It’s one of the toughest verses in the Bible.
Or that’s the way I’ve always seen it.
Turn to the New Testament book of Luke and it takes you to a time when Jesus is talking to his disciples.
At this point, Christ is predicting his own suffering, death and resurrection from the dead.
Then Jesus says these words:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”
I want to turn the page and find something more comforting to read.
And wouldn’t we all rather read about our Lord leading us to green pastures, beside quiet waters and restoring our souls — like it says in the first part of Psalm 23?
But taking up our crosses — every day?
And losing our lives?
It can seem overwhelming and something that appears to call for years of suffering, self-denial and loss.
But recently, I gained another perspective on these verses after Erza Washburn, worship leader at Full Life Church, spoke during a Wednesday evening service.
What is the cross?
It’s more than a piece of wood, Ezra said.
Personally, I think we see people denying themselves and taking up their cross when they:
- Hold fast to their faith amid rejection from friends, coworkers and family.
- Maintain a humble, Christ-like attitude even when others urge them to act out in anger or revenge.
- Give up time for themselves to care for sick family members.
But during his talk, Erza focused on what he called “The Four Joys of the Victory of the Cross.”
He brought up these points, which I think can bring great comfort — especially to those feeling the burden of a heavy cross.
1. In Christ, your suffering is never wasted or meaningless.
Ezra talked about people living outside of Christ, trying to fill that hole inside of them with other stuff, which only leads to more misery.
“All their pain is wasted,” he said.
Christ suffered a terrible death on the cross, but his pain wasn’t wasted.
His death paid the penalty for our sins so those who believe can go to heaven.
As Christians, our pain isn’t wasted either.
Ezra pointed out that when we live for the Lord our pain and toil will accomplish something good.
He cited the awe-inspiring story of Joseph in the Old Testament.
Sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, Joseph later went to prison for a crime he never committed. But he eventually became second in command in Egypt, helping save that country — and also his own family — from a famine.
When Joseph’s brothers feared he’d retaliate against them for their evil deed, he responded with these incredible words: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive as they are today.”
Like Joseph, we need to trust God enough to let him show us that — even through the tribulations that come from living a life of faith — his goodness will shine through the difficulty of the past, Ezra said.
Ezra also pointed out that God gave us the Holy Spirit — as a deposit of what’s to come — to live in us until we finish carrying our cross.
In the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is described as our comforter, counselor, guide, helper and advocate.
2. God will be with you, and you will be with him.
Our Heavenly Father was with Jesus as he faced the different situations on this earth, Ezra said.
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Just as the Father was with Jesus, our God will be with us.
I think about the times when I’ve wondered how things were ever going to work out.
And as I prayed and trusted God, I’ve seen situations work out in ways I never dreamed imaginable.
He helps me every day and I cling to the words of our Lord who says: “I will never leave nor forsake you.”
3. Your cross isn’t just for you.
“Jesus’ cross was for you,” Ezra said. “Your cross is for everybody else.”
Then he helped us paint a mental picture.
“Just imagine shortly after you enter heaven — or a million years after you enter heaven — Jesus walks up to you and says, ‘See Bill over there? He’s here because you carried your cross daily to the end.’”
Don’t you hope that one — or even many people — might be in heaven because of something you did or said or the way you lived your life?
Ezra offered this encouragement.
“When you get tired of the burden of the weight of the cross on your back, stop and think about:
- “The ones you love;
- “Or the ones nobody else will love;
- “Or the person who is just like you used to be without Christ — and without the mission burden and glorious task of denying yourself, carrying your cross and following Jesus.
“Then get back to work, because those people need you to do for them what Jesus did for you.”
4. You get back what you lost.
After Jesus died and was resurrected from the dead, he went to sit at the right hand of the Father.
After believers in Christ die, we get to spend eternity in heaven with our God.
Ezra was wrapping up his talk when he said something that really hit me:
“We need to stop living like we don’t know what’s coming.”
Read that sentence again.
Say it out loud.
Let it soak in.
What lies ahead?
Ezra said, “It’s victory.”
What is victory? Somebody like me would say, “It’s getting to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus — the one who gave his life for us.”
Granted, that can seem like a long way off for some of us earth-dwellers and life on this planet can get long and dry and hard and sad.
But I believe Christ can give us the joy, peace and hope — that abundant life — here on earth.
He can give us the strength we need to get through each day.
How do I know?
Well, he’s been doing it for me, and lots of other people I know, for a long time.
I believe he’ll do it for those who seek him.
Nobody ever said carrying a cross was easy.
But I’ve been thinking about Ezra’s words.
With the help of God, I want to press on, because I know what’s coming.
And I believe it’s going to be so wonderful.