In Luke 9:23 Jesus told his disciples, “If you wish to become one of my disciples then it means denying yourselves, taking up a cross daily, and following me.”
But what did Jesus mean by that? Well, dissecting that verse bit by bit, it was a huge honour, first of all, for a Jew in Jesus’ day to become a disciple of a famous rabbi. It was also a huge responsibility. To quote one source, “Disciples would live with the rabbi twenty-four hours a day, walking from town to town, teaching, working, eating, and studying. They would discuss the Scriptures and apply them to their lives. The disciples were also supposed to be the rabbi’s servants, submitting to his authority while they served his needs. Indeed, the word ‘rabbi’ means ‘my master,’ and was a term of great respect” (‘Discipleship in the context of Judaism in Jesus’ time’ Part 1, page 217)
So that covers the “denying yourselves” bit, because a disciple meant having to give up job and family to dedicate his life to his rabbi. But what about “taking up a cross daily”? What does that mean?
There’s a clue in verses 24-25 when Jesus adds, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”
From Jesus’ perspective, gaining the whole world doesn’t compare to what he has to offer. According to his teaching, the best thing for you and me cannot be found in anything in this world, or in trying to preserve and fill our lives by what the world has to offer.
That’s quite a statement, and especially when Jesus compares what he has to offer instead to “taking up a cross.” Because a cross to a Jew of Jesus’ day meant pain, humiliation and death. To take up or carry a cross meant you were opening yourself up to public ridicule, contempt, and even hatred. But according to Jesus that would not remotely compare to the awful loss to oneself of choosing anything above him, including one’s own family (Luke 14:25-27).
And why would that be? Because we’ve learnt from bitter experience that there’s nothing in this world that can stop the madness. Year after year we do terrible things to each other, and we live much of our own daily lives in subjection to our weaknesses, frustration, and slavery to our emotions – and with no solution in sight or the means to stop it either.
But Jesus showed us there is a solution. It’s taking up a cross, which he pictured in his own life as giving up his life for others. He emptied himself of all personal ambitions and the desire to impress, and chose a life of service, tenderness and compassion instead, even if it killed him (Philippians 2:3-8).
And the proof that such a life worked was his resurrection from the dead and “exaltation by God to the highest place” (Philippians 2:9). Oh, so it’s God who notices, God who appreciates such a life, and God who rewards it. To take up a similar cross willingly and daily, then, has God’s appreciative attention too, as we see in the life of Cornelius in Acts 10:1-4.
Jesus lived the solution to our madness, and then, remarkably, by making us his disciples, he enables us to live and learn that solution too. And, as Paul realized, it has everything to do with taking up a cross daily, or as he phrased it in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
So how do we take up a cross daily? By Christ living everything that he lived in us, and depending on him faithfully doing that for us, every day.