“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”” Matthew 16:24

Taking up the cross has always been a burden to many Christians. They have always seen it as a demand, an expectation imposed by Jesus on the average Joe. And if you have ever thought like that, you aren’t all that wrong. After all, when Jesus says,

“…let him deny himself,…”” Matthew 16:24

He did mean,

“…let him deny himself [disregard, lose sight of, and forget himself and his own interests]…” Matthew 16:24 [AMPC]

So it is true that

“…Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am….” Matthew 16:24 [MSG]

And when Jesus says,

“…take up his cross, and follow Me.”” Matthew 16:24

He did mean,

“…take up his cross and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying, also]…” Matthew 16:24 [AMPC]

So in as much as God wants us to stop following our desires and let Him steer our ship, that is most certainly true. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Is depending on Him really such a burden? Is taking up our cross necessarily a case of entering into deprivation and living a life of disadvantage? What if there’s another way of looking at things?

Let’s step away from religious spirituality for a moment and consider this scenario.

Say you had the photo of a loved one placed on the table. One day, when you found yourself missing that person, what would you do? You would pick up that photo and take a long good look, wouldn’t you? And what would be going through your mind as you looked at that photo? Everything that the two of you ever said to each other? Everything that the two of you ever done together? It would be all those things are more, wouldn’t it? Your mind would be filled, preoccupied with things pertaining to that person. So now imagine if it was a cross?

Say you were one of Jesus’ disciples living during the time when Jesus was walking this earth. Every day you walked with Him and talked with Him. You ate with Him and watched Him heal the sick, make the blind see and the lame walk. Then one day, He was unceremoniously wrenched from amongst you, speedily tried and then nailed to the cross. When you next come across an image of the cross, how would you respond? What would go through your mind?

Then miraculously, after three days, He rose from the dead. He appeared to you, showed you His hands, His side and His feet. You saw the scars, and put your finger in His wounds. It was indeed Him. But He wasn’t just some apparition, some figment of your imagination. He ate with you and talked with you, just like the good old days. When you next see an image of a cross, what would go through your mind?

Growing up, whenever I heard anyone mention the idea of taking up the cross, I always had this picture of Jesus wanting me to carry this half-ton log, lug it up some hill and kill myself on it. And if you look at many cultures around the world today, I’m not the only one. They reenact this scene, en masse, every Good Friday.

But why would we need to do that? Atonement?

“For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.” Romans 6:10

There is neither need for us to atone for our sins again, nor atone for them at all.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

You see, “…God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:17

So “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1

So why ‘take up’ the cross? The secret is in the words that it is associated with.

In military speak, to ‘take up’ arms is the act of associating oneself with a particular side in a battle. Therefore, in political speak, to ‘take up’ a cause is to associate oneself with that cause, supporting it and defending it.

So Jesus’ call for us to ‘take up’ the cross is really a call for us to associate ourselves with His cause, His act of sacrifice and love; stand up for it, tell people about it, continue the work which He started and bring as many who would be saved, into His fold.

Now, taken into context, we see that there is also another word that is used in association with the verb ‘take up’. And that is ‘deny’.

The greek work used for ‘deny’, ‘aparneomai’, also means ‘denounce’ and ‘disown’. And what are we called to aparneomai? What are we called to denounce and disown?

“…he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests]…” Matthew 16:24 [AMP]

Giving up selfish interests for the collective good. Sounds like a communist dictator, I know. But think about it. What good thing are we asked to give up? And what bad thing are we told to support?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

“Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” Mark 11:24

We leave selfish interests to enter into a relationship in which all we need to do is ask and we shall receive? How can that be a bad thing?

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:31-33

We leave selfish interests to enter into a relationship in which our heavenly Father knows all that we need and is willing to freely supply to us? How can that be a burden?

You know, when we consider that our Father has said,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declared the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 [NIV]

Taking up the cross, standing up for His will and purpose, can never be a bad thing; because His will, indeed, His heart, is for us. In fact, because

“...I know the plans I have for you,” declared the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 [NIV]

All the more we should

“…[disregard, lose sight of, and forget himself and his own interests] and take up his cross and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me…” Matthew 16:24 [AMPC]

Because from Him comes all supply. I’ve never seen a refugee run away from a relief supplies truck, nor seen employees run away from their boss on pay day; have you?

So the next time you pick up a cross from your neighborhood Christian supplies store, what will be going through your mind? How well it’s made? Why is it so expensive? What’s so special about it since you could nail two pieces of wood together at home as well?

Or will you allow the Spirit

“…the Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things. And He will cause you to recall (will remind you of, bring to your remembrance) everything I have told you.” John 14:26

So what will you think of when you next take up a cross? I pray that it will be memories of all that our Father has done for you, the road that Jesus has walked with you; and let these wonderful memories fill you with the confidence that you can face any trouble and trial because you have picked up your cross.

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