Many people turn to the cross on Easter weekend. The greatest gift and display of God’s generosity and grace to His people is the crucifixion. It monumentally and eternally changes humanity.
The significance is not yet known to the disciples when Jesus mentions it, but it is important to look back to Jesus’ first mention of the cross. In Mark 8:34, Jesus says to His disciples and a crowd of people “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” The Greek word for “cross” used here by Mark is the same used seven chapters later in Mark 15 when Jesus ascends Golgotha.
There are two major implications for how we should live as Christians in this short call to action by Jesus. The first is denying ourselves, and taking up our cross, which its meaning in Greek is “the upright stake or cross often used as a Roman instrument for cruel punishment or death— the same used for Christ’s crucifixion.” The denial and cross-bearing means to forget our own self-interest and lean into our purpose in God.
When we pick up our cross, there is really only one end. You cannot put it down. It symbolizes a new beginning. This is the lesson of the second part of Jesus’ call to action. Follow Me. The carrying of our cross and following of Jesus does not mean added burdens or some grueling quest to have a miserable life with a large stake across our shoulders. It is an invitation to include Him in our personal journey- to consider our motives, investments, and decisions with Jesus and according to His will.
Recognizing God’s Ownership in Our Work
In the Old Testament are two great pictures of what denying ourselves and carrying the cross look like contrasted with following our own pride.
In Numbers 20, Moses strikes the rock with his rod to bring living water to God’s people in the desert. Previously, Moses struck the rock in Exodus 17 for water, but the instructions were clear for Moses, in front of all the people, to speak to the rock for water to pour out this time. It was God’s intent to show the verbal request would be answered. Moses was usurping God’s place, not trusting or listening to Him by choosing to make the physical action himself. Moses was banned from entering the Promised Land due to his unfaithfulness.
“When we pick up our cross, there is really only one end. You cannot put it down.”
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of personal pride humbled by God is seen in the story of King Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon. At the height of his corrupt rule, he declares “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as my royal residence by my mighty power and for my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30 NIV) Because of his pride, King Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom is taken from him in the next moment, and he is driven away from his people and cast to the wilderness. It was not until he declared that Babylon was God’s, and that God is sovereign over all kingdoms that his sanity and power were restored.
The transformation of King Nebuchadnezzar and the faithfulness lesson through Moses are perfect examples for the message of “Follow Me” in the New Testament. In Mark 8:34, Jesus calls a crowd before telling His disciples to take up their cross. It was not just for Christian leaders to hear; it was for all believers. Some of us are called to specific ministry. Some believers are called to sacrifice their lives for His Kingdom. All believers are tasked with denying themselves to the world and dedicating our efforts here to Christ.
This Easter, pause to think about how, because of Jesus’ cross, we get to glorify Him through the freedom that He gave us on Earth. Mark 8:34 asks us to look over our work and see God’s ownership. Unlike King Nebuchadnezzar, we ask God for His blessing and listen to the Holy Spirit for direction and give thanks to God for all He builds.
God gave His son for us, He created us in His image, and He gave us the Holy Spirit to be with us, but do we show it? Do we strive to live as lovingly, as generously, and as humbly with our relationships and resources as Christ showed us in that ultimate act of sacrifice on the cross?