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Deciphering the Divine

What Jesus Really Meant by “Take up Your Cross”

Male carrying a hand made wooden cross in a grassy field shot from behindBy Mike Mazyck


His ministry lasted three years – that’s over 1000 days of life-giving, soul-saving, absolutely perfect, divine truths pouring out of His mouth — yet we only have four relatively short gospel accounts of His life. You could read them in one day if you wanted to. The last sentence of John’s Gospel says that if the full account of His ministry were written in detail, the world could not contain all the writings. Most of His words we do not know. Like the souls of men — only a few would make the cut.

Under the guidance and inspiration of God Himself, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John chose every word, and every sentence, and every story, very carefully. Each word we would receive was hand selected by the divine Author for us. He would give us no less, and no more, than what was required. The words He chose were of absolute importance — of vital necessity!

So how should we respond when we see one phrase repeated five different times? Should we ponder all the beautiful and priceless sayings of His that were left out so that we could read one particular phrase over, and over, and over, and over, and over, with only slight variations? How important must these words be?

Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

(Luke 14:26-27)

And the one who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.

(Matthew 10:38)

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”

(Matthew 16:24)

And He summoned the crowd together with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”

(Mark 8:34)

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

(Luke 9:23)

“Follow me!” The commentary of my study Bible says that those two words were the most repeated words out of His mouth during His entire ministry. But they weren’t enough.

He knew we would hear those two words and ask the reasonable and logical question, Where are You going? Our finite minds want expectations. If I choose to follow You, what route are we taking, and what will our destination be? He isn’t required to answer the question, but He does! He sets the expectation and clears up all confusion about where the journey ends when He adds those words “…take up his cross.” The message is much clearer than we want it to be!

We must come to terms with what those words — the cross — really meant! At the time, the cross was an instrument of death. And not just death: It was an instrument of a cruel and painful death, filled with suffering. The victims would beg for their last breath to come.

Do you think He was unaware of where He was headed when He said those words? No, He knew exactly where He was going.

He contemplated the narrow and lonely road He would take to get there. He thought about the beating He would endure. He considered the thorns sinking into His scalp, the blood running down His face. He imagined the beard being ripped from His cheeks. He thought about His own creation, spitting on Him and mocking Him. He reflected on the exposed bones, and the mangled flesh hanging from His body after the flogging. He imagined how it would feel when the nails would plunge into His bones. In His mind’s eye, He saw Himself, hanging there as a spectacle for all to see, stripped of His clothing, humiliated, and gasping for each breath. And perhaps worst of all — He considered the loneliness.

And after pondering all of those things, He then did the unthinkable: The good, and compassionate, and loving One, turned to all those surrounding Him, and said the words no one wanted to hear:

“And the one who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”

(Matthew 10:38)

What do you think He meant by those words? Was He exaggerating for effect? Would you argue that He was unaware of where He was headed? Do you think this was some pithy little phrase He sprinkled in at times to add a bit of drama to the narrative? Did He forget He was supposed to be my substitute — why is there a cross for me? Or perhaps He said it so that 2,000 years later, it would make for a great social media post!

Are we going to be honest about what His words actually meant? For the few who are willing to hear them, His call couldn’t be clearer: I’m headed to the top of a hill called Golgotha. Do you want to join me? Great! Grab that cross over there, and let’s go. Let’s suffer and die together!

Yes, the call of Christ is a call to suffering! Is that not the call you’ve heard? Do you think I’m a little extreme? Maybe a bit crazy? You’re wrong! I think we’ve been greatly deceived! I think we may have this Christianity thing all wrong…

To finish this article, or to read more of Mike’s writing, visit mikemazyck.com/blog

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