[Radio broadcast April 10, 2017]
"And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me." Matthew 10:38
This is the first reference to the cross in the New Testament and indeed in all of the Bible. That may seem strange to the first-time Bible reader, for as we know the whole Bible has a lot to say about the day when the Messiah would come to die, and the prophet Daniel spoke clearly of Christ being cut off from the land of the living. Yes, that is true, there are multitudes of prophecies and references to the death of the Saviour of the world in the Old Testament. The types, the characters and the worship of many Old Testament people demonstrated God's intention to send His Son to die for His people.
But the very word "cross" does not appear in the Old Testament. The closest concept of the cross is that the Saviour would die on a tree. There was no understanding that God was preparing the rule of the Roman empire, and their method of execution by crucifixion, to put His own Son to death on a cross.
So, when the Lord challenged his disciples to take up his cross and follow Him, what did it mean to them? What was the Lord speaking of? Would they too have to die on a cross to faithfully serve the Lord?
Some actually did, but not all. History tells us that Peter was martyred on a cross hanging upside down. There are people in the Philippines, who each Easter have themselves nailed to a cross amidst religious festivities to show religious fervour. Is that what Jesus really wanted?
No, there are no grounds for that at all. To take up Christ's cross is about our readiness to bear witness of the Lord before men. We know this from the context. And, remember, that in understanding any statement in the Bible, context rules. The immediate context of these words to take up Christ's cross and follow him is packed with an exhortation to confess Christ before men. This is the will of God for all Christians. We are not to be silent or secretive followers of Jesus. We are to let our light shine for the Saviour. When and where liberty allows, we are to have no underground churches, nor undercover Christianity.
And the Lord promises that if we confess Him before men, He will confess us before the Father in heaven. That's the deal. Jesus the Son will declare us unto God the Father, if we honour Him here on earth. That is the daily task of the disciple of Jesus. If we fail to witness for Him and shine forth our new life in Christ then we deny him and will grieve Him because we will fail to live out the very purpose for which He saved us.
By calling us to take up His cross the Lord said it will not be easy. He clearly taught that to be a faithful witness for Him will disrupt even the closest bonds of family life. He said, "a man's foes shall be they of his own household." So, when others tell us to be quiet or to deny the Lord Jesus, we are to honour the Lord by showing that we love Him more than family. We must display our delight in the Lord above the praise of men. To punch this home in a memorable way that we ought not to forget, Jesus said it like this, "And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me."
So, now we know. The best way we can celebrate Easter is to be a living and daily witness for Him. He took the cursed cross of shame and suffering for us. We are not asked to suffer the penalty of sin in our bodies with nails and thorns as Jesus did, for our gospel is by grace alone through faith alone, but we are to shine forth the Saviour's name and His love for sinners to a lost world.
Far, far away, in heathen darkness dwelling,
Millions of souls forever may be lost;
Who, who will go, salvation's story telling,
Looking to Jesus, minding not the cost?
"All power is given unto Me,
All pow'r is given unto Me.
Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel,
And Lo, I am with you alway.