Good morning! Here we are with another reflection based on Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel. Once again, we find Jesus teaching his disciples, preparing them to go out into the world and continue his ministry themselves. As yesterday, today’s words are challenging to say the least!
38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
A few years ago I did a Masters degree, part time, whilst working full time. When I signed up for it, it seemed like a good idea. For the most part I really enjoyed it; the classes were interesting, the seminars illuminating, and the camaraderie great. Every time I found myself up against an essay deadline, though, I began to wonder quite why I was bothering! In fact, I don’t think there was a single essay where I didn’t think to myself, “that’s it! I’m packing this in and giving up!’ On each occasion, though, I was able to calm myself down, and just get on with it. I knew that ultimately the sense of achievement on graduating would make it all worth while. Plus I’d have learnt a lot by the end, and it might even help me in my life and career.
It’s often the case that difficult things are worth persevering with. In the words of that old American Football phrase, popularised by Billy Ocean, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
In today’s verses, Jesus makes it clear that following him is no walk in the park. Christians are called to “take up their cross” and follow Jesus if we want to be found worthy of him.
This is one of the most famous expressions of Jesus, and one which is often spoken in wider society. But what did Jesus actually mean when he told his followers that they must take up their cross and follow him?
Quite simply, “taking up your cross” means to be willing to endure death by the most painful and humiliating methods of execution ever devised by humanity. This is the only image that his disciples, to whom he was speaking, would have had in mind.
Of the twelve apostles (thirteen if we include Matthias, who succeeded Judas after he committed suicide), two (Peter and Andrew) literally took up their crosses and were crucified. Of the others, only John is said to have died a peaceful, natural death, with all the others dying for their faith.
Taking up your cross means being willing to give up your life in the service of Jesus Christ. He died for us, and we too should be willing to die for him.
That is not an easy message. But it’s one that is definitely worth pondering. If it came to it, would I be willing to die for Jesus?
Of course, most of us will not be in a position where we face death for our beliefs. But what would we be willing to sacrifice for our faith? Would we be willing to lose friends? To lose jobs? To lose our comfortable, western existence?
Is following Jesus the single most important thing in your life?
If we are willing to make these sacrifices then the rewards will be great, because as Jesus says, “whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” True life will be ours – life as God intended, a life with him in his new, eternal and perfect creation. Eternal life with no suffering, sickness, disease or death.
The Christian life is not easy. But the rewards are great, and eternal.
Question for reflection: What does it mean for me to ‘take up my cross’? Have I committed my life to following Christ?
This post was originally published in my Bible Notes email.