Jesus once asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Peter, as was often the case, spoke for the group: “You are the Messiah.”
You and I can hear those words with little or no emotion; but to those first disciples they were dramatic beyond measure. From the beginning they had taught, hoped, even dared to believe that Jesus might be the long-awaited redeemer, spoken of by the prophets. Now they were sure of it.
Then, at that very point, Jesus began to teach them that He had to suffer, be rejected by His own people, and die. And suddenly their gladness turned to sadness. They were shocked. But Jesus did not stop there. He went on to tell them that the cross must become a working principle in their lives as well.
They weren’t ready to hear that, and most of us aren’t either. What kind of redeemer is this who voluntarily commits Himself to the way of the cross and calls upon His followers to do the same?
But when we stop to think about it, how else could it be? Take our human dilemma out of the abstract and bring it down to real cases. Do you know of any human situation that has ever been redeemed apart from someone who was willing to carry a cross? The cross is not some kind of vague religious concept. It is something daily and vital, lying at the very heart of life.
The gist of the matter can be simply stated: In this world there are two kinds of living. One kind makes life cost more; the other helps to pay the cost.
In everyday language, that is what Calvary was all about – a man who was willing to lay His own life on the line, to break the cycle of sin and selfishness with his own suffering. When we think about the cross in those terms, it is not a strange phenomenon from the past but a familiar and vital principle that is being lived on a daily basis by ordinary men and women just like ourselves. Some people make life cost more; that is sin. Other people help to pay the cost; that is cross-bearing. We can see this truth at work almost anywhere we look.
Stay at home. There are some people who make home life cost far more than it should. It may be the children who are sullen, rebellious or uncooperative. Oftentimes, it’s a father who is bad- tempered and moody. It may even be a mother who has formed a habit of complaining and indulges in self-pity. Whoever it is, such attitudes and actions are wrong for the simple reason that they make life cost more for the other members of the family. Home life is never easy for anyone to establish, and build, and maintain. When someone drags down and pulls back, the price goes up. Someone else with extra effort and extra devotion had to make up the difference.
Move from the home out into the wider world. Look at the Church. Some people only use the Church. They seldom, if ever, think of it except to baptize their babies, marry their young, and bury their dead. Their chief concern is what the Church can do for them. Others love the Church and give themselves to it. Week in and week out, they help to support it with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, and the quality of their living.
There is no way for us to remain neutral in this matter. The cross is more than an ancient instrument of death; it is an eternal principle of life. When Jesus died on Calvary He let something loose in this world that none of us can ever escape.
There are times, no doubt, when we wish the cross would go away and leave us alone. But that can never happen; it’s too much a part of living. Everywhere we look there are people making life cost more, and there are other people helping to pay the cost. For us, there is no middle ground. We’re involved whether we like it or not. Our only choice concerns the nature of our involvement. By sin and selfishness we can increase the price, or by self-denial and service we can help pay it.
The issue is just that clear. Jesus carried His cross for us, now we have an opportunity to carry our cross for Him.