Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Take Up Your Cross

I have been ruminating on a thought/passage for a few weeks now. I have been studying Jesus' command to those wishing to come after Him, saying, "let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." (Mark 8) Traditionally, when the church hears or speaks these overly used (out of context) words to "take up your cross," it is in reference to what Paul would call "momentary light afflictions." (1 Corinthians) We use pithy statements like, "oh, this is just my cross I have to bear," while referencing regular occurring life circumstances like stubbing your toe, or struggling to pay your rent. I DO NOT believe this is what Jesus meant when He gave this command to His disciples. If we continue to reference this passage in this way, we will be reducing Jesus' command for salvation to whatever portrait suits our fancy, so that we do not really have to take up a cross. Yes, literally take up a cross.

In order to understand the meaning behind this text, we have to understand what discipleship looked like to a first century Jew. Typically, boys would become disciples around the age of 13 or 14 by choosing which rabbi they would follow. Jesus' disciples follow a similar pattern, yet very different as well. Rabbis were traditionally given an opportunity to have followers once they reached the age of 80. As we know, Jesus was in his thirties at this time, and the disciples did not pick Him as the rabbi they would follow, He chose them. Talk about counter-culturalism. That's another story. Anyway, a disciple would be someone that would literally mimic every move of the rabbi. Almost like a contemporary game of Simon Says, or Follow the Leader.

Prior to Jesus explaining what must happen, the disciples had a misunderstanding of the King that they were expecting, as well as what they were expecting Him to do. At this time, the Jews were being oppressed by Rome, and they needed a King who would regain the throne, and deliver them from oppression. Peter, believing and confessing that Jesus was the Christ, had his own expectation of what must happen for their deliverance. Upon Jesus' explanation that "the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected...and be killed, and after three days rise again," Peter was thrown off. Peter began to rebuke Jesus privately (funny), immediately followed by Jesus rebuking Peter publically (funny).

Now that we understand what is going on here, as well as know the expectations of a disciple, we will see the importance of Jesus saying that "the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected...and be killed, and after three days rise again." As a disciple, they should very well know the expectations that are placed before them, are to mimic their Rabbi, or as we would say, Follow the Leader. Obvioiusly, Peter was not expecting this, but even more so, he knew of the possibility that he may have to do the same. Finally, Jesus says that "if anyone wants to come after me (follow the leader), he must DENY HIMSELF, TAKE UP HIS CROSS, and FOLLOW ME. Now would be the time to be somewhat afraid if you were one of His disciples. Jesus is not speaking from a metaphorical standpoint, merely saying that it might be somewhat hard at times, He is demanding that His disciples take an oath of death, but not just any death, the most shameful of all deaths. This is the cost of following Jesus. He is saying, I am going to do this, and I want you to follow me, and do the same.

This is validated in multiple places, but here are a few examples: Mark 10:35-45, James and John are telling Jesus that they want to sit at His right and left in His glory. Jesus says, "you do not know what you are asking, are you able to drink the cup that I drink," referring to the very same cup that is mentioned in the garden of gethsemane when Jesus is asking the Father for another way, and to take this cup (death) from Him. James and John say, yeah, we are able and will do whatever. Jesus' response is awesome, saying, "Yes, the cup that I will drink, you WILL drink." I guess they asked for it huh? Later we see that both James and John, as well as Peter, drank that very cup.

Now that we see that "take up your cross" is a very literal phrase, and that Jesus requires us to follow Him, to the point of death, even death on a cross, we begin to see the cost of following Jesus. This is very difficult to grasp as Americans, knowing that we are in a place where there is almost zero threat of death, persecution, or even the slightest loss for following Jesus. Typically, one would receive much praise and approval at the decision to follow Jesus, which brings us to a problem. How can we understand this passage according to its' original intent? How can we know the cost, count the cost, and follow Him accordingly, when there seems to be no cost? Maybe it IS hard for a rich man to enter His Kingdom!? We are very quick to have much pity on people in places where there is little food, little comfort, much violence, yet filled with true followers of Jesus, who actually had to make sacrifices to follow Him. My pity is beginning to shift. I pity those who have everything they need, yet do not have Christ. Maybe we are lacking in Christ's afflictions. Maybe we are racking up treasures that will be destroyed by moth and rust, while walking in ignorance to the gospel. It is a dangerous place to say, "Jesus Paid It All", if by saying that you mean, "I have nothing left to pay." I believe Jesus would say otherwise. I pray that He will show us the cost, so that we would not be blinded by the god of this world to the light of the gospel of Jesus. Here lies the seperation between those who profess to follow Christ, and those who follow Christ.