Sunday, March 14, 2010

[Matt's Messages] "Take Up Your Cross" WB Ministerium Lenten Service

“Take Up Your Cross”  
West Branch Area Ministerium Lenten Service
March 14, 2010
Matthew 16:24

Good evening.

It is a privilege to open the Word of God with you this evening.

Throughout our West Branch Community Lenten Worship Services this Spring, we have been thinking deeply about the themes of Jesus’ call to discipleship in Matthew chapter 16.

Pastor Lee Hebel took Matthew 16:24 and divided it up into phrases for us to chew on, bit by bit, week by week, as Holy Week approaches.

And that’s what we’ve been doing.

The first week was “Repent of Our Sins.”
The second week was “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The third was “Deny Ourselves.”

And today, we consider Jesus’ call to “Take Up Our Cross.”

“Take Up Your Cross.”

These are the words of the Lord Jesus.  They are recorded, not just in Matthew chapter 16, but also in Mark chapter 8 and Luke chapter 9.  Anything that is repeated that often must be important.

I’m going to read it to you in context in Matthew chapter 16.  Starting in verse 21 and reading through verse 27.

Jesus has just asked the disciples Who the people say He is.
And they gave various answers, as there are various answers that the people give today.

And then he asked them Who they think He is.

And Peter got it right.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Which is the correct answer, but the disciples didn’t really know what that meant.

So, starting in verse 21, Jesus begins to explain what it really means for Him to be the Christ, the Messiah.

Matthew 16:21-27.  I’m reading from the New International Version of the Bible.

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.  Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’  Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”

The Lord Jesus says, “Take up your cross.”

This was (and is) an incredibly shocking thing to say!

Take up your cross?!

You and I don’t feel how shocking this statement was because we’re used to crosses as jewelry and decoration on churches.  There are crosses all around this building as there are on our church building up in Lanse.

We put crosses up on top of church buildings.

But a cross in the first century was not a decoration.
It was a gruesome instrument of torture and death.

To “take up a cross” was to die. And to die in the most horrific way.

If we were to see someone die of cross-ifixion (crucifixion) today, most of us here would throw up it would be so shocking.

So, for Jesus to say that to be His disciples, to “come after Him,” we must take up our cross, it was a vivid and shocking thing to say!

And to do it “daily?!”  In Luke’s version of this story, Jesus is quoted as saying that we must take up our cross “daily.”

A daily death.  A daily crucifixion.  Even more shocking.

What did Jesus mean?

What did Jesus mean when He said to His disciples: “Take Up Your Cross?”

And what does He mean today when He says it to you and me?  “Take Up Your Cross.”

Well, let’s start with what it does NOT mean.

It’s often easier to understand what something does mean when you know clearly what it does not.


We’ve all probably heard someone use the phrase, “Well, that’s just my cross to bear.”  “We all have our little crosses to bear.”

Maybe it’s an irritable person at work.
Maybe it’s a chronic condition.
Maybe it’s an annoyance in the neighborhood.

A bothersome nuisance that we wish would just go away.

“Well, that’s just my cross to bear.”

We do need to persevere through minor and major irritations, but I don’t think those do justice to the word “cross.”

There is nothing minor about a cross.


Now, I don’t think that most of us think it does, but I’ve heard from time to time the idea that “taking up your cross” is giving a silent witness to the cross by wearing a cross.

Maybe a cross around your neck or on a Christian T-shirt.

Taking up your cross and showing the world that you are His disciple.

Now, I’m not against wearing a cross or a Christian T-shirt.

I have done both and will probably do so again.

But, the most important way to give witness to Jesus is how I live my life and what I say about His gospel to people–not what clothing I wear.

And I don’t think that Jesus had apparel in mind when he said, “Take up your Cross.”

Third, Taking Up Your Cross Does NOT Mean: SAVING YOURSELF.

Because Jesus died on a cross for our salvation, we might somehow get the idea in our heads that our taking up our crosses is somehow involved in our saving ourselves.

Taking up our cross would be suffering in such a way as to somehow complete what Jesus’s cross did for us.

But that is not the message of the New Testament.

That is not the gospel.

“Our crosses,” whatever they are, are not salvific.   They do not save.

The Bible says, “[God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done [not even taking up a cross], but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace [a free gift], we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

That’s in the book of Titus.  Chapter 3, verses 5-7.

Taking Up Our Cross Does NOT Mean Saving Ourselves.

If anyone is saved, it is by Jesus’ Cross and Jesus’ Cross alone.

So, what does it mean for us to obey Jesus’ call to take up our cross?

Let me suggest 3 things.


Taking up your cross means dying each day to your self.

In Matthew 16:24, the phrase right before “take up his cross” is “deny himself.”

Which was the focus of last week’s Lenten sermon.

To take up your cross is to die to yourself, to your agenda, to your plans, your schedule, your possessions, your little idols, your selfishness, your pride.

It means to longer be the center of your own universe.

No longer to be the most important person in your own life.

To take up your cross means to die to your self.

That’s part of what we mean when we use the Bible word: REPENTANCE.

A turning away from ourselves, our sin, our own agendas.

And a turning towards the Lord.

Daily death to self.
That’s not easy.  It feels like death!

Because it is a kind of death.  Death to self.


It is not just bearing minor irritations, but it is persevering through difficulty in faith.

Every day, we are called to lay our lives down and go through hard things while trusting the Lord.

Maybe it’s choosing love over hate in a relationship that doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon.

Maybe it’s trusting God through cancer.  My favorite mother-in-law was just diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. My wife just got back from visiting her. She lives in Western Canada, 2100 miles away.

We’re having to get used to the idea of losing her.

My mother-in-law is choosing faith in God each day that she wakes up with that cancer in her belly.

Now, lots of people get cancer.  But not everyone that has cancer has taken up their cross.

Taking your cross means choosing to trust God in the middle of your cancer day by day by day.

Daily Choosing to Trust God Through Trials.

Take up your cross.

That’s going to feel like death.

Because it is a kind of death.  It’s the death of comfort and ease and easy-living.

Taking up your cross means Daily Choosing to Trust God Through Trials.

Maybe you aren’t going through major trials right now.

Maybe taking up your cross is just getting up and doing it all over again tomorrow.  Being faithful in the little mundane things.  Not just putting up with them but persevering through them in faith.

Take Up Your Cross.

#3. [And last.] Taking Up Your Cross Means DAILY PREPARING TO DIE FOR CHRIST.

And I mean, literally.

Remember who Jesus said this to–His disciples.

He just said that He was going to die.  And He meant that He was going to die!

And He’s telling His disciples that they need to be ready to die, too.

Remember how shocking this was.

Only criminals, runaway slaves, and rebels against the government carried crosses.  Only those who were destined to die carried a crossbeam.

No one carried a cross by accident!

Jesus was saying that His followers needed to prepare to perish in following Him.

No turning back.  No turning back.

The Cross was the way that Jesus was going to go. And His followers could expect no less.

According to tradition, the Apostle Peter was hung upside down on a cross. And that’s how he died.

Now, will we all be crucified for our faith in Jesus?  No.  Not like this.

But we all have to choose to follow Christ NO MATTER WHAT.

Not just if He leads us into nice, friendly territory.

This world is not friendly territory. In many ways, we are on enemy ground.

And Jesus is calling us to choose sides in the battle.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Daily Preparing to Die for Christ.

That’s going to feel like death.

Because it is.  It is a kind of dying.

Dying to the preservation of your life at any cost.

But He’s worth it.

Jesus is issuing a warning here to those who would claim to be His disciples.

Don’t think it’s going to be easy and fun and only full of health and wealth and prosperity.

No.  Following Jesus means a bit of death every day.

It will feel like Jesus goes on to says, like “losing your life.”

But He’s worth it.

He’s worth it!

Jesus says in the very next verse, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me [Jesus] will find it.”

That sounds like a paradox, but it’s pretty simple.

If you live for yourself and don’t die to yourself, ultimately, you will die and lose yourself.

But if you live for Christ and die to yourself, you will live forever and gain everything that is most important forever.  You’ll gain Christ.

Because one day, and one day soon, Jesus will return.  V.27 says, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”

If you have not taken up your Cross, you will get no reward.

If you have taken up your Cross, daily dying to self, daily choosing faith in the midst of trials, daily preparing to die for Jesus, then you will get the reward.

He is worth it!

He is worth it!

Jesus died on the Cross for the sins of the world, providing salvation for all who repent and put their faith and trust in Him and Him alone.

And if He would die for you like that!

Won’t you die for Him?

He is saying to you, “Take up your cross.”