“Take Up your Cross, and Follow Me!”
I want to start with something funny that I found on an internet site: There was a Christian Parish that had many attendees. A priest who was part of the parish used to give out miniature palm crosses that he made by hand. One Sunday, he announced that he would be giving them out. The congregation in the church that day reacted with glee. “Put this cross in the room where your family argues most,” he advised. “When you look at it, the cross will remind you that God is watching.” When the parishioners left the church, a woman approached the priest, shook his hand, and said, “I’ll take five.”
Most of you have a cross at home. I wonder how many crosses you have. Is there anyone who has more than five crosses at home? I have more than five. Most of them were given to me by our parishioners. So, I have crosses in every room at the parsonage. But don’t think I argue everywhere.
What comes to mind when you see the cross? The cross was a terrible tool used to lynch political criminals, who went against the Roman Empire in the first century. The cross was a curse symbol, representing things like oppression, imprisonment, suffering, and death to the powerless. Many died on the cross because of the Roman Empire’s colonial policy. However, the cross’ meaning was changed from a curse to a blessing for everyone who believes in Jesus Christ since Jesus died on the cross without sin for all sinners. The Apostle Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
You may have heard what unbelievers have said about the cross; they talked about the cross as a curse and a lynching tool. I used to think the same thing when I didn’t believe in God. I have shared my story of when I first heard the good news of Jesus Christ in the hospital. I was hopeless with a broken spine, a pastor, his wife, and church members whom my mother knew visited my hospital room to comfort me. After they prayed for me, the Pastor’s wife told me, “Here is the good news for you; God may heal you when you read this bible,” she then gave me her bible. The strange thing was that I felt it was a curse to me even though she clearly said, “Here is the good news for you; God may heal you when you read this bible.” So, I upset them and threw the bible at them. Can you imagine? I suffered terrible pain and was hopeless because my doctor told me, “There is no hope that you will ever walk again.” Meanwhile, people came and said, “The good news is here; God may heal you when you read the bible.” They didn’t ask me to work hard; they didn’t ask me to pay lots of money, they just asked me to read a book in order to be able to walk again. What an easy thing that was! However, I couldn’t understand why it sounded like a curse to me then. Later on, I realized it happened because I didn’t believe in the power of God. Therefore, the cross has two meanings; Curse versus Blessing and Death versus Resurrection. Which one would you prefer? I hope you go in a positive way always! The more you grow in faith, the more you focus on positive ways. So, Christians can “rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Today’s scripture sounds similar: there are positive and negative ways. Today’s scripture begins with the word “from that time on.” It means it was right after Peter confessed, “You are
the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Finally, “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
The strange thing was that the disciples were taught about the Messiah from their ancestors, he should suffer and be killed to save his people. If they understood Jesus was the Messiah that they waited for and what Peter confessed, it was nothing surprising for them. And one more strange thing was that: Jesus mentioned both death and resurrection, saying he should “be killed and on the third day be raised.” However, the disciples heard only one thing: he would be killed, not about his resurrection. As I felt they told me a curse and I threw the bible at them in anger, Peter, who confessed, “You are the Messiah, The Son of the Living God,” took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” And then Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
As Peter’s did, our faith may go up and down. We sometimes confess we love God and believe in Jesus Christ, and sometimes we complain to God according to our current situation. It is because we are still weak in faith. And it’s because we live in the world which makes us focus on human things. Therefore, we need to pray continually to get help from God. Don’t worry, for Peter, the best disciple of Jesus, also thought of human things. While Jesus thought of death on the cross to save all the nations and the people, Peter thought Jesus would be the king of Jews to save the people under the Roman Empire’s colony. The Letter of Isaiah says, “For my thoughts, not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heaven are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Jesus then told his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” It is a difficult paradoxical logic. Jesus taught the kingdom of God and Christian’s life in the paradoxical logic: “The last will be the first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16): Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” (Matthew 20:26-27).
We should understand his paradoxical lessons in order to follow Jesus. Jesus’ life and teachings themselves were in the paradoxical logic. Jesus came to the world as the Messiah (The Savior). His disciples understood Jesus would be the king of Jews, thinking of human things. They sometimes argued about who would get the higher position when Jesus became the king. But, Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). If you understand this passage, you may understand all the paradoxical logic in Jesus’ teachings. And you may know what it means to “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.” If you don’t deny yourself, you may stay focused on human things. The way of taking up your cross means that sometimes you should come out of your comfort zone as Peter did when he went out of the boat, and tried to walk on water. The way to take up your cross means that sometimes you should obey God’s call, serve those around you, and not be served. Please deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior! Thanks be to God. Amen!