Pick Up Your Cross
Jesus said that only when something dies can it create new life. I know that in this context he was talking about himself, alluding to his own necessary death on the cross so that New Life might be accessible to all.
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” [John 12:24 NLT]
But I see that we, too, can only create new disciples—bear new fruit—when we truly die to ourselves. Only if we can really let go of what this world has to offer, and embrace only what God offers us, will there be the humility required to impact the hearts of others. Because Jesus continued:
“Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.” [John 12:25-26 NLT]
Only when we die to ourselves, and humble ourselves so that we can serve others and serve God, are we living a life that’s worth living. For only then, can we bear fruit in others, because only when we die to ourselves can others see the Lord. As long as “we” are alive, God is hidden from their view.
So often we “talk the talk” of being disciples of Christ, but while Jesus is busy carrying that heavy cross (of all mankind) up the Via Dolorosa, we are off buying new things, doing things that make us happy or satisfied, and fulfilling our own desires, giving no thought to the cross we also promised to carry:
“If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. [Luke 14:26-27 NLT]
When was the last time you picked up your own cross and took just one step? When you’re feeling like you deserve something because of “all the times” you did carry your cross, or when you feel justified in crucifying another because they’ve trespassed against you, is your cross calling out to you?
It’s important to understand that “carrying a cross” was something everyone understood in those days, though his followers had not considered for a moment that the Teacher would die that type of death. No, Romans had been crucifying criminals for years, and had become experts at this practice.
All criminals were required to carry their own crosses, in that day’s version of “dead man walking.” Whether it was the entire cross or just the cross-beam is irrelevant, but that they were required to “carry the burden of their own crimes on their own shoulders” was the intention.
So when Jesus spoke of it, they all got it, which is why he explicitly said they must “count the cost” of their decision before following him (v.28).
Did you not also count the cost? Did you not understand what would be demanded of you as a disciple? So then, where is your humility? Is your cross heavy on your shoulders, or did you leave it for Jesus to carry? Maybe you leave it for your spouse, your children, your coworker, or your neighbor to carry for you instead…
Do you spend your days wandering around with your cross looking for someone to hand it off to? Or are your eyes open, looking for someone whose cross you can help them to carry?
So, if we can hope to bear fruit in our lives we are really talking about “making disciples”—knowing that this is the reason we still have breath—leading others to know Jesus. While we should certainly expect to see the fruit of the Spirit’s work in us to create Christ-likeness, there is no other lasting fruit than discipleship, and so all other efforts are, indeed, fruitless. There is no legacy greater than passing on true Hope to others.
But how, then, can we do this when we are unwilling to give our own lives for another? To know Jesus is to live like Jesus lived. But if we continue to put ourselves before others, then we are not loving our neighbor as ourselves. Unless we are willing to take up our cross and follow him, we can’t be with him. As he said, “my servants must be where I am.”
“But how can [others] call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” [Romans 10:14 NLT]
Indeed, how will others ever know Jesus if we don’t get out of the way? While others scoff at us and laugh at the hypocrisy, we smile and say, “Well, we’re all sinners.” or “That’s why I need Jesus.” Do we hear ourselves? Do we not realize how unattractive and stupid that sounds?
Those statements can really just be cop-outs, acquiescence to the sinful nature, indicating no significant struggle with that nature, and certainly no efforts in cross-bearing.
So, it has become plain to me that before God can do any work in me, I must become stripped and bare, not covered-up with the clothes of who I am trying to be, but naked and ready to be given new clothes:
“When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed.” [1 Corinthians 15:36-38 NLT]
If we continue to live, there will be no fruit.
So once again, I must pick up my cross, and start walking! The world cannot afford for me to spend my days trying to give it to another.
Like Jesus, only when we truly die to ourselves is God’s glory shown and will others be drawn to him.