Question: What does it mean to take up your cross?
Answer: Let’s look at the Bible and see what Jesus meant when He said these words to His disciples. Taken out of context, it can easily be misinterpreted. To get the full picture, we will look at more than one verse reference where Jesus talks about carrying the cross.
20 Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.
21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
22 Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
See also Mark 8:34, Mark 10:21, Luke 9:23, Luke 14:27
Today the cross for many is just a religious symbol or an expression of carrying some burden (i.e. sickness). But for Jews back then it meant a very painful and shameful death. Israel at the time was ruled by the Romans. The cross and crucifixion were part of the brutal and painful punishment system in the Roman empire. This punishment also included the person to be crucified carrying in shame his own cross all the way from the town to the place of crucifixion. In the verses above, Jesus has just told his disciples that He is Christ and that He will be killed by men. He was ready to give up His life for us and suffer the most horrible death on the cross for our sins. He denied His deity in order to save us. When Peter wanted to stop Him from this, Jesus rebuked him, because it was the very reason why He came to this Earth. He then approached His disciples and told them, that not only is He going to suffer, but anyone who wants to be His follower would have to make a sacrifice as well. To take up the cross meant to be ready to follow Jesus even up to death. It sounds cruel, but for the apostles and early Christians this was their reality. Many of those who became believers in the first century were persecuted and killed for naming Christ’s name.
The same words that Jesus told His disciples apply to us as well. To follow Christ means to deny ourselves, our own will and to be ready to do His will. It is a commitment that we make every day. It can cost us our friends, family or even our own lives if we live in countries that are hostile to Christians. To be a Christian and live the way the Bible teaches is definitely not popular these days. Therefore anyone who wants to walk with Jesus will have to go through trials, rejection and even persecution (just like Jesus was rejected by His people). Sometimes to do the right thing might even cost us our jobs, friends or family relationships. For this reason, many today do not want to ‘take up the cross’ and choose the easy way out of not following Jesus’ teachings. Just like in Jesus’ time, many disciples have turned away from Him after hearing those words. People then followed Him as long as they were being fed and healed, but once they realised that in order to follow him they had to sacrifice something, they turned away.
Despite all the difficulties we might face in our daily walk, we know that we are not alone. Christ is there with us, ready to help and carry us when we fall. He is under one yoke with us, pulling the weight.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
We also know that the reward for those who are faithful to Him is great – He promises us everlasting life with Him.