If you missed the first post in this series, be sure to read it. It will provide more context around this series.
Jesus gives 6 very clear statements about being one of His followers or disciples. These are not requirements for salvation or forgiveness; rather they are conditions or evidences of being His disciple. The 1st Mark of Discipleship is Hate. Here is the second:
“And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:27
Are you kidding me? First I have to Hate and then I have to carry a cross – Suffer? This ‘following Jesus’ thing sounds more like torture! Before we jump to conclusions about what we presume Jesus is requiring of us, we need to go back in time.
When Jesus said these words, it was BEFORE His own crucifixion. This was not understood by His audience as a foreshadow of His own death (even though it was). It was understood to be a reference to the common method of punishment in a Roman occupied country. To be hung on a cross was a sign of shame; a claim to a curse (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13). It was the worst form of death for their day. And to be told that you should carry your cross was to conjure images of a beaten criminal staggering under the weight of a wooden beam or the entire cross. This image had but one conclusion – a gruesome death, absent of honor.
But here are some things to consider about Jesus’ statement. He does not suggest that we hang on this cross that we carry – only that we carry it. (But don’t forget that Paul says that he is crucified with Christ – but we will save that discussion for another time. Galatians 2:20) He also says that we should carry our cross and follow Him – follow not as a convict behind a Judge but as a cross-bearer following another Cross-bearer! Do you see the image? We are fellow cross-bearers with the God of the Universe, but in the end, He takes that cross from us and frees us! He – alone – lays down His life for us! The ultimate sacrifice is His to pay and we are the beneficiaries of His substitution for us.
If Jesus paid this debt for us on Calvary, why are we called to be a fellow cross-bearer?
Put yourself in Simon of Cyrene’s sandals (Matthew 27:32). If you had been the one standing on the sidelines and asked to carry a cross, you would have refused because you would not want to be identified with a convicted criminal. That is why Matthew tells us that the soldiers “compelled or forced” Simon to carry the cross. He did not want to be identified with the one carrying the cross. Do you see it now? We are identified with the One Who carried the cross when we suffer as a Christ follower.
Call it a Badge of Honor, if you like; a Symbol of Surrender; a Mark of Discipleship.
Suffering is a wedge that
- Separates the surface from the core
- Divides the false from the true
- Cleaves the proud from the humble
- Splits the stubborn from the surrendered
‘To Suffer’ is not all that we are called to do. There is victory, power and success in following Christ but we are sometimes called to suffer.
Hebrews 11:32-40 (NIV)
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated– the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Jesus identifies suffering for Him as one way of identifying His followers.
May we suffer for Him; not as Martyrs, but as Victors!
Open Mic: Share your thoughts
- Have you been called to suffer for Christ and how has it grown your faith or the faith of those who have witnessed your suffering?