What Does It Mean To Take Up Your Cross?
October 23, 2014 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
When we hear Jesus’ words in Mark 8:34, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” most of us think of Jesus’ cross and the significance of his death. In our minds taking up our cross must parallel Christ’s death on the cross in some way. And we are right for thinking along these lines. Paul affirms this by saying, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). There is much significance to unpack from this truth.
But what about those disciples who heard Jesus speak these words at first? They had not seen Jesus crucified on the cross yet. They had not learned how central to our entire faith the cross becomes. In fact, Peter has just rebuked Jesus for talking about being killed (see Mark 8:33). What must have they been thinking when Jesus tells them to “take up your cross”?
The disciples certainly would have been familiar with the “cross.” It was an all-too-common form of execution used by the Romans during the period (1st century Jewish historian, Josephus, mentions that thousands were crucified by the Romans). In light of this, the disciples would have viewed the cross as a form of punishment and oppression by the empire. But how can the cross play a part in their discipleship?
Reflecting on what the disciples did and did not know and when they know helps temper our critique of them. The disciples were in the process of learning Jesus. While in process, they cannot possibly understand all that Jesus was going to do. Even Jesus charges them to not speak about what they are learning yet (see Mark 8:30). He wants them to gain a more complete picture of his mission first.
Likewise, we need to be gracious with one another as we are in process. No single person can claim to have perfect knowledge and understanding of Jesus and his ways (we certainly grow in understanding Jesus, but we never perfect our knowledge).
And consider the grace of Jesus in the midst of the process. In a period of three chapters (Mark 8, 9, & 10) Jesus speaks about his eminent death three times (8:31, 9:31, & 10:33-34). After each instance, his disciples misunderstand and say or do something foolish (8:32, 9:34, & 10:35-37). Jesus follows up with further teaching on the fundamental characteristic of following him, self-denial (8:34, 9:35-37, & 10:42-45). This is longsuffering and patient teaching.
We are familiar with the end result of this long road of learning Jesus. The disciples go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit proclaiming that Jesus is both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36 & 5:42)! “The number of disciples multiplied greatly” (Acts 6:7) and “The church was being built up and multiplied” (Acts 9:31).
May we humbly submit to Jesus’ process of discipleship. May we learn the hard truth of self-denial. And may God be pleased to use us to multiply the number of disciples greatly!