Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why Must We Carry A Cross?

And He began to teach them 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. And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and *said, "Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's." And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. Mark 8:31-34
You might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, "On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk--you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice--you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, What a country!"

Smirnoff is joking but we sometimes make these same type assumptions about Christian Transformation — that people change instantly at salvation.  According to this belief, when someone gives his or her life to Christ, there is an immediate, substantive, in-depth, miraculous change in habits, attitudes, and character.  We go to church as if we are going to the grocery store: Powdered Christian. Just add baptismal water and disciples are born.

Unfortunately, there is no such powder and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born.  They are slowly raised through many trials, suffering, and temptations.  A small percentage of churchgoing teenagers have a well-developed faith and it does not increase much when they become adults.  Why?  Because true-life change only begins at salvation, takes more than just time, and is about training, trying, suffering, and, yes, even dying on a cross.

Jesus comes before his disciples and lays out his military strategy. Look at verse 31. Jesus says, “We are going to march into Jerusalem and you the soldiers are going to lose your lives and I, your General, will suffer many things. Furthermore, we are not going to get any help from our Jewish brothers the Elders. Even the Chief Priest and the Sadducees will not join us. Our government the Sanhedrin is corrupt and can be of no help to us. We are going it alone and I will die in this battle."

On this day Jesus spoke plainly to his disciples about the events soon to transpire and even though it was plain language it was not plain enough.  Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him.  He says, “Sir, this is not a very good military strategy.  You are not going to die, don’t say that.  It’s not good for morale.  It is fascinating to note that just before Jesus rebukes Peter he turns and looks at his disciples. It is as if Jesus is putting two and two together and realizes the disciples have put Peter up to this.

It is a perilous moment in the life of Christ. He must dispel this error from their minds and teach them the meaning of his mission.  To address the confusion Jesus pulls his disciples together and brings them before a crowd.  And in front of the crowd he corrects the disciples aspirations for privilege, rank, and power and he gives them this simple little directive: You must take up your cross and follow me.  

You and I have a choice. We can lay down the cross we have been given to bear and passively live our lives with no challenges or take it up and be transformed, living for something greater than ourselves. The choice is ours. "Why must we carry a cross?"  Because it the course of the Master’s disciples. 

Scripture to Claim:
"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels."  Mark 8:35-38

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