What does it mean to you when Jesus says “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”? I was once at a convention in Atlanta. There was this guy outside….one of these folks that went all over the country “carrying” a cross. He looked like I would imagine Jesus to look like, he preached a little, and he passed out tracts…and he had a cross that he pulled behind him. But, you see, his cross wasn’t like the Cross of Jesus. This guys cross had wheels mounted on the bottom, and he had cushions mounted under the cross bar where it went over his shoulder. What he had, even though he was living a wonderful witness, was a cross of convenience.
I’ve been thinking about a book project. I want to get all of my pastor friends to tell me some of the excuses they hear from church folks. I was a Deputy Sheriff for eleven years and I heard a lot of excuses for why folks did or didn’t do things. I promise you, our church folks put the criminals to shame when it comes to making excuses. “Well, I won’t be at church Sunday, because I have company!” I won’t be able to come to Sunday School because the air is too hot (or cold; or because so and so wears too much perfume).” “I won’t be able to give as much as I wanted to, because we got a new car.” I’m just not sure we Christians are on the same page with Jesus when he talks about “taking up your cross.”
In Matthew 16:24 & 25 Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Deny themselves….deny ourselves what? Well, maybe the things that stands between us and Christ. Like excuses. Like stuff. Like hobbies. Like jobs. Like families. Like attitudes. “But preacher, you don’t understand!” Yes, I think I do understand – some of us just want things our way, plain and simple. Jesus goes on to say that some will forfeit their souls because they want the things of the world more than they want to follow Him. Folks…this is serious business.
Dr. Fred Craddock, a retired preaching professor tells of the time he was invited to a country church to preach. At the conclusion of the service, he was invited by the pastor to assist in a baptism which was to take place in the pond behind the church. Just before he, the pastor, and the candidate for baptism went out into the pond, a line of four men made their way into the water in a straight line. They went out as far as the first man could safely stand. As the men walked out into the water, Dr. Craddock couldn’t figure out what role the men were to play in the baptism. Anyhow, the ceremony proceeded and the baptism went wonderfully. The pastor led the candidate from the water and Dr. Craddock followed, then the men followed them. After everyone was out of the water, Dr. Craddock asked, “What were the men doing out there in the water? I don’t understand.” The pastor replied, “There is a big alligator that lives in the pond, they were our watchers…they add seriousness to the occasion.”
When you have professed faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and when you have been baptized into His church, it’s serious business. Maybe we need better watchers. Maybe we need to learn what it means to carry a cross…a real cross.