Taking up the Cross

What does Jesus mean when He requires each of His followers to “take up his cross”? Remember that the cross was an instrument of death, the cruelest form of execution available to the Romans, reserved only for the worst offenders. Jesus had just predicted that He would be killed (16:21), and now He reveals that His demise would come by crucifixion. At the very least, then, to take up one’s cross and follow Christ means to be willing to be persecuted not only “for righteousness’ sake” (5:10), but also the sake of Christ alone (5:11). A disciple of Christ will admit his allegiance to Jesus even in the face of certain death (10:32). Throughout the centuries, and even more today, millions of believers have suffered simply for being a Christian, even to the point of torture and death. Why would anyone want to invite pain and death by openly declaring allegiance to Jesus as Lord and Savior? Many motives – including gratitude and loyalty - would impel someone who has been saved from God’s wrath by the sacrifice of Jesus to remain faithful to the end, but Jesus provides a very pragmatic one: If we seek to avoid physical death by denying Christ, we shall consign our soul to endless torment. But if we let go of this mortal life by accepting death as a Christian, we shall receive everlasting life (16:25). It’s a simple matter of profit and loss: “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (26-27). How then can we who are not now facing deadly persecution take up our cross and follow Jesus today? It begins with a ruthless war against sin. To avoid transgressing God’s righteous laws, we must eliminate whatever would lead us astray (5:29-30). Peter, who heard these words of Christ, tells us to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Paul urges us to “Put to death your members which are on the earth,” by which he means all sins of passion and pride (Colossians 3:5-9) and to present our “bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1). It’s a matter of life and death!