>“Anyone who isn’t ready to pick up their cross and follow me isn’t worthy to be my disciple.” Jesus to a group of Jewish people in the first century A. D.
“By nightfall, we’ll all be on crosses.” Lucius Vorenus to Titus Pullo in the HBO TV show Rome.
Christians have sanitized the commitment that Jesus originally called people to. Can you imagine being a Jew that was well aware of all the Jewish revolts against the Roman Empire that had ended in hundreds, sometimes even thousands of people getting crucified? Flavious Josephus, a Roman-Jewish historian wrote in his Wars of the Jews, which chronicled the Jewish rebellions from about 100 BC till about 70 AD about what they would do to the Jews:
“they were first whipped then tormented with all sorts of tortures before they died, and were crucified before the walls of the city. This miserable procedure made Titus to greatly pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more; yet it did not appear to be safe for him to let those that were taken by force to go their own way; and to set a guard over so many would be to make such as guarded them useless to him. The main reason why he did not forbid that cruelty was this, that he hoped Jews might perhaps yield at the sight, out of fear lest they might themselves afterwards be liable to the same cruel treatment. So the soldiers out of wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest; when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.” Josephus, Wars of the Jews, written about AD 75.
They crucified so many Jews that they ran out of crosses.
Needless to say, if I was a first-century Jew, and a guy came along claiming to be the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the ancestors of my faith and then called people to pick up their cross and follow him, I’d be pissed.
Seriously? That’s what they do to foreigners, rebels, and criminals … don’t you realize that Jesus? Are you freaking kidding me? You want me to rebel against Rome and get nailed to a cross for it?
But Jesus persists: “unless you take up your cross, you’re not worthy to be my disciple.”
Its more than just having a passionate, illogical disposition to martyrdom for Jesus’ sake , “dying for Jesus!” as some would say.
Its more than just being prepared to carry the burdens of life’s little frustrations and pressures … “crosses to bear” as some would say it.
What Jesus is saying is that if your heart isn’t ready to abandon all accolades, reputations, identities, privileges, even its own life, you are not ready to follow Jesus. If you’re not ready to be a complete failure in the eyes of everyone around you, if you’re not ready to be a public embarrassment and shame, you’re not ready to follow him.
That’s offensive to Jews.
That’s offensive to Romans.
That’s especially offensive to Americans.
But that’s what Jesus calls people to. Not the ornamented, decorated, gilded trinket that we have made it into, but the crude, splintered, blood spattered crossbeam upon which we all must die if we are to truly live. That’s the hardest part about the teachings of Jesus … the only way to life is death, and the only way to spiritual power and glory is suffering. The promise on the other side of the cross is freedom. Spiritual power. Love. Truth. Beauty. Glory. Forgiveness. Peace. Life. Hope.
Are you prepared to be a loser according to the values of this world in the eyes of your church? Your family? Your co-workers? Your classmates? Are you prepared to go wherever God wants you to go and do whatever God wants you to do regardless of personal, emotional, physical, psychological cost to yourself? Are you ready to join a movement of which the only logical outcome is getting nailed to a cross?
That’s tough. Sometimes I’m not sure I am either…