Double Crossed

Which Cross Will You Choose?

Jesus made his way toward Golgotha (the place of the skulls) for his final humiliation, death on a cross. Severely beaten he stumbled beneath the weight of the cross he carried. Straining forward he collapsed. He could go no further. Looking into the crowd, Roman soldiers called out to a man, Simon of Cyrene, and forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. I can’t imagine its weight. Can you? Simon was the only person ever to carry Jesus’ cross. What about the rest of us? What are followers of Jesus expected to carry?

In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenges us to consider that “When Jesus calls a man he bids him come and die.” In Jesus’ time, death on the cross was reserved for the worst of criminals, usually for those who committed acts of treason against Rome. Nailed to the top of Jesus’ cross was his offense, “King of the Jews.” In the Roman Empire there were to be no rivals to Caesar. Jesus’ explanation that “my kingdom is not of this world” was considered suspect. The agony of the cross was his punishment.

So what did Jesus intend when he said “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34)? Unlike Simon, we are not being forced to pick up Jesus’ cross; we are invited to take up our own. Each of us must carry our own cross, but the requirement is the same for all who choose to do so, death to one’s self. Following Jesus means living for something greater than oneself. It means Kingdom living which is typified by a desire to give your life away for the sake of others and an unyielding devotion to glorify God.

In Western society where freedom of religion is dominate, the possibility of physical death for one’s beliefs remains remote. However, in Africa, Asia, India, and the Middle East the threat of death is a present reality as tens of thousands of Christ followers are martyred every year. The persecution and suffering they endure for their faith is for God’s glory and the Spirit of glory rests on them (1Peter 4:14). They have not forgotten Paul’s words, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29).

Unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the world, many American Christians have become adept at interpreting Jesus’ invitation to fit their desired lifestyles. Too often, sandpaper is taken to the “old rugged cross” in an attempt to smooth off its rough edges giving it a more desirable appeal. After all, no one wants to “take up their cross” if it gives them splinters. Sadly, all too often, the cross taken up by some does not require self-sacrifice but comes with the promise of prosperity and self-indulgence. Believing God has saved them so that he can Jesus made his way toward Golgotha (the place of the skulls) for his final humiliation, death on a cross. Severely beaten he stumbled beneath the weight of the cross he carried. Straining forward he collapsed. He could go no further. Looking into the crowd, Roman soldiers called out to a man, Simon of Cyrene, and forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. I can’t imagine its weight. Can you? Simon was the only person ever to carry Jesus’ cross. What about the rest of us? What are followers of Jesus expected to carry? In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenges us to consider that “When Jesus calls a man he bids him come and die.” In Jesus’ time, death on the cross was reserved for the worst of criminals, usually for those who committed acts of treason against Rome. Nailed to the top of Jesus’ cross was his offense, “King of the Jews.” In the Roman Empire there were to be no rivals to Caesar. Jesus’ explanation that “my kingdom is not of this world” was considered suspect. The agony of the cross was his punishment. So what did Jesus intend when he said “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34)? Unlike Simon, we are not being forced to pick up Jesus’ cross; we are invited to take up our own. Each of us must carry our own cross, but the requirement is the same for all who choose to do so, death to one’s self. Following Jesus means living for something greater than oneself. It means Kingdom living which is typified by a desire to give your life away for the sake of others and an unyielding devotion to glorify God. In Western society where freedom of religion is dominate, the possibility of physical death for one’s beliefs remains remote. However, in Africa, Asia, India, and the Middle East the threat of death is a present reality as tens of thousands of Christ followers are martyred every year. The persecution and suffering they endure for their faith is for God’s glory and the Spirit of glory rests on them (1Peter 4:14). They have not forgotten Paul’s words, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29). Unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the world, many American Christians have become adept at interpreting Jesus’ invitation to fit their desired lifestyles. Too often, sandpaper is taken to the “old rugged cross” in an attempt to smooth off its rough edges giving it a more desirable appeal. After all, no one wants to “take up their cross” if it gives them splinters. Sadly, all too often, the cross taken up by some does not require self-sacrifice but comes with the promise of prosperity and self-indulgence. Believing God has saved them so that he can indulge them as spoiled children, they redefine the cross and call themselves “blessed”, robbing themselves and God of its glory.

Could it be that we are in danger of being double crossed? In redefining the cross have we mistakenly taken up a counterfeit? Has the old rugged cross been exchanged for a cross of convenience, a comfortable cross, or a cross of pleasure? In our “look out for number one; you only live once” culture has our pursuit of convenience, comfort and pleasure supplanted the cause of Christ? Jesus’ invitation to follow him is a call to self-sacrifice, inconvenience and discomfort for the sake of God’s glory (Philippians 2:1-11). Without a willingness to accept these we reduce the cross to nothing more than a hollow piece of costume jewelry with which we adorn our lives. If we imitate those who are worldly we become guilty of embracing what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace” as a substitute for the authentic grace of God. God’s grace is compelling, prompting Jesus’ followers to take up their cross knowing it is rough, splintered, and results in living for God not themselves.

What cost God the life of his only son must be costly to us. Not that we nullify God’s grace by which we have eternal life. On the contrary, as Paul reminds us, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). We have been bought with a price; Jesus’ life. That is what it means to be “redeemed.” We no longer belong to ourselves but to the one who purchased us (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). He who ransomed his life for us has freed us to follow him. With this in mind let’s examine which cross we are carrying.

Just as Jesus was crucified between two thieves, we live among counterfeit crosses that threaten to steal the significance that our lives can have, robbing us of the joy that comes from being a devoted follower of Christ. Have you been double crossed? Have you taken up a self-serving cross? If so, I urge you to drop it! Instead, take up whatever cross God intends for you to carry and fulfill the purpose for which he paid such a high price. So, which cross will you choose? If it is splintered you know it’s authentic. Bend down, pick it up and join the glorious chorus of those saying “Ouch! Pass the tweezers please.”

He has Risen!

Pastor Todd