Sunday, August 31, 2008

"....take up his cross and follow me."

Do we as Christians really understand what this verse is saying? Look at it again.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Matthew 16:24

Do we really understand what it means to pick up our cross and follow him. I don't think most of us do. And if we do, we forget far too easily. We all need constant reminders of what it really means to be a Christian. So what does it mean to carry a cross? What did Jesus really go through when He died on a cross? Well, though I'm not a bible scholar or expert on the subject, I have some thoughts on the subject.

First, when we talk about what Jesus did for us, I think we always start at the wrong place. Yes Jesus death was a huge sacrifice but that's not the beginning of what He went through. He brought Himself low enough to become a man. Do you honestly understand what that means? Well, ok, I know that we can't fully understand it, but do you have even a glimpse of it's meaning. The distance that lies between the greatness of God and the lowliness of man is unfathomable. Yet He humbled Himself and became a man. Why? All for love.

That's not all though. The story is just getting started so take a seat, you'll be here for awhile. Jesus, who is God, became not just a man. He became the son of poverty. He was among the poorest of all mankind. He was born in a stable to the betrothed of a carpenter. He was a nothing. A nobody. He lowered himself from position in heaven to become a nobody. Why? All for love.

Then, when He grew, He started His ministry. He was God, He could have made all bow before Him. Did they receive him? No! They hated His teachings. They hated His rebukes. They hated His perfection. But most of all, they hated Him. After all the miraculous signs and wonders, they turned away and became an angry mob. They wanted an end put to Him. They were determined and they found a way. They took full advantage of the Roman custom of crucifixion. Three men were to be crucified for being thieves. (The Greek word stasiastes used to describe them in Mark 15:7 translates insurrectionists or revolutionaries.) These men weren't just common thieves. They were people trying to over throw the Romans and give the Jews the freedom they longed for. The Jews knew that in Roman custom, they could get an exchange. They could get Barabbas freed and have Jesus take his place. For the Jews, Barabbas modeled a better Messiah than Jesus. They believed the Messiah would free them from the Romans and set up an earthly kingdom. That was what Barabbas strove to do so he seemed pretty appealing. Jesus was handed over the Romans by his own, chosen people. He could have fought it. He could have stopped them. But He didn't. Why? All for love.

Now for the crucifixion itself. When we think crucifixion, we usually think something like this right?
A holy pose, halo of light around the head, a cut in the side where the spear pierced him, crown of thorns that gives him an extra kingly look, and a loin cloth. It doesn't even look that painful right? So what Jesus did was no biggie. Ummmm......wrong!!!!! Think again. Let's back up to before He was put on the cross. I'm a weird person who likes to use my imagination so bare with me please. Let's use our imaginations and go back to that day........

Can you see it...........

Jesus, God's own son, is in the garden praying. We see Him, crying out to His father. Suddenly, we see lights. Soldier come into view. Anywhere from 600-6000. We watch as they take Jesus away like a common criminal. What can we or the disciples do? We are helpless. We try to find out what's happening. We can't get into the Sanhedrin but we hear that Jesus has been accused of speaking blasphemy. We then see Peter deny his Lord, who he claimed to love. When Jesus is brought before Pilot, He is found innocent. But the Jews aren't satisfied. They want his blood. Pilot gives then a choice. Barabbas can be set free, or Jesus. The roar of the crowd is almost too much to bare. It's deafening. They choose Barabbas.

The soldiers take Jesus to the Praetorium and strip Him. They place a scarlet robe on Him, give hHm a staff to take the place of a scepter, and then make Him a crown of thorns. The thorns on this crown where not little rose thorns. They were about as long as your little finger. The crown was fitted to Jesus' head snugly so that the thorns went deep. Now that they have him "dressed like a king", they mock him. Bowing before him, they hailing him as king of the Jews. They spit on Him and took his staff from Him and hit Him on the head with it again and again.

Let me step back to the present for a moment to ask a question or two. Have you ever seen someone who has been beat up? Do they have a face like that of the Jesus pictured above? Or are they misshapen, bloodied, even unrecognizable? Just some questions. Now let's go back to the scene we left.

After they have mocked Jesus, we see the the soldiers take Him to be flogged. The Roman implement for this treatment was whip consisting of leather thongs that had bits of stone and broken bone attached. It was very effective. When the flogger lashed out with it, the hard sharp bits would embed themselves in the flesh of the flogged person. When the flogger pulled back on the instrument it would rip the flesh. By the time someone was done being flogged, they would not resemble a human being anymore. Our Lord went through that for us. Isaiah 52:14 prophesied this by saying:

"Just as there were many who were appalled at him

his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond human likeness"

After He was flogged beyond recognition, He was taken away to be crucified. We follow closely and see a man name Simon given the task of carrying Jesus cross. When we arrive at Golgotha along with the rest of the crowd, we watch as the three prisoners are offered wine mixed with gall. We are not surprised because this is the custom. It is given to ease the pain of crucifixion. But as we watch, we see that Jesus refuses to drink it. He is taking our places and dieing, and He won't even take this rudimentary form of pain killer first.

When he is at last nailed to the cross and raised up, He is mocked by the entire crowd. In horror, we find that we too are shouting insults at Him. We have pinned Him to that cross and the hammer is in our own hands. Everyone in the crowd is holding the same hammer. They can't see it in their hand, but it's there. Darkness covers everything. We hear Him cry out to His father in heaven. He is mocked again. Then He gives up His spirit and dies.

Ok, back to the here and now. Were you able to see it? Did the trip in your imagination show you what Jesus really went through for us? I hope you at least have a more realistic idea of what took place in order that you might be saved from your sins. So, let's look at that picture of Jesus death again shall we.

Still look like the Jesus that we hear about in the bible? Not to me. The man in that picture has gone through nothing compared to the Jesus that saved me from my sins.

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten my original topic. I was just leading to it. So from what was said above, what do you think it truly means to take up your cross and follow him? It's not an easy decision, choosing to follow Christ. The road will be tough, painful, exhausting, and we will all want to give up at times. But the reward is everlasting. And we can rest in the knowledge that no matter what we go through, Jesus Christ has endured much more. So much more that you can't even compare our suffering to His. So no, following Jesus isn't easy in the worldly sense. But it's easy when you think of all that He has done for you. Picking up our crosses is the least we can do to show our appreciation.

So, who's joining me. Who's ready to stop living the Christian life of daisy chains and meadows full of butterflies, and exchange it for the life that seeks after God, no matter the cost?