Take Up Your Cross

by Alison Dellenbaugh on

Articles 6 min read
Luke 9:23 Luke 14:27 Matthew 10:38

Earlier I was musing about something and thought to myself, “That would be like asking me to dig my own grave. A little too much to ask.” I was stopped in my tracks by a different thought:

“Too much to ask? Kind of like… taking up your cross? That is exactly what you have been asked to do. By One who knows exactly what it means and what it feels like, because He has done it.”

Jesus said in Luke 9:23,Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” And again in Luke 14:27: “And whoever does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.” He said about the same in Mark 8:34, and maybe even more strongly in Matthew 10:38: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

When Jesus spoke those words, people didn’t know He was foreshadowing the very thing He would do for them. They wouldn’t imagine this teacher, this prophet, this hoped-for future ruler of a new government or kingdom, even this possible Messiah, could possibly be subjected to the death of a criminal, especially a death considered cursed (Galatians 3:13). But He went on to practice exactly what He preached.

Today, when we think of the cross, we sometimes think of decorative crosses. Small gold or silver ones, maybe with jewels, worn around the neck, or ornate crosses hung on a wall. Beautiful crosses in a church sanctuary, maybe draped with white or purple cloth, possibly lit up. Cute construction paper crosses cut and glued by little hands in Sunday School, or crayon crosses with rainbows above and flowers below.

I have no problem with those crosses, as long as we don’t forget the original: rough-hewn wood, heavy, splintery, having no beauty or majesty—an instrument of torture and excruciating death. Much slower than the electric chair, and much less humane than a firing squad.

And it wasn’t enough for Jesus to be put up on a cross, nailed to it, mocked, beaten, and left to die. First he had to carry that cross toward his impending death, at least until Simon of Cyrene was forced into service (John 19:17; Matthew 27:32). Imagine someone telling you: carry this heavy implement of death a long, long way… so that we can traumatize and kill you on it. Why even do it? Why not refuse, and be killed where you stand? Yet even today, citizens of besieged or war-torn regions, or those who are kidnapped or otherwise overtaken, sometimes find themselves having to move to the place of their own demise.

And this is what Jesus asks me to do.

We often think of “taking up our cross” as doing our least favorite tasks. Getting through the daily grind. Being patient with someone annoying. Putting up with some kind of stress or inconvenience. But a cross isn’t something light that we can hold up with minor effort and balance easily in our hands. A cross is a means of death. It is death to our selves and our own interests. All of them, if they’re not His.

Jesus asks me to forsake my own safety. To forsake my own comfort. To forsake my own protection. He asks me to follow wherever He leads, whatever it costs.

Yet He’s not asking me to do something He wouldn’t. Or hasn’t. Or anything that isn’t for good, in the long view of things (Romans 5:3-5Romans 8:28).

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” – Romans 8:17 (see also 2 Corinthians 1:5-7; 1 Peter 5:1)

Whatever He asks, however heavy the cross, however long the journey, however painful the lashes, however humbling, or even humiliating, the death to our selves turns out to be, He tells us to go anyway, as He did. Dig our own graves? Check. Forgive the unrepentant? Check. Polish the shoes of the people stepping on our heads? Check (Luke 6:35).

At times it will seem too hard a burden to bear. But He will help us do it all, as we lean on His Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26) and receive His strength (Isaiah 41:10) and His incredible love (Psalm 136).

And the end result will be beautiful. More beautiful than this cross at a church where my son’s school band played in Fort Worth:

church cross IMG_7569.JPG

In retrospect, all of our crosses, even the original cross Jesus died on, will seem glorious, wondrous, and lovely, because of the glory they helped to bring to pass.

And there will be joy, so much joy along the way, as we walk in the very presence of God (Psalm 27:4Nehemiah 8:10;  Psalm 126:2Psalm 118Psalm 73:23), and infinite joy at the end (Hebrews 12:2Psalm 16:11)! So take up your cross with gladness. The path to death turns out to be the path to life!

But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” – 1 Peter 4:13

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17

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See also the sermon “Follow Me to Death.”

About the Author

Alison Dellenbaugh (M.A. in Christian Leadership, Dallas Theological Seminary) is the Spiritual Formation Resource Manager at Central Bible Church and editor of the Next Step Disciple website.