“Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”Acts 14:8–23, ESV
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, ESV)
Many of us have heard these words many times. Take up your cross. Does this mean we are to expect suffering. That depends. If you are a typical American then suffering is a bout of the flu, or a setback in the market, or your car suddenly quits running. If these, and many more like them are considered suffering, then I don’t think that counts as a cross. These things are just life and everyone who has ever lived and will live will experience these minor things.
What I believe Jesus meant was that he discipline of the Christian life is hard. Moreover, standing firmly in the Truth and proclaiming the gospel in our world may, for many, result in physical harm. For those of us in America, this kind of suffering may be closer to reality sooner rather than later. (I am not trying to predict the future, but no one can deny the mob in Portland was intentionally burning Bibles.)
In Acts, Luke gives us a dramatic example recalling Paul being stoned and left for dead in Lystra. I have never experienced this degree of suffering. I hope you haven’t either. Taking up our cross does not need to be a complicated thing, but it is probably the hardest thing one will ever do. Taking up your cross means that Christ becomes the greatest priority in your life. Yes, greater than possessions, time, loved ones, hopes and desires, and yourself. Our relationship to these things can be lived two ways.
First, you can play with God like we did when I was a child. We all got together and had church. The game did not last long, though, before we all got bored. We didn’t know what church was, so we played to entertain ourselves. Enter many churches and nominal Christians today. We choose the church we go to because of the music, or the pastor, or the possibility of anonymity. The basic word for this is humanism: we put ourselves first and forget about anything else.
Much of the turmoil today is rooted in humanism. I deserve to be seen, treated well, fed, housed. None of these things is bad. It’s the word “deserve.” Modern day interpretation, “It’s my right!”
There is an essential flaw with this approach to life. There is no standard to balance one individual’s right against another’s. Those who want to “de-fund” the police seem to think that everyone is essentially good so we can work this out together. Such fantasy is not worthy of reasonable thought. The death and destruction in large cities during the past three months should be a reality check.
Without any standard for balancing differing rights, there is also no standard for morality of any kind. This issue goes deeper into the core understanding of humanity. Thanks to the “science” of evolution, we all came from whatever you want to insert here. The only value is the one natural law of survival of the fittest. If you can’t see the problem here, just imagine that every human being wants to be a god with absolute authority over everything else.
This, too, is not as far as we may want to think. When I can burn you home or store, when I can beat you or even kill you, then I am claiming a right over you that no human has over another. How do I know? Without a moral standard, there would be no progress, no creativity, no development, no education. What would be left is endless fighting and violence. Thankfully, there is another way of living in the world. That is to recognize there is one God who created the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them. He created humanity to be those who care and tend all of the creation which includes caring and tending one another.
All things have been made by the One Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All things are created for his glory. Therefore, all things are connected to one purpose which is the glory of the Most High God. Being the Creator, he ordered all things so that they may serve his glory. He gave us moral law because from the first humans, humanism has taken hold of the heart, so we need to know how to love God, how to love one another, and how to love the rest of creation. For me, this is the pursuit of happiness.
And that is what taking up your cross is all about. Without human sin there would be no need of a cross. But there is one, the one Jesus was crucified on. This is the cross we are to take up, the cross of Jesus Christ. Everything in life is about living according to our created purpose. Everything is about dying and if we die with him, we will most assuredly be raised with him.
The suffering of the cross is our suffering. As Paul points out in Acts 14:16, “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.” The time for that has passed. Now there is a new way, the way of Christ. Let us all pray that we might know and have strength to live in his way.