Embracing the Cross

As Jesus approached Jerusalem, he explained exactly what it meant to be Israel’s Messiah and the Son of God, namely, suffering and death. This expectation was contrary to popular expectations, and apparently, those of his closest disciples. He also summoned anyone who would follow him to take up his cross and emulate his example. Both then and now, failure to do so renders one an object of shame before the Lord of Glory.

Although the Roman government was the instrument of his execution, Jesus placed the responsibility for his death on the “elders and chief priests and scribes.” The Torah-observant religious leaders of Israel were complicit in the plot to deliver him into the hands of Pontius Pilate - (Mark 8:31).

Rugged Cross - Photo by Félix Besombes on Unsplash
[Photo by Félix Besombes on Unsplash]

As his entourage drew near the city, Jesus “b
egan to teach them that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the Scribes, and to be killed, and after three days, to rise.”

In response, Peter took him aside and “reproved him.” For a disciple to rebuke his master in this way demonstrated how seriously Peter objected to his words.

JESUS SPEAKS PLAINLY


According to the passage, Jesus declared this “plainly.” His statement was no parable or enigmatic saying. The fact that Peter reacted so quickly and sharply proves he understood his words but did not like what he heard. The idea that Israel’s Messiah would be killed by the nation’s greatest enemy and through the machinations of the priestly authorities was intolerable to a devout and patriotic Jew.

In response, Jesus “turned around and looked on his disciples,” and then he rebuked Satan. Although Peter said the words, the rebuke was for the benefit of all twelve disciples, for Peter gave voice to what they all were thinking.

Moreover, Jesus recognized that Peter’s words originated from Satan. The Devil was determined to thwart him from his messianic mission, and that explains why he responded with such a sharp and immediate reprimand.

Most certainly, his mission was to destroy Satan and his strongholds. But, as Scripture itself attested, the Messiah would accomplish this by suffering and death:

  • Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes, we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, and Yahweh laid on him the iniquity of us all” - (Isaiah 53:4-6).

Jesus said this in private, and his words were clear.  An incorrect understanding of what it meant to be the Messiah would produce an incorrect understanding of what it meant to be his disciple.

Just as God called His Son to self-denial and suffering, so Jesus calls his disciples to walk the same difficult path. Thus, he exhorted his followers to deny themselves, “take up the cross,” and follow him.

DISCIPLESHIP


Every would-be disciple must be willing to tread where the Nazarene walked even when doing so means shame, persecution, rejection, loss of possessions, and sometimes death. Doing so is not optional, for “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake and the gospel will save it.”

In his explanation, Jesus did not yet predict his death by crucifixion. But in his summons to follow him, he compared doing so with “TAKING UP THE CROSS.” Not only did this hint at how he would die, but he also presented his audience with a very grim image.

Crucifixion was employed by Rome for executing rebellious slaves and political revolutionaries. The condemned man was forced to carry the crossbar of the cross to the execution site, adding to his humiliation. Romans were so horrified by crucifixion that citizens were exempted by law from it - citizens found guilty of capital offenses were beheaded instead.

According to Jesus, the “Son of Man” will be ashamed of anyone who is ashamed of him in “this adulterous and sinful generation.” Any disciple of his who fails to deny himself and “take up the cross” may find himself in this predicament when he “comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

In the passage, Jesus identifies himself with the “suffering servant” in the Book of Isaiah, and with the “Son of Man” in Daniel. The former illustrates his suffering and death for his people, the latter his arrival in glory at the end of the age.

Both passages from the Hebrew Bible are necessary for understanding Jesus and his mission. While glory will come, it does NOT precede self-denial, suffering, and death, but comes afterward and results from the disciple persevering in trials and suffering. To follow Jesus means embracing his Cross.


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