Luke 9:23 “Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
The questions Jesus posed were simple but profound…”If anyone desires to come after me.”
Following after Jesus is more than a decision, it is more than imitating a resemblance, or carrying forth a moniker— coming after Jesus is an abandonment of what you were and who you were. The determination to take the first step toward Jesus is in essence to be drawn away (from our old life), by an admiration to follow the One who has made all things new.
Hebrews 13:13 “Therefore let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore.”
Imagine with me for a minute what it meant to carry the cross:
- The cross wasn’t just a symbol of pain and suffering, the cross was representative of death. The one condemned was forced to carry their cross to their place of crucifixion, the final leg for the one condemned to die.
- The criminal bore the shame of their sentence, through jeering and ridicule the crowd was given the opportunity to watch the processional as a mimicry for those under offense.
- Whipped and scourged before the final leg of torture, Jesus was mocked for all He represented and blasphemed as God. Condemned to die by those He came to save, the guilty brought judgement against the innocent.
Why the Cross?
Traditionally the cross has been known to be one of the most gruesome, inhumane forms of torture, humiliation, and execution known to mankind. As the sacrificial lamb was offered up to God during the passover meal, it’s blood was first sprinkled on the doorposts and later roasted on the fire, it was then eaten with bitter herbs and unleavened bread, so in like manner Jesus became the sacrificial lamb for all who believe.
Exodus 12:5-11 “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire—its head with its legs and its entrails. You shall let none of it remain until morning, and what remains of it until morning you shall burn with fire. And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.”
In like manner of the passover, we are called to spiritually partake of Christ in us, our hope of glory. Jesus gave His life to deliver us from the slavery of sin, He gave His blood that death might pass over us, and He nourishes our lives and fills us with His power.
John 6:54 “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Symbolically, the cross represented the atoning sacrifice of the passover lamb. To those who equated themselves as God’s people and accepted the death of the lamb, the angel of death passed over the house of those where the blood was present.
For us today, the sacrifice of Christ remains the only reprieve from the judgement of sin. In a spiritual sense, to those who have been covered by His blood and have accepted their position as God’s people, they have been passed over and given new life. The Lord Himself is leading us out of the corruption of this world and to a new home prepared in glory, until we get there, the Moral law, (given to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai), is still the standard by which we live today, it serves as the standard of righteousness for which we strive to attain and the manner by which we express our love back to God. Our love is the least that we can show, considering all He did to reveal His love first.
The Degree of God’s Love
Crucifixion was usually intended to provide a death that was particularly slow and painful (hence the term excruciating, literally “out of crucifying”). The process was gruesome, and public, using whatever means were most expedient for the goal. While a crucifixion was an execution, it was also a humiliation, by making the condemned as vulnerable as possible. Although artists have traditionally depicted the figure on a cross with a loin cloth or a covering of the genitals, the person being crucified was usually stripped naked. Most depictions of Jesus display him with nails through his hands and through the tops of His feet. But in Greek the word “χείρ”, usually translated as “hand”, could refer to the entire portion of the arm below the elbow. A possibility that does not require tying is that the nails were inserted just above the wrist, through the soft tissue, between the two bones of the forearm. The few skeletal remains that showed signs of crucifixion showed the heels had been nailed through, suggesting the feet were placed to the side of the wood and nailed into the beam. Some ancient depictions of the cross describe a footrest used for taking the weight off the wrists, allowing the victim to use the step to push up so that they might inhale. At the end of the process, the legs were consequently fractured to ensure the victim couldn’t push up and breath, consequently hastening their death. The length of time required to reach death could range from hours to days depending on method, the victim’s health, and the environment.
John 12:23-26 “But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.”
Grace may have been freely given but it was not freely earned.
The death Jesus bore for us reflected His leadership in how we are to follow, His love for His people is His willingness to go to to His last breath for us, and His majesty was revealed in His ability to do whatever was necessary to restore His relationship with us, even forsaking His glory. In the same manner, we are called to die to our old life and become all that Christ intends for us to be.
The importance of realizing what it took for Jesus to restore us into a relationship with Him should make us take a deeper look at what it means to follow Him. When we sin, we offend all that He has done previously for us. When we go our own way or rebel, we tarnish His incredible image He wants to portray through us.
Jesus exemplified meekness. Meekness is defined as God’s strength under His control. Jesus was fully aware of all that was necessary to restore mankind and He knew what was necessary before He created us, and yet still chose to do so.
Are we willing to do what is necessary to follow?