In a sermon on John 12, my dad was discussing the concept of bearing one’s cross (from Matthew 16:24, for one). In current usage, this phrase has become a cliche to describe one tolerating life’s inconveniences or sufferings. For example, using the phrase in this way, for the last year, my back problems have been my cross to bear.
But this is not a biblical usage of the phrase at all. Instead of using this phrase in a trite manner – or even in a serious manner – it should be thought of as relating to the concept of dying to self and living to Christ described throughout the New Testament. Someone carrying their cross to their own crucifixion meant a one-way trip, walking to one’s death.
To illustrate this point, my dad told a story of a pre-communist Chinese execution method wherein a man sentenced to death would be blindfolded with his hands tied in front him. His crime and sentence would be written on a white cloth and draped over his back. He would be led by a rope, running through the streets with his family running alongside him until he reached the firing squad a couple miles outside the city.
What was going through that man’s life as he was running to his death? Was it regret for not spending more time at work? Was it sadness for not accumulating more wealth? Was he thinking about what he ate for breakfast that morning? I would say not. That man, though he was still technically living, was dead to his life.
For a Christian, bearing one’s cross is not about tolerating the inconveniences of our modern age or putting up with bad news or sufferings. It’s about a one-way trip in following Christ: dying to this life, dying to our sinful desires, dying to the world. It’s about dying to self and living to Christ. We have been baptized into Christ’s death and live because of his resurrection. My dad said: “The cost of obeying Jesus Christ above what you want, above your desires, above your ambitions. That’s the cross of Jesus Christ that you must carry…Christ is to be first, His kingdom is to be above all.”
Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. –John 12:24-26
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? –Matthew 16:24-26