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Take up your cross

Jesus warns us we will face opposition and suffering as his followers, but he also promises us a place in his Father’s house.

Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian who spent eight years on death row, unjustly convicted of blasphemy against Mohammad. In spite of violent protests calling for her death, Pakistan’s highest court overturned her death sentence in October 2018. Eventually, she was able to escape to Canada, where she has lived with her family for the past year. The threats against her life, however, continue.

Youcef Nadarkhani is an Iranian pastor who became a Christian when he was 19. In October 2009, Iranian officials arrested him and accused him of the crimes of apostasy and evangelism. In the fall of 2010, he was sentenced to death and spent the next two years on death row until his death sentence was overturned in 2012. He currently is serving a ten-year sentence in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, convicted of “acting against national security.”

Leah Sharibu is a Christian teenager who lives in Nigeria. In February 2018, she was kidnapped along with 109 of her classmates by a faction of the Islamist group Boko Haram. A month later, the militants released all her classmates because they confessed they were Muslim. To this day, however, Leah remains in captivity because she refuses to renounce her Christian faith.

Those of us who live in areas of the world where being a Christian does not put our lives or freedom in jeopardy are rightly appalled. Yet, if we take seriously what Jesus says, these sufferings are not surprising. In fact, they are exactly what we would expect. Jesus clearly told us, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

The cross we bear

Our cross is the suffering we experience simply because we are followers of Jesus. For Asia Bibi, Youcef Nadarkhani, Leah Sharibu, and countless other Christians throughout the world, the cross takes the form of beatings, imprisonment, and even death. For most of us the cross will take different forms. It can be the scorn that the world heaps on us because we believe that faith in Jesus is the only way to heaven. It can be the disdain we experience because we are confident that the first two chapters of Genesis accurately describe how all things came into existence. It can be the insults we endure because we maintain that God instituted marriage as the lifelong union of one biological man and one biological woman. Any time we suffer because of our faith in Jesus, we are carrying the cross that Jesus himself has laid on us.

All our sufferings are nothing compared to what Jesus has waiting for us in heaven.

The Christian’s cross also includes the daily struggle between our old sinful self that remains with us and the new self that the Holy Spirit created in us. The person without saving faith feels no such struggle since that person only has the old sinful self.

God’s people have always carried a cross. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah faithfully proclaimed God’s Word to the people of Israel in the days leading up to the Babylonian exile. Yet, he himself described the treatment he received: “I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. . . . So, the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long” (Jeremiah 20:7,8).

Likewise, the apostle Paul devoted his life to proclaiming the good news of Jesus. Yet he writes, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones” (2 Corinthians 11:24,25). Paul also bore the cross of struggling daily against his sinful nature. He wrote, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18,19).

A source of joy

Why would Jesus want his people to carry this cross and endure its pain? Doesn’t he love us? Of course, he loves us. Actually, it is precisely because he loves us and wants to bless us that our Savior lays the cross on us. Paul tells us, “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts” (Romans 5:3-5).

In fact, as strange as it may sound, carrying the cross for us Christians is a source of great joy. See how Jesus’ apostles reacted after they were flogged for telling people about Jesus: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). Rejoicing because they had been beaten? Yes, rejoicing because they were beaten as followers of Jesus. Later in his life, Peter encouraged us to have the same joy in our sufferings when he wrote, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12,13).

It is that glory—the glory of Christ that he soon will reveal to us and share with us eternally—that enables us to carry the cross with joy. Paul confesses, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Think again of all the horrible things that Paul suffered simply because he was a follower of Jesus. Think of how he was beaten, how he was stoned and left for dead, how he was repeatedly driven out of town or thrown into prison. As Paul considered all of that, he still considered that it was not even worth comparing with the glory that awaited him in heaven.

And he was right. It doesn’t matter how heavy our cross is here on earth. It doesn’t matter how intensely we must suffer for being a follower of Jesus. Even if our sufferings reach the point of losing our freedom—or even our lives—because of our faith in Jesus, even then all our sufferings are nothing compared to what Jesus has waiting for us in heaven. For we are confident, even as Paul was, that God will strengthen us “with all power according to his glorious might so that [we] may have great endurance and patience . . . giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified [us] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:11,12)

So, fellow followers of Jesus, take up your cross. Carry it with joy, knowing that it is nothing compared to the glory that awaits you in heaven. Endure its pain, knowing that through it, God will bless you. Be confident that same Jesus who laid this cross on you will also give you the strength to bear it. And know that your Savior, who carried his cross for you, has by his cross made you his for all eternity.

Author: Steven L. Lange
Volume 107, Number 7
Issue: July 2020

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