First, You Pick Up the Cross

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

Not to offend anyone here, but I believe we have a way to easy and convenient and almost metaphorical picture of cross-bearing. We are not talking inconveniences here. The term is way too glibly used. The general idea that these words of Jesus about bearing the cross refer to passive submission to all kinds of afflictions, like disappointments, pain, sickness and grief that come upon man in life, is totally wrong.

The one carrying a cross essentially walked down death row to their place of execution. He knew there was no turning back. He had no longer any say over his life. Actually, the person bearing his cross was already considered death.

So, to be honest, I don’t think it so much refers to total commitment. Let me explain. To commit means to bind or entrust or pledge or obligate. Now, in that regards, it is Jesus who commits Himself to us, and this is not in any way confirmed or enhanced by our commitment to Him (rather the opposite I would say). I don’t think it refers so much to the way to our death (Jesus didn’t bear His own cross walking to His death).

No, “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:4). We are already dead, and brought to back to life, and are a new person. We are not committing to being that new person. We are that new person by His work, not ours. It is all by His grace, and it’s one way.

So, what does it mean then? It is a reminder BEFORE you accept the invitation by faith what the consequences will be. Remember that a disciple (in the sense of a follower) isn’t necessarily yet a regenerated person, a Christian. It is a reminder that when you accept His invitation by faith you will be a dead man walking for “those whom he called he also justified” (Rom. 8:30). You will die and be buried with Christ (by Christ), and raised to walk in newness of life (by Christ’s Spirit).

And read carefully what it says…

First, you pick up your cross.
You need to pick up your cross. No one else can do that for you. You are the one that must be willing to die to self. You pick up your cross. For Jesus the cross was literally dying to self, because Jesus died there as a human, and in another way, Jesus died there as God. And both were necessary to fulfil the Scriptures. What does it take for you to die to self? As long as you are not willing to pick up your cross, as long as you are not willing to lay down your life, you cannot be His disciple.

Second, you follow Him.
Once you are willing to lay down your life, you actually have to do it. And I believe these two actions go hand in hand just like the lame man in John 5 who got up after Jesus healed him from laying on that stretcher for 38 years. It is unthinkable that the healed man would continue to lay on the stretched. No, Jesus’ command of healing and Jesus’ command to get up go hand in hand. Following Jesus after picking up your cross is acknowledging that you would follow the life and pattern of Jesus. This is following Jesus at its simplest. He carried a cross, so His followers carry one. He walked to His self-death, so must those who would follow Him.

Third, you will be a disciple.
You can follow Jesus without being His disciple. Jesus had lots of followers, but all (even including His disciples) stopped following once they figured out where Jesus was going. No, being a disciple (a Jewish talmidim) means so much more. A disciple’s highest calling was to be a reflection of his teacher. A disciple studied to learn, to act, to speak and to respond the same way his master would act and speak and respond. A disciple studied to do the things his master did. His highest goal was to walk after his teacher. There is a story in ancient tradition that tells of a rabbinical student so devoted to his teacher that he hid in the teacher’s bedchamber to discover the mentor’s sexual technique. To be sure, this is a bit extreme, yet it demonstrates the level of commitment required to be a disciple. In Luke 6:40 Jesus said that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Jesus made it clear that only cross-bearers can be His disciples. And if you are not His disciple, well, then why are you following?

I don’t at all think this is talking about the daily inconveniences of life. It’s about counting the cost beforehand. This whole section of Scripture from verse 25 till the end is all about counting the cost, not about what you do once you are a disciple.

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Who Killed Jesus?

The easy answer to this question would be that I killed Christ for it is because of my sins (past, present, future) that Christ was crucified. But, like I said, this would be the easy answer. As we look at Scripture we see a much more beautiful picture I think. In several passages we see that Christ gave Himself up for us. In John 10:18, Jesus said, “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.” In the previous verse it is even said that the reason that God the Father loves Jesus is because Jesus layed down His life (John 10:17), because there is no greater love (John 15:13). The death of Jesus was completely voluntary, but it was not an indirect suicide in any sense. It was part of a plan to submit to death and then to emerge from it victoriously alive, according to the command received from God the Father.

Ephesians 5:2 gives us a similar picture when Paul says to, “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” As in all things, Jesus is our example. As He has loved us and has given Himself for us, we are to display the same kind of self-giving love. Jesus’ giving of Himself was obviously a sacrifice pleasing to the Father. We can also offer a pleasing sacrifice (a sweet-smelling aroma) as we give ourselves in love to others. We often think we could lay down our life in a dramatic way to show our love for others. But God often calls us to lay down our lives little by little – in small coins instead of one large payment – but it is laying down our lives nonetheless.

Abiding in Christ

To be abiding in Christ is acknowledging that the cross is the safest place to be. It’s at the Lord’s feet that we can listen to His teaching and have His Words influence and direct our steps. “And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” (Luke 10:39). In this section with Mary and Martha, we can extract that not being at the cross equals to being/becoming anxious and troubled. “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4). If you come to the cross it’s because the Holy Spirit led you there. This is comforting because that means that He is at work in your life. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6). If you come to the cross it is because you understand what Jesus has accomplished and how that applies to your life, which means that you understand the gospel, which means that God has shone in your heart “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

The closest you are to God, the further you are from harm. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1). Jesus is our shield. “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true;he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 18:30)

I abide in Christ by desperately seeking His face. 2 Corinthians 3:18 which says: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” This abiding in Him, this fixing our gaze on Him, this looking to and thinking about Him, this putting Him before us again and again, basically this living together with Him, will mean that you see Him for who He really is, will result in becoming like Him, as you become like what you constantly behold. This work of transformation is a process. We are becoming like Christ. We are growing in our capacity to show Christ by being like Christ. That is God’s will for us. That we be progressively be conformed to the image of Christ. To me, this means being transformed to His image as a suffering servant on mission while we are here on the earth: showing His kind of character, which produces hope (Romans 5:3-4), showing His kind of love, which means laying your life down for your friends (John 13:34-35; 15:12-13), showing His kind of servant heart, which means through love serve another (Galatians 5:13-14), showing His kind of influence, which means be like salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16), and this ultimately means being transformed to His glorious body (Phillipians 3:20-21) when we shall be like Him and see Him as He is (1 John 3:2) for that is what we inwardly groan for (Romans 8:23).