What did Jesus mean when He said His followers had to “take up their cross”? What does it mean for us?
“Cross.” What comes to mind for most people today when they hear that word?
“Cross?” Oh, that’s the decorative altar ornament or something that rests on top of a church steeple or a piece of jewelry, isn’t it?
Mention the word “cross” to the people of Jesus’ day and a much different image came to mind. Too many times they had seen the road leading into some city lined with stakes and nailed or tied on them the enemies of Rome, many their own friends, neighbors or family members.
If Jesus was out to win a lot of followers, if He was out trying to gain popularity, He picked the one image that would turn away most people. For when He said “take up a cross,” they knew exactly what He meant. He was saying, “Of your own free will, come and die.” And “take up your cross” has literally meant death for many Christians throughout the centuries. Even to this day in some places to profess faith in Christ is to take your life in your hands.
For some of us to “take up the cross” may mean at some time that we have to literally die for our faith. But I think something else is meant here for us, a different kind of death, of sacrifice. Jesus is asking us to be willing to sacrifice our lives for him by taking up crosses. You see, our crosses can be the difficult tasks we choose to take up which we could avoid. Our crosses can often be responsibilities, ministries which we know will cost us dearly – but we take them up anyway.
These crosses are not forced onto our backs. Jesus does not lay them there against our will.
Some people speak of a grouchy boss, or some affliction or other situation as “a cross I HAVE to bear.” But the crosses Jesus speaks of here are not ones we HAVE to bear, they are task, burdens we CHOOSE to bear for Christ’s sake. He said, ” . . . TAKE up their cross . . . ” That’s a conscious, free decision. Our crosses are the difficult, costly, even distasteful tasks we willingly accept. They are not situations or inconveniences we can’t do anything about.
I once met a man in an inner city. His name was “Brother Love.” In that city there are many homeless, hungry people. This man saw this great cross laying in his city and placed it on his back. He started a mission downtown. Everyday he’s there feeding them, finding them places to sleep, helping them get jobs, calling the parents of the runaways he takes in, and witnessing to them. In a few short years this mission has ministered to thousands of persons. I found out from others later on about all the sacrifices he’s made. He gives his time and a lot of his money. He cooks. He cleans up. He’s called at all hours of the day and night. He goes to the jail and takes custody of them. And there’s always on him the burdens and problems of these needy persons.
In many ways it’s been a heavy cross for him. It’s taken much out of him. But you would not know this from talking with him. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a Christian more full of joy than Brother Love. And he’ll be the first to tell you he’d do it all over again. The sacrifices don’t bother him. He told me, “It’s been worth it all. No one made him do this. It wasn’t forced on him. It was a cross no one else saw or cared to see. He saw it! And he took it up!
All of us have a cross. In fact, most of us have more than one. There is some work, some ministry Christ wants you to take up for him, to do in his name. It’s a cross, a work that you freely choose and that demands much of you. Will you take it up?
Sermon brief provided by: Bass Mitchell, an Elder in the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church serving in Charlottesville, VA