I wrote the meditation, below, for our church newsletter after our Sunday morning worship service today (2007-11-18) in which our pastor's sermon theme was "Resurrection Living."
Could the same be said of us?
In Hebrews 11, believers are ushered into the great hall of witnesses; the faithful who have gone before us and paid a price for loving Christ more than life. Many believers today don’t realize that what you read in Hebrews 11 is still going on: "Some were laughed at. Some were whipped. Still others were held in chains. They were put in prison. Some were killed with stones. They were sawed in two. They were put to death by the sword. . . The world was not worthy of them." (Hebrews 11:35-36, 38)
What does it mean to be called "Christian"? According to the Nexus dictionary, to be called "Christian" is to follow the teachings or manifest the qualities or spirit of Jesus Christ. What did Jesus teach about persons who follow His teachings? In Matthew 10:38, He said, "And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." In Matthew 16:24, He reiterated, "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." If we wish to be known as Christians, what does Jesus Christ say we must do? Take up our cross, and follow Him.
So, what does it mean, to “take up one’s cross and follow Jesus”? There are several resources which tell us what that would mean. Let me take each, one at a time.
First, what did taking up the cross mean to Jesus? Matthew 27 tells us Jesus was stripped of his clothing, mocked by soldiers, spit upon, struck in the head (with the thorn crown biting into his scalp), forced to carry his means of execution through a largely taunting and unsympathetic crowd, offered wine mixed with gall (a digestive juice secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder; aids in digestion of fats), derided by passersby at the cross, mocked by the leading figures (i.e., chief priests, scribes and elders) of the church, and reviled by the two robbers who were crucified with Him on that day. Our Example for our Christian life was thusly treated, yet He "never said a mumbalin’ word." Continuing to look to "...Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God," (Hebrews 12:2) we see that not only did He never say a "mumbalin'" word, but that for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated today in glory.
Second, what did taking up the cross mean to His disciples? 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 tells us: "but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;. . . through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything." 2 Corinthians 12:10 reports that "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." Acts 16:23 reminds us, "And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely." Being a follower of Jesus Christ has in all ages, but never as much as today, been costly and all-demanding. In Romans 8:36, the apostle Paul wants us to know that "As it is written, for your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." Thus speaks the persecuted church of the post resurrection period.
Third, what does taking up one’s cross and carrying it mean to Christ’s Church around the world, today? Hear the testimony of five persons from within the persecuted church. In Turkey, on the morning of April 18, 2007, five young Islamic extremists tied up and barbarically tortured three Bible study leaders. Necati, Ugur, and Tillman, were stabbed all over, had their hands and other body parts chopped up and their necks slit, leaving two of them dead and one mortally wounded, who was rushed to a hospital and died even after exhausting the hospital’s supply of blood. The young men who killed them are in custody, and stated that they were "defending" their religion—Islam, in a Muslim country where there are only 3,000 Christians out of a population of 71 million. It even appears that they took notes from the Koran (Surah 8:12; "[Remember] when your Lord revealed to the angels, 'Verily, I am with you, so keep firm those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who have disbelieved, so strike them over the necks, and smite over all their fingers and toes.'") on how to torture our Christian brothers. As a result of these murders, the church in Turkey is scared, but it is also courageous. In Ethiopia, in March, 2007, violence against Christians erupted again, when Christians started an evangelism campaign in Jimma. Taddesse became a martyr when groups of radical Muslims dragged him into a Mosque and beat him to death for his bold witness to the gospel. Taddesse yearned for revival in the church. He was a strong man of prayer. His heart burned for God’s powerful and miraculous move within the church today. He was murdered while doing what he liked to do most—preaching the gospel. On May 30, 2007, the Supreme Court of Malaysia refused to rule on Christian convert Lina Joy’s request to change her legal religious status from Muslim to Christian on her government issued identification card. Instead, they handed her over to the Sharia courts. She will now be charged as an apostate and have to pay heavy fines and go to jail. In most Muslim countries, apostates face death.
Carrying one’s cross—to Jesus Christ, to the apostles, to Christians today (both martyred and enduring)—shows us examples of what we as Christians are called to do, by the One Who we call "Savior", "Lord", "Master", "King." In John's gospel, four times, Jesus Christ avers: "If you love Me, you will obey what I command." (John 14:15); "If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching." (John 14:23) In John 14:24, Jesus Christ goes on to say, "He who does NOT love Me will NOT obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent Me." (emphasis mine). Carrying one's cross: "Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also." (John 15:20) In the Bible, statements are usually not repeated like this unless the author wants to make a decided point. In this case, the point is: "Obey Jesus Christ—if you love Him."
Having read the accounts, above, the question resurfaces: Will it be said of us as members of Christ's worldwide Church, that "the world was not worthy of them"? What do we risk, to be Christ to a world that is increasingly darkening, spiritually? What are we willing to give up, that others may know Christ and the eternal hope He offers? What mind set does it take, to be obedient to Christ—to follow Him? What level of Christian commitment does it require, to be a true follower of Christ? The Apostle Paul tried to describe what it meant to him; he said, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:7-11) Does being a true follower require a martyr's spirit? As a pastor recently stated, no one seeks to be a martyr. With few exceptions, that is true; but Christ says true followers who love Him will (1) obey Him, and (2) be persecuted (as their master was persecuted) because of their living out of their faith, in the world. In the apostle Paul's testimony, it took repudiation of worldly stature, denial of self, and willingness to suffer the loss of all things (counting them as garbage). Why did he hold such an "extreme" view? Let Paul tell you: "That I may know him [Jesus Christ, risen Lord] and the power of his resurrection... may share in his sufferings...becoming like him in his death...that by any means possible, I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
A question has been asked: "where do I fit in the range from 1 to 10, where 1 or 0 would be considered an out-and-out atheist, and a 10 would reflect a Bible-thumping evangelist or preacher"? Most of us would probably respond, "about 4, maybe 5 or 6". It has been suggested that persons who rated themselves "4", "5" or "6" comprised the members of the church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:15-22). If it seems that the fire has gone out, in one's spiritual life, one should consider Jesus' words to the Church at Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) and take them to heart—rescue that which is dying. Andre Crouch wrote a stirring song, entitled "Take Me Back" to the place in my life where I first believed. He knew about having a deadened spirit. We need to take care in our own spiritual lives, to strengthen that which is dying. (Revelation 3:2a) We cannot rest in the past; it is our faith and our works that do matter to God, today.
The choir anthem sung today in our local church, was “A Life in God” with lyrics by R.B. Arctander. Read the lyrics, below:
A life in God, a life in God!
And not some scattered Sundays,
Nor just a little while at morn or eve;
But let thy ev'ry breath be dedicated to God,
That blest by Him thy service be.
A life in God, a life in God!
Not sickness-wasted powers,
Not sighs and moans of deep despondency;
But yield thy youthful joy and manhood’s vigor to God,
That blest by Him thy service be.
Through Jesus Christ, God says to us as Christians, "...If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it." Mark 8:34b We know what it means to Jesus, to the apostles and to the worldwide church—to carry one's cross. We know that we are to obey Christ's commands: to love one another (John 13:34), to glorify God in all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31), to go and make disciples (Matthews 28:19a), to share the Good News of the Gospel with a dying world, to... Do we obey? Or to Christ’s face, do we individually say "No!"?
It takes wisdom to accomplish obedience, and James 1:5 says that God will freely give wisdom to those who ask. Fire up, risk that which you cannot take with you to your funeral (let alone your grave), study God’s Word every day (don't just read it), test all things (as the Bereans did [cf. Acts 17:11]), pray powerfully (James 5:16b), forsake the chaff of human/worldly pleasure, throw off the burden of sin, and obey Jesus (if we indeed love Him; John 14:15)—carry your individual cross, and be known as a Christian of whom "the world is not worthy."