What does it mean to Take up your Cross?

This week’s scripture reading, Matthew 10:38-39, And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

The Sacrificial Cross

What does it mean to carry your cross? Well, in this Bible study on what does it mean to take up your cross, the word cross is surprisingly only used 28 times in scripture and only occurs in the News Testament. This week’s scripture reading is the first occurrence of the word cross in scripture. The implication in this passage is one of either self denial, or enduring persecution for one’s faith, or the process of dying to one’s selfish, often considered fleshly, motives and interests. This message from Jesus was so important that he repeated it again in Matt. 16:24. Other gospel account writers also recorded this same message from Jesus as shown in Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:32.

The second time this statement was made by Jesus occurred shortly after telling his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes and be killed and raised again on the third day. Truly this would have been a puzzling and startling statement for his disciples since Peter began to rebuke him over this message. As Jesus had so rightly stated though, the next time the word cross was mentioned again by Matthew in his gospel account was indeed when Jesus was being paraded through the streets toward his crucifixion as noted in Matt. 27:32, 40, 42.

Bearing one’s Cross

What does it mean to take up your cross daily? Well, consider that Jesus also used this same phrase while speaking to someone who approached him to inquire what he must do to inherit eternal life. While the person replied to Jesus’ comments by saying that he kept all of the commandments from God, Jesus was quick to respond by telling him to sell all his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor and to take up his cross and follow him. This was met however with grief by the fellow in question since he had many possessions.

…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,

Heb. 12:2

What does it mean to carry your own cross though and follow Jesus? In reality, here is a very accurate portrayal of what Jesus was meaning when he told his disciples to take up their cross as recorded in Heb. 12:2, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Quite often in this world, taking up one’s cross comes with shame, ridicule, mockery, skepticism, perhaps even verbal and physical assault but always remember the words, for the joy that was set before him, if you ever experience unpleasant circumstances on account of faith in Jesus.

Life in the Bible

Now what does it mean he who finds his life will lose it? Well, in contrast to the word cross, the word life is used 450 times in the Bible starting with the very first chapter in Gen. 1:20, And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl [that] may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. As it pertains to mankind, the first time life is referenced in scripture follows soon after this when God breathed life into man as documented in Gen. 2:7, And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

…and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Gen. 2:7b

In the New Testament, Jesus seeks to define what is truly important in life in Matt. 6:25,-26 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? More importantly however, Jesus proceeds to clarify in the next chapter that the life he is really speaking about is eternal life as noted in Matt. 7:14, Because strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. * (meat – food in general) * (raiment – clothing) * (fowls – birds)

Eternal Life

Then as Jesus reiterates the importance of the phrase from this week’s scripture reading he again emphasizes the life he is referring to has eternal consequences for one’s soul in Matt. 16:25,-26 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Here Jesus is contrasting the stark distinction between someone who gains everything in life and yet forsakes the eternal and irreversible destiny of his own soul during this earthly life.

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

Matt. 16:25

When Jesus speaks about someone losing his life for his sake shall find it, it is the same message as taking up your cross and following him. In both examples, the complete subordination of one’s self for the sake of Jesus, or on account of Jesus is the message. You may be asking how do you deny yourself and follow Jesus? The apostle Paul wrote a most interesting verse in his letter to the church in Galatia that helps to illustrate this point in Gal. 6:14, But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Life in the World

In the latter part of this verse, Paul describes how the world is crucified to him. The apostle John also wrote in his letters giving the same instruction to believers in their faith as shown in 1 John 2:15-17, Love not the world, neither the things [that are] in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

Love not the world, neither the things [that are] in the world.

1 John 2:15

Therefore, for those who are seeking ways to take up your cross or examples of taking up your cross, look no further as it is all written in these two verses noted above. Clearly, these are Bible verses about taking up your cross. As we become crucified to the world, or dead to the world’s interests and trappings of self, material possessions, greed, lust, pride, etc., we lose our life and find it in Christ. Jesus was direct in his message to his disciples in this regard as noted in Luke 14:27, And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

The Cross of Christ

Perhaps readers should look at this week’s scripture reading from another perspective by considering that the cross signifies death. This was noted by Paul in Phil. 2:8, And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Do you see the congruent nature of the word cross in these passages; it is death to world’s desires. This does not mean we are all to called to live a monastic life of denial and seclusion, but rather the world should not take precedence over your faith in Christ. Christ should be the proverbial plumb line charting our path through life in whatever we are called to do in our daily walk.

Few of us will be called to a task like Simon the Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, who bore the cross of Jesus in Mark 15:21. But what are you being called to do, what are you being asked to do, where is the Spirit of God leading you? Are you listening, praying and seeking his will in your life or are you at the helm of your own life only seeking God in times of desperation?

The Cross in your Life

Ask yourself this question, is the preaching of the cross changing your life to become more Christ-like every day or does it just have a tacit existence in your daily walk? Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 1:18, For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. As believers are saved through belief and faith in Christ, this should then be the power in their life, the power of God!

…but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

1 Cor. 1:18b

Let us conclude with this passage of scripture from Paul in the book of Romans from Rom. 12:1-3, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Do you want to take up your cross? Present your bodies as a living sacrifice to Christ. Do you want to lose your life for the sake of Christ? Be not conformed to this world. Do you want to take up your cross? Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Do you want to lose your life for the sake of Christ? Prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. All of these messages, personify and answer the question of what does it mean to take up your cross. Will you take up your cross today, minute by minute, on account of the Lord Jesus Christ who gave his life to redeem you from your sins?

Bible Study Questions

  1. In this Bible study on what does in mean to take up your cross, the word cross occurs in the Old Testament, true or false?
  2. In the section, the sacrificial cross, how would you describe what this week’s scripture reading means for you?
  3. Can you name some of the consequences from taking up your cross on account of Jesus?
  4. In Matt. 7:14, is Jesus speaking of physical life or spiritual life?
  5. Why is is important to see the world’s passions and desire in the context of what is truly important on account of Jesus?
  6. In Phil. 2:8, who paid the ultimate sacrifice on the cross for your sake?
  7. Make a list of three things you can change in your life that will reflect taking up your cross on the account of Jesus.

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