|Volume 23 Number 5 May 2021
Take Up the Cross
T. Pierce Brown
In reading Mark 8:34, the thought occurred to me that I do not ever remember hearing a sermon that really emphasized the two points in this verse, which in order to follow Jesus, one would have to deny self and take up the cross. I have heard and preached often about the blessings one would receive, such as forgiveness of sins, eternal life, joy and peace. Yet, the absolute necessity of self-denial and cross-bearing, I do not remember hearing. I hear, “I’m O.K; You’re O.K,” “How to Enjoy Life More” or even occasionally by some “old time” preacher, “What Must I Do to Be Saved?” including faith, repentance, confession and baptism, but not much from anyone on what is involved in following Christ.
It is my opinion that many us do not even realize what “self-denial” means. I think I grew up thinking it was denying self some things that I might want that were wrong to have. When I would pass the neighbor’s watermelon patch on some hot summer day and knew he did not want me to get one (which was unusual, for most neighbors were happy to have a hungry boy get one melon if he needed it), self-denial seemed to mean that I would not take what I wanted.
In fact, I think I was probably preaching for several years before it really dawned on me that to deny self is not to deny self some things but to deny self himself! The middle of sIn is I! As the song indicates, we may start out with “All of self and none of thee,” but we must come to “none of self and all of thee.” We must deny self in order to be Christians. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:20, “Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” As shocking as the thought may be to some, it is my opinion that a person may go through the outward process of obeying the Gospel in order to get what he wants, the remission of sins, eternal life and all attendant blessings, and never really be concerned about denying self, that is, always do what Christ wants. To say it another way, one may be willing and ready to accept Christ as Savior without accepting Him as Lord.
I wanted the primary thrust of this article to deal with “take up his cross.” In general conversation, it is probably a very misused expression. If one wrecks his car, he may say, “It is just a cross I have to bear.” If his wife nags him, he may think, “I must bear that cross.” Any sorrow, loss or difficulty is spoken of as “my cross.” Sometimes persons even use their own sins and shortcomings that get them into difficulties as a cross. “I have a high temper, but that is just one of the crosses I must bear.” What a travesty on the proper use of the term as Christ used it!
Calm endurance under the vicissitudes [ups and downs] of life may be a virtue lacking in many of us, but Christianity is not simply a form of stoicism. The cross is not something that just falls on us. The cross is something we “take up” – a deliberate choice of something we could have escaped, except for the fact that we deliberately chose to serve Christ, and as a result suffer that difficulty, tribulation, persecution or trouble.
When you and I take upon ourselves the bearing one another’s burdens because of our Christian relationships, that might be said to be “taking up the cross.” When we are ridiculed, laughed at, persecuted, maligned because we are fighting the good fight of faith, this is taking up the cross. However, if we are merely ridiculed because we act in a ridiculous fashion, are laughed at because we are funny, or rejected because we are stubborn, hateful or mean, we have no right to assume, “I have taken up my cross and followed Jesus.”
Although it may be possible to deny oneself without taking up the cross of Christ, it seems impossible to take up the cross without denying oneself. The reason is that taking up the cross involves giving up any pleasure or desire of self when such becomes necessary in order to follow Christ.
How Hungry and
Thirsty Are You?
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). The two desires go together. They are used here to express strong spiritual desires and needs. The original word was used in the Greek classics to express “seeking with eager desire.” On other occasions in the New Testament, it is used to express “an ardent craving, and intense yearning, a profound sense of need.”
When you stop and think about it, even in everyday life, hunger and thirst are powerful impulses. If left unfulfilled, we would eventually die. We need to keep in mind that we are composite beings. That means that we are two-fold beings. We are composed of a body and a spirit (Genesis 1:26-27; James 2:26). This may be observed as well in what the Lord said in Matthew 4:4. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Physical bread can feed the physical man, but it cannot feed the spirit of man; only the Word of God can do that. We have a soul to feed as well as a body.
The man of the world has no appetite for spiritual things. We must be careful for what we hunger and thirst in the spiritual realm and in the world! The worldly man craves what is physical. He looks to the material. He seeks what is momentary, the temporary. He seeks fleshly gratification. He does not realize and does not seem to care that the pursuit of these things will lead him to the grave and into eternity unprepared for the judgment. He will die without God and without Christ, and he will have perished forever to face his bleak sentence in Hell (Matthew 25:46).
He has cultivated a yearning, a craving, a hunger and a seeking alright, but they for the wrong things (Galatians 5:19-21). He does not pursue truth and righteousness (Psalm 42:1-2). On the other hand, the man or woman who wants to please God has his or her goal or desire in life set in a different direction (Colossians 3:1-2; John 14:1-3; Colossians 1:5). Such persons wish to bend their wills to God’s will (Romans 12:1-2). They have this deep inward desire to hunger or thirst to please the Lord (Psalm 42:1-2). This deep desire reminds me of a hymn we sing, “Oh to be like thee Blessed Redeemer” this is my constant longing and prayer.
The truly wise man will be the one who seeks a knowledge of God’s Word and follows it (Matthew 7:24-27; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). The truly successful person is the one who hungers and thirsts after righteousness and who thus succeeds in pleasing God. Those who hunger and thirst will be able to enter that everlasting home in Heaven. Note the last part of Matthew 5:6, which reads, “for they shall be filled.” Mediate on these passages, too. “For he satisfieth the longing soul and filleth the hungry soul with goodness” (Psalm 107:9). “But they that seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing” (Psalm 34:10). “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). David said, “my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…” (Psalm 23:5-6). Just think of the rich and abundant blessing the righteous have here in this life, and then beyond that, we have the hope of Heaven, too. We can “awaken after God’s likeness and be satisfied” (Psalm 17:15).
How hungry and thirsty are you for spiritual things? Has your spiritual appetite been hindered? Did you know that in a land of material prosperity that if we are not careful, we can allow ourselves to be drawn away from God? Read Luke 12:15-21 and Luke 16:19-31 and see what happened to those men! Is your spiritual appetite still keen? Do you still attend worship and Bible study regularly (Hebrews 10:25; Matthew 6:33)? Has your love for the Lord grown cold?