Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (CEB)

What does it mean to “take up our cross?” Some people see it as a burden, such as a physical challenge or a complicated relationship. People would describe something in their life and tell you it is “their cross to bear.” But does that relate to Jesus’ call for us to take up our cross and follow him?

The common perception is that to carry or take up “our cross” is not for everyone but only for those who are “super spiritual,” or perhaps Christ-followers called to a special task or service. Remember what God said to Ananias concerning Paul: I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Acts 9:16 (NIV). Others see their cross as something thrust upon them, but it would be unthinkable to seek out a cross on their own initiative.

To take up “our cross” is more than just facing life with a “grin it and bear it” attitude or disposition. Taking up our cross means we no longer have a claim or right to our own life. Under Roman rule, the condemned forcibly had the privilege of their own life taken away from them, but Jesus called upon his followers to take up their cross of their own volition.

Above Everything Else

There are several accounts in the gospels where at various times, Jesus told his followers that if they wanted to be a disciple of his, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. Perhaps the most potent call comes in Luke’s Gospel. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.  And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26–27 (NIV). We can safely assert that Jesus did not literally say that we must hate our family or even ourselves, but the contrast is striking compared to how much we love Jesus.

A disciple who takes up his cross does not hold on to everything he is entitled to possess. Personal success, blessing, favor, or prosperity are not the prime motivation. But instead, the disciple is only affected by doing those things which please God.

Paul said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:12 (NIV). The disciple’s view does not change with circumstances because they have laid their desires on their cross and carry them with gladness.

God before Self

Joseph was born an heir and a son of promise. He was his father’s favorite, but his brothers grew jealous and sold him into slavery, and he seemingly lost everything. Although God blessed him and everything he did in Egypt, he recognized that it was to rescue and serve his family.

On the other hand, Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s household and enjoyed all the privileges and riches the position afforded. Still, he turned his back on all that, instead choosing to suffer ill-treatment along with God’s people. Joseph and Moses recognized that the most important thing was not their self-interest but rather to be an instrument in the hand of God. Each was willing to sacrifice every privilege and advantage to serve God and his people.

Paul said to the Galatians: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 (NLT). The disciple who takes up his cross identifies with Christ and does not seek his own will but instead seeks to do the will of the one who gave himself as a ransom for us.

When we take up our cross, we are not merely carrying our burdens. Instead, we are laying our privileges, blessings, and even our favor aside so that we can help fulfill God’s plans and purposes for us and for as many others as possible. As counterintuitive as it may seem, we attach the good things to our cross, not only our problems and sorrows.

Beyond The Cross

Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Hebrews 12:2 (NLT)

The call to take up our cross daily is unmistakable, yet if we focus only on our cross without perspective or a vision of what lies ahead, we will likely become discouraged and give up. For Jesus, the anticipation of what was beyond the cross brought joy. We, too, must look beyond the burden of our cross and rest in the promises of God.

As always, Jesus is our example: Think about the one who endured such opposition from sinners so that you won’t be discouraged and you won’t give up. Hebrews 12:3 (CEB)

Remember, the call to “take up our cross” is not some meaningless, perfunctory exercise. God uses it to develop his character in us. And just as Jesus is our example, we serve as an example to others. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. John 13:15 (NLT)

Finally, be encouraged by the words of this song:

It will be worth it all when we see Jesus!
Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ.
One glimpse of his dear face, all sorrow will erase.
So, bravely run the race till we see Christ.

Steve Ekeroth

3 Comments

  1. Patsy Moore on August 19, 2022 at 11:43 am

    Happy birthday Joy

  2. Rev Jan Michael Nace on August 19, 2022 at 12:35 pm

    Happy Birthday to Joy as well! We preach the cross at Java Church possibly because of my attraction to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ministry (my own mother —speaking of mothers— was a member of his movement). Steve, I agree it is not a pleasant subject and in all honesty when I preach on it I don’t see rejoicing in my people. But I take comfort in the truth it proclaims and that we are not withholding truth from our people. Seems Biblical truth is becoming more and more strange in today’s world.

  3. Naomi J Brinkman on August 20, 2022 at 12:22 pm

    Well written, lots of Scriptural backup.

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