How did Jesus describe what it meant to follow Him? He did it with the image of the cross:
Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will save it (Luke 9:23-24).
As Christians, we are familiar with the image of the cross. It adorns our buildings, it hangs around our necks, it’s hung on our walls. But for those who first heard these words of Jesus, the invoking of the cross was far from sanitized. It was scandalous. It was not a subject that was talked about in polite company.
The cross was reserved for the worst kind of criminals. It was about blood. Suffering. Torture. And above all, it was about death. No one climbed down from a cross after a few hours. So Jesus made no bones about what it meant to come after him. If anyone seeks to follow Jesus, they are choosing to walk the way of death.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously once wrote that when Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die. This is the way you follow Jesus – whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, educated or not. The road in following Jesus means the road of death, for this is what it means to call Jesus “Lord.”
For some, “death” means “death”. Literally. There are more martyrs for the cause of Christ in this day and time than ever before in the history of the church. Day after day, men, women and children are literally giving up their lives in order to follow Christ.
But even if you or I never find ourselves in a situation in which following Jesus will cost us our physical lives, there will surely come a day when it does cost us something. Something big. There will come a day when we will have to put a relationship to death. Or put a lifelong dream to death. Or put a long held aspiration to death. And, as with any death, it will be painful.
So how do you prepare yourself for that kind of death?
You prepare yourself to take up your cross in that big instance by taking up your cross in all the little instances leading up to it.
There’s one word in Jesus’ call to take up the cross that points us to this reality, and the word is “daily.”
According to Jesus, you don’t just take up your cross once when you start following Him; rather, it’s a daily activity. A daily decision. A daily taking up, and therefore a daily laying down. And today, you have a thousand small ways to take up your cross.
- You take up your cross when you choose to die to the way you thought you’d spend your leisure time and instead tutor algebra.
- You take up your cross when you choose to serve your spouse rather than resenting them for not anticipating how they can serve you.
- You take up your cross when you are treated unfairly at work but you respond with grace.
- You take up your cross when, even though you’re busy, you make time to sit and listen to someone who is in need.
- You take up your cross when, even though you’re tired, you prepare to teach a children’s Sunday school class.
In all these instances, you are taking up your cross on a daily basis. You do it every time you put down your self-ambition, your self-entitlement, your self-schedule and instead walk the road of sacrifice. And no, these little things don’t feel like the big kind of death that Jesus seems to describe in Luke 9. But these small acts are acts of death nonetheless. They are a thousand tiny pinpricks to the old self that must daily be put down in order to pick up the cross. Taking up your cross is is actualized in a thousand little ways each and every day.
The small deaths are how you prepare for what Jesus might well call you to do in the future. You prepare to take up your cross then by taking up your cross now.
So, friend, you might not be facing a life-changing fork in the road today. But you are facing an opportunity to take up your cross in a thousand small ways. Don’t neglect the “daily” aspect of Jesus’ call.