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Aug 12, 2018 | Kristin Beeman

Take up your cross

Mark 8:34-38

How many of you have a cross somewhere on something you own?

Maybe a piece of jewelry, a pillow, a blanket, or something else?

The cross is a symbol of our faith. We talk about it and sing about it, we look to the cross because that is where Jesus sacrificed himself for us and won our salvation through victory over sin, death, hell, and the grave.

The cross to us is not what the cross was to the people in the first century, who were living during the time of Jesus. To them, it was nothing to look to in a positive light and certainly nothing to be cling to.

“Everything uncomfortable about Christianity begins with and returns to the cross.”- Brett McCracken

#1- At the center of the Christian faith is the cross- an execution device.

Mark 8:34-38 (NIV)

The Way of the Cross

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

When speaking to a crowd, which Jesus often did, he tells them all that in order to be His disciples they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him.

I often try to think of how words spoken by Jesus and some of the early church leaders would have been received in the context in which they were originally spoken. What do I mean by that? What I’m saying is this, when someone in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus heard Him say that to be his disciples meant they had to align themselves in any way with a cross, it would’ve been completely different than the way we hear it now.


Because to us, the cross is a symbol, but to them, it was an execution device. If you put this in a more contemporary context it would be as if Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their electric chair and follow me.” That sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it?

Something I often think about is the fact that we don’t have all the details when reading scripture as the people did who read it when it was written, and an example I always give for that is the crucifixion. We know what crucifixion is, we know what happened on the cross, but the cultural implications of the cross, the gruesome nature of crucifixion, those details are often lost to us because we read about them in a different context.

When we think of an electric chair or lethal injection as capital punishment for the crimes someone has committed that makes sense to us. But for people in the first century, during the time of Jesus, that’s what the cross meant to them. There aren’t many details about what crucifixion really is and what it really meant for Jesus physically, mentally, and emotionally because the people who originally read the letters and stories of the New Testament didn’t need those details, they knew what someone really went through when they were crucified.

In his book “The Case for Easter,” Lee Strobel gives us details of the severity of crucifixion which would always begin before the person to be crucified even got to the cross.

People who were being crucified were convicted criminals and the process of crucifixion began with flogging. Roman floggings usually consisted of 39 lashes but often there were more than that depending on the mood of the soldier doing the flogging. The person would be flogged with a whip of braided leather with metal balls woven into them. The whip would strike the flesh and the balls would cause deep bruises or contusions which would break open further with each blow. The braids also had pieces of bone in them as well which would cut the flesh. Sometimes a person’s back was shredded to the point that their spine was exposed by the cuts which would start as high as the shoulders and go as low as the back of the legs. Often people would die from the beatings before they were crucified. Those who did not would experience tremendous pain and go into hypovolemic shock.

Hypovolemic shock means that someone is suffering the effects of losing a large amount of blood. This causes four things to happen. First, the heart races to pump blood that isn’t there, then the blood pressure drops causing fainting or collapse, then the kidneys stop producing urine to maintain what volume is left, and lastly the person becomes very thirsty because the body is craving liquids to replace the lost blood volume. All of this happens before the actual cross.

Then, specifically in the case of Jesus but others as well we see him carrying his cross. What he would’ve carried was the crossbar, not the entire cross, but he carried this heavy piece of wood on his back which was already bleeding and laid bare.

When he arrived at the place of his crucifixion Jesus was nailed to the cross with spikes that were 5 to 7 inches long and tapered with a point. He would’ve been nailed in his wrists, which were considered to be part of the hand in the language and culture which is why biblical writers said hands. Because if anyone had been nailed to a cross in the palm of their hand they would have fallen off the cross, so the nails went through the wrists. Where the nail was placed is where the median nerve runs through our wrists, which would be the equivalent to someone squeezing a crushing a nerve, like the nerve you hit when you hit your funny bone. A pain Jesus would experience again when they nailed his feet to the cross.

When they nailed a person’s wrists to the cross they would first stretch the person’s arms out close to six inches causing both shoulders to be dislocated. Then as the person is placed into the air vertically, they literally hang from the cross by their feet and wrists.

Crucifixion is then essentially an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation. For a person hanging on a cross, the option to breath out meant that they would have to push up on their feet in order to put their body into a position to exhale. Then to inhale they would have to put themselves back down. Each time they pushed up with their feet to exhale they would tear through their feet and continually rub their beaten and bloody back up and down against the wood of the cross. Eventually, Their breathing would slow and they would begin to have an irregular heartbeat and that would lead to cardiac arrest which causes the person to die.

The pain someone endured on the cross was so absolutely unbearable that there literally was not a word to describe it so they had to invent a new word excruciating mean “out of the cross.” Think of that, they needed to create a new word because there was nothing in the language that could describe the intense anguish caused during the crucifixion.

Why am I telling you all this today? Not to gross you out or make things difficult for you, but to remind you that at the center of our faith is the cross, a symbol to us, but a source of death to our savior. And when Jesus spoke these words from Mark 8 to his original hearers, they didn’t see the cross as a symbol. What they heard Jesus say was confusing and disturbing, even terrifying, it most definitely wasn’t a sign of hope. Jesus was being completely honest with his followers… this isn’t going to be comfortable.

Jesus is being completely honest with us, with the same words, if you want to be my disciple, take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me, this isn’t going to be comfortable.  

#2- Following Jesus means denying ourselves and taking up our own crosses

What Jesus was telling them and is telling us is that when we choose Jesus we choose the cross. We choose to deny ourselves and our will and we choose to follow Jesus. Jesus goes on to question us saying “what good is it for someone to have everything they think they want or need but in the end lose their soul? Or what is valuable enough to you that you would choose that thing or those things over your own soul?

John Stott said, “The gospel will never be a popular message because it humbles the pride of our intellect and character.”

The cross and the requirements Jesus gives us to be his followers are not popular in our world today because they require you to be humble, to be a servant, to die to yourself and your desires for the sake of “invisible gain.”

There are ways in which Jesus will ask you to deny yourself throughout your relationship with him that you will never see the benefit of until heaven.

That makes no sense to people in this world today who work for tangible results and cannot be bothered to work for something that they cannot immediately benefit from.

Taking up your cross means loss and gain.

Loss of being your own boss. For as much as we want to have complete control over our lives, following Jesus requires a surrender of will.

Loss of consumer religion. Christianity is about sacrifice, service, and commitment regardless of what your faith gets you.

Loss of pride. We’re prideful creatures and that makes it hard for us to stomach the fact that words like “earning” and “deserving” are not part of the vocabulary of grace and that that fact applies to all people, regardless of how we feel about them.

Loss of power, coolness, and cultural respectability. Christianity calls people to ways of living that are decidedly uncool, politically incorrect, and just plain weird.

Loss of health, wealth, and comfort. Suffering is perhaps the most literally “uncomfortable” thing about following Jesus that nevertheless grows us, strengthening our bonds as people that suffer together, deepening our devotion to and identification with Christ.

The gain. Every loss that we endure in the process of taking up our cross is worth it. In Christ, weakness, suffering, and loss are not the end of the story. They lead to victory, resurrection, and eternal gain.

C.S. Lewis concluded his book Mere Christianity with this

“Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it… Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him, everything else thrown in.”

During the time of Jesus’ ministry, he was seen by many people and followed by many people. They knew his name, they knew where he was and who he belonged to. They knew where to find him and were always wondering what he might do next and were always hoping to see something great come from him. Many “people wanted to see His miracles, but they had little desire to submit to His message.” Because the message Jesus shared was a message of suffering a message that involved a cross.

The disciples knew this. They knew that Jesus called them to follow Him and that whatever happened to Him would happen to them. They knew that if his future included a cross then theirs did as well.

There is a price to pay for true discipleship. Jesus laid down three conditions for true discipleship.

  1. We must surrender ourselves completely to Him
  2. We must identify with Him in His suffering and death
  3. We must follow Him obediently, wherever He leads

We must deny ourselves in order to follow Jesus and even though you may have already made the choice to follow Jesus years ago, the truth about discipleship is that it requires you to daily die to yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. It is never a once and done decision. It is a daily commitment to the plan and purposes of the Father.

But remember the motivation of a true disciple is that we do all this for the sake of the gospel. Not for our individual gain or purpose. Because we live for Jesus, we live for others. Because we choose to deny ourselves and follow Jesus our lives count toward something that is beyond us and has the power to impact the lives of people all around us.   

Warren Wiersbe said “Note the severe warning Jesus give us here: once we have spent our lives, we cannot buy them back! Discipleship is a matter of profit and loss, a question of whether we will waste our lives or invest our lives.”

When Jesus says What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? He is telling us that losing your soul is the equivalent of wasting your life and missing the great opportunities God gives you to make your life count.

If we could exchange our souls for the things that this world considers to be great. If we spend our lives making ourselves successful in the eyes of men but lose our souls in the process, what will we be left with?

God promises suffering, but in the end, that suffering is transformed into glory.

I understand that parts of this message are uncomfortable. I understand that there are days where the idea of dying to ourselves and our desires is extremely difficult. I also understand that Jesus didn’t present this message as optional for those who choose to live for Him.

So, what does that mean for us right now?

  1. Have you chosen Jesus to be the ruler of your life? This is two-fold. First, have you committed your life to Jesus and accepted Him as your Savior? If not, I would like to give you a chance to do that. The second part is this if you are saved, are you honestly and sincerely allowing Jesus to be the ruler of your life?
  2. Remember the cross for what it truly was. The cross is a symbol for us, but it should mean so much more to us that any symbol.
  3. Take a serious look at your life and be honest with yourself about whether or not you are choosing to follow Jesus in the way we talked about today. Are you truly choosing each day to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus? If not, figure out why and make a change.


Series Information

This series by Pastor Kristin is based on the book, Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community.