The Path of the Cross
As we wrap up our four-part series about Jesus' death on the cross, let’s review.
1 - Primacy, 2 - Power, 3 - Pattern, 4 - The path.
Now we’ll come to one our last and hardest one. This is the part that gets left out of our Christianity. This is the part that gets left out of our gospel presentations.
Turn to Mark 8:31-34. You and I are invited to join Jesus on his way to the cross. Here’s what I hope. I hope in our time together, God the Holy Spirit will grant us boldness. He will make us brave. I pray that he will set us free from fear of rejection, persecution, and suffering. I pray that he will grant us a deep joy that endures through every storm. And that we understand a little more deeply what is meant by “denying ourselves” “taking up our crosses, and following Jesus.”
I’m almost always reading through some version of Pilgrim's Progress. The story is about Christian staying on the king’s path - despite all the temptations to get off and try other ways.
We are tempted to lay down our crosses and venture into more pleasant and comfortable pastures. But we have a vapor of a life, and my prayer is that this morning we would be encouraged to follow Jesus' marching orders of self-denial and self sacrifice.
I have a hunch that in the next decade, I don’t think things are going to be easier for Christians. We need men with spine; women with resolve. We need grit. We need to unflinchingly walk the path of the cross. What to expect on the path of the cross.
When we take up the path of the cross, we expect to suffer. Look back at Mark 8:34-37. Self-denial. What does it mean to deny yourself? Think of it this way: you can spend your life attempting to grab or working to give. Grab or give. You can live grabbing attention, grabbing fame, grabbing comfort, grabbing pleasure, grabbing money, grabbing power. Or you can live to give. Giving recognition. Giving comfort. Giving money. Giving encouragement.
Your work can be a grabbing work or a giving work. Your career can be a giant attempt to grab, or it can be a strategic operation to maximize giving. Your time will always be spent either grabbing or giving. Even rest - it will either be a “grabbing” rest - self-oriented. Or a “giving” rest - resting in God to be rejuvenated to serve.
Now when we follow Jesus, we embrace the life of self-denial - that is, the giving life. We repudiate the grabbing life and we impose upon ourselves the glad duty of giving unto others.
When he says “take up your cross.” This is a different species of suffering than self-denial. it’s as if he’s saying: “I am going to be rejected. I am going to be killed. And if you want to follow me, get ready to die with me.” This is the kind of suffering that comes when people hate you for following Jesus and holding to the truth.
Jesus made this clear. There’s no doubt. It’s recorded in all the gospels. Jesus alluded to it over and over again. Those who follow him will suffer in this world.
His very first sermon: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 10:25 “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”
Matthew 10:34 “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against his mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” In other words, families will be divided over allegiance to Jesus. And so he says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
He’s saying that Jesus will be so polarizing that he will divide the most basic societal unit - the family. Be prepared for people who you might expect to love you to reject you.
Turn to Acts 21:11. Paul’s on his way to Jerusalem and a prophet named Agabus comes and warns him that if he goes there he’s going to get into trouble. And he warns him in a graphic way. He takes off Paul’s belt, ties up his own hands and feet, and says, “If you go to Jerusalem, this is what they’ll do to you.”
Paul: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Look at those words, “For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die.”
“I am ready.” Essentially, I already knew this was dangerous when I signed up for it. I wonder how many Christians could say, “I’m ready. I’m ready for my neighbors to reject me. I’m ready for my coworkers to laugh at me. I’m ready for the hate. I’m ready to be left out.”
That’s worth considering: Are you ready? Are you ready to be called names? Are you ready to be passed over for the promotion? Are you okay with that? Are you ready to be considered a fundamentalist? Are you ready to be called a bigot? Are you ready to be misunderstood? Are you ready to be intentionally framed? Are you ready to be lied about?
Some of you going to college soon or in college now: are you ready to be the laughingstock? Are you ready to be considered stupid? Are you ready to be the only one in your class who thinks the Bible is the word of God?
And some of you might want to bring the gospel to harder places. Several months back we had the Shontere’s here, they’re serving in Papua New Guinea. Maybe you will go someplace like that. Are you ready to be threatened? Are you ready to have spears pointed at you? Are you ready to have people curse you?
This is one thing the modern American church is ill-prepared to do. Christians are too often coddled, churches are too often pampered. The gospel becomes another self-help program.
Salvation and suffering are married. Phil. 1:29 “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Two things have been grace-gifted to Christians: One, that we believe in him. And two, that we suffer for him.
Basically all of 1 Peter is about this. 1 Peter 2:21 “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his footsteps.”
4:1 “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.”
4:12 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
This is why in Acts 14:22 when Paul and Barnabas went back to encourage the new churches they planted, what did they say: it says they were “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
There is no other way. Remember the wisdom of God is that the weak are strong, the humble are exalted, the foolish according to the world are wise. And those it will look like the world is mowing us down - we are all seeds. We are seeds that must die - die to ourselves, die to the world, and perhaps even die in service to God. And that’s how we bear fruit.
Second: Walking the path of the cross is the highest privilege. Now, we don’t mope when we take up our cross. There is zero self-pity in this. No “Look at us poor Christians. Look at what the bad people are doing to us.” No. Church, this is our highest calling.
When we were studying the last week of Jesus’ life in Mark, we saw so much of the darkness. Judas’ betrayal, the abandonment of the disciples, his arrest. We look at his agony in the Garden as he contemplated his coming death on the cross. He truly was a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” But there’s another aspect we didn’t notice as much.
I find it wonderful that God brings salvation and rescue to his people with exuberant enthusiasm. God is rejoicing, God is glad, God is exulting, God is singing loud. Now connect that with Jesus going to the cross. Mark 14:23 says that after Jesus explained that he would be giving his life for the disciples, and that the bread was his body and the cup was his blood, do you know what he did? “And when he had given thanks, he gave it to them.” He gave thanks. He’s talking about his own impending death, and he gives thanks. And then a few verses later, what is Jesus doing? 14:26, they sang a hymn - as he faces his arrest and impending torture, he sings.
And think of Hebrews 12, which speaks of how we should look to Jesus and imitate him. It says that he went to the cross, “for the joy set before him.” Jesus endured the most harrowing hours of his life with thanksgiving, with singing, with joy - not that it was easy; we remember his prayers in the Garden. But there was a deeper gladness in sacrificing himself to save the lost.
Jesus knew that obedience to his heavenly father was worth it all. Could you imagine Jesus moping on his way to the cross? Could you picture him wallowing in his own self-pity? Banish the thought. We take up our crosses with our chins held high, for the joy set before us.
Now what’s fascinating is this: when we read about suffering and persecution in the New Testament, we see that they too rejoiced in it. They used a phrase that reveals how they thought about their persecution. See if you can see the phrase they used.
2 Corinthians 1:5 “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
2 Timothy 1:8 “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.”
1 Peter 4:13 “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
Christ’s sufferings. They saw their own sufferings as belonging to Christ. They are Christ’s sufferings. Here’s what this means: they can’t get to Christ anymore; he conquered death and ascended to the Father. So what do they do? They go after his people. Christ is dwells in us by the Holy Spirit. The church is the body of Christ. And insofar as we imitate Christ and represent him here on earth, we will be opposed by the same types of people who put Jesus on the cross.
Turn to Philippians 3. We’ll start in verse 7. After describing all his pedigree, all his gain, he says, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.”
What Paul wants more than anything is to gain Christ, to be found in Christ, to have Christ’s righteousness, to know Christ. But focus on verse 10: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
That was Paul’s longing. The word “share” is koinonia, which means “fellowship” or “partnership.” Here’s what Paul wanted. He wanted to know Christ better by experiencing sufferings as Jesus did. He wanted to know Jesus so badly, that if suffering enhanced his knowledge of Christ, then bring it on.
I recently heard about a ministry started by Nancy Guthrie called “Respite Retreat,” where couples can go and retreat. What makes this ministry unique is that it is specifically for couples who have suffered the loss of a child. There they can go, grieve together with others who know what it’s like. They can be understood. There’s a kind of depth of fellowship they can share because they share the same sufferings.
Paul knew that when he suffered, he was experiencing a sliver of what Christ experienced. He doesn’t love suffering for sufferings’ sake. He is not a spiritual masochist. He wants to know his Savior deeply. If suffering helps him know and love and appreciate Christ, then suffering is a privilege. He rejoices in his suffering. He wants to understand him. He wants to identify with him more closely. And, in Paul’s mind, there is nothing like suffering to build communion with Christ.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this in some measure. Was it the easy, happy times that you went deep with Jesus? Or was it when the ground shook beneath you, when everything crumbled, when the darkness set in?
Richard Wurmbrand was converted to Christ while in Communist Russia in the 1960s. His book Tortured for Christ is a harrowing, gut-wrenching account of what it was like for Christians imprisoned by the communists. There are gruesome depictions of the sadistic methods of torture. He writes, “I have seen Christians in communist prisons with fifty pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold - and praying with fervor for the Communists.” And that is the incredible thing: there is a flavor of joy through it all.
He goes on “When I look back on my fourteen years in prison, it was occasionally a very happy time. Other prisoners and even the guards very often wondered at how happy Christians could be under the most terrible circumstances. We could not be prevented from singing, although we were beaten for this. I imagine that nightingales, too, would sing, even if they knew that after finishing they would be killed for it. Christians in prison danced for joy. How could they be so happy under such tragic conditions?”
The answer is this: when we suffer for Christ, we fellowship with Christ in. We know Christ more deeply as we share in his sufferings. We see him more clearly. And we rejoice in him. Like Paul said, We “know him and the power of his resurrection. We share in his sufferings. We become like him in his death
When John Paton went to bring the gospel to the New Hebrides he experienced utter tragedy. His lowest point was when he had lost his wife, he had lost his child, and the natives turned against him and were trying to kill him, and he had climbed a tree to hide in the middle of the night. He recounts the story years later:
“I climbed into the tree and was left alone there in the bush. The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among these chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship.”
Read the stories of the martyrs. Read the biographies of missionaries. Let them tell you whether or not suffering for Christ is worth it. Pull them all down from heaven. Get that whole crowd of witnesses before you. Ask them if the suffering was worth it.
I can imagine interviewing Peter if it was worth it to get crucified upside down. Or grab John - was it worth it to be exiled? Or the early Christians to be thrown to the lions. Or Jan Hus to be burned at the stake or Martin Luther to be opposed by the powers that be. Or I could ask Spurgeon if it was worth it to stick to biblical orthodoxy even when his entire denomination turned on him, and him belly-laughing and slapping his knee in response. Or Jim Elliot and Nate Saint whether it was worth it to bring the gospel to the Aucas even though they speared them to death. Or Richard Wurmbrand in the communist prison or John Paton in the lonely tree? They’re all saying, “Are you kidding me? Pour it all out! Give it all away! Don’t hesitate. Don’t worry. It’s eternally and infinitely worth it!”
Read Acts 5:40-42 “And when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”
So the path of the cross is filled with sorrow and suffering, and it is filled with inexpressible joy and delight. That’s what Paul means when he described his own ministry as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Sorrow and joy are not mutually exclusive realities!
If this is true, that Christ suffered with joy - he went to the cross for the joy set before him. He faced his death with thanksgiving. He was singing as he sacrificed. Our love is to imitate the singing, thankful, joyful, self-giving, self-sacrificing love of God. If it’s true that the apostles suffered with joy, that martyrs and missionaries suffered with joy - then shouldn’t we be fearless before it? Shouldn’t we be willing to take risks?
Shouldn’t we be able to say, “Take everything from me, but you can’t take my joy, because my joy is in Christ, and Christ is mine forever.”
Third, Walking the path of the cross is how we advance the gospel. We will be evagelistic weaklings if we don’t embrace the path of the cross.
When we suffer with joy we prove that we have something more precious than life. What makes God look glorious is not when God gives me a lot of stuff. What makes God look glorious to the watching world is when all our stuff is taken away, all our comforts are removed, and we say, “God is enough for me - I will rejoice.”
2 Corinthians 4:7-12.
Richard Wurmbrand says it like this: “A flower, if you bruise it under your feet, rewards you by giving you its perfume. Likewise Christians, tortured by the Communists, rewarded their torturers by love. We brought many of our jailers to Christ.”
When the world sees we have nothing, and we act like we have everything, they are confused. They want to know our secret. And our secret is Christ. We have a savior. We are reconciled to God. We have eternal life. We have a future inheritance. We away unending bliss in glory.
Joseph was a warrior of the Masai people in Africa. He met a missionary who explained the gospel to him, and it radically transformed him. As he grew in understanding it, he wanted to tell everyone. The story goes like this:
Joseph began going from door-to-door, telling everyone he met about the Cross [suffering!] of Jesus and the salvation it offered, expecting to see their faces light up the way his had. To his amazement the villagers not only didn’t care, they became violent. The men of the village seized him and held him to the ground while the women beat him with strands of barbed wire. He was dragged from the village and left to die alone in the bush.
Joseph somehow managed to crawl to a water hole, and there, after days of passing in and out of consciousness, found the strength to get up. He wondered about the hostile reception he had received from people he had known all his life. He decided he must have left something out or told the story of Jesus incorrectly. After rehearsing the message he had first heard, he decided to go back and share his faith once more.
Joseph limped into the circle of huts and began to proclaim Jesus. “He died for you, so that you might find forgiveness and come to know the living God” he pleaded. Again he was grabbed by the men of the village and held while the women beat him reopening wounds that had just begun to heal. Once more they dragged him unconscious from the village and left him to die.
To have survived the first beating was truly remarkable. To live through the second was a miracle. Again, days later, Joseph awoke in the wilderness, bruised, scarred—and determined to go back.
He returned to the small village and this time, they attacked him before he had a chance to open his mouth. As they flogged him for the third and probably the last time, he again spoke to them of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Before he passed out, the last thing he saw was that the women who were beating him began to weep.
This time he awoke in his own bed. The ones who had so severely beaten him were now trying to save his life and nurse him back to health. The entire village had come to Christ.
This is what Paul meant when he said, “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
We give up our lives so that others may gain life.
If you’re not a Christian - I want to invite you to come to the path of the cross. This world has nothing for you. God is holy, and God is love. Because God is holy he will punish all sin. Because God is love, he is willing to transfer your sins to Jesus’ cross, and punish them there. You must turn from every other hope and trust in Jesus.
And then take up the path of the cross. Are you willing to take the path of the cross? Do you really believe that though it will include suffering, it is our highest privilege, and it is God’s way of advancing the gospel?
What might happen to us if we live this way? We might be more bold. We might have a bit more spine. We might dream of giving our lives away for church planting, for unreached peoples, for shut-ins. We might be more proactive about telling the gospel to our neighbors and coworkers. We might be more generous, as we deny ourselves so others might be blessed.
Oh, that the Lord would stir in us to make us people of the cross. Set free from sin to live for Christ. To see in living for Christ the perfect wisdom of God. That we would see that this world is not our home, and that we, like Christ, are here to lay down our lives for others.
Let me say it this way: we’d be strange. We’d be so different. We wouldn’t be caught up in the trivialities and trinkets this world offers us. We’d live on a higher plane. We wouldn’t be controlled by the ups and downs of our nation’s
We’d be bold. Courageous. We’d be willing to suffer. We’d be more evangelistic. We’d be more willing to face things that scare us. We’d be more generous. We’d be more sacrificial. And we’d be stra
I remember speaking to an old pastor. Not a conference speaker, not a well-known guy. He never wrote a book. He just faithfully pastored for over three decades. I asked him what was the hardest book for him to preach through. He said, “I felt that every book I preached, I would be faced with the same challenges the book was addressing. So the hardest book was 1 Peter. A book on suffering. While preaching through that book God brought me through the greatest suffering of my life.
“I do not need to plead my own cause … I am a dead man already. My life is dead and hidden with Christ. It is your lives that in danger, you are dead in your sins. I will pray to God that after you have killed me, He will spare you from eternal destruction.”
“Follow me.” What does that mean? It means we adopt his way of living. We treat others like he treated others, as more significant than himself. We love others the way he did, generously, unconditionally, sacrificially.
Why? Why should we do that? Is God a kill-joy? Is he trying to stop us from enjoying life? Deny yourself! Suffer! Give! Verse 35: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Jesus is teaching the pathway to true life.
What’s so hard for us to remember is that this life is a vapor. But we are grappling to save this vapor of a life, it will vanish in our hands and we’ll lose it. But if we give up ourselves unreservedly to Christ, to his purposes, for the sake of the gospel, we save our lives.
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” The answer? It profits him nothing. Everything he gains in this wisp of a world will turn to dust as he breathes his last. “For what can a man give in return for his soul?” Answer: Nothing. He cannot purchase eternal salvation with the things in this world.
What’s Jesus saying? That when we follow him, we dive all in. We don’t live for ourselves. We don’t live for the paycheck. We don’t live for the travel. We give our lives away for the gospel, and in doing so, we find true life.
Some of you are not giving your lives away for Christ and the gospel, and so you haven’t found true life. The irony is this: if you try to build your life you’ll lose it. You give it away, you’ll gain it.
What about you? Are you giving your life away?
To walk the path of the cross costs everything.
To walk the path of the cross is the highest privilege.
To walk the path of the cross advances the gospel.
Tortured for Christ, pg 63
About a year ago I went on a mountain bike ride with James, Jonas, Mark and Luke. I’d never done it before, but I had a bike, and I had some friends, so I figured hey let’s do it. I figured I was in decent shape. I mean, I’ve been active all my life. I should be able to do it just fine. As we made our way up the mountain I began thinking, “Wow, this is a bit more challenging than I thought it would be.” A little later my legs were burning and I was thinking we had to be close to the top. We had barely begun. Soon after I was asking if we could stop for a break. I was dying. I was completely unprepared. James was literally riding circles around me as I tried to recover.
What happened? Here’s what happened: I had all kinds of wrong expectations. In my mind, I had all the good stuff in my mind and none of the hard stuff. I had the time with friends in my mind. I had the cool breeze on my face in my mind. I had being out in nature on my mind. But I never stopped to consider how challenging the climb might be, or how taxing it’d be on my unprepared body.
That’s how a lot of Christians start their Christian lives. They hear about forgiveness, joy, freedom, salvation - and it excites them! And it should! It’s the most exciting news in the universe. But no one ever tells them about the challenges they’re going to face.
When Jesus called people to follow him, he made it clear that it was a costly decision. Worth it, but costly. In fact as Jesus went to the cross, he invited others to “take up” their own crosses. They were supposed to see themselves as on the Calvary road with him. They were to see themselves as men sentenced to death. They anticipated suffering. They expected suffering. This was part of what Jesus taught.
And if I was a more provocative pastor, I might have titled this sermon, “The lost message of Jesus” or something like that. Because I don’t think many American churches teach this fundamental aspect of discipleship. It’s too heavy, and we like levity. It’s too serious and we like comedy. It’s too uncomfortable and we like comfort. And so we’ve made an entirely different version of Christianity - one that’s all glory and no suffering.
We seem to think that if God loves us, he’s probably going to make life easy for us. He’s going to remove the sharp edges. He’s going to protect us from tragedy; he’s going to enhance our lifestyles. But then there’s the cross. His own son, before he was brought to glory, had to go through agony. What will happen to us, his followers? Didn’t Jesus say “If they maligned the master of the house, how much more will they malign those of his household?”
Do you think our world is becoming more friendly toward Christianity? Is it becoming more tolerant of Christian principles? Americans have enjoyed relative freedom from persecution for the last 200 years. But
Jesus taught that the whole world is in the power of the evil one. He taught that the same impulses that compelled the world to reject Jesus and nail him to the cross would crash against anyone who followed him. And whenever he called people to follow him, he prepared them making it clear that this would be the case.
The Path of the Cross
The path of suffering (Mark 8)
The preparation of suffering (1 Peter 4)
The privilege of suffering (Phil 3:10, 2 Cor. 1:5, 2 Tim. 1:8)
The power of suffering (Col 1:24) (2 Cor. 4:10)
Let’s think of it this way. Of the first two people born to the human race, Cain and Abel, the unrighteous one murder the righteous one. Most of the prophets were rejected, some killed. Our Lord was killed, the apostles were killed, and Christians in early Rome were killed, and as the gospel has spread to the nations, Christians have been slaughtered. But we American Christians have a mindset that renders us almost incapable of imagining something like that happening to us.
Hey Andy - I love you as a brother, so I figured I owe you the explanation for not supporting your political campaign. The truth is I find your platform morally reprehensible, an offense to God, and destructive to our nation. I cannot in good conscience give you money to promote things I think are evil. I hope you understand.