In Matthew 16:24, Jesus told his disciples, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” It is absolutely essential for a man to take up his cross if he will be a follower of Jesus; Jesus expressed the other side of this necessity, by stating in Matthew 10:38, “…he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”
What, then, does it mean to take up the cross? From John 19:17, we learn that part of the punishment for a man who was sentenced to crucifixion was to carry the cross upon which he would be nailed to the place of his execution. Matthew 27:31-32 shows that at some point during the trek Simon of Cyrene was compelled to bear the cross of Christ, Jesus evidently buckling physically under the burdensome beams that would be instrumental in His death. Thus, to “take up his cross” is an expression by which our Lord meant bearing whatever burden and shame is involved in a man following Him. Discomfort and disgrace are an inherent part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, an oft-forgotten truth among some Christians (1 Pet. 4:12).
Have you had to bear some burdens because of your commitment to Christ? Perhaps you have been derided for your beliefs. Perhaps your foes are of your own household (Mt. 10:36; Jn. 7:1-5). Remember how Christ was mocked and beaten (Mk. 15:20; Lk. 22:64). Strive to bear persecution patiently in following the example of our beloved Lord (1 Pet. 2:20-24).
Have persecutions been absent in your life? While we should not seek out persecution, we should recognize that if we stand up for Christ, some maltreatment will come our way from time to time. 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Suffering for the sake of suffering is not a righteous endeavor, but living godly and suffering because one is a Christian is a reason to glorify God (1 Peter 4:14-16). Remember Luke’s account of Christ’s cross-bearing comment includes the word “daily” (Lk. 9:23). If I stand up for Christ on Sunday, but not during the week at where I work or attend school, then my everyday life does not radiate the light of Christ (Mt. 5:16). If all we do in word or deed is done in the name of Christ (Col. 3:17), then some are bound to notice.
Is it worth it to take up the cross and suffer for Christ? Definitely. Paul, a persecuted apostle, by inspiration wrote, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us,” (2 Tim. 2:12). This apostle reckoned himself “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20), and recognized that suffering for Christ is a sign of salvation, “And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:28-29). So take up your cross, and I’ll take up mine, knowing that if we give our earthly lives to serving Christ, we shall find abundant life here and in the hereafter (Mt. 16:25).