Take up your Cross – Ron Graham -twotug@embarqmail.com

“…Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Mark 8:34. Do Christians living today fully understand what Jesus is saying? We’ve sanitized the cross to the point that it has now taken on a revered look. The cross is now a nice clean and shinny symbol, but symbol of what? In the days when Jesus told all who were sitting around Him, including His disciples, they needed to pick up their crosses, He was telling them they might well be put to death just as He would soon die on that cross if they were truly going to follow Him. The cross was a harsh instrument of death; it had no other purpose.
The Romans weren’t the ones who invented the torture of the cross, but they did perfect it. All those living in the times when the cross was used as a source of execution understood the severity of the inhumane torture inflicted upon the cross. No one in those days wanted to be reminded of what the cross represented.
Today jewelry stores are full of silver and gold crosses displayed in glass cases, their beauty enhanced with added lighting showing their brilliance, some studded with rubies and diamonds. In Jesus’ day the cross was despised, it was feared, it resulted in a most horrible and agonizing death. If you hang one around your neck or from your ears it becomes a beautiful and adored piece of flattery, but it was a far different symbol in the days of our Saviors death.
“Every Christian must be a Crucian, and do somewhat more than those monks that made themselves wooden crosses, and carried them on their back continually, making all the world laugh at them.” Martin Luther
Jesus is speaking about each individual picking up their very own cross and following Him down that dusty, dirty road of persecution and tribulation. That’s a road most Christians actually shun. In today’s vernacular Jesus is saying the road you will travel, if you are going to follow Him, is likened to the hall leading to the execution chamber.
Many Christians all across this globe are being put to death because they’ve picked up their crosses and never put them down. Here in America we still enjoy the freedom to worship openly, although Christianity in this nation is being attacked from all sides. There will come a time when Christianity will be of little or no significance in this country. You don’t believe it? Stay silent and wait and see.  
Those who follow Jesus are denying their humanistic instincts and by picking up their crosses, they know they must completely submit to Jesus’ will. When we deny our self and surrender to Jesus we resolve to obey Him. Obeying Jesus has never been a very self promoting idea, and too many people today are of the mindset of “it’s all about me”. Instead, we should be doing everything according to what Jesus has commanded and everything we do should point to Him. Let God be glorified in all we do and say.
“And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Mark 8:31. Jesus went on to say, “Take up your cross and follow me”; of course Jesus knew exactly what He was telling his listeners. Did they fully grasp the severity of what Jesus expected of them? If they understood Jesus was to suffer many things, even be killed, then they most certainly would have known their fate could be the same as His. Isn’t He also telling us (this current generation of believers) that as we take up our crosses we too will most surely experience persecution? I say it is. “…and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Matthew 28:20. We can take comfort in Jesus’ final words from the Gospel of Matthew.
Those who Jesus spoke with were to understand that by following Him they would be putting themselves in harm’s way. It was a certainty that they had to resolve in their own minds before stepping out to follow Him. There was a sacrifice to be made in order to follow Jesus. Many turned away and went back home unable to make the commitment to follow Him as the cost was too great. How will those of us who profess to follow Jesus Christ today contend with such persecutions? You best get prepared folks, its coming.
There is only one way, one path that will allow us to obtain true life, and that is by dying to this earthly life. Jesus said “…whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” Mark 8:35. We can’t gain resurrection life without dying first. Many will not give up the riches and pleasures of this life, as fleeting as they are, to even think about following Jesus. The pull of a soft, exciting, unencumbered, materialistic, self-made lifestyle is so great that one may actually gain the whole world but lose their soul in the process. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mark 8:36. No pain, no gain. All who follow Jesus, and I mean truly follow Him, will experience pain/persecution. If you’re born again, and sitting on the sidelines just enjoying life without a care for the lost or with what’s happening around you, then relax persecution probably won’t come your way.
People who live according to Jesus’ teachings and actually take up their cross have a much easier time with the actions and circumstances that confront them even though the days be filled with evil. Those who are at peace with their salvation and who revel in their security find contentment easily obtainable. Praise God! These days we live in can be brutal and seemingly hopeless at times. But take heart “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Matthew 6:34.
When our life’s pursuit is the perfect mold which is Jesus Christ, our minds become transformed. We will never reach perfection–the perfection of Christ–while we live in the flesh. But by striving for that perfection and adhering to God’s will–as we become others centered–we can become more content and much closer to understanding who God is and what His plan is for our lives. In the prayer Jesus taught His disciples, He’s teaching all of us to pray for the following, “…Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10b. God’s will is for us to take up our cross and follow Him; to do His will while we are able no matter what roadblocks are placed in our path.
Picking up that cross every day of our lives means we will be associating ourselves with Jesus of Nazareth. While living here on earth, Jesus was despised and hated by many and finally put to death for His crime of proclaiming to be equal to God. He was crucified for loving His followers and even for loving those who hated Him. Those who hated Him then are no different than those who hate Him today, and that same hatred for Jesus is put upon all who follow Him.
If you and I will not flinch, if we will remain true to our Savior and not be ashamed of Him, then when He returns in His glory we shall share in that glory. But if we live according to the world and the world sees us as being of no significant difference then aren’t we showing the world that we are ashamed of Jesus the Christ? Shouldn’t we then suffer the consequences of that professed shame? Jesus said “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels,” Mark 8:38 Aren’t we living in one of the most adulterous and sinful generations of all time? Shouldn’t we believers, having taken up our crosses, long to hear the words “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: … enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” Matthew 25:21.
The cross is nothing to be ashamed of; it’s in the Christian’s heart as a symbol of death’s defeat. Jesus defeated death by dying on that cross. But when Jesus speaks of picking up our cross and following Him He isn’t telling us to go down to our local jewelry store and purchase a necklace with a gold or silver cross hung from it. Nor is He admonishing us to mark up our bodies with a tattoo of a cross. When we finally make up our mind to follow Jesus in what He’s accomplished regarding our salvation we must decide once and for all that He reigns and it’s His will that will be done from that point on. And that we will not shy away from our assigned tasks. That’s taking up your cross.
Side Note:
I personally have no problem with folks purchasing crosses as an affirmation of who they are and whom it is they follow. Just remember, Jesus wants our hearts to reflect Him not a piece of jewelry, that isn’t picking up ones cross.
Nowhere in the scriptures are Christians told that once we take up that cross life is going to be easy. There is a sinister element that is very prevalent on the scene today just as it has been for all the centuries following Jesus’ ascension. Believers in the one true God, Jesus Christ, will have evil accusations hurled at them as if they were a scourge on the land, history proves that.
There are many accusations promoted through the major media and whether they be true or false are always promoted for the sole purpose of tearing down the Christian faith. When we hear news pundits referring to Christians as terrorists or classifying us in any number of other disparaging ways, then it’s time to rejoice. True cross bearers can take solace in the very fact that these folks refer to the Christian faith as being responsible for all the past and future problems in the world. Why? Well because that proves Jesus’ words “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you,” John 15:18. If the world hates you because they hate Jesus Christ, then you are in excellent company, and you’ve done what Jesus told you to do, you’ve taken up your cross and followed Him. On the other hand if the world loves you, you must be of the world and not of Christ. Where’s your cross?
Have you ever noticed that when someone wants to take a swipe at Christianity they consistently bring up the crusades or a Catholic Priest who’s molested someone, perhaps even a leading evangelical that turned to homosexuality? No true born again cross bearer would have associated themselves with those who were butchering people in Christ’s name, and as for the others I mentioned, isn’t it possible that they never really understood what it meant to daily take up ones cross. Jesus said many would come in His name to deceive and He was right. There are plenty of folks who masquerade as Christians for their own personal gain. This has been the case since Jesus’ ascension.   
Let’s be clear on the subject of the cross. We, that is, those who are actually taking up their crosses, are going to be persecuted. If you’ve done as Jesus willed you to do and you’ve taken up your cross daily, there is no doubt that you will feel the heat of hate or some other persecution. Look around at the evil that is already coming down on the brethren and you must admit that the Christian life you’ve embarked on is not always going to be a bed of roses.
Taking up one’s cross may very well become much more intense and dangerous here in America, just like it is in many other parts of the world. It will become more and more difficult to unabashedly remain a Christian in these last days, especially as we witness Christ-haters promoting every evil imaginable, trying to indoctrinate us with their sick lifestyles, and basically force feeding their wicked agendas upon every cross bearer.
The silver lining to taking up your cross is that you will spend eternity in glorious Heaven with our awesome God. If we must endure persecution to obtain that end, so be it.
God bless you all,
Ron Graham