Luke 9:23 - And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me."
At first glance -- from the title of this piece -- one might think I am about to muse on the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. This, of course, is the traditional route that Jesus took after his the Roman governor Pilate sentenced Jesus to be crucified. The various stations depict the scenes of his journey to Golgotha (the present day site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher). Whether you are Roman Catholic or not, it is interesting to walk the Via Dolorosa and imagine the various stages of Christ's sufferings when visiting Jerusalem. However, as misleading as it may be, this exhortation is not about Christ and His cross bearing. Rather, it is about the cross Jesus told us we all must bear in order to be true followers of His.
The cross of Jesus Christ will forever be the symbol for Christ's great redemption which He wrought for all mankind. Therefore, we must never diminish it by saying we are bearing the cross of Jesus. He forever bore it for us and redeemed us through His death and resurrection. For us, the Gospel writers made it abundantly clear the cross we must bear if we are to be His disciples. As a matter of fact, all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) mention how we are told to bear our own cross. Interestingly, Luke gives us a bit more detail in his statement of Jesus' command regarding cross-bearing. He adds the word "daily" when he tells us we must pick up our cross and follow the Lord.
While Christendom has created tradition around the Stations of the Cross, I have taken the liberty in subsequent sections to discuss what I believe are the stations of the cross for those who truly desire to follow Christ. If we know Jesus Christ, we know His cross, for we have identified with His death, burial, and resurrection. Paul tells us plainly in Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." The first part is true for every believer. However, the remainder of this verse is conditional regarding our response.
For those who wish to go on in Christ and truly become His followers, I would suggest the following directives taken from Luke 9:23, our lead verse:
- Desire - "If anyone wishes to come after me" ... here we have Jesus preparing His listeners with something to follow. In this case, a requirement. That will be discussed soon enough, but what is important at this juncture is to understand how desire is paramount on our part to even meet the requirement to follow. Peter swore to Jesus he was ready to die with Jesus (Mark 14:31). We soon find out not only was he not ready to die with his Lord, he was not even ready to live for Him. Both desires would not come until after Pentecost and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Beloved, I dare say the only way we will have either the desire to live or die for Jesus is by the power of the Holy Spirit. Anything else is human sentimentality and pure wishful thinking. True desire is born in the heart of a man or woman by the Holy Spirit and His desire to take us where Jesus would have us.
- Denial - If we do not first have true Holy Spirit desire, denial will be fleeting and sporadic. Jesus tells us in Luke 9:23 that we must deny ourselves. Did Jesus deny Himself when He allowed Himself to be crucified? He denied everything about His God-nature as he was "found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). To the depth of His denial conversely came the height of His exaltation as the risen Lord. If we as Christians would only understand that denial in itself means nothing. We can give up this or that and it means little. However, when God gets a hold of us and we start bearing our cross out of love and desire for the Lord, things marvelously begin to happen.
- Decision - The actual decision to take up our cross must be one of commitment. Jesus said that anyone who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is not worthy of the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). This does not mean that he or she is not saved. It does mean, however, that they will not be walking as a follower of Christ in Kingdom Authority. As Paul states, if we consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, then we will live in this type of authority (Romans 6:11). A decision should never come before God's desire and our denial through surrender to God. Otherwise, it becomes merely a mental following and not a heart occupation to become the Lord's.
- Dedication - Daily and Deliberate - Paul said that he dies daily (I Corinthians 15:31). What does this mean? Paul was telling the Corinthians that through his desire, denial, and decision he was making a dedicated and deliberate pledge to His Great Love, Jesus Christ, to allow His life to have preeminence over the old Paul. Dying daily was no longer a conscious struggle but a daily surrender of joy to the Lover of his soul.
Where are we, beloved of God, in the stations of the cross? If we have not the desire to even start on our pilgrimage of love, will we not ask the Lord who will surely give it to us? He jealously desires the Spirit to dwell within us (James 4:5). How much more does He long for us to desire more of Him? He will bring us to each station of the cross if we allow Him, allowing us to bear our crucifix in total surrender to Him. The result will be a glorious sanctification that will make us like the One we closely follow.
Heavenly Father, the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (I Corinthians 1:18). Help us to not only love the cross of Your Son, but to also love the cross we are all to bear, becoming more like Him as we encounter Him at every station in life. Grant us wisdom and strength to love the journey You have marked out for all those who are Your true followers. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Your Barefoot Servant,