Matthew 16:24-28 (ESV)
Then Jesus told his disciples, "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 will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?  For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.  Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."
The cross. Jesus knew where he was going. Jesus knew what had to be done. It was the cross. We who follow him, we who believe in him are given our own crosses to bear. So often this is made as justification for legalism in the church. This is not picking up our crosses. The cross is never about legalism, it is about grace. Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
In the early church there was actually a time when Christians would volunteer to be crucified, imprisoned, hung, burned, thrown to lions, drowned and so on in the name of Christ. When persecution of the church was the official policy of the Roman Empire, they would out themselves. They wanted to lose their life for Christ. For a while the Romans obliged them. Some governors though found their penchant for being killed to be vile, they stopped doing it. They told the people to go commit suicide themselves if they wanted to die so badly.
Right. This was so misguided. It isn’t for us to choose how we suffer or how we die on account of Christ. Our crosses are given to us. They are given to us in our vocations. Yes our vocations, not our vocation, but vocations. Every Christian has several. We have a vocation where we work. But our vocations also encompass other aspects of life. Where we are in family, and in community. Being a mother and father is a vocation. Being a friend is a vocation. Being a citizen of the community is a vocation. And it is here within these vocations, where we go about our daily tasks, doing what our parents ask of us, and providing for our children that we are given our crosses.
The crosses are those things other religions see as bad, or things that should be eschewed. Buddhism avoids the cross, to be a good Buddhist is to withdraw from society and the blessings thereof, to then also withdraw from the suffering therein. Christianity is different. Christ encourages family, even as he forbids the love of family over that of him. It is within community, society, and family that we suffer as Christians, even as it is here that we are blessed as Christians with the first article gifts, the daily bread given to all. It is here in taking care of our children, that as any parent knows, comes with a lot of suffering and self sacrifice. Or as a Child doing the will of his or her parents that we suffer. Perhaps we suffer in other areas too, and yet we never forsake Christ on account of these worldly sufferings. Others are tempted to blame God for the suffering and abandon the faith, mad that God has not removed these crosses from their lives. Christians suffer them and thank God for the opportunity to be a blessing to others.
We don’t need to make silly rules for ourselves and consider it our cross that we have to live different from the rest of the world. Instead we live by the moral standards of our faith, realizing that these are not for the benefit of us personally but of others, summarized by love. Through them we love our neighbor. Yet this does not always distinguish us from our neighbors, and even when we do the best we can we fall short. We return to Christ and his forgiveness. And then live in the world while not being of it. This is not as so many like to interpret about giving up “vices”, especially those of which God’s word says nothing about at all. We avoid sin, but we let God’s word tell us what is and isn’t sin. But it is about loving our neighbor, loving our brother and sister, our children and our parents in the name of Christ, even as we live in this world. It is not about making ourselves into annoying Bible thumping moral crusaders, who no longer know how to associate with the sinners of this world. We are all sinners, its high time we stopped acting like we aren’t.