Every time I see a representation, in art or in film, of Jesus carrying the cross, I am struck by the image. On the day Jesus had been condemned to death, as they were taking him to the place of execution on the cross, they forced him to carry the very same instrument of death he would be crucified on.
So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. John 19:17.
The cross is a powerful image. The Romans used it as an image of control and Jesus turned it into an image of sacrifice.
However, before any of this took place, as he was teaching, Jesus already set the stage for his disciples about what it would mean to follow Him with the image of the carried cross. In Jesus' day, to be crucified was the ultimate punishment within the Roman system. It was designed, not only to punish the offender but to send a message to those watching about who was still in charge. The act of carrying ones' cross showed that in the end, the people still could be made to submit to the Empire of Rome.
With this idea likely commonly known among his disciples, Jesus told them this:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23
In this powerful statement, Jesus tells his followers that if they want to be his disciples they will no longer live for themselves. In fact, they must die to themselves so that they might live anew in Him. There is a cost to following Jesus, yet, incredibly, the rewards are significant as well.
For followers of Jesus, denying oneself and taking up our cross is not necessarily about a difficulty we experience which we may need to endure. Rather, it is a way of living out life, setting aside our own will and desires, and submitting them to the will and desire of Christ.
This can play out in a number of ways:
One example is when Jesus calls us to serve in some way, it might be in our local church, it might be in our community or it might be somewhere abroad. Whatever the case, often when Jesus calls we are resistant, for a variety of reasons. It may be that we feel we don't have the time or the talent necessary for the work. Or it might simply be that we desire to do something else. Whatever the case, when Jesus calls he asks us to align our will to his, putting to death our own will if it does not align to his.
A second way we can live out this call is when we interact with others, specifically with those in the church. In interpersonal interactions it can be so easy to think that we know what's best or what is needed and we end up discounting the other person in a variety of ways. As disciples of Christ we must remember that dying to Christ and bearing our cross also means acting in a Christ-like manner and viewing others through the eyes of Christ. At times this may mean we need to hold= our personal preferences loosely for the purpose of unity in the body.
Bearing the cross for Christ is not easy. There is much that pulls at us and tells us it is too difficult. Our own will and desires tell us to focus first on ourselves. But as disciples of Jesus, when we are willing to submit those things to him – although it can be difficult at times - bearing the cross can bring great reward.
This article was originally published in The Recorder Vol 60, no. 1