Daily Devotionals

What Cross Have You Taken Up?

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Scripture: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23

As a lawyer, I am required to choose my words carefully with their exact meaning clearly in mind. In a contract or will, an ill-chosen word may have dire, unintended consequences to a client. I believe Jesus also chose his words with studied deliberation with none of that care being lost in the Spirit-inspired translations, from Aramaic to Greek to English.

What, then, is the proper meaning of Jesus’ requirement of discipleship that we “take up our cross?”

Can our lingering Covid-19 symptoms be considered a cross we must bear?  What about the chap in the next cubicle who whistles tunelessly through his teeth all day? I suspect we have all heard, or perhaps even used, the term used in this manner. I would gently suggest, however, that this usage constitutes an unfortunate, even if unintended, diminishment of the holiness the rugged old cross on which Jesus died. So, what does it mean?

Certainly, Jesus’ requirement could have a literal application to our lives. The martyrs of the First Century died horrible deaths rather than deny Jesus. And even today, in some countries to affirm a belief in Jesus is to sign your own death warrant, with a gruesome beheading soon to follow. But it is unlikely that we good folks of Eastminster will be faced with that choice.

Moving from the strictly literal to a slightly broader reading of Jesus’ words, most authorities believe that taking up one’s cross should be viewed in terms of the concept of a sacrifice modeled closely after the one Jesus made himself. Such a sacrifice can be defined as follows: the exchange of something that is dear to us in return for something of immensely greater value, namely the advancement of the Kingdom of God; this being an exchange that is made willingly, albeit sometimes with great reluctance, but with the ultimate result bringing us enormous joy.

Consider how Jesus’ sacrifice satisfies those requirements. Jesus loved life!  He enjoyed the companionship of people, good food and wine, and a close circle of friends. He loved to teach. He gave all that up, as well as all hope of dying a peaceful death, accepting instead the cruel torture of the cross. He agonized and sweated blood over this. But in the end, he willingly surrendered to the wishes of his Father. He did so recognizing that this gained for us, his friends, the offer of God’s forgiveness of our sins and a life eternal. And we are told it was for the joy this gave him that he endured the cross (Heb. 12:2).

None of the trivial examples of the contemporary usage of cross-bearing come anywhere near to falling within the Jesus paradigm of sacrifice described above. But it is not the enormity of the sacrifice that counts; it is its nature. All sizes of Christ-like crosses are scattered around us, like “pennies from heaven.” Consider the surgeon who leaves a lucrative practice in this free country to go and become a medical missionary in a poverty-ridden part of the world. Few of us have had that call or anything like it. But on a daily basis, we are afforded many cross-bearing opportunities.  Consider the man who works all week in a tedious job on the assembly line of a factory. He then spends Saturday helping his wife with shopping and keeping their house in repair. But on Sunday, after Church, he retreats into the quiet tranquility of his garden, where he works in the rich, dark soil, savors the smell of flowers and tomato vines, and lovingly tends to his plants. Interruptions are not appreciated. But one Sunday when the little girl next door came into the backyard and called out, “Mister Joe, Mister Joe, let me tell you about what we learned in Sunday School class,” he dropped his trowel, dusted off his hands, kneeled down, and gave his full attention to her story bringing joy to both himself and to her. Between those two examples, Christ offers us all manner of opportunities to sacrifice for his sake and the Kingdom.

So, what have been your crosses? What crosses are waiting for you to take up now this very day? Look for them. Listen to the small, quiet voice of God.

Prayer:  Dearest Father, we are thankful that you are so generous in the distribution of crosses for us to pick up. Inspire us to look and listen for true cross opportunities. Give us the discernment to distinguish them from something that we think will simply make us look good in the eyes of the world. And, then, please give us the faith, the courage, and the strength to take up that cross, knowing full well that you will be with us always as we carry it forward to your glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Submitted by Tom Haggard