Take up your Cross
Take up your Cross
Take up your Cross
In the 16th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus and the disciples are in a place called Caesarea Philippi which is some 100 miles north of Jerusalem and it is here that Peter famously confessed that Jesus is the Messiah () and yet just a few verses on we see that ‘hot-headed’ Peter puts his foot in his mouth again getting things spectacularly wrong. Poor old Peter it always seems that as soon as he gets something right he immediately trips up.
From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
So here in the 16th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus and the disciples are in a place called Caesarea Philippi which is some 100 miles north of Jerusalem and it is here that Peter famously confessed that Jesus is the Messiah () and yet just a few verses on we see that ‘hot-headed’ Peter puts his foot in his mouth again getting things spectacularly wrong. Poor old Peter it always seems that as soon as he gets something right he immediately trips up.
From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
So Jesus starts to explain to the disciples how it is that he is going to be killed, Peter responds with disbelief, takes Jesus to one side and says to Jesus; “this is not the case, you’re the Son of God and therefore they can’t kill you”. I suspect that Peter had good intentions here, he was I am sure not trying to thwart the purposes of God. But he was interfering in something that he had no knowledge of and let’s not forget who he is addressing here here, this is the Son of God. Is Peter therefore presuming to know better than God?
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.
Peter’s idea of what the Messiah was did not match up with God’s will. Peter no doubt thought that Jesus would be some kind of conqueror in the physical sense where as God’s will was for something altogether more splendid and that was for Jesus to conquer sin and death ( ).
It is important that we look to the Lord for what He says about Himself rather than come up with assumptions of our own. I sometimes hear Christians when they talk about hell saying such things as “the Jesus I serve wouldn’t allow that to happen”. But God’s own words are clear on the subject which is that all people have a choice and if they choose not to follow their creator but continue in sin then they reap the consequences, and hell is a consequence of that choice.
Such people may mean well and have the very best of intentions but it describes but they describe the Lord in a way that He Himself never said, but instead they rely upon their own limited understanding.
Peter fell into a similar trap here in this passage, rather than looking at the situation Jesus was describing through God’s perspective and taking on board what He was saying about Himself. Peter leaps to his own assumptions, based upon his own limited understanding and experience.
Jesus’ response to Peter
But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
What was Jesus trying to say here and why the harsh rebuke?
No, just that Peter was taking
Peter, by setting his thoughts on the things of man and not of God was inadvertently being an opponent to the will of God.
For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
Peter was setting his mind on the things of the flesh where as Jesus was operating by the Spirit.
Saying to Peter, “Get behind me Satan” may seem harsh but Jesus was giving him a wake-up call which was ultimately for his own good. Jesus was not rejecting Peter or condemning him in fact Peter and Jesus continued to have a unique closeness between them but what Jesus was doing was he was showing Peter where that kind of attitude comes from.
Essentially what Peter was saying was in direct opposition to the will of God and in regards to no minor issue either, it was regarding the saving of all mankind. Who is the biggest agent of opposition against the Lord?Satan! Therefore Jesus was in a way saying to Peter, “do you realise what side you are batting for when you speak like that?”
Also, Jesus says “get behind me”. Essentially he is saying “fall back into rank soldier!”
Peter is forgetting his place, he is the disciple not the master and he is presuming to know better than the Lord.
Having just confronted the disciples with this news which must have been to them a shock to the system, Jesus then drops another ‘bombshell’.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
It was shocking enough for them to hear what was to become of the Lord but now Jesus is telling them that any that follow him must also endure similar.
We tend to have a rather ‘polished’ impression of the cross. We are used to seeing crosses in our churches and we can so easily forget the vulgarity of it. Crucifixion was so horrendous that Rome even ruled that it’s own citizen were not to be killed in this way. It must have been a shockingly awful thought for all those present that their dear Lord would be killed at all but then to discover that he would be killed by something that was epitome of degradation, humiliation and pain.
But Jesus says to them; “If you are coming after me, you need to do the same”.
Not to literally hang on a cross but to go through humiliation and persecution for the sake of the Gospel.
Each Easter in the Philippines there is a literal re-enactment of the crucifixion as devoted worshippers volunteer to be genuinely nailed to crosses and hoisted up in front of onlookers. But as extreme as this is and as devoted as it may seem this ritual does nothing for those who volunteer as Jesus did not mean this when he said ‘take up your cross’.
There are then others who with a persisting condition or difficulty will say “well, this is just the cross I have to bear”. But this also is a misunderstanding of what Jesus meant.
While we do not earn salvation, it is the free gift of God nevertheless those who would embrace the Lord’s provision will also need to identify with him. As we accept this free gift we also accept the life that goes with it which is one of yielding ourselves over to the will of God and as we identify ourselves with the Lord so we also then disassociate ourselves with all that is in the world.
The sacrifice that Jesus made was voluntary...
No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”
so also notice what Jesus says in , “…if anyone would come after me let him deny himself take up his cross and follow me”.
It does not say that it is forced upon us but rather something that we chose to take up, we can either follow after Jesus which will involve laying down our own ways taking up his which will not always be easy or we can just live for ourselves and the moment we are in.
The cross is not about self-affirmation or promotion, no one who went to the cross was there for glamour or esteem. Jesus laid down his own will and indeed his life for us and so he asks us to also lay ourselves down for himself and for others.
Taking up the cross also speaks of finality, 2000 years ago if a person was carrying a cross on their back, walking out of the city. You may not know who they were or what they were accused of, but you knew they were not coming back. Those who take up the cross for Jesus are in it for the long haul, there is a commitment to the Lord and in this day and age where everything seems to be disposable and convenience driven, our faith in Christ has to buck the trend.
Jesus does not ask us inflict pain and humiliation on ourselves in the way that the crucifixion displays in the Philippines do but he desires that we do not shrink from the calling that is with us.
Having said all this though Jesus then gives us a promise...
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
The famous missionary Jim Elliott who spread the news of Jesus to the Auca Indians in South America during the early 60’s was told by a friend of his that he was a fool to go there with the gospel as the Aucas would just kill him. Jims friend was right that he would get killed but Jim was certainly no fool. Jim Elliott told his friend in a letter
“A man is no fool to give up that which he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose”.
for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
When we allow ourselves to be conformed to the will of God we find that our will and desires move into line with His and that things that to other people may seem a hardship will to us be a joy.
It’s a hard thing to get our head around, the fact that yes God wants good things for us but that also with serving the Lord comes a life of self denial and sacrifice but it is really down to perspective and the Lord see’s our circumstances from a higher angle and while we tend to look our comfort here in the present, God is looking for what will be best for us overall.
The wonderful preacher Chuck Smith used to say “Everything in life is preparation for something else”
We ought not think that be ‘taking up the cross and denying ourselves’ that we are handing back our own free will. God gave us our free will and he wants us to keep hold of it, it’s just that the Lord desires that our free will reflects His will.
Jesus did not tell us that following Him would be easy, we need to get out of this mindset that ensnares us that says
“if you become a Christian then everything will go your way, just say what you want and it will be yours”
Because when Jesus said “take up your cross” He did not say it with the intention evoking a feeling of ease but rather to get across to us the difficulties that would ensue. Frankly when we make out that life will be easy under Jesus we create shallow believers (much like the seed that fell on stony ground and had not root).
I love the example set to us my the wonderful Christians in Pakistan who take it very seriously that they are the ‘Bride of Christ’ and in an effort to identify with Jesus they take His name much like a wife takes her husbands name. So you have all these believers whose surname is Masih (meaning Messiah). This then means that there is no hiding the fact that they are believers in Christ for their name testifies to their conversion and in a country that disapproves of Christianity this will often bring persecution their way. But such is their love for Jesus they take on the name regardless because they love to be identified and associated with Jesus.
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
Jesus though reasons with us as to why it is better though to go through difficulties for His sake.
Jesus shows us that if we would just let go of the life around us and all the vanities which are only for a moment we get much more back. He does not ask us to let go of anything that would be better for us to keep, as much as it may seem that way to us.
A little while back we took my son Timmy crab fishing in Weymouth Harbour, when I was a child I loved crabbing in the harbour and I knew that Timmy would love it also. The process is very simple, you have a long line with a weight and a hook on, and on the hook you put the bait which will be any old piece of fish or meat. But the hook is only there to hold the bait, the crabs don’t actually get hooked. We lower the bait down the side of the harbour wall and wait the crabs to scurry out and grab the bait. Once they have it they will not let go, and we draw them right up through the water and to the waiting bucket, all the while the hook has not penetrated them, they could let go at any time. But those crabs are so stubborn and committed to hanging on to that bait that even when they are out of the water we have to shake them off the bait to get them in the bucket. It would be better for them to have let go of that food, but in their stubbornness to keep hold of it, it becomes their undoing.
Jesus is showing us that the things and cares of this life are much the same, we can cling hold of temporary pleasures and comforts to our own detriment. Or we can agree to let go and let God direct our way.
For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.
The Lord sees all and everything that we do for Him not matter how big or small will be accounted for.
There are some that say that we ought to be living for God simply because he says we should and not be thinking about reward, but this is unscriptural as Jesus time and time again reminded His followers of the rewards that would be lavished upon them if they would be faithful.
In fact Jesus went even further and said that we ought be storing them up and working out a bigger reward for when we go home to be with Him.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.