The very first message I taught at Hope Family Fellowship was centered on embracing the cross as a disciple of Jesus. Since that first Sunday in 1993 until today, the concept of death to self through cross embracing is always close to the forefront of my mind. But, what does it mean?
Jesus stated that in order to be His disciple we must take up our cross and follow Him. (Matthew 16:24 and Luke 9:23. in fact, the Luke passage includes the word, "daily," implying a repeated decision. Okay, but what does it mean in my world?
The purpose of the cross in Jesus day was to produce a painful death to its bearer. The cross was intended to inflict pain, suffering, humiliation, and ultimately death to the one carrying it. When Jesus turned to those that desired to follow Him and told them to grab a cross, they at least had some idea of what a cross looked like, and what it meant to those that carried it. We tend to think in terms of the top of a church building or perhaps a necklace. We have turned one of the most brutal forms of execution known to man into a decoration. Got it, we probably don't have the same insight as the followers of Jesus' did about the cross, but what does it mean to me?
Jesus presented a radically different call to those that heard Him than what they expected. Those who lived under Roman oppression were looking for their Messiah to ride in on a white horse and kick out the army that occupied their homeland. Jesus made His triumphant entry into the city on a donkey and ended up being the Sacrificial Lamb. Jesus told them to submit to the conquerors and to serve them. Jesus told them that their earthly life was not as important as their eternal one. Jesus told them that the Kingdom He represented was of a different sort, one that was entered by a cross. I have read the Gospels and know all that Jeff...what does it have to do with taking up my cross daily?
Jesus, many times, explained the Kingdom in parables and stories. The meanings were sometimes hidden and required additional explanation and other times were crystal clear. Finding a pearl of great price is pretty easy to understand, the sower and the seed took some more explaining to grasp what Jesus was after. What about taking up our cross? Is that an easy to understand image or does it take some additional explanation to discover its hidden meaning? Jeff, you had better tell me soon or I will quit reading!
What does it look like to take up your cross daily (finally!)? The answer is, that it depends. (Arghh!) Okay, don't get so touchy. Let me explain. In every situation involving another person there are at least four wills involved. There is my will, God's will, someone else's will and our ancient foe's wicked desires. God has a will and a plan that should be our first concern. The other person involved has feelings, a will, emotions, and needs that we are commanded to consider above our own. We, of course, have feelings, desires, will and choices, and we must never forget that we have an enemy that wants to destroy us.
In order to understand what it means to take up my cross I must filter every decision through a grid. By that, I mean that we must consider the will of our Father in heaven as revealed in His Word. What does God say about it? If He has spoken regarding His will, then that is that, end of the story. If He has not spoken directly about it, which is the vast amount of cases, then we go to step two. What does the Scripture mean when it tells me to "esteem others as better than myself" and "not to look out for my interest but others?" What do those verses mean when it says about "not placing stumbling blocks in front of others," and "I will never eat meat again if it bothers my brother?" What does the Scripture state regarding about "strong and weak brothers," "limiting my freedoms for others," and need I go on to discussing, "love one another?" We are not alone and our actions must be tempered specifically in reference to everyone else to fulfill the Royal Law - love your neighbor as yourself.
In addition to these considerations, we must never forget that we live in occupied territory controlled by the prince of the power of the air. We live as strangers and aliens among a hostile people. Our foe has a will and it is not pretty towards us - "kill, steal and destroy" does not imply being nice or playing fair. I must live in a way as to not give my adversary any ground or opportunity to advance his kingdom in my life or realm of influence.
So, what does it mean to take up my cross and embrace it? In a nutshell it means to be willing to lay down my will and desires for God first and then everyone else next. Our life is not our own, we were bought with a price! We proclaim that Jesus is Lord, and so He is. His will must become our will and His Word must be our love and law. We are not to embrace our self, love our self, or improve our self, we are to take up a death-to-self cross. A good phrase to adopt is something like this - "my life is not my own."
When my schedule is interrupted by others, when my plans are changed, when my life is interfered with, I must remember that I belong to Another. My life is not my own. I have taken up my cross, will continue to embrace it, and will live a life of death to self. My will is not as important as God's will and my needs are to be subservient to everyone else's. Ouch. That sure flies in the face of taking care of number one theology that is popular in our day. Exactly.
Nowhere in the Scripture are we commanded to pamper our self, look out for our self and to think about our self before everyone else. In fact, we are commanded the exact opposite. Multiple places in the Book we are told to die to our self, love everyone with a self-sacrificial love, and to look outward not inward.
What does it mean to take up our cross and follow Jesus daily? In the simplest terms, it means to lay down my will for His, and to esteem everyone else as more important than myself thus learning to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. I must begin in my home laying down my life for my family, becoming a servant to all and then work outward to everyone else I meet.
Are you kidding me? If I did what you talk about, everyone would take advantage of me! Hmmm...Maybe that is what we are here for anyway to give everyone else an advantage over our self. After all, the purpose of the cross is to humble and kill my flesh, not to fulfill its self-centered desires. What else is a cross for if not to produce to death to self? We can wear a cross as a decoration, even decorate our buildings with it, but until we begin to embrace the one that kills us, we really are not walking as disciples...at least according to Jesus.