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Posts Tagged ‘Take up your cross’

 I want to share some words today that I hope will help us to understand and remember how significant it is to receive the Lord’s supper. When we partake, we not only remember Jesus; we not only proclaim his death; we not only give thanks for the salvation he gives  – we are also called to do something. We are called to follow Jesus in his self-sacrifice. And we need to know and remember this as we partake. Our text is –

Luke 9:23-24

 23And Jesus said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’”

In this passage Jesus calls us to sacrifice; to give it all up for him. And he describes what this means with three phrases:

1) He said “deny yourself.” That is, say ‘no’ to your own desires, ambitions and plans. Say ‘no’ to what you want to do with your earthly life.

2) He said “take up your cross.” A cross, of course, was an instrument of death, a particularly cruel means to enact capital punishment. To take it up is to carry the cross beam to the execution site where you are to die. This means that you accept that your earthly life is over.

3) And in line with this last thought, he said, “lose your life.” Give up your earthly life.

Now let’s look at our Lord’s example for he lived this out.

Jesus gave it all up for us

1. He gave up his place with the Father. Philippians 2:6-7 says that Jesus, “ . . . though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself . . . being born in the likeness of men.”

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

The gospel of John tells us that Jesus left “the glory that (he) had with (the Father) before the world existed” in order to dwell among us. (John 17:5; 1:14).

He gave up all privilege, power and place. He gave up things beyond what we can even begin to understand, to come to earth.

2. He gave up a normal life. When he grew up he left his family. And he also incurred their disapproval. At one point Mark tells us that his family “went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” – Mark 3:21

He gave up the joy of having a wife and children. As he said in Matthew 19:12, he made himself a eunuch “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

He gave up having a normal home. Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” – Matthew 8:20.

He gave up a normal pattern of living – with a normal job, regular friends, and free time for himself. He gave up his earthly life.

3. He served others. He gave all of his time and energy to ministry. He gave his love and concern and compassion. As he said in Mark 10:45, “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.”

He made himself available to minister to people’s needs, traveling almost constantly, healing, casting out demons and teaching. And then there was the arguing with the religious leaders who always tried to find ways to discredit him.

And he did all this to the point of exhaustion. Mark 6:30-32 tells the story how Jesus sought to get away for a time of rest with his disciples, but the crowd learned of this and beat him to the place where he was going. But when he saw this, he still had compassion on them and fed the 5,000.

He bore with people’s weaknesses. For instance when the disciples didn’t get what he was teaching them. Mark 8:17-18 says, “And Jesus . . .  said to them, ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?’” These were the ones he had invested his time in to train to take over after his death.

He was also frustrated by people’s failures. When his disciples couldn’t cast out a demon, he said, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” – Mark 9:19. And Jesus had to do it. Again, these were the ones he was leaving in charge.

In love, Jesus served others with his life and bore with those he ministered to.

4. He suffered. He suffered rejection from the Pharisees and Sadducees, his opponents. John tells us that, “he came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:8). He endured the rejection of his own disciples who abandoned him in the end. Even Peter denied him with curses and oaths – Matthew 26:74.

He suffered the loss of honor as he was mercilessly mocked by the Jewish leaders and Romans. He was put to shame.

He suffered physically through extensive torture and crucifixion, being nailed to the cross, and eventually unable to breathe due to exhaustion. Jesus suffered.

5. He died. As Mark 15:37 says, “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.”

This is a five-fold portrait of what it means to deny yourself, to take up your cross and to lose your life. This is what these things mean. Jesus shows us fully and truly.

And if you think that it was easy for Jesus to give it all up because he was the Son of God – you’re mistaken. Just look at him in Gethsemane. Scripture tells us that Jesus “began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said . . . ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’” – Mark 14:33-34. He struggled in prayer, “Is this the only way, God?”

His giving up everything is portrayed in the Lord’s supper. Here we see represented his broken body and his poured out blood. Here we see that he denied himself, he took up his cross and he lost life. He gave it all up for us.

Jesus call us to give it all up for him

 He is saying, I denied myself for you. I took up the cross for you. I lost everything for you. Now you deny yourself for me. Take up your cross for me. Lose everything for me.

1. We are to give up our privilege, power and place. This is the commitment. It has to all be on the altar. Even if Jesus says to me, like the rich young ruler,  “Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor . . . and come, follow me” – Luke 18:22, this is what I will do.

Now God doesn’t call everyone to do this. But whatever God specifically calls me to in my life circumstances, this is what I will do. And God calls us each of us to give up something, as we lower ourselves like Jesus and come to a place where we can be used by God.

2. We are to give up a normal life. He might call you to give it all up like he did with Paul. To leave family behind (Mark 10:28-30), to give up marriage and children (Matthew 19:11-12), a normal home (Matthew 8:19-22), a normal job, regular friends, and free time. Each of us commit to do this. It has to all be on the altar.

But even if we are not called to literally give all this up, we must accept the disruption of normal family ties due to our faith.

  • Even if it seems that we hate them in comparison to our love for Jesus, and they react to it (Luke 14:26).
  • Even if we are married, with children and normal jobs, as Paul says, because of the coming kingdom, “let those who have wives live as though they had none . . . For the present form of this world is passing away.” – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.
  • Even if we have free time, we regularly give it up for God and to do God’s work.
  • Even if we are blessed with resources we don’t hold on to them for ourselves, we use them to further the kingdom.

3. We are to serve others with our time and resources. In love we are to minister to their needs. This will depend on our gifts and callings, but each of us is to serve, whether in this congregation  or beyond it.

So find your place, plug in and get to work. And don’t be surprised if this is hard work bearing with people’s weaknesses and failures. But we continue to serve others in love, as Jesus did.

4. We are to suffer. We must be willing to suffer rejection, from family, friends and coworkers (Luke 14:26). We must be willing to suffer the loss of honor, even if it is only ridicule or slander for our connection to Jesus (Matthew 5:11). We must be willing to suffer physically as well.

5. We are to die. We take up our cross “daily” (Luke 9:23) in all these ways that we have looked at so far -#1-4. But here we are to literally die, if it comes to this; if this is what it means to be faithful to God.

Again we have a five-fold portrait of the cross. And each of us are to live this out in our own situations, according to God’s will and purpose for us. But our commitment is all the same – it has to all be on the altar. For anything that isn’t, family, job, home, will become an idol that will disrupt and destroy our Christian life.

So let’s remember

When we partake of the Lord’s supper – we don’t just see Jesus having given it all up for us in the bread and cup, we renew our commitment to give it all up for him and to live this out in whatever way God calls us to do this.

But let’s also remember the promise. When we do this, we will be blessed. It isn’t all just sacrifice. We give up this life in order to gain the next life – something both better and enduring.

As Jesus said in Luke 9:24, “whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” We will enter into the eternal kingdom. Just as Jesus was raised, honored and blessed, so we will be raised, honored and blessed.

William Higgins 

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[An earlier version of this message was preached in May 2004 in a Church of God congregation in Zurich, Switzerland.]

I want to talk to you about what it means for us to take up our cross and encourage you in your practice of this. Turn in your Bibles to Mark 8:34-35 – Jesus said,

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

First of all, there are a couple of misconceptions about what it means for us to take up our cross that falsely limit its application in our lives. The truth is that –

To take up your cross will affect every part of your life

Let’s look at these misconceptions. Some people say that taking up the cross is a only an inner, spiritual experience, something that takes place in our hearts – an inner cross where we die to our selfish desires.

Well, there is some truth in this, for there is something called an inner cross. For instance Jesus had to struggle within at Gethsemane in prayer, when he prayed, “not my will, but yours be done.” He had to deny himself and put God’s will first.

But it wasn’t just about his inner attitudes. Because after Gethsemane came Golgotha. No, Jesus had to take up his cross with real life actions – his suffering and death on the cross.

Yes, the cross has to do with what goes on within you, but it is also about your outward behavior. For if you die to your desires within this will show up in cruciform behavior and actions without. As Jesus said, a “tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). What is within your heart, is what will come out in your deeds.

Some people say that taking up the cross is only about suffering persecution, so that it only applies to a particular part of our lives, when we suffer for our faith.

Well the cross certainly does refer to persecution and followers of Jesus must literally suffer and do at times literally give up their lives.

But Jesus himself connects his call to take up the cross in Mark 8 with self-denial, something we are to practice in everyday life. Also in Luke 14 he connects the cross to something as practical as surrendering our earthly wealth to God. No, the cross has to do with all that we do in this world as followers of Jesus. Suffering for sure, but also helping a neighbor, doing ministry, serving someone a meal, etc..

Now I want you to get a sense of what it looks like to take up your cross. I want us to look at the –

The cruciform pattern of Jesus

 Paul talks about this in Philippians 2:5-11 and I want us to read this.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

There is in these verses a “cruciform pattern” to Jesus’ life – in two stages:

First of all, there is a downward movement. Jesus lowered himself. And he did this in two steps:

First, Jesus became a servant. Though he was at the highest place in all of creation, he lowered himself to serve the needs of others. He denied himself, he lost his life by setting aside his place, his privileges and his prestige in order to lower himself to serve. He did this as he healed others, taught, set people free, loved them, and in general gave of himself to others.

But not only did Jesus serve, when his humble service was rejected he lowered himself even further. Jesus endured suffering and death. In this case his self- denial led to the literal loss of his life as he sacrificed himself on the cross for others.

Then, there is an upward movement. When he was as low as one can go, Jesus waited upon God and God raised him up. God raised him from the dead and seated him at the highest place in all of creation – at his own right hand. He was blessed and honored.

So this cruciform pattern has two stages – a lowering stage and a raising stage.

Now let’s look at –

How this works out in our lives

We are to live out this cruciform pattern. As Paul says, “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” – 2:5. It is not just about Jesus, it is about us following Jesus. “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus said.

  • We are lower ourselves to serve others’ needs, and we are to accept suffering from those who reject this. As we do this, we sacrifice and die to our life here on earth; we deny ourselves and lose our lives.
  • And then we are to wait upon God to raise us up to new life.

– This is to be the pattern in our life considered as a whole – that we lowered ourselves and then God will raise us up at the resurrection.

– And this is to be the pattern of our daily walk, as we take up our cross “daily” (Luke 9:23) and “die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:21) to ourselves, and God makes us new in our heart and actions.

This then is what it means “to take up your cross.”

But as this phrase indicates, our focus in to be on the downward movement. Jesus focused on the lowering stage. Paul said, “he made himself nothing.” The raising stage was left for God to accomplish. Jesus trusted that God would raise him up.

We too are to focus on the lowering stage – serving other’s needs and choosing to endure suffering and rejection for this. And then we trust God to raise us up from our lowliness at the right time in this life and then at the resurrection.

The downward movement is necessary. Everyone wants the second stage, right? Who doesn’t want to be raised up, to be honored, to be recognized, to be blessed?

But the first stage, the path to this – lowliness, who wants this? We want to skip right to the second stage. But you can’t have the one without the other. Without the lowliness, there is no exaltation.

In Jesus’ words in Mark 8:35, if we seek to save our lives, that is, to hold on to what we have in our earthly lives; to have earthly honor now, we will lose our lives. We have to lose our earthly life – the lowering stage – before we gain our lives, being raised up by God.

Since this is so, you can see that –

The way of the cross is not easy

It takes real humility to put others first, to lay aside your privileges, rights, status and comforts for others. And to suffer rejection and ridicule for this.

It takes real love for God and others to deny yourself and to sacrifice in this way for the needs of others day in and day out, not heroically (being noticed by others) but obscurely.

It takes also endurance. Enduring lowliness, times of despair and times of weakness. It involves waiting upon God when it doesn’t seem that he will act. Remember Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

So let me end with –

Some words of encouragement

When you feel like giving up, remember we have Jesus’ clear words of promise from Jesus that we will one day be raised up. As he said:

  • Those who are last, will be first
  • Those who humble themselves, God will raise up
  • Those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, will find life in the Kingdom of God
  • Those who lose their lives, will find their lives

And not only do we have Jesus’ words, in the midst of our lowliness we must remember the clear example of Jesus’ life. He proved his words and promises to be true through his own life and actions, because God came through for him.

He endured the greatest lowliness, despair and weakness, but God raised him up. And just as God came through for him, God will come through for you as well.

And so in the words of Galatians 6:9 – “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

William Higgins

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