Taking up the Cross

To be the Messiah of Israel means suffering and death, and he summons his disciples to follow the same path

As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he explains what it means to be the Messiah - suffering and death. And he summons anyone who desires to become his disciple to take up the cross and follow his example. Failure to do so will render one an object of shame before the Lord of Glory.

Although the Roman government was the instrument of his execution, Jesus places the responsibility on the “elders and chief priests and scribes.” His crucifixion is instigated by the Torah-observant leaders of Israel who conspire to deliver him into the hands of the Roman governor - (Mark 8:31).

As his entourage drew near the city:

  • He began to teach them that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the Scribes, and to be killed and after three days to rise.”

In response, Peter took him aside and “reproved him.” For a disciple to rebuke his master in this way demonstrated how seriously Peter objected to his words.

JESUS SPEAKS PLAINLY


The passage states that Jesus now declares this “plainly.” This is no parable or enigmatic saying. And the fact that Peter reacts so quickly and sharply proves he understands him but does not like what he hears.

The very idea that Israel’s long-awaited Messiah will be killed, and through the machinations of the priestly authorities no less, is intolerable to a devout and patriotic Jew of the first century.

In response, Jesus “turns around and looks on his disciples,” then rebukes Satan. Although Peter said the words, his rebuke is for the benefit of all twelve disciples since Peter voiced what they all are thinking.

Moreover, Jesus discerns that Peter’s words originate with Satan, and he is determined to thwart him from his messianic mission. And that explains why he responds with such a sharp and immediate reprimand.

Most certainly, his mission is to destroy Satan and his strongholds. But, as Scripture itself attests, the Messiah will accomplish this by suffering and self-sacrificial death:

  • Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes, we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, and Yahweh laid on him the iniquity of us all” - (Isaiah 53:4-6).

Jesus says this in private to his disciples, and his words were clear.  An incorrect understanding of what it means to be the Messiah will produce a false understanding of what it means to be his disciple. Just as God called him to self-denial and suffering, so he calls his disciples to walk the same path.

TAKE UP THE CROSS


Thus, he exhorts his followers to deny themselves, “take up the cross,” and follow him. And in the passage, this summons is made to the entire crowd, not just to the twelve disciples.

Every disciple must be willing to tread where he has walked even when doing so means shame, persecution, rejection, the loss of possessions, and even death. And doing so is not optional since:

  • Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.

In his explanation, Jesus does not yet predict his death by crucifixion. But in his summons to follow him, he compares doing so with “taking up the cross.” Not only does this hint at how he will die, but he also presents his audience with a very grim image.

Crucifixion is employed by Rome to execute rebellious slaves and political revolutionaries. The condemned man is forced to carry the crossbar on which he will be hung to the execution site. This is done to add to his humiliation.

Roman citizens are so horrified by crucifixion that they are exempt by law from suffering this form of death. Instead, citizens found guilty of capital offenses are beheaded.

Jesus adds that the “Son of Man” will be ashamed of anyone who is ashamed of him in “this adulterous and sinful generation.” Any disciple who fails to deny himself and “take up the cross” will find himself in this predicament when he “comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

In this passage, Jesus identifies himself with Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” and the “Son of Man” in the book of Daniel. The former illustrates his suffering and death for his people, the latter his arrival in glory at the end of the age when he receives the “kingdom and dominion.”

Both images are necessary for understanding Jesus and his messianic mission. And while glory will come, it does NOT precede self-denial, suffering, and death. It comes later.



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