Directly on the heels of Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ of God,” Jesus speaks to all the disciples saying, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9). While Jesus’ cross was certainly a death sentence, his invitation for us to take up our cross, not his cross, was not intended to be a death sentence. Or was it?
I don’t think this “new cross,” our cross, is something we today as evangelicals want to talk about much, let alone consider what having a personal cross would entail for ourselves. It still sounds like death. Is this something we would even dare to explore in an evangelistic conversation with a non-believer, explaining that we are to take up our cross daily if we are to truly follow Jesus? This is a rather unpleasant demand, wouldn’t you say? Good luck with that method in today’s North American culture.
Today we may not be as ready to give up our “old life” before a “new life” can be received. The early disciples understood that they were to give up something. In fact, all but John forfeited their physical lives for the privilege of following Christ. It seems like where the intent of the “old cross” was to “slay” the sinner, compel us to deny or renounce the “old life” lived for self and passions of the flesh, the “new cross” is geared more towards a redirection of lifestyle, perhaps a cleaner and happier lifestyle where one can still retain a margin of self-respect and call ourselves “Christian.”
The “old cross” was a symbol of death. It stood for the violent, abrupt end of a human being. The man in Roman times who took up a cross knew he was saying goodbye to friends, family and the life he knew. He was not coming back. Christ is beckoning us to leave our “old life” at the cross, not run in some semi-sanitized parallel path to the world and all it represents. Our path is more like a perpendicular one to the world. In coming to Christ, we are not bringing our “old life” up onto a higher place. We are to leave it at the cross, crucified. Is that what people are declaring of themselves as they wear jewelry of the cross around their necks? I don’t think so. Christ’s cross was not a decoration, it was his declaration.
As we communicate the gospel in our daily conversations, we do not take on the role of public relations agents who are trying to establish good will between Christ and the world. Though we must do our very best not to be offensive, the gospel itself is offensive to the world and will seldom be welcomed though it is the only promise of hope and security to a darkened world. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18) We are called to be bearers of the truth, not to try to make Christ acceptable to big business, politics, sports, celebrities, media or what have you. We are ambassadors assigned the task of carrying the message of our Master. We are more like prophets than diplomats, and much of what we communicate is an ultimatum, not an offer of compromise. The gospel is a hard but hope-filled message.
Our God offers life, but not an “old life.” What does this mean to you? Have you ever considered what your cross is or what it is meant to be? This is not delightful pondering in the sense of a happy time. It is deeper, prayerful meditation which will draw us away from the petty, temporal attractions of life and closer to the heart of Christ. Such meditation is not for the fainthearted or the carnal Christian who has a foot in the world and a toe in God’s kingdom. Consider your cross. Identify the possibilities. Then develop a strategy, a plan of action where you can live it out to the glory of God. Think About It.