“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.'”
Notice that Jesus doesn’t say we should deny the cross and take up ourselves, but that is often what we do, at least that is what I do. I’m so quick to deny the cross, to run from the weight it tries to crush me with. I’d rather take up my own cause instead of the crosses God calls me to. I don’t want the pain and the agony, the scourging or the thorns, I just want the resurrection. Save the mess and the hurt for yourself, I’ll take Easter morning and the empty tomb, thank you very much.
I can deny myself. In fact, denying myself isn’t something I tend to struggle with because I am my own harshest critic. I love to follow Jesus because I know that without Him I can do nothing. Without Him I am nothing. But that middle part? Taking up the cross? That is where I struggle.
There is no “get out of jail free” card when it comes to taking up the cross, He calls us each to it. When it comes to being in relationship with other people (friends and romantic), He even calls us to help each other with another person’s cross. It isn’t as though our own cross isn’t enough, He asks us to help others too? Sheesh. Just about the time I figure out how to carry my own cross, I come across someone who needs my help with their cross. Why does it have to be so, God? Can’t you see that I’m struggling under my own cross as it is?
The beauty of the cross isn’t so much in the pain as what the cross leads to: salvation. I want to run from the crosses in my life and in the lives of those I love. I don’t want to pick that darn, heavy thing up for one more second and drag it along with me. I want the reward without the effort, but that isn’t what He calls us to. We can’t have the glory of the empty tomb without first suffering. I, in my foolishness, selfishness and weakness, don’t want to be taught some lesson by the cross, I only want to find shade and comfort in its benefits. I want to gain the glory of the cross without appreciate the struggle it took. But Jesus asks us,
“What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” – Matthew 16:26
If we forsake carrying the cross, we strip the resurrection of its meaning. The cross and the resurrection are inseparable. But, when we embrace our cross and help others carry their crosses, we find meaning in suffering. Our crosses seem to get heavier the more we run from them, but when we embrace them, when we take them up with Christ, He tells us:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…for my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” – Matthew 11:30