If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

Luke 9: 23

Jesus is talking about actually living in the manner that many people say that they want to live. He is telling us about the foundational approach that we need to take if we are going to wear or display symbols of Christian faith such as a cross, a fish decal or ornament on our car, or a few years ago one of those too common WWJD bracelets while actually mean it as a symbol and a reminder of our desired impact on the world. You see, Christ wants us to be fully aware of just what we have signed on for in agreeing to follow Him, for that is not the easy way to live, and it is certainly not the safest way, either.

When Jesus speaks about taking up our cross, He is saying that His road of righteousness and love requires its travelers to carry a heavy load; since, we need to be willing to set aside our desires and the things that make us feel safe in order o do what God sees as right and as needful. This path leads up a hill that is littered with the skeletons of past good intentions and that seems to get too steep to climb at times; additionally, the top is shrouded in a mist that leaves our view of the finish obscured. So, we need to continually trust God’s word in order to move forward. On top of all of that, there is no promise that the days get easier as we progress along our journey; thus, it is necessary for us to continually seek God’s will, surrender ours, and deliberately set out on His road.

If this all seems daunting, well, it is, for Jesus is telling us about life as it is. There is no deception and no holding back. However, here is the good part; for, Jesus also promised that He would never send us someplace where He has not been before, that He will never leave us, and that He always sends us straight to the center of God’s will. This is the place in life where all true peace, joy, and love reside. Also, an amazing thing happens during this journey; for, the daily cross is itself a very heavy object, and when I am focused on its weight and on the difficulty of the road ahead, that weight can become overwhelming, but when I look outward and upward and focus on the Lord’s desire for my day, that same load becomes as light as air and the same trials and challenges are made more than manageable. 

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Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says,

In a favorable time I listened to you,

and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6: 1, 2

 

Paul is making reference to the fact that all that he does by way of sharing the truth of the Gospel is done in conjunction with what Christ has done and with what He continues to do. There is no independent labor on Paul’s part involved. There is nothing that can be done by him or by any of us that is outside of what Christ has undertaken Himself. In other words, no one comes into a relationship with God except by way of Jesus, the cross, and the conjunction of God’s grace and love at that point of sacrifice and redemptive victory. Some people might want and even desire to be granted the comfort of grace for a time or even for a season, but they are not prepared to set aside the shallow pleasures of the life that they have known and surrender fully to the cross of Christ with its hard realities and radical transformation.

 

So, they walk away from a relationship with God that they had never truly entered into. This is a mark of the vane and foolish nature of people in that we will give up on eternity and on an opportunity to be engaged in life in conjunction with the author of all wisdom, truth, and love. Yet, it does not need to be so. God’s grace is made available to us in an unending supply. He does not hold it back or remove His offer of it from us. There is no set season or finite opportunity for a person’s response to Christ. In fact, the time for repentance is now, the season for acceptance of God’s offer of salvation is here. These are the hours and the days for people to come to the Lord and this is the place where their lives are to be changed.

 

Christ calls upon those of us who do know Him to be open and willing to follow Him into engagement with people at all times and in all places. We are not going into all of this on our own. We are not even responsible for leading the effort. Rather, Christ has gone before us in yielding His life to the cross, and He continues to be the one who does the real work of bringing people into acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. We are simply asked to be willing to take the risk of rejection that comes with being confidently open about our faith and that happens when we share Christ with the people that we encounter in the course of our days. So, even people who have walked away from God’s offer of grace, those who have openly and possibly aggressively rejected Christ, and others who are antagonistic to Christ and to us because of Him are loved by God and are among the people that Christ wants us to seek out and to care about for the sake and the glory of the Gospel.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in the flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Ephesians 2: 13-16

 

This passage is about Jews and Gentiles; these are the two groups that he was discussing. In his view of the world, there were no other divisions to be considered as primary. Of course, there were many other ways that people were separated from each other, and these were also the basis for animosity, a sense of superiority, and divisive laws or rules for living. Paul had been a strict follower of these ordinances and commandments himself. However, his encounter with Christ had changed all of this. He no longer knew any superiority to others based upon his birth status, and he now believed that God had called him to work to bring people closer together by leading them to the same place in there hearts and minds; that is, he sought to bring them to the cross of Christ as their common meeting place.

 

As modern day followers of the same Christ that had worked out this miraculous change of heart and of thinking in Paul, our hope should be the same as his was. We live in a world that is filled with the language of difference. There are many overt and subtle ways that this is conveyed to us on a very frequent basis. Most of us, if we honestly assess our thoughts and views of others, hold some specific images of superiority for ourselves and for the institutions, organizations, and nations that we are affiliated with. This is the way that we have been raised up, is the thinking that we instill in our children, and it is a manner in which we filter our world in order to create that sense of comfort and safety that is so important to us. Yet, these self-imposed differences, one from another, also divide us from those who we hold as inferior in some form or manner.

 

This is where I hold that Paul’s discussion of Jews verses Gentiles here is truly about everyone on the earth throughout all of time. The real division is people who know God through knowing Jesus Christ and those who do not. So, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, and gender distinctions do not actually matter to God, and they should make no difference to us either. People who know Christ are to be embraced as family and nurtured, cared for, and supported in their walks through life. People who do not know Christ are to be loved, cared for, nurtured in the faith as well as in body and mind, shown Christ’s grace, and provided with the opportunity to experience Him through the words and deeds of His living body the church. We can desire peace in all forms and hope for it to come to our world, but there is only one effective answer to the divisiveness that creates animosity among the peoples of our times, and that is Christ. He brings us all to a place of meeting that is transformative. For, as we gather at the cross, the only goals that matter are Christ’s as in Him we are all now citizens of God’s Kingdom and brothers and sisters in service to its one eternal King.

And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3: 17

 

God spoke. He spoke words of profound truth into the narrative of the life of Jesus. Here we see a man. He was a living, breathing, grieving and laughing, suffering and dying man. Yet, He is not like any of the rest of us, for Jesus was also the Son of God. He was unique in all of the history of humanity in that in and of himself, Jesus was worthy of God’s description of being thoroughly pleasing. He did not contain the contagion of sin that plagues all of the rest of us. Although Jesus was born as we are, grew into adulthood, and walked the streets and the paths of this world in a manner like all of us; He was utterly different in that His relationship with the Father was perfect and complete. Nothing separated them one from the other.

 

For this reason He was also the only possible answer to that separation for the rest of us. Jesus would be that perfect, spotless sacrifice that God required in order to cleanse the residents of this fallen world from our sin and to mediate the separation from God that it causes. Sacrifice is essential for us in that it is the means by which we internalize the words of repentance that our minds create so that our hearts are open to the change that Christ seeks to work in and on them. Jesus offered Himself as the ultimate, the final sacrifice that was essential for my sins and yours to be forgiven by God. However, we still need to yield ourselves to the cross of Christ in order to enter fully into the life that He is calling us to live.

 

It is only when we recognize the enormity of what it meant for Jesus to allow Himself to be taken to the torture of the cross with the totality of surrender to death that this act entailed that we can begin to grasp the nature of what it means to give ourselves to Christ. This giving requires us to yield control of our lives to the will and the rule of Christ. In order for me to do this I must be willing to set aside comfort, fear, reluctance, and self-rule as I place my life on that cross with my Lord and enter into the death of all that I have been. The realization of this moment of surrender is that time of coming into the revealed glory of Christ and the beginning of being made fully alive in the hope of Christ’s resurrection.