If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)
Do I want to be a follower of Jesus? Absolutely! More than anything! But those words are easier to say (or write) than to let His words in Mark 8:34 come home. Okay, if I want to be a follower of Jesus, then here is what I have to do. There are two parts to it, and neither of them are easy.
I must renounce myself. Following Jesus means following Him. It does not mean wandering off in any old direction that I happen to like; it does not mean being stuck in the ruts of a life lived according to the patterns and habits of my whole life. It means leaving the dead to bury their dead and following him (Matthew 8:22). Following Jesus means that He sets the agenda, and that I go where He goes.
I must take up my cross. As if it’s not bad enough that I can’t go my own way, I must take up my cross. It is pretty obvious what Jesus is talking about if we only look at His life. After being tortured, He had to carry the Cross on which He was crucified—the Cross on which He died. So too for me: I must take up my cross and follow Him. I must take up the pain and suffering that I experience (both at my own hands and at the hands of others) and carry it to my death. There is no other way. We must not expect happy lives free of pain; as Jesus said, those who have such things have their reward. To the contrary, Jesus calls us to take up our sufferings and burdens (whatever they may be) and to follow Him.
This is a hard saying. Who wants to suffer, anyway? Isn’t it much more pleasant to avoid suffering at all costs? Wouldn’t it be better to avoid all the hassles and pains of carrying a cross? Sure the heck it would! But that is not the life to which Jesus calls us. More than that: as his disciples surely knew, one who is carrying a cross is carrying it to his death—to his execution. A cross wasn’t just a heavy load to drag behind yourself over hill and dale; it was a gallows of sorts. So Jesus wants me to take up my cross (whatever it may be and in whatever it may consist) and follow him outside the city…to die. Lord, grant me such love for You that I will not shirk the Cross, and that I may freely and gladly follow You to the cross.