And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.Matt. 10:38-39
The Sacrificial Cross
In this Bible study on what it means to take up your cross, the word cross is surprisingly only used 28 times in scripture and only occurs in the New Testament. This week’s scripture reading is the first occurrence of the word cross in the scriptures. The implied metaphor in taking up one’s cross is either an enduring persecution for one’s faith, or the process of dying to one’s motives, desires and interests. This message from Jesus was so important that he repeated it again in Matt. 16:24. Other gospel account writers also recorded this same message from Jesus as shown in Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:32.
The second time this statement was made by Jesus occurred shortly after telling his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes and be killed and raised again on the third day. Truly this would have been a puzzling and startling statement for his disciples since Peter began to rebuke him over this message. As Jesus had so rightly stated though, the next time the word cross was mentioned again by Matthew in his gospel account was when Jesus was being paraded through the streets toward his crucifixion as noted in Matt. 27:32, 40, 42.
Bearing one’s Cross
Consider that Jesus also used this same phrase while speaking to someone who approached him to inquire what he must do to inherit eternal life. While the person replied to Jesus’ comments by saying that he kept all of the commandments from God, Jesus was quick to respond by telling him to sell all his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor and to take up his cross and follow him. This was met however with grief by the fellow in question since he had many possessions.
In reality, here is a very accurate portrayal of what Jesus was meaning when he told his disciples to take up their cross. This is found in the book of Hebrews as the author writes, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” [Heb. 12:2] Quite often in this world, taking up one’s cross comes with shame, ridicule, mockery, skepticism, perhaps even verbal and physical assault but always remember the words, “for the joy that was set before him”, if you ever experience unpleasant circumstances on account of your faith in Jesus.
Life in the Bible
Let us now transition to expound upon the other notable word in this week’s scripture reading. In contrast to the word cross, the word life is used 450 times in the Bible starting with the very first chapter, “And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl [that] may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” [Gen. 1:20] As it pertains to mankind, the first time life is referenced in scripture follows soon after this when God breathed life into man, “And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” [Gen. 2:7]
In the New Testament, Jesus seeks to define what is truly important in life, “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? ” [Matt. 6:25-26] More importantly however, Jesus proceeds to clarify in the next chapter that the life he is really speaking about is eternal life, “Because strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” [Matt. 7:14]
As Jesus reiterates the importance of the phrase from this week’s scripture reading he again emphasizes the life he is referring to has eternal consequences for one’s soul, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” [Matt. 16:25-26] Here Jesus is contrasting the stark distinction between someone who gains everything in life and yet forsakes the eternal and irreversible destiny of his own soul during his earthly life.
When Jesus speaks about someone losing his life for his sake shall find it, it is the same message as taking up your cross and following him. In both examples, the complete submission of one’s self for the sake of Jesus, or on account of Jesus is the pivotal point of the message. The apostle Paul wrote a most interesting verse in his letter to the church in Galatia that helps to illustrate this point, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” [Gal. 6:14] For Paul, the desires of the world dimmed as the glorious light of the gospel shone upon him.
Life in the World
In a similar way to this theme, the apostle John also wrote in his letters giving the same instruction to believers for living their faith in the world, “Love not the world, neither the things [that are] in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” [1 John 2:15-17] Much like Paul, John saw the temporal appeal of the world’s offerings as a pale comparison to knowing the Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, for those who are seeking ways to take up your cross or looking for examples of taking up your cross, look no further for it is all written in these two verses noted by Paul and John. Clearly, these are Bible verses in reference to taking up your cross in Christ because when we become crucified to the world and dead to the world’s interests, we lose our life but find it through new life in Christ.
The Cross in your Life
As we conclude this Bible study on what it means to take up your cross, ask yourself this question. Is the preaching of the cross changing your life to become more Christ-like every day or does it just have more of a tacit existence in your daily walk? Paul wrote this key passage of scripture in this regard, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” [1 Cor. 1:18] As Christians, saved through belief and faith in Christ, this should then be the power in their life as Paul stated, the power of God!
Let us end with this passage of scripture from Paul in the book of Romans, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” [Rom. 12:1-3] Notably, taking up one’s cross is not mentioned in this scripture, but it is strongly implied. Let us unpack this memorable passage of scripture as part of closing this Bible study.
Do you want to take up your cross? Present your bodies as a living sacrifice to Christ. Do you want to lose your life for the sake of Christ? Be not conformed to this world. Do you want to take up your cross? Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Do you want to lose your life for the sake of Christ? Prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. All these messages, personify and answer the question of what it means to take up your cross. Will you take up your cross today, minute by minute, on account of the Lord Jesus Christ who gave his life to redeem you from your sins?
Bible Study Questions
- In this Bible study on what does in mean to take up your cross, the word cross occurs in the Old Testament, true or false?
- In the section, the sacrificial cross, how would you describe what this week’s scripture reading means for you?
- Can you name some of the consequences from taking up your cross on account of Jesus?
- In Matt. 7:14, is Jesus speaking of physical life or spiritual life?
- Why is it important to see the world’s passions and desires in the context of what is truly important on account of Jesus?
- In Phil. 2:8, who paid the ultimate sacrifice on the cross for your sake?
- Make a list of three things you can change in your life that will reflect taking up your cross on the account of Jesus.
WORD GUIDE – * (meat – food in general) * (raiment – clothing) * (fowls – birds)