The cross has been a symbol of the Christian faith for centuries. Crosses are seen affixed to places of worship and outlined on Bibles and hymnals. Often, you can see people wearing crosses as pendants as well. Yet, it is questionable if people really understand the relevance of the cross for the Christian life and walk. When thinking of the cross, we are immediately reminded of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The cross was a cruel instrument of capital punishment that was used by the Persians and later, at the time of Jesus, by the Romans. The writers of the New Testament vividly describe the agony of the Lord on the cross. His death on the cross was the atonement for the sins of the world.
Is the cross relevant for our walk with Jesus today?
Among other things, scripture also uses the cross in a figurative sense. Jesus Himself makes mention of the cross when speaking on the subject of following Him. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). This indicates that a willingness to bear the cross is required of the followers of Jesus. Yet, this is in direct contrast with how many perceive the Christian life to be. Nonetheless, the Lord set it as a test for His real followers. What does the cross symbolize?
This is certainly a foreign concept in today’s self-centered and wealth-driven society. People are taught from an early age to assert themselves and to defend themselves, but never to deny themselves. Self-denial is considered to be a sign of weakness, that one should never display. Still, Jesus repeatedly makes reference to self-denial, setting it up as a mark that sets His followers apart: “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple”( Luke 14:27). As a follower of Jesus there is a cross to bear, a cross that must be taken up by each disciple. It is not something that we are afflicted with. It is a price we are willing to pay to suffer for the sake of Christ and the cross.
In Luke 14:33 Jesus says: “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” There is ample evidence that the Lord included material possessions in this requirement. In a time where the trend is to amass as much wealth as possible and by any means, for many this seems too high of a price to pay in order to be a real Christian. With a “me first” mentality the very idea of forsaking something is contrary to one’s logic. It is all about my comfort, my benefit, my feelings, my rights, and so on. Sadly, some are tailoring the gospel to this mindset and promise people health and riches if they only accept Jesus. How disappointed such persons must be when they learn that Jesus actually asks them for self-denial and self-sacrifice.
A healthy relationship with Jesus not only requires the sacrifice of one’s self and one’s body, but also of one’s possessions. Of the Christians in the early church we read: “Neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own” (Acts 4:32). The circumstances of the early church in Jerusalem were such that great sacrifices had to be made in order to feed the multitude of believers. The people of God showed liberality in sacrificing for the benefit of others. The cross-bearer of today must also be freed from the drive to accumulate wealth in order to be obedient to the Spirit of Christ. Paul endeavored to show people what the Christian life was all about and reminded them, “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said: ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). In a self-seeking society it is difficult to be free from the spirit of accumulation. One messenger of God insisted that “a person is not really converted until his money purse is converted”.
Abraham was a rich man in his time, but he still put God first in his life. Neither his possessions nor his own son obscured his love for God. Job was a man of great wealth but after losing everything he could still say: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). One outstanding disciple of Jesus in the early church was a man named Barnabas, who owned a parcel of land that he sold and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. His services and actions toward others gained him the name “Barnabas,” which means Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36).
How can we tell if the Cross is relevant in our lives?
The Lord Jesus set before the people two distinguishing marks:
1. Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness!”
The life and attitude of the Christian must show that the kingdom of God is valued above all else. As evidence we see a visible willingness to support the work of the kingdom with time, effort, and money.
2. Matthew 10:37: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me!”
First, God’s kingdom is to be esteemed above the things of this world. Secondly, the love for God is to be supreme. Not even our closest family members are to stand in the way of our love and dedication to Christ. How vividly Abraham demonstrated this by being willing to sacrifice the son of his love in obedience to God. Christ revealed His love to us in His sacrifice on the cross. Christians show their love to God in demonstrating the relevance of the cross in their lives by their own sacrifice to the Lord and their obedience to the gospel. How does your personal walk with God show the relevance of the cross in your life?