“If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34b)
We pretty much get “deny himself.” It means that we choose not to follow the pursuits of our own lives, hearts, and minds and choose instead to commit our lives to the will of God as our first priority. And, we get “follow Me.” That means to act in faith to carry out the teachings of Jesus, living for Him. But what does “take up his cross” mean?
On occasion we may see a news report about a guy who picks up and drags a physical wooden cross from place to place, preaching the gospel as he goes. Is this what “take up your cross” means? This is clearly a graphic and dramatic way to proclaim the gospel of Jesus, but it’s very doubtful that this is what He meant.
In the Philippines, each year on Good Friday, a group of men voluntarily and literally let themselves go through a physical crucifixion. Some don’t make it past the first hammer’s blow to the nail. Some are able to endure it for a few hours. They say they do this so they can feel closer to Jesus and understand more of what He went through. That may be sentimentally sort of commendable, but sometimes we just have to wonder what is going through people’s minds to produce something like this. Again, it is highly doubtful this is what Jesus had in mind with “take up your cross.”
“Take up your cross” was actually an idiom of the day that simply meant “bear your burden.” The idea is simply to do whatever is necessary to continue forward faithfully. It means to endure hardship, forego other pursuits or distractions, and live fully committed with no turning back or veering away from a task. Jesus wanted His disciples, both them and us, to know that following Him may well have a price, and we need to be prepared to pay the price. Discipleship can cost.
Lord, Help us to always be prepared to pay the price, to bear the burden, and to endure whatever is called for in order to serve You faithfully. Amen.