This passage is rich with spiritual truth and truly eye-opening for those of us who are following Christ because it is not a passage of comfort and ease. The very image He is giving is one of death and self denial. Just think of what we know about those who were crucified. They had to bear their own cross to the hill where they were put to death after being flogged with a cat-o-nine-tails. It was a gruesome way to die.
Jesus is telling us that as His followers, we are to do this daily, in the metaphorical sense. In other words, we are to live in self denial by living for others and for Christ, just as He did for us. This isn’t a requirement of salvation, but the call placed on those who believe in Him for salvation. We desire to do so because He calls us to it.
This verse was floating around in my head yesterday after a new round of trials suddenly appeared before me. For some reason, there was a great amount of fear involved as I tried to figure out how to deal with this lately salvo. I didn’t figure it out at all. But I did come to the point of realizing that my challenge was not overcoming the trial, or figuring it out. My challenge was accepting the trial as being from the Father, for my well being. So often we think that all we need to do is control the right sequence of events, say the right thing, exact the right revenge and all will be well. Yet the Father is not calling us to such. He is calling us to follow His Son in His sufferings and respond the way Christ did, by accepting what comes.
This is not a popular message today from the pulpits across America because this passage dispels any notion of the prosperity gospel that has crept into even the most faithful churches. Even those who are striving to Biblical exegesis find themselves trying to put a positive spin on the gospel because they know that by preaching suffering, people may be turned off. Especially in a culture where we are instantly satisfied on so many levels.
But to follow Christ, means we will suffer for and with Christ. As He told His disciples that they are not above the teacher, why would expect less than what He endured on our behalf? Yet this is what so many in the church preach, teach and repeat. “God wants His best for you… therefore, live life to the hilt. By the new house, new car, new/old boat, etc.”
The problem with that lie is that there is some truth in it. God does indeed want His best for His children. It just so happens that what the world offers is not what is best for us. Yes, I would love to have all those things. But in His infinite wisdom, I have found life without those things. Yet, life is still worth living. Bearing my cross is still worth it. Suffering for Him is bearable because of His rich love toward me. Yes, the call to the believer is filled with bearing crosses, denying ourselves and confessing the Lord to those who reject us. But for believers, we know it is exactly as the Father would have it.