There is a phrase in the text today that is normally skimmed over but is absolutely essential to the reading. V. 34 “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples…” Up to this point most of the instruction had been private tutoring to the disciples. This is where Jesus takes it up a notch and makes it clear that this is not a kum by yah camp meeting, but being a follower of Christ is gonna cost something. The cost is a cross. Now for us who wear them around our necks and use the cross as a piece of jewelry, the idea of it is completely lost. For this generation it would have been stunning to say such a ting. Crosses were signs of the oppression they were suffering at the hands of the Roman’s. They were reserved for the worst criminals.
When Jesus was making this announcement he wanted everyone to know what they were getting into, no bait and switch here. See up to this point, even just the beginning of chapter 8, it had been all healings, hero worship and fish and chips…you know, when he healed the blind man, talked smack about the Pharisses, and when he fed 4,000 with a few loaves of bread. I mean, if you have your pew Bible, look at the beginning of the chapter. He was doing the kind of thing that draws a crowd. Peter was already planning on moving into the castle and taking over the kingdom. Suddenly he begans talking about dying and being raised from the dead, about crucifixion and suffering. Peter was quick to let him know that this was not good PR material…lets play down the whole “D-Y-I-N-G” stuff…course that’s when Jesus said, “Get them behind me Satan.” Kind of a Jesus version of a WWF smack down (that phrase is for my friend Chuck who used to be a professional wrestler and still reads my blogs).
Then he hits them with this line: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Carrying a cross requires a choice…daily.
Here is the funny thing about choice, we say we want more choice but usually we want fewer choices. We say we like complex, but most of the time we prefer simple, not easy, but simple. See, simple is uncomplicated and uncluttered, easy is without effort.
Best selling ice cream flavor: vanilla…see simple.
Most used internet search engine: google…see simple, there are only 70 words on the page.
The average home has 100+ channels and usually watch about 3 of them…simple.
Think about it, a lot of life’s decisions are simple, but not easy… “Will you marry me?” Simple four word question, answer is yes or no. Very simple, definitely not easy. Get the picture?
Following Jesus is one of those life questions. Will you take up a cross? Very simple, not easy.
Carrying a cross requires a challenge…daily.
The reason it’s not easy, is that carrying a cross requires accepting a sacrificial challenge. I mostly don’t like sacrificial challenge, that’s because real sacrificial challenge costs something, and its usually something big… Something has to be released so that something else can be obtained. Maybe you have hard the ancient saying, “you cannot reach for the future if you are holding so tightly to the past.”
I have been working out on my elliptical machine almost every day since the first of the year, and I still hate it. I hate the getting ready, the putting on the running shoes, the drinking the water beforehand, and the first 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, I’m good. The challenge for me is the getting started. I know its good for me, I know it, but it’s a choice every day.
I have been reading Malcolm Gladwells’ book, Outliers. It is both the most exciting and most depressing book he has written. The exciting thing is that when it comes to major accomplishments, the ability to obtain a major goal or succeed at a task, studies have shown more than talent, genetics, or social status, what it really takes is directed effort. How much directed effort, 10,000 hours. When you study musicians, good musicians have 8,000 hours of practice and performance; great musicians have at least 10,000. It holds true for hockey players, baseball players, writers, computer programmers, and the list goes on. What happens at that 10,000-hour mark, they believe that somewhere along the line the challenge becomes part of who you are. You quit writing and become a writer. You quit singing and become a singer (don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen American Idol, some of those folks are way behind on their hours). What has been sacrificed? The only commodity everyone has an equal portion of, time.
That is why the book is depressing, because it takes 10,000 hours! That is 40 hours a week for 250 weeks, almost 5 years, of effort doing the same thing in order to break that barrier.
We don’t like challenged that requires that kind of sacrifice in our faith life either. We flock to hear about living our “best life now” as long as it does not require anything from us. We prefer fluffy, formulaic faith, faith that says if you pray this prayer three times, gives this amount and forward this email you will be happy and wealthy today. You see, carrying a cross requires a choice, it requires a sacrificial challenge, and then it requires a change. It requires a radical redirection of what’s important in your life. It is a re-ordering of priorities, a restructuring of your date book, a reconsideration of your checkbook. It requires change.
Carrying a cross requires a change…daily.
The culture in which we live encourages the practice an artificial separation between our faith and our life. We live like there is our Christian self and our work self; our religious self and our secular self. Part of carrying a cross is making a change in how we understand ourselves. We have to realize that we aren’t two different people, we are just one. Body, mind and soul, one being created to worship The One.
See what happens then, once we make the change, we begin to live. That is what Jesus meant when he said I came to give you a life of abundance. It is a life where every day we choose the way of the cross, it is a way of a sacrificial challenge but it is also a way of life that is God shaped and God inspired. It is the life of this cross that gives us real life!