Devotional for February 25, 2018 based upon Mark 8: 31-38
A soldier was digging in during a battle as the shells were flying all around him. Suddenly his hand felt something small and metallic. He grabbed it. It was a silver cross. Another shell exploded, as he buried his head in his arms. Then he felt someone jump into the foxhole next to him. He looked over and saw that it was the army chaplain. The soldier thrust the cross into the chaplain’s face and said, “I sure am glad to see you. How do you work this thing?”
In response to our Bible passage for the second Sunday in Lent, where Jesus talks about denying ourselves and taking up our cross and following Him, many people would ask the same question, “How do you work this thing?”
The disciple Peter did not know how to work this thing or deal with the cross. Here he was, at Caesarea Philippi, in the northern part of Israel, in a place where Caesar was considered to be God. Here he makes his bold confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But Peter did not like it when Jesus then said that He was going to be going to the cross. So Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. “No, Lord, that is not the way it should happen for You.”
Peter wanted the Kingdom to come by force. Let’s all rise up and get rid of the hated Romans. But Jesus said it is not going to happen that way. “The reign of God will come only as I undergo great suffering. Only as I am rejected, killed, and after three days rise. Only as I go the way of the cross.”
Then Jesus said that those who want to follow Him must also go the way of the cross. Our faith is based upon and is centered in the cross.
Jesus did not say, “Grab hold of a cross to provide protection” – as against vampires. Nor did He say, “Wear a cross as a piece of jewelry.” Instead He said, “Take up your cross.” Which means we have a choice. Jesus had a choice as to whether He was going to pick up and bear His cross. He could have said No. And we also have a choice as to whether we will pick up and bear our cross. We can say No.
What does it mean to bear your cross? Let’s first consider what it does not mean. When facing difficult circumstances, some people say, “I guess that’s the cross I have to bear.” They say it with a poor-me kind of attitude. But that’s not bearing your cross. When talking about bearing a cross in that way, they are talking about circumstances and situations that, if given a choice, they would not choose. But bearing a cross is voluntary. Bearing a cross is not making the best of a bad situation. Rather it is something you willingly choose to do.
The cross is The Symbol of the Christian faith. And so Jesus said, “If any want to become My followers, let them deny themselves, and take up their cross, and follow Me.” But it is not easy for us to deny ourselves.
Two young brothers came downstairs for breakfast one Saturday morning. Their mother was making pancakes. She started to pull the first pancake off the griddle when the boys began arguing over who would get the first pancake. Their mother wanted to make the moment into a teaching moment, and so she said, “Now boys, what would Jesus say if He were here?” They stopped, looked confused, and then their mother told them, “Jesus would say, ‘Dear brother, you can have the first pancake; I am willing to wait.’” The older brother looked at the younger brother and then said, “Hey, John, you be Jesus.”
It’s not easy for us to deny ourselves. We all want the first pancake. We all have our own personal desires. But Jesus is clear that if we choose to follow Him, we must deny ourselves.
Which means that we will not always be able to do what we want and/or get what we want. We will not always be able to follow our own natural, human tendencies. We will have tough decisions we will need to make in light of what Jesus would do. But does that mean that we will be deprived of all joy and happiness? No, we will find joy and happiness through following Jesus.
But Jesus did not just say, “Deny yourself.” He also said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”
The old spiritual asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Some would say, “No, I was not there. It happened in the past, and I had nothing to do with it. It was an awful act committed by others. I refuse to feel guilty for something I did not do.”
If that is the position we take, then we are missing the whole point of Jesus’ words when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” Jesus does not simply want us to remember His cross as something He suffered on our behalf. If that’s all He wanted, then He would have said, “Take up MY cross and follow Me.” Instead He said, “Take up YOUR cross and follow Me.” We are to so identify with His death on the cross that we see ourselves in the story. It is not simply His story. It is our story as well. The cross is not simply a burden to carry. Rather it is a place to die. In taking up our cross we must die to selfishness and sin so that Jesus can raise us up to new life.
As we continue our Lenten journey we can refuse to take up the cross and then live our lives without following Jesus. Or we can take up our cross and be transformed as we live for Someone who loves us more than we can ever imagine. I urge you, Take up your cross and follow Jesus.
Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE