Then Jesus told his disciples, “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 will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26 ESV)
How ironic for Christ to speak these words to His disciples. There is Christ on His journey to the Cross of Calvary, the ultimate sacrifice for God’s creation, and He is imparting knowledge not only to the disciples, but to you and I as well. Thankfully, Christ is preparing us for the future without Him walking among us. The disciples didn’t see it initially, but you and I see it clearly thanks to the scriptures.
At the beginning and closing of each academic school year a cross to lead the way. As a student leader this is my cross to bear both figuratively and literally. Thus the picture to the right (credits to Mrs. Meyer). I think it is safe to say taking up our cross plays out in every part of our lives. It plays out in how we Witness to each other regardless of who is looking. It plays out in our acts of Mercy to our neighbors. It plays out in every facet of our Lives Together.
I often find that when we hear this scriptural text we equate the negative aspects of the life of the Christian; persecution, torment, and death. Allow me to offer yet another way to look at this text, a more positive way in light of the Christian life. Picking up our own crosses to follow Christ is linked directly to the various vocations in life.
Christ calls us and that call in creation is doing works (acts of mercy) for one’s neighbor. Luther often speaks about various vocations which range from your job to life in the family. In other words, in every place and vocation that you serve, you are to live out your faith with such work that serves others. This is work not done to earn favor with God, but to glorify God to the fullest. What do you know it is even scriptural that we see picking up our crosses and live this way…
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 ESV).
Picking up our respective crosses means living out our faithfulness to the Scriptures and Confessions. It means being unwavering servants to Christ the Church, and all of God’s creation. It means we are to be responsive to the contemporary context of the world by being lights of the Gospel in the ever growing darkness. It especially means we are to do everything in excellence to the glory of God (in other words, no half stepping when it comes to the work in the service of God and our neighbors).
Picking up our crosses comes with negative aspects, but that should never be our focus. Our focus lies in the Cross. Our focus is sustained through the sure promise of the Second Coming. Pickup up our cross means our focus is always on someone other than ourselves.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “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 will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28 ESV)
Picking up our cross to follow Christ means to deny oneself. Your lives in Christ are to be lived for your neighbor. That my friends is the meaning of picking a cross and following Christ.