Take up your Cross

This is the text of what I shared today at our Gathering. I haven't included the questions because I only really had one and that led off the conversation and it just took off......

The last few weeks we have been looking at what a disciple of Jesus looks like through the lens of different stories and texts in the gospel of Matthew. We’ve looked at the story of the woman who had hemorrhaged for 12 years and the boldness it took for her to go after Jesus, setting aside religious laws and customs in order to get healing.

We looked at the parable of the sower and the seed and how we are called to be both the sower and the good soil both. That discipleship is about partnering with God in the building of his Kingdom by sowing the seed of the Kingdom. And also preparing ourselves to be good soil for the seed of the Kingdom to come into our lives.

Then last week we talked about Jesus walking on the water, and then having Peter get out of the boat, because his rabbi was walking on the water. We talked about taking risks for the Kingdom is essential to the life of a disciple. Being a disciple is not about the status quo. It is about shattering the status quo, and getting out of your comfort zone, where the magic happens, so to speak.

Today we are tackling a text that I believe is the crux of the matter when it comes to being a follower of Jesus, and a disciple. One that I, honestly, wish wasn’t part of the deal in following Jesus. One that, when I read it, sounds like it is really really hard to live out and is honestly a downer. But to be a disciple of Jesus means following in his footsteps, and Jesus footsteps led him to the cross, and our footsteps should lead us there as well.

So let’s turn to Matthew 16:24-26, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

So to properly understand this text we need to look back and see what was happening before this. We need to frame this in its context. In the previous section we see Jesus asking the disciples who people were saying that he was. Peter, being the brash one, opens his mouth first and says these words, which are spot on, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” But then only a few verses later we see Peter not truly understanding what the mission of Jesus was all about. Jesus starts talking about going up to Jerusalem, suffering, dying on the cross, and then coming back to life on the third day. This understanding of Jesus’ true mission had no place in the mind of Peter. You see Peter’s understanding of the messiah was a political messiah, one who would kick butt first, take names later. He had no category for a suffering, crucified messiah and so he rebukes Jesus. Jesus then tells Peter that a powerful, roman-butt kicking, power over, Messiah is a pawn of the evil one, and has no place in the Kingdom of God. And that is where we pick up the text from this morning.

Now when Jesus makes reference to carrying the cross, all the disciples knew exactly what he was referring to. They had seen enough condemned criminals on their way to their own execution carrying their own instrument of death. It would be like today for a criminal who was going to be put to death in an electric chair, to carry the chair into the execution chamber. The disciples understood what the cross was really all about, death. It was unavoidable in Jesus’ day to not understand what the cross was all about. Almost every time that they would enter the city of Jerusalem, they would see the condemned criminals hanging on crosses outside the city walls.

And so here Jesus drops this bombshell. That this discourse was intended to show Peter and the rest of the disciples the nature of his kingdom. And that nature was that the cross is a necessary condition of discipleship. Death to self is the radical command of the Christian life. When Jesus called his disciples to take up their cross, it meant only one thing, you were going to certain death, and your only hope was in resurrection power. So Jesus is pretty clearly giving his disciples what it true meant to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and by definition, also to us. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ, plain and simple (I didn’t say easy) is to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him. It is all about getting on the cross yourself, and following him.

Now let’s remember the context of this part of the Scripture. I believe the disciples are just sitting there shocked to think that their Messiah was going to suffer, and then go die on a cross. And that he was calling them to do the same (most likely not literally). Jesus was getting at the very heart of being like God. He was great at the heart of how you transform the world and be about the Kingdom of God.

You see God is an awesome and powerful God! But God’s power is so unlike how the world wields power. He reveals his power not by control or force, but through love and sacrifice. God so loved the world that he sent his Son, Jesus, into the world, not to condemn it but to transform it, ultimately laying down his life for all on the cross. This kind of power and love was shocking then, and it is still shocking to our world today.

What Jesus was calling them to was not to a position of power and self-righteousness, but rather to a life of humility, service and self-sacrificial love. As followers of Christ, we are called to do the same and reflect this kind of outrageous love and service, even to those who persecute us.

Jesus teaches his disciples about a new way of living. It is a life found only in God, which is abundant life. The source of all love, joy and peace is found in living for God. Trying to get life from any other source is futile and leads to death. Our call as followers of Christ is to die to our old ways of living life and to start living in love, as Christ loves us. By doing so, we find real life!

I wasn’t to talk about this, as it is pretty controversial, but I thought it really fit are topic this morning. This past week we saw a lot of people, a lot of “church” people respond to a call to “eat mor chickin.” To stand up for their American and some even said Christian right to free speech. I don’t care where you stand on the issues related to everything that surrounding the “appreciate Chick-Fila-a” day (free speech, gay marriage, etc..), I just want us to look at that day in light of our Scripture today and Christ’s radical call of discipleship, by denying yourself, taking up our cross and following him.

Jesus lived a life of power under, humility, love, and self-sacrifice, denying himself, and literally taking up his cross. Where do you think he would be in this whole mess? Where do you think he calls us, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, in this whole mess? Honestly, I can’t see Jesus showing up to “eat mor chickin” and I honestly can’t see him showing up protesting. I see him transcending the whole affair and loving, serving, and dying for all people involved. And if that is true of Jesus, shouldn’t that be true of how followers of Jesus respond to this issue and a host of other issues that we face everyday?

Let’s spend sometime unpacking on a deeper level what it really looks like to follow Jesus call to radical discipleship, to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him.