Summary: For Jesus, there is no such thing as a crown without a cross! The meaning of the cross is bittersweet!
THE MEANING OF THE CROSS IS BITTERSWEET
Text: Mark 8:31-38
"A girl reportedly came up to Dwight L. moody after one of his evangelistic meetings and said, "I felt that God was calling me to go to the mission field tonight."
Moody asked her, "How did you reply to that?"
"No, Lord," she replied.
"No and Lord are word that never belong together," Moody said.
According to Jesus, he was right. For us to call Jesus "Lord" means that we have decided to follow Him. We can say, "No, Jesus". But we cannot say. "No, Lord." The two words are incompatible". (Herb Miller. Actions Speak Louder Than Verbs. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989, p. 33). Do we ever say "No, Lord?"
Jesus told His disciples that "… the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31 RSV). It has been said that Jesus spoke of Himself as the Son of Man in three different contexts, 1) His earthly ministry, 2) the foretelling of His death on a cross and 3) in reference to His second coming. (Elmer Towns. The Names Of Jesus. Denver: Accent Publications, 1987, pp. 95 - 96). In Mark 8:3, there is no question of which context it is. Jesus is talking about His coming persecution and crucifixion. Jesus was also trying to help His disciples to understand that they, too, would have to pick up their crosses and follow after Him. When Peter rebuked Jesus, it was as if he were saying "No, Lord." For Jesus, there is no such thing as a crown without a cross! The meaning of the cross is bittersweet!
SURRENDER AND DENYING SELF
Surrender and denying ourselves have one thing in common---humility. Consider Philippians 2:6-8: "… though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (RSV). When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Satan was trying to get Jesus to compromise His purpose and His mission and rise above lowliness and claim distinction, honor and glory without having to suffer for it. But, Jesus refused to be charmed by Satan’s temptations. Jesus said that He had come "… as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28 RSV). Jesus never deviated from His mission and purpose.
As Jesus’ disciples, we must follow His humble example in our surrender and self-denial. "It is told that [Horatio] Nelson [1758-1805] was famous for his courtesy to defeated enemies. [He was one of England’s most famous Naval heroes.] On one occasion a defeated [French] captain came on to Nelson’s quarter-deck as a prisoner. He had heard of Nelson’s courtesy and came forward holding out his hand almost as if it were a reception. Nelson spoke one sentence. "Your sword first and then your hand". The first was necessity and submission. (William Barclay. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel Of Matthew. Volume 1. Revised ed. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970, p. 218). We, too, must surrender to Jesus the "sword of our pride and selfish ambition and self-righteousness" if we are truly going to deny and humble ourselves after Jesus’ example and follow in His footsteps of service. We cannot truly call Jesus "Lord" if we say "No" and refuse to humble ourselves in that way.
TAKING UP OUR CROSSES
The cross is a symbol of suffering. The cross was instrument of crucifixion which was the most painful way that one could be executed. The suffering that was endured by anyone who was ever crucified was indescribable! "The cross of old Roman times knew no compromise; it never made concessions. It won all of its arguments by killing its opponent and silencing him for good. It spared not Christ, but slew Him the same as the rest. He was alive when they hung Him on that cross and completely dead when they took him down six hours later. That was the cross the first time it appeared in Christian history". (Warren Wiersbe. Ed. The Best Of A. W. Tozer. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978, pp. 132 - 133). Crucifixion was the way that they executed criminals. Jesus who was without sin (Hebrews 4:15) willingly offered Himself as a sacrificial lamb (John 1:29) for our redemption (Romans 3:24) and reconciliation.
The cross is a symbol of self-sacrifice, loyalty and obedience to the example of Jesus Christ. "When Hitler began interfering with the churches and humiliating the German Jews, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a loyal German himself, began to resist and protest. He refused to participate in the state churches, which bowed down to the fuehrer’s demands. Several of Bonhoeffer’s friends urged him to bend. They argued that they would lose the opportunity to preach altogether if they followed Bonhoeffer’s example. He replied, "One act of obedience is better than a thousand sermons." He eventually paid with his life for holding that conviction" (Herb Miller. Actions Speak Louder Than Verbs. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989, p. 38). Is our conviction for Christ that strong?