Take Up Your Cross

TODAY’S SCRIPTURE: Matthew 10:24-39

10:24 “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;

10:25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

10:26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.

10:27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.

10:28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.

10:30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted.

10:31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

10:32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven;

10:33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

10:35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

10:36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

10:37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;

10:38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

10:39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Today’s entire lection speaks of discomfort – the discomfort of being a Christian in the first century, and the discomfort of standing up for our faiths today. It can be summed up in the four actions Jesus asks of us: take, follow, lose, find.

Jesus knew the plan of salvation — including His death – in its entirety. He also knew that some of His disciples would meet the same fate. It is not clear how much the disciples themselves really understood about what was to come, as the writers of all four gospels are mostly silent on this matter. But when Jesus told them that they must take up their cross, they were no doubt rather shocked, as “cross” and “crucify” were considered to be vulgar words in their society, given their gruesome and horrifying connection.

To modern Christians, the cross is a symbol of our salvation. But in the first century it was an instrument of execution, like a guillotine, a noose, or an electric chair. It was not a quick and humane death, but a slow and tortuous one. In fact, the words “excruciating” and “crucifixion” are derived from the same root. 

So when Jesus said that we must take up our crosses, the disciples immediately recalled those they saw carrying their crosses to their places of execution. This was physically difficult, as well as humiliating. And the worst was yet to come: a slow and agonizing death. Because of this connection, these words of Jesus took on a special significance, a deeper meaning. In the context of this passage, Jesus was describing the cross the disciples – and all Christians — would have to carry in the future. They would have to lose their old lives to find their new ones. Sometimes this would have a very literal meaning, especially since all but one of the disciples were martyred. Jesus was very clear when He told them that if they were not willing to do this, they were not worthy of Him. He knew that following Him was easy when things were going well, and in this passage, He describes times when their commitment would be put to the test.

Today, Christians in some parts of the world are killed for their beliefs. At the very least, they are silenced. In our society we are free from such severe persecution, but we still face opposition, disapproval, and even ridicule from friends and family who feel our beliefs are unfounded and that we are silly to still believe our childhood Sunday School lessons. Yet, Jesus tells us that the very hairs on our heads are numbered. We are protected and loved.

Let’s come back to those four actions: Take, follow, lose, find.

Taking something involves a deliberate action on our part. It is a decision to face whatever is burdening us. We often quip, “that’s the cross I have to bear” without realizing that we are repeating far than just a cliché.

“Follow” is actually two actions, because as we follow, we also carry the cross. To follow Him implies that He is leading the way. Just as a child walking through deep snow will step into the parent’s fresh footprints, so it is with us and Jesus. We must follow Him to serve Him, not so He can serve us. And carrying the cross is just the beginning, as it points toward a death: in this case, the death of our old life.

Which brings us to the next action: “lose.” To lose our life for Jesus implies a sacrifice on our part. It involves taking desires that are contrary to His will and nailing them onto the cross.

Jesus is not telling us to disobey the commandment to honour our father and mother when he speaks of loving our families more than Him. Nor is He telling us that we must sever ties. The word that has been translated as “love” actually means to have a reluctance to hurt them, in this case by disagreeing with them or by rejecting their teachings. He is making a point about loyalty, and the importance of defending our beliefs, even if our families disagree. In the context of the reading, first century households were torn apart as members of traditional Jewish families come to believe that Jesus was the messiah.

And now the final action: “find.” The sword Jesus speaks of – a symbol of war – is to create peace as a result. God’s word is the sword by which we will find our lives.

In Luke’s account, Jesus adds: “Remember Lot’s wife.” As Lot and his family were fleeing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looked back. I have to admit it would have been tempting to glance over one’s shoulder and see the chaos happening behind you. But by looking back, she was indicating a longing for her old life and a reluctance to leave it behind.

In Luke’s account, Jesus says we are to deny ourselves and take up our crosses DAILY. Self-denial means to no longer see ourselves as the centre of the universe. We can see how this goes against human nature when we think of how soon a child learns to say the word “mine.” Self-denial means putting the needs of others before our own. And, of course, it means becoming a servant of God.

Let us align our lives to God instead of the world. Even though it is safe to assume none of us will ever be put to death for our beliefs, our old selves die in a complete and ongoing commitment. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote that he died daily. So it should be with us. The reward is far greater than any discomfort. It is a gift of eternal life, free from the suffering of this world. A temporary discomfort for eternal glory.

So today, let us take that deliberate action to nail desires that are contrary to His will onto our cross. Let us take all our burdens, and everything about our old lives that we want to die and nail those to our cross. It might be heavy but let us take it up and follow Him.

Taking… following… losing… finding… none of these are easy but we don’t have to do it alone. Like Simon of Cyrene, who saw how weak Jesus was and carried the cross for Him, Jesus is there beside us to take the weight of our cross. As we walk beside Him, He takes our troubles and replaces them with joy in Him. It is a joy that will lighten even the heaviest load and soothe even the heaviest heart.

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