(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)
A few months before Jesus was crucified, He focused His attention to preparing His disciples for their ministry after His return to heaven and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. It was not to be an easy task for His followers to follow in the Master’s footsteps! As the Jews rejected the ministry of the Lord Jesus, so they would not accept those who would come in His name! Jesus warned them of the cost in Luke 9:22 through 26:
“The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” Then He said to them all, “If any- one desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels.”
Yes, following Jesus Christ entails obeying a Deadly Command – That one is to “…take up his cross daily, and follow…” the Lord!
- What this command is not: Having been a pastor since 1972, I have counseled many, many people who come to me with a diverse array of problems. I have often heard a husband or wife say something like this, “My spouse is an alcoholic. When he [or she] drinks too much that one gets abusive. But I still love my spouse. I guess it is just the cross I am destined to carry.”
This may be a burden a person has to bear, but it is not the cross they are called to carry as a Christian! By the way, Jesus does give us the solution for such burdens that can weigh us down – Matthew 11:28 through 30 (I will quote these three verses from the New International Version):
“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and loaded down with burdens, and I will give you rest. Place My yoke on you and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest for your souls, because My yoke is pleasant, and My burden is light.”
The Lord is inviting us to share His yoke, not His cross! And if you can picture a pair of oxen under a yoke, that yoke is a wooden device that fits across the oxen’s shoulders with another bent piece of wood going under each oxen’s neck, so they can equally pull the load assigned to them. But Jesus’ yoke is very lop-sided! His side is large and our’s is small! In other words, He carries by far the heavier part of our burden!
- What the command as given by Jesus Christ in our featured Scripture means: A cross was the instrument of a cruel death! If you saw a man in the days of the Roman Empire struggling to carry a cross through the streets of Jerusalem, you would know that man was going out to die! He had no future except facing suffering and death!
The Lord is saying, “If you are going to be My disciple and follow Me, you must follow Me all the way to Calvary – even dying to yourself so you can live for the glory of God!”
You see, we all have a common problem…….and that problem is sin!
- It started with Adam in the Garden of Eden, when he disobeyed God’s command found in Genesis 2:16 and 17:
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
Adam ate, and Adam died! Oh, he did not die physically for many more years, but his spirit – that which vitally connected him to his Creator – died immediately! This was evidenced in Genesis 3:8:
And they [Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the LORD God walk- ing in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
Their sin, now vitally a part of their nature, made them shun the presence of God in His purity and holiness! So how does this affect us? Romans 5:12 (Lexham English Bible) tells us, “…just as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin, so also death spread to all people because all sinned.” Again, it is not just physical death that affects mankind, it is spiritual death – separation from our holy God! And if that separation is not repaired in a person’s lifetime upon earth, it will become permanent upon physical death – eternal death, separated from God forever in hell! As it says in Revelation 21:8 (shortened from God’s Word to the nations): “…sinners…will find themselves in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
But Jesus came to fix this deadly situation!
- Here is what is written in I John 5:11 through 13:
...this is the testimony that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who be- lieve in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life....
- But eternal life is not just heaven someday! For we are told in II Corinthians 5:17, “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away, all things have become new.” God, by His Holy Spirit, gives us a new and godly nature – a Christ-like nature, one that here and now wants to obey and please the Lord all the time!
The problem is that we still have that old sinful nature! Paul calls it the flesh several times in Galatians 5. He writes in verses 16, 17, 24, and 25:
Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. ...And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
Crucify the flesh! That is why we, if we are going to follow Jesus Christ, are commanded to “…take up…[your] cross daily, and follow Me.” Count your old sinful nature, moment by moment, to be crucified and dead so your godly nature can shine through! Earlier in Galatians 2:20, Paul wrote of this concerning himself:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
So again, what does it mean to “…believe in the name of the Son of God…”?
- It means to follow Him! It means to “…deny himself [or herself – yourself], and take up his [or her – your] cross daily, and follow…” Jesus!
- It means to daily (even moment-by-moment) die to self so you can live for God!
One more thing. Jesus showed us the best way to die to self.
- In His humanity, even His perfect humanity, He did not want to experience the extreme physical suffering of the final hours of being manhandled, beaten, and crucified!
- And He, having never tasted sin or separation from the Father because of sin, did not want to bear the sin of the world ! (see John 1:29; Matthew 27:46).
But as He prayed so intensely in the Garden of Gethsemane that He sweat blood, Jesus spoke these words to His Father: “Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).
“…nevertheless not My will, but Yours be done.”
That, whether repeated aloud
or having this prayer as a constant state of mind……
It is the best way to
“…take up…[your] cross daily, and follow…” Jesus!