Summary: Jesus declared that we should take up our cross and follow him. His final seven statements from the cross helps to understand what He meant.
Mark 8:34 “Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.’”
Take up your cross and follow. Let’s discover what Jesus was saying to this crowd at this time and how they may have interpreted it. At this point Jesus had revealed to his disciples that He would be killed and then raised on the third day. Peter rebuked him. Jesus rebuked Peter. It was here that He made his declaration about each one taking up their cross.
So what did the cross symbolize to them? It was a form of execution imposed by the Roman government. It was not an unfamiliar sight. Those going to their death never actually carried a cross but rather the crossbeam of the cross. The condemned man was led through the streets or dragged on a cart to the place of execution. The crowds watching this grim parade knew what awaited the person at their destination. The person heading for the cross knew that all their earthly ambitions and hopes were worthless.
The cross was cruel. There wasn’t a manual on crucifixion. They tied some, which prolonged the death. They nailed some. For others it was both. Some even had seats to sit on so it would take longer for them to die.
Most of the time a vertical stake was permanently positioned in the ground. In those cases, the criminal’s hands would be nailed to the crossbeam that they have carried. Then forked poles would have been used to raise them to the top of the vertical stake. Next, their feet would have been nailed to the vertical stake. Most often, the nail was driven through a piece of wood before being driven into the person’s feet thus acting as a washer to hold the feet in place.
Now imagine trying to process this image in the minds of those standing there of carrying their cross . This was not a piece of jewelry that He was speaking of. What exactly was Jesus telling them? Some understood that He was telling them they must be willing to die for him. Perhaps some felt He was leading a revolution to execute those in power by following him into an uprising.
He also added the feature of turning from selfish ways to follow him. We have heard this referred to as self-denial. I think this question will help grasp what Jesus was clarifying with this statement. What did the condemned man on the cross lose besides his life? He lost his hopes, his plans, his ambitions, his likes and dislikes, and those nearest and dearest to them. Jesus said to be his follower they must do the same. They must relinquish all selfish hopes, plans, ambitions, likes and dislikes, and even loved ones for the cause of the Kingdom.
Imagine for a moment you are dying. You have invested a great deal of time and effort into leaving a legacy with those who have been closest to you. There are things you wish to impart with your final breathes but you know your breathes are limited. So you carefully select what you will say to leave that lasting imprint. Jesus did just that with his final words from the cross. He gave not only his disciples instructions on how to live that life of unselfishness but us also. Today let’s study those final seven statements given from the cross and how they apply to us.
1) Statement of forgiveness
Luke 23:34 “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’ And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.”
Imagine Jesus looking down at the very soldiers that crucified him now gambling for his clothes. Perhaps He sees in the crowd members of the Sanhedrin who are responsible for him hanging on the cross. Perhaps He looks at the crowd who only days before sang his praises and now chose Barabbas over him. Perhaps He notices that aside from James, none of his followers is there and remembers how Peter denied even knowing him.
How would most people react? Would they be angry? Would they want to call fire from heaven to destroy this sorry bunch? Jesus had the power to do so. Instead, He chose to be the intercessor between God and man even before the resurrection.
To take up you cross and follow Jesus means to forgive. It means to forgive those who have dashed our hopes, plans, and ambitions. It means to offer forgiveness to those that we may dislike for whatever reason. It means to forgive those who we are commanded to love including our enemies.
In John 20:22-23 we read where the resurrected Jesus appears to his disciples. Let’s read “Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”