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Friday, March 29, 2013

Take Up Your Cross and Follow

Today I’m reading Mark 8:34. “And summoning the crowd with His disciples, Jesus said to all, ‘If anyone is willing to follow behind Me, let him deny himself, and pick up his cross daily, and follow Me.’"

On this Good Friday I want to share these good words from Mark Reyes. May they inspire your reflections on this holy day.

Physically Follow Me
When Jesus said "follow me" He meant "physically follow me." The word for "follow" literally means "to accompany on the same road." Jesus was taking the road to the cross. We think of following Jesus today as "following His teachings." Jesus didn't mean that here. When He said "follow me" He didn't mean "Stay here, think about what I've taught you, and put it into practice while I go on to the next town." No one would've taken it that way when the man is right there in front of them. He was talking to a crowd and to His disciples. There is no telling how much the crowd had heard Jesus teach up to that point. It would have been silly for Jesus to mean "follow my teachings" when the crowd had barely heard Him teach.

Deny Self
Anyone who willingly takes up a cross has to deny self. Jesus even did it. In the garden of Gethsemane He prayed to the Father saying, "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done." Jesus was very troubled and grieved and distressed. He denied Himself and chose to do what the Father wanted. He "took up His cross" that night and headed to take up the physical cross soon after.

Most teach that "taking up your cross" is something like a reiteration of "deny yourself." As I've shown denial of self is a must for willingly taking up a cross but taking up your cross is not the same as denying yourself. No one today has to "take up their cross" because Jesus already crucified us with Himself on the cross. There are times when God wants us to change our intentions but usually only for the sake of benefiting others or to lessen our own unloving ambitions.

Why "Take Up Your Cross" Doesn't Mean "Crucify Yourself Daily" or "Die Daily."
Jesus Didn't Say "Crucify"
Jesus didn't say "Crucify yourself daily" He said "pick up your cross daily." We know there was a word for crucify because people shouted it at Jesus. If Jesus meant crucify, as in kill yourself, then He would have said it. Immediately before this Jesus said "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be killed and be raised up on the third day." Jesus was on a journey to the cross. A journey to a cross involves carrying the cross. Christ died once not daily. Jesus took up his figurative cross daily because He knew He was headed for the real thing. To follow a man you have to go where he is going. Jesus was going to the cross.

You Can't Crucify Yourself
No one can nail down all of their own limbs. Someone can however pick up a cross and walk with it on their shoulder. This wasn't even about a figurative daily death. Jesus wanted people to follow Him to His destination of the cross and receive the new & eternal life on the other end of it. There is not an indication in scripture that the disciples were miserable hanging out with Jesus or that they suffered daily more than the average traveler at the time. "Taking up your cross" was about the destination and the perseverance to reach that destination.

Scripture Never Commands that We "Die to Self" or "Die Daily"
Paul said "I die daily" in 1 Corinthians 15:31 referring to the closeness he comes to dying every day by putting his life in danger for the Gospel. He says "We are in danger every hour" and "I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus." There is nothing in this context to make us think that Paul is boasting about his efforts of self-denial. His point in the context is "Why would I put my life in danger, and I assure you I do every day, if there were no resurrection?" Romans 8:35-37, "we are being put to death all day long," also concerns facing physical dangers.

"Die to self" is a Christian buzz-phrase that isn't found in scripture. It typically means "self denial." Notice Jesus didn't even say "deny yourself daily." What He meant at the time was "If you want to follow me you'll have to leave everything you have" much like the fisherman disciples did. Denying self in Luke 9 was to pick up and physically follow Jesus. It wasn't a religious stringency but a one time abandonment of all someone had.

We live after the wonder that is the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are changed for the better by embracing Christ not by denying self. Scripture actually speaks against a focus on continual self denial. "Rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, strict self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in stopping the indulgence of the flesh" (Colossians 2:23). "Don't let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial" (Colossians 2:18). The scriptures says that a lifestyle of strict self-denial is worthless and imposing it upon someone else is condemning.

Christ Died Once and We Died With Him
Notice all references to the Christian's crucifixion and death are past tense.
"I have been crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20). "Christ died for all, and therefore all died" (2 Corinthians 5:14). "For those who are in Christ the old creation has gone" (2 Corinthians 5:17). "We are those who have died to sin" (Romans 6:2). "We were buried with Jesus and we have been united with him in a death. Our old self was crucified with him" (Romans 6:4-6). "You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). "Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" (1 Peter 3:18).

"Christ raised from the dead never to die again. Death has no more power over Him. When He died He died to sin once for all. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin" (Romans 6:9-11). The "same way" means "We rose from the dead with Christ never to die again. We died to sin once." We died once and have no need to die ever again.

A New Self
Jesus' statement sounds like a requirement for salvation and for the Christian life. We see multiple encouragements for self-control in the New Testament. Why then does no post-cross New Testament author command anyone to deny self? "Our old self was crucified with Christ" (Romans 6:6). Praise God! We aren't to deny self because we have a new self, one that is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3), righteous, holy, and perfect (Hebrews 10:14). We are to live from our new self, which is our reborn spirit, and use it to control our bodies. Those who think we must "take up our cross" and "deny ourselves" don't understand the finished work of Christ, the new birth, or the life we have in Christ. We have already been to the cross and we have a new self. Now we sit with Jesus in heavenly places.

When we mistake our identity as a dirty worthless sinner then "dying to self" seems like a good thing but the problem is we don't know who we are, the wonderful new creature God has made us to be. God's type of love is not self-seeking. It is others focused and self-giving. We have the full goodness of God to give from ourselves because we are God's beloved children. God identifies us solely by the goodness of Jesus and the goodness He has put in us.

The Results
Almost no one ultimately carried their cross every day but God's mercy and love had them covered. When the disciples carried their crosses as far as they could go on the night of His arrest Jesus took their crosses on His back and carried on. When John, the three Mary's, and Jesus' aunt followed Him to the foot of His cross He took the crosses off of their backs and laid them on His own. Jesus was crucified on their crosses on their behalf. He is the only one who physically died upon the true cross and He suffered on all of our behalves. All of our crosses have already been carried. Our old spirits, our old selves were painlessly crucified with Him and we rose with Him in new life. This gift of new life we have is the greatest gift of all time because Jesus is life and His loving kindness is new every morning. God gives us daily doses of love and kindness. His love trickles-down and transforms. Those are days I want to live.

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