The Meaning of the Metaphor3
Christians say some crazy sounding things.
In my sermon last Sunday I said, “to be a Christian is to be the bride of Christ, pregnant with the kingdom of heaven.” See? That sounds crazy—especially if you're a dude! But if you’ve read your Bible, walked with Jesus for a while, and been to a lot of church-y things, then you have no trouble digesting and gleaning from this metaphor.
The truth is, if you have read your Bible, walked with Jesus, and spent quality time with other believers, you’ve probably heard of this metaphor and experienced the reality of it. When the indwelling Spirit of God compels you toward certain tasks, or places, or people, your pulse quickens, you feel drawn to labor on someone else’s behalf, and you are usually very uncomfortable with it all. At least I usually am.
The second metaphor sounds just as crazy.
In my sermon last Sunday I also quoted Jesus, who said, “Whoever wants to follow me…must take up their cross…” Now. this sounds crazy for a couple of reasons. First, it sounds crazy because crosses are not something used in our culture. However, in Jesus’ day, everyone knew what a cross was. It was the pieces of wood erected on the sides of streets where bad people hung bleeding, suffering, dying or dead.
This leads to the second reason “take up their cross” sounds crazy: because it soundshorrible. Why would anyone calling for people to follow him, conjure up such a horrific metaphor as carrying a device used to humiliate, shame, and painfully kill bad people? It sounds masochistic.
But let’s dig a little deeper into this metaphor. Here are two thoughts about what it means to take up your cross:
First, the cross was more than just death and dying. Crucifixion’s cross was used to ultimately bring death, but prior to death, it weakened a person through pain and shame. When Jesus did what His Father asked Him to do, it led to pain, shame, and weakness on the cross. With this in mind, I think it is safe to say that to “take up his (her) cross” means to accept assignments from God that will potentially—and probably—lead a person to feeling weak due to pain and shame.
Second, we learn from Jesus’ cross that a true cross will bring the opportunity for forgiveness, salvation, and right relationship with God to others. With this in mind, I think it is safe to say that we can know we have “taken up our cross” when our weakness, pain, or shame leads to the opportunity for others to find forgiveness, salvation, and right relationship with God.
For my family and me right now, we have been asked by Jesus to open our home and hearts to some kids in the foster care system. It is hard for me to consider this a cross at this point, but it is something Jesus has asked us to do that has depleted our strength. So far it has not brought much pain or shame, but it has the potential to. It is also something that has the potential to bring the opportunity for forgiveness, salvation, and right relationship with God to these two little boys.
I hope that these words may help you to discover what cross Jesus is asking you to carry for Him—and for others—because, if we follow Him to the cross, then we get to follow him to resurrection life.
If you know what cross Jesus is asking you to carry in this season of life, I would love to hear about it. I will even throw a prayer up on your behalf when you tell me.