“And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” -Luke 14:27
Look around you! How often do you see others bearing the cross in some form or another? It may be a cross on a ring, necklace, earring, ankle bracelet, bumper sticker on a car, or a tattoo placed visibly on some part of the body’s anatomy. Usually this is just one of several tattooed images so I wonder what it really means to them. While on vacation a few years ago I was picking up some deli items when I looked up and next to me in line was a scantily clad lady with tattoos from her neck to her feet. She caught me gawking and the only thing that came to my mind to say was, “Did that hurt!” As I uncomfortably continued our conversation she indicated that sometimes she can make up to $200.00 a weekend at “Tattoo Shows.” Without trying to be too conspicuous I did find the “cross” but when Jesus said we are to bear our “cross” I am sure this is not what he had in mind. Occasionally I will ask a person wearing a cross what it means to them. Often the answers are mind-boggling but I have found it an interesting way to witness.
The world does not understand that the cross represents sacrifice. To bear the cross in the New Testament meant self-denial, suffering and submission, as demonstrated in the life of Jesus Christ, our Lord. A condemned man was forced to carry his own cross to the place of execution. It was a shameful act. The cross represented the “death dues” of living a wicked and disgraced life. But our Lord’s death upon the cross was of far different meaning than that of any other of his day or since. A.W. Tozer states that, “He was too holy to be received by sinful men and He was too sinful to be received by a holy God.”
For us today as the genuinely repentant recipients of divine grace, bearing the cross brings forth both demands and delights. The demands are no less than what was demanded of the Savior. First, we must be devoted to the Father’s will. We must understand that we are chosen to be His light in darkness; we must see the world through God’s eyes; we are His special people always revealing the Glory of God regardless of any pain we must suffer. I read of one old Baptist missionary society that had as its symbol an ox standing between a plow and an altar. Underneath were the words, “Ready for either or both!” Some plow, some sacrifice. History verifies it and we must submit to it. Second, we must separate ourselves from the world, though we are in the world, and focus on divine mission. Side issues may be many but nothing must side track us from our devotion to God. We must be wise discerners between the frivolous and the favorable. Finally, we must identify ourselves unashamedly with the cross. Everything Christ accomplished was for us and everything we do must be for Him. His incarnation identified Himself with us; in bearing our cross daily we identify with Him.
The demands are great, but no less are the delights! On my 34th birthday I received an 1848 copy of Thomas Kempis’s classic work, “The Imitation of Christ!” Born in 1380. Kempis lived to be 91 years of age, much of that time spent in a monastery where he practiced exercises of devotion, writing and copying, reading, preaching and exhorting novices and inquirers who visited him. During this time he copied the Bible no less than four times. In his volume on “The Imitation of Christ,” he stated that “Only the servants of the cross can find the way of blessedness and of true light.” Bearing the cross brings assurance of my salvation for why would I bear it if it were not for the transforming grace of God. Kempis, in acknowledging Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life, goes on to say, “Without the way there is no going; without the truth, there is no knowing; without the life, there is no living. I AM the way, which thou oughtest to follow; the truth, which thou oughtest to trust; the life, which thou oughtest to hope for. I AM the way inviolable, the truth infallible, and the life that cannot end.” The study of the Cross in Scripture continues to endear itself to my heart. It reminds me of my sinfulness without Christ, my inheritance in Christ; and my responsibility in imitating Christ.
We are called to be Cross-bearers, not simply bearing visible symbols of the cross, but demonstrating daily the marks of the Cross through a life crucified unto Christ.
Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee;
Destitute, despised, forsaken – Thou from hence my all shalt be.
Let the world despise and leave me – they have left my Savior too;
Human hearts and looks deceive me – Thou are not, like man, untrue.
Man may trouble and distress me – ‘twill but drive me to Thy breast;
Life with trials hard may press me – heav’n will bring me sweeter rest.
Hasten on from grace to glory, armed by faith and winged by prayer;
Heav’ns eternal day’s before me – God’s own hand shall guide me there.
-Henry F. Lyte
“For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” -II Corinthians 2:2
-Maynard H. Belt