If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.
Today’s passage is a steep command. To be asked to take up the cross is a very harrowing or even startling venture. When Jesus references the cross His apostles did not think of the cross the way that we do now. Now, the cross is symbol of martyrdom, our salvation and as a banner of our religion. The cross is even jewelry. However, during the time of the delivery of this passage the cross was none of these things. Then the cross was a symbol of the worst punishment reserved for the worst of the worst. When Jesus challenges His listeners to take up your cross and follow me I imagine their confused, scared or skeptical faces. This is the first mention of a cross by Jesus in Matthew. There is no modern day comparison to the capital punishment of crucifixion. The cross was complete in torture and humiliation. To compare the cross to today’s practice of capital punishment is impossible because the intentions are opposite. Although both result in death, today’s capital punishment is as humane and painless as possible. Injections are clean and clinical and quick. The cross was intentionally messy, degrading, torturous and long lasting.
It’s hard to imagine hearing this kind of instruction from Jesus. You are not worthy of being mine. Although I would never want to be accused of not belonging to Jesus the cross and martyrdom is scary calling. For you and me this is a calling that we will not likely have to follow through with. Our freedom of religion, which is being challenged more so everyday, has kept Christians safe from this kind of persecution since our country’s independence. You and I are relatively safe. Others are not.
Headlines of late have been centered on the persecution of Christians by Islamic radicals, Isis. Images and video of the execution of Christians have penetrated all facets of media. Christian lives are being taken solely for the fact that they are Christians.
Passages like today’s, I hope, can be a comfort for those men who have been led to slaughter. These men who do not deny their faith in Jesus, who claim to be Christians and face down the threats made upon their lives embody one who does not cling to this life. Instead, by giving up their lives for [Him], have found it.
So, first, pray with me for the lives that are being taken because of Christian faith. Pray that their spirits find their way into the embrace of God and that their families can find peace in Him. Secondly, examine yourself. Are you clinging to this life? Are you in danger of losing your life because of your dedication to this life and this world? No, our lives may not be in mortal danger but they may be in eternal danger. How are you giving your lives up now?
Let’s pursue giving this life up so that we can find it.