“It’s just my cross to bear,” people say sometimes. They mean trouble, hardship, sickness or disease they can’t seem to get rid of. Bad job. Bad marriage. Bad health. They want you to think they are “bearing up under it” with a good attitude, much long-suffering.
They’re referring to a verse they heard somewhere. They have a vague idea that they are carrying their cross for Jesus’ sake, trying to be a good disciple. But of course, getting rid of that particular cross is their heart’s desire. No matter what else they do, they desperately try to get out from under it. Seek a better job. Go to marriage counseling. Make doctor appointments.
A question: When did Jesus’ cross-carrying begin? When did it end? When did the disciples’ cross-carrying begin? When did it end? What does that even mean, actually?
Some background may help. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Jesus went about doing good and attracting disciples. (See Luke 3-4.) After a while he hand-picked twelve of those disciples, instructed them in some basics and sent them out under his auspices, his authority and power to preach, heal, cast out demons and raise the dead, the way he had been doing.
He also warned them. The disciple is not better than his master, he said. If I’m persecuted, you’ll be persecuted. So consider carefully — do you really want to do this?
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt 10:34-39 KJV)
Heart-warming way to begin an assignment, wasn’t it.
Later on, Jesus asked them who the crowds thought he was? Who they themselves thought he was? Peter firmly declared their belief that Jesus was the Christ. Wonderful! Keep it to yourselves, Jesus said.
Jesus then plainly told the twelve that he was going to Jerusalem to be arrested and killed. But, not to worry, he would be raised from the dead in three days. Peter couldn’t accept that, it wasn’t his idea at all of what the Christ would be and do. Jesus rebuked him. Peter just didn’t understand the plan.
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26)
“Life” in verse 24 is the Greek word psyche, which has several meanings. One is life-force, but the other is soul; the mind, emotions and will — the decision-making ability. “Soul” in verse 25 is that same Greek word, psyche.
“And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”
Wow. Hate your parents? Thought you were supposed to love your parents…
Jesus illustrated his point with two examples of considering what you’re getting into, before you get into it: (1) If you’re thinking of building a tower, you’d better calculate the cost. (2) If you’re deciding whether or not to fight a war, you’d better inventory your troops.
“So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-33) Compared to loving God and following Jesus, your affection for family will seem like hate.
When he declared these things, Jesus wasn’t carrying a cross yet. Up until this time the disciples thought he was going to be the next King of Israel, and that certainly didn’t involve a cross. That’s why he had to be so explicit in his explanation to the disciples, and even then they just didn’t understand it.
Well, they eventually got it when he was arrested, made to carry a cross and then executed. Of course, not until he was raised from the dead did they understand the whole plan.
Back to my original question: When did Jesus’ cross-carrying actually begin? When did it end? When did the disciples’ cross-carrying begin? When did it end?
What does that even mean, actually? Let’s take this one first.
When you’re carrying a cross, what else are you carrying? Not a job, not a family, not a lifestyle. Not your own agenda, your own goals, your own routine. You have a purpose, but it’s not your own purpose. You have a destination, but it’s not the one you’d rather have. You’ve given over your will to someone else — or you wouldn’t have picked up that cross in the first place.
Jesus came to earth on assignment. He began carrying that “cross” before he came to the earth. It’s why he went where he went, said what he said, did what he did. He didn’t quit carrying that cross just because he died. He did God’s will on earth, completing that part of his mission successfully.
He was killed, raised from the dead, and ascended to begin the next phase of his mission, sending the Holy Spirit to empower the disciples back on earth as he had been empowered, to do the work that he had been doing.
The disciples did not pick up physical crosses on their way to Jerusalem, nor on their way to Golgotha as Jesus did. But they did pick up crosses — assignments — when they began to follow Jesus. They did whatever Jesus said to do, whenever he said to do it.
If they hadn’t, he would not have taught and trained them, would not have named twelve of them as apostles, would not have remained on earth for forty days continuing to teach and train them after he rose from the dead. (Acts 1:3)
He would not have instructed them to wait for the Holy Spirit to empower them also, before beginning the next phase of their own assignment.
Carrying our crosses today doesn’t mean remaining confused, doubtful, sick or troubled. It doesn’t mean having your life destroyed by the enemy.
It means carrying out your assignment — doing whatever the Holy Spirit says to do, whenever he says to do it. Preach the gospel, heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead. Continue the mission of Jesus on earth: “For this purpose the son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” (I John 3:8)