I was driving home from the grocery store yesterday. I live in a fairly small town, the county seat, with a beautiful courthouse set in the middle of the square. I circled the roundabout, and was just about to exit to my desired road, when I saw him circling up the other side.
A man carrying a heavy, wooden cross that was big enough to be used for the cruel and torturous death for which it was intended.
The man had all the hallmarks of being homeless, and the cross had a sign in the place where the two boards meet, but all I could read was the large “God Bless You” scrawled across the bottom. A man who was closer pulled over just as I exited, so I assume it said something about being hungry.
I’ve thought about him, since, unable to shake the image of that giant cross from my mind. I have to assume that the man was using the cross to draw attention to his plight, letting people know that his current state of being was “his cross to bear.” Perhaps he felt it was the crummy hand he’d been dealt in life and he now carried it like a martyr. I think we do that sometimes. All of us.
“I guess this _________ that has happened to me was just part of God’s plan. It’s my cross to bear, so I’m going to carry it loud and proud, and recount the details over and over, and make sure everyone knows how much I’ve suffered.”
We allow that strained relationship, or thankless job, or whatever else, to become twisted into a sick sort of self-pitying pride. And you know what folks? That has nothing whatsoever to do with “taking up your cross” and following Christ.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?Is anything worth more than your soul?” Matthew 16:24-26 NLT
The cross was a symbol of violent and horrific death. We view it as a sign of hope now, but when Christ carried His cross up to Calvary, it was punitive. Not only was He going to die, he was going to carry the very instrument that would be used for the execution. When we “take it up,” I believe it means we are willing to “die to self,” or deny the desires of our flesh that would provide temporary enjoyment, but bring eternal pain. Nobody like the sound of dying to, or denying self, but it’s eternity we’re talking about here. It changes the perspective when our lives really are like a vapor.
Taking up your cross really means that you’re willing to suffer temporarily for eternal gain. That’s what Christ did (although none of us can fathom the extent to which He suffered), so that’s what we’re called to do. No pain, no gain. Not to boast in it, or wear it like the robe of a martyr, but shine through it; to draw attention – not to you – but to Christ in you.
Thankfully, He didn’t mean for us each to build a literal cross and carry it with us everywhere we go. And, also thankfully, He didn’t mean for us to carry them with a sign attached, our burden written out in bold ink. I’m grateful He meant it to be a figurative cross, one that is taken up in our hearts by choice, every day, causing us to live a little differently. It may be uncomfortable sometimes, but if we look around we’ll notice people’s gazes not on us, but on the sky. And that’s a gain worth the pain.
“whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” James 4:14 NKJV