Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”
Matthew 16:24 NIV
The Medieval Catholic monk and writer, Thomas a Kempis, in the classic devotional book, The Imitation of Christ, says that “Jesus has many lovers of His kingdom but few bearers of the cross … All are disposed to rejoice with Him, but few to suffer for His sake.”
The words of Thomas a Kempis cut me to the quick. In an age, certainly in the Western World, of lukewarm Christianity, I think it behoves us, particularly during this season of Lent, to reflect on what it means for us to be “bearers of the cross”. Our reflection should be guided by the Scriptures. Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 – TNIV).
“Take up their cross and follow me.” What does this mean? Among many things it probably involves self-sacrifice and thinking of ourselves the way Christ thought of Himself. The Apostle Paul gives some insight into the practice of unselfish thinking and living when he says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8).
Observing popular Christian culture it seems like the cross of Christ is oftentimes no longer one of self-denial and humility. Where did we go wrong? Christ made the cross a powerful symbol of His consideration for others. But in our hands the cross has become a sign of self-indulgence – of something that amuses and entertains. This should be a matter of deep concern for everyone who truly wants to orient their story by the cross. The cross should never encourage confidence in the flesh. When the cross of the New Testament is reduced to an ornament around the neck of a carnal and self-indulgent generation, we’re on a dangerous course – a course that will ultimately self-destruct.
To return to the Apostle Paul … he said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). All that Christ has done on the cross must be embraced by those who claim to be Christian. After all, the cross is more than a talisman or church icon; ultimately the cross is about Christ taking the lead in our lives such that the life He gave up for our healing, salvation and transformation becomes the life we live to glorify Him.