, such as suffering with a terminal disease, to the insignificant, such as dealing with a cold. However, these are not the crosses Christ is calling us to.
We may have run-ins with church members and Christian friends, family, or even those outside of our fellowship. These problems often arise because of our pride. We may be unwilling to allow someone else to get the upper hand in a discussion or take advantage of us in some deal because we know we are in the right. We would rather suffer under the indignities of a “cross of martyrdom” of our own making than apologize or make amends with others.
Often our own choices lead to what we may think of as crosses to bear. Poor financial decisions may lead to a budget cross. Poor use of our time or overindulgence in some activity or substance may cause us to bear other crosses as well. Yet these are not the crosses Christ is calling us to. And it really doesn’t make sense to complain about the many crosses we have to bear in our lives when we are in the back yard with hammer and nails creating our own. If we find ourselves suffering under a cross of our own making, it is time for confession and correction.
So what crosses is Jesus calling us disciples to take up, and for what reason? Paul told his Philippian congregation, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” (Philippians 1:29 ESV) We have been granted—in other words, it is our privilege—to not only believe in Jesus, but to suffer for His sake as well. This suffering for Christ is written of many times throughout the New Testament. Paul and Peter especially focus on the crosses and sufferings of Jesus’ followers. These crosses are presented as the typical or expected result of doing what is right—following Christ’s commands. Peter tells us in his First Epistle that if we suffer for our own wrongdoings, that’s only to be expected. But if we suffer for doing what is right and bear it patiently, we are showing Christ to the world!
Christ suffered for us. There was no wrong-doing or sin on His part. He willingly and patiently bore our sins and those of the world all the way to the cross. This canceled the debt we owed to God. This, along with Christ’s righteousness now credited to our account, puts us right with God.
Peter states, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21) Follow His example!
When a true cross of Christ is laid upon us and we respond with anger, hatred, retribution, and ugliness, the world sees and understands these very human responses. If, however, we respond to persecution with kindness, meekness, forgiveness, and love, the world can’t understand it, for these responses are only understood through the guidance and providence of the Holy Spirit. This again gives us the opportunity to present our Savior to the world.
Because our Jesus reigns in our hearts, we can seek to follow His counsel, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:10-12 ESV)
Let us rejoice and be glad in all situations!