The Cross; the way to life
The Christian life is to carry a cross. I have to be honest, I’m not too crazy about that. While on one hand, it is comforting to think that Jesus has endured any hardship that I could possibly endure – that he has been tempted in every way that I have – that he relates to my struggles, I don’t really want them related to. I don’t want them at all.
It is easy as a preacher to get behind the pulpit and encourage people to be comforted by the Savior who has endured absolute struggle. The hope is that people will look to the cross and know that because of Jesus they can endure. The reality is that the cross is not a pretty picture. It’s a tree of death. It’s a tree of absolute punishment and curse. And yet Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34).
Why is there so much emphasis on the cross in Christianity? Why do we want to follow a man whose teaching and leadership ultimately led to his death at the hands of the Jewish leaders and the Roman government? What does Jesus mean when he calls us to carry a cross and follow him?
I think it’s important to understand that while Jesus ministry did lead him to the cross, it was not a ministry of defeat. Paradoxically, Jesus death on the cross was ultimately a life giving victory. The sins that we’ve committed against a holy God where put on Jesus, God the Son, and dealt with ultimately on the cross. Jesus crushed the penalty, power, and even future presence of sin for those who follow him. The cross is also the place where the resurrection of Jesus began; the hope for all those that are called to follow Jesus and carry a cross.
What does carrying a cross mean? Is it a literal calling that all of us must die like Jesus did? It’s a fair question. I would say in a real sense, yes. Now, that doesn’t mean all of us will be crucified bodily the way Jesus was; but it also doesn’t mean that we won’t. For Christians throughout history, faith in Jesus has led some to violent forms of execution. Some to crucifixion. We dare not pretend that carrying a cross and following Jesus may not mean physical death. But for some of us, it may simply mean dying to our selfish and sinful desires. Seeing our self that rebels against God and his ways ultimately put to death. So yes, no matter what, carrying a cross is a calling to die; to be unite to Jesus death.
Why would we want to unite ourselves to death? Because true life is ultimately found in following Jesus to his cross. In seeing our sinful self crucified as Jesus was. Seeing the barrier to our relationship with God removed forever.
We were created to know God, our maker intimately. To know him, love him, and serve him as our king. Our sinful self is actually the real source of death in our lives. It is what separates us from our God who has no sin. It is sin that tears us down and actually makes us less human than God created us to be. In carrying a cross we are united to Christ’s death which paid the penalty for our sin, crushing its power, penalty, and even, slowly but surely, removing it’s presence from us. Uniting to the cross unites us to Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus conquered death, and he calls his followers to die to sin, so that we may resurrect to new life.
The Bible teaches that in our resurrection, we will have new bodies which will no longer be corrupted by the power of sin (See 1 Corinthians 15). It’s this great truth that motivates us to see our sinful self put to death on the cross. And yes, while carrying a cross will often feel like it actually is – a death, it is through this death that we are made alive. That we are being changed from partially human (sinfulness robs us of our humanity), and being made fully human in God’s image once again. That is the power of the resurrection. That’s the hope of Christianity. Yes, we emphasize the cross a lot; but it’s because it leads to the resurrection. The hope of life eternal, incorruptible, and as it was meant to be.