“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.”
Each year, in the weeks prior to Easter, Christians worldwide remember Jesus’ sacrifice and death in preparation for Easter when we celebrate his resurrection. This coming Friday, Good Friday, our attention turns to the cross. What we believe about the cross says an awful lot about what we think Jesus did and what he wants us to do.
Throughout Christian history, Christians have adorned themselves with the cross as they marched into battle intent on glorious victory and as a symbol of their might. Christians use it to designate their places of worship, declaring pride in their religion and advertising for others to join. Christians wear the cross as jewelry – an accessory that brings a punctuation of beauty. But how silly the associations of victory, pride or beauty would have seemed to Jesus’ disciples, many of whom were too ashamed and scared to even approach Christ as he died on a cross. They knew what the cross meant – Jesus had lost, and in an embarrassing fashion.
It’s sometimes hard to remember that Jesus’ followers probably viewed him differently than we do, because they did see him. We come to scripture with our own cultural baggage and an abundance of theological knowledge and preunderstandings. It’s difficult for us to think of Jesus’ humanity as we read the Gospels because we know he is God, but they didn’t.
For them, Jesus was one of many would-be messiahs and as we read the Gospels we see multiple examples of times when Jesus confused people. They were looking for a leader who would win, a messiah who would restore Israel, but Jesus didn’t win – at times even acting like he didn’t want to. In fact, if we read the Gospels in their cultural context they go out of their way to describe Jesus and his family as a bunch of nobodies from nowhere. And by the standards of this world, he died a nobody from nowhere. In their eyes the cross was the end of it. Rome and the religious authorities had the final word. They beat him – easily.
If we are to see victory in the cross, it should only come through our appreciation of how Jesus lost. You can’t be king if you don’t conquer your enemies; but Jesus taught us to love our enemies. You can’t come in first without someone else coming in second; but Jesus taught us that the first will be last and the last will be first. He didn’t win by this world’s measurements because he never played by this world’s rules. His kingdom was not of this world. He did win, but not by any standard of this world.
When we look to the cross it should be a constant reminder of how to “win” in the kingdom of God. In this world we’re encouraged to get a leg-up on the competition. We’re encouraged to pursue greatness and despise meekness. We’re encouraged to view the world as an us vs. them arena. The cross is God imploring us to lose; lose by all the standards of this world and simply be content to love and serve those around us even when it hurts – especially when it hurts.
Are you willing to follow Jesus? What if it costs you everything? What if it means you lose?
This week, take into serious consideration what the cross must have meant to Jesus and his followers – consider what it means to take up your cross and follow him.