Holy Week will soon be upon us ~ my favorite week of the year. Better, in my opinion, than Christmas, where it’s so easy to focus on the physical traditions instead of the miracle. Because this week is all about the miracle. The miracle that rewrote history, restored us to God, brought eternity to us all.

Holy Week will soon be upon us, and so I’m starting to think about what that means. Especially this year, when normal traditions have been, er, interrupted. Last weekend, one of the verses my dad read was from Luke 9:23-24.

23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. (NKJV)

There are four occasions recorded in the New Testament where Jesus gives this instruction: Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Mark 10:21, and this one in Luke. Three of those four are the same conversation, delivered to the disciples very near His telling them about His own death and resurrection. The one in Mark 10 is in the conversation with the rich young ruler. 

I remember being very struck by this upon doing a study of the cross years ago–because while obviously Jesus could well know the very means by which He would die, it’s still rather striking that He would talk about it so particularly before it happens, right? That He would use as an illustration the very thing that would take on such significance for Christians throughout history. And more, that He would talk about it as something those who follow Him must do.

But that’s exactly what He says. For those who wish to follow Him, we must do a few things. Deny ourselves. Take up our cross. Follow. Put Him above our own lives, our own families, our own dreams. Be willing, day by day and month by month, to move toward our own destruction if it means building His kingdom.

The passage I quoted above in Luke is the only one that adds “daily,” but I found it an interesting addition. Because it hammered home that following Him is not a one-time decision. Giving up everything isn’t a burden we accept once. Sacrificing our will to His isn’t a quick, easily-endured discomfort.

It’s something we have to make the conscious effort to do EVERY DAY.
And it’s supposed to HURT.

We don’t like that, do we? We love the verse that says, “my yoke is easy and my burden light.” These ones that talk about torture and martyrdom and death and pain and war in our own families…yeah, not so much fun. Why in the world would anyone sign up for THAT?

And Jesus makes it even harder. You want to follow? Then you commit fully. You let the dead bury their own dead. You don’t even say goodbye to your family and friends. You just go, because He is right there, but He won’t stay in one place for long. He’s set His face toward Jerusalem, toward His OWN sacrifice, and if you want to be there to witness it, there is no time for farewells.

I don’t think I realized until just that moment that the surrounding verses in Luke, in which Jesus replies to various people who say they want to follow, just not yet, are set just days before the beginning of Holy Week with the triumphal entry. In the other Gospels, the same conversations are put in different places chronologically. So maybe I shouldn’t focus too much on that. But I’m going to let it percolate anyway.

Because those people who chose to stay with father and mother and children and home and land and responsibilities and security…those people who shied away from the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable and the unknowable–they missed something miraculous. They missed witnessing the ultimate Passover Sacrifice. They missed being there for the ultimate triumph of His resurrection.
When He calls us–to whatever He calls us–what do we miss if we hem and haw and look behind us instead of forward, toward Him? What miracles do we not get to participate in?

And then back to my main point. What crosses do we have that we pick up daily? What sacrifices do we make day after day? What decisions do we make to put His above Ours?

It’s not meant to be easy. It’s guaranteed to hurt. So why would we sign up for that? Because the best things in life are only gained through the hard stuff. And unlike the other gods throughout history that demanded a sacrifice for their own pleasure, our Lord takes no Joy from the pain–no, He instead took the pain, lived the pain, embraced the pain for us, in a way we can never do, to show us what perfect love looks like. He doesn’t demand we suffer just so He can laugh at us. No, He instead demands that we remove whatever lies between us and Him. It’s our own fault if we’re holding so tightly to it that the removal hurts. It isn’t the pain of the surgery He wants from us–it’s the result.
Why does He ask us to take up our cross every day? Because putting on the burden of His message reminds us daily of what our true work is. Hard to ignore the cross on your shoulder, right? It’s heavy. But carrying it will make us strong–for Him. And it will show the world that we’re prepared to accept the consequences of our faith. 
Because there was only one reason to carry a cross around–no one did it for fun. It led to one place. One place only. Death.
And that’s the beauty. By that cross, He defeated the very thing it signified. And so, when we’re bearing that burden, we’re also carrying that message. In this life, in this Way, there is pain and suffering and isolation and yes, even death. But there’s more than that–there’s more life than we could ever know without it. Joy beyond all happiness. Peace that transcends the wars.
Take up your cross. Not once. Daily. So we don’t miss out on being part of whatever miracles He means to do next.

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