Taking Up the Cross of Jesus Christ

Mark 8:34–36 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Many claiming to be Christians identify with Jesus and the cross. Replicas of the cross are on church buildings, are seen in Christian decorations, are worn as jewelry, are tattooed on bodies, and are decals on vehicles just to name a few. The cross is the most common visual representation of Christianity. For some, this familiarity causes them to be desensitized to what the cross of Jesus represents. 

The context that precedes this passage in Mark records the interaction of Jesus with His disciples when He lets them know of His redemptive plan. He must be rejected, killed, and rise again. Rejecting this information, Peter takes Jesus aside to rebuke Him for what is in his opinion a nonsensical idea. Jesus in turn boldly rebukes Peter in the disciple’s presence for his Satan-like opposition to God’s plan. Jesus tells Peter his mind is on the things of man and not the things of God.

Immediately following this encounter, Jesus addresses the crowd just beyond His disciples and calls them all to hear His instructions. Here is where we gain insight from Jesus about the meaning of the cross. The crowd and the disciples know the cross is the feared instrument of Roman capital punishment. The cross represents agonizing death. The self-denial that characterizes followers of Jesus is typified as a necessary and agonizing death. Transferring from the reign of Satan, sin, and self to the reign of Jesus, righteousness, and His sovereign authority is not “easy as pie.” It is a redirection of living that is thorough and complete. The old man goes, and the new man in Christ comes.

Understandings and presentations of the gospel that don’t properly account for the cross of Jesus Christ and the cross that His redeemed take up are insufficient. People who maintain a self-centered and self-serving life, sprinkling it with misunderstandings of grace that are ineffectual are on eternally dangerous ground. Certainly, salvation is completely supplied by the work Jesus has done, but that work continues in the hearts of His redeemed, eternally separating them from their “old man” by death and uniting them with the “new man” through spiritual life in Christ. The symbolism of the cross is a graphic and vivid picture that children of God can no longer set their minds on the things of man. They must be set on the things of God. Taking up the cross is the symbol of finality, not fudging incrementalism.

There is nothing wrong with Christians identifying with the cross of Jesus and displaying replicas of the cross in various ways. But let us not become desensitized through familiarity with the symbol and forget the vivid and graphic reality of death to self and life with Christ. 

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) What is true for Paul is true for every follower of Jesus.

Lift high the cross to the glory of our Redeemer!