As we read through the gospels, we come across a number of things that are said to be involved in following Jesus. Here are a few:
- being born again (John 3:3-5),
- loving God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40),
- receiving the kingdom like a child (Mark 10:15),
- forgiving others (Matthew 6:12-15).
There are more, but you get the idea. However, there are none that are more emphatic or grab our attention quite the way Jesus’ statement in Luke 9:23 does. There He says, “Whoever wants to be My disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Part of it is how forcefully it is stated. There’s nothing elective, optional, or negotiable about it—you “must.” There’s also the consistency that’s involved. This is not something we do one time, occasionally, or even quite a bit—it’s “daily.” Then there’s just the sheer depth of Jesus’ call. We are to deny ourselves and take up our cross. There’s no wiggle room there. Following Jesus means we crucify everything in our life that gets in the way of following Christ. It’s all very intense.
And while all of that is true, there’s something more that needs to be seen. While the text calls for intensity on our part, there is an element of intimacy involved in it that is easy to overlook. After all, Jesus chose to couch our following of Him in the very terms of His mission for God! He called us to what He was called to. The call to take up the cross is an invitation to share in His suffering. And it was through such suffering that Jesus as a man learned the obedience that brought glory to God (Hebrews 2:10, 5:8-9). Can we expect to learn it any other way?
Paul didn’t think so.
In Philippians 3:10 he talks about his desire to know Christ and “the power of His resurrection, and fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (NASB). There are plenty of people who want the joy or the peace of Jesus, but very few who want to share in the pain of Jesus—but Paul was one of them. He recognized the intimacy factor of the cross and suffering and was all in.
When we think about those people who are our closest, truest friends, they are the ones who will suffer with us, aren’t they? They wouldn’t think of leaving us alone in such a situation. No matter what happens to us, they will be there and share the burden with us. They are the “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24) and praise God for friends like that. That’s the kind of friend Jesus is to us and the kind we would like to be to Him, isn’t it?
In John 14-16, we have a record of some of the final things Jesus had to share with His disciples before He went to the cross. He spoke of His return to the Father, the coming Spirit, and the hardships they would face. He told them to love each other and that:
Greater love has no one that this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are My friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you (John 15:13-15).
The possibility of being considered a friend of the Jesus is staggering, isn’t it? (If it isn’t, it should be!). Nonetheless, there is the Holy One saying this to a group who knew their share of struggles collectively and as individuals. Yet Christ spoke of them as His friends.
In the end, I think that’s how carrying the cross should be viewed by us. It is a privilege our Lord and Friend invites us to. Let’s know Christ and the fellowship of His suffering.