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“LET HIM TAKE UP HIS CROSS.”
By Rev.John Thomas.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever looses his live for Me will find it’” (Matt. 16 v25-26).
There is a misrepresentation of this “taking up” of the Cross which draws men away from the real centre of things. We hear people saying, ‘I have this cross to bear, and that cross to bear’, but this word and any reference in the Bible to a cross, does not mean that sort of thing at all. The cross that any one took up was the cross to be crucified on. Jesus carried his cross to Calvary in order that He might be crucified on it, and when a disciple is told that he is to take up his cross and follow Jesus, it means that he is going along with Jesus, following Him up to Calvary to be crucified there. Burdens, troubles, afflictions, tribulations, trials, are not a cross. The cross leads to the place of crucifixion, and so we come right to the centre of things at once, Calvary both for Jesus and for his disciples. There are burdens and difficulties, but it is only in God’s plan of redemption that there is a cross, and that cross begins with Jesus and includes His people; and the cross from beginning to end is the instrument of crucifixion.
This statement of our Lord arises very naturally from Peter’s refusal of the cross for his Master. Read the previous verses. Jesus had told them that He was to be delivered to the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and rise again the third day. Peter took Him and began to rebuke Him. A cross indeed! “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” We will see that this does not happen - we are in for a crown not a cross! But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan”. The Satanic presence was obviously there, and Peter allowed himself to be the instrument to speak his will. Then Jesus said, ‘There is not only a cross for Me, but you are to be crucified there too. Instead of your preventing Me from being crucified, you are going to follow Me, and you have to follow Me if you are to be My disciples’.
1. The Crucifixion of Christ.
The central fact in our text is the crucifixion of Christ the Son of God. “Follow Me”, that means, I am going to be crucified. My cross is going to be the central fact of all that I have come to do. This cross is the central glory of God’s universe, that rude, rugged cross. That terrible thing that broke down the Saviour’s strength as He was bearing it. In that little land of Palestine, upon a little hill outside Jerusalem, there was a rude cross erected, and in the midst of a rabble, a Galilean peasant went out to be crucified. That event was the central glory of God’s universe from the beginning to the end of time, right into eternity.
What did they think of that episode? A little, crude tragedy? Yet that cross was the central splendour of God’s heart and God’s love and God’s righteousness and God’s power. It was the central glory of the world because it was the central glory of the life of the Son of God. There the cloud fell from the eyes of those who were crucifying Him, there was Incarnate God. God had come down from heaven to work the greatest wonder of His wisdom and power. “Truly”, said the centurion, “this was the Son of God”. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross”. And there Jesus, the Son of God, who had disrobed Himself of the eternal glories as God in the eternal state of splendour, there He found the central glory of His own being; there He manifested His splendour as He never could anywhere else. There He got to the heart of His mighty triumph. He had created the heavens and the earth and the systems of the universe, “through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made”. That was glorious, but in Calvary we have the glory that excels, for by His blood He laid the foundations of His eternal kingdom at Calvary.
I am not surprised that Satan is continually trying to minimise the cross, because there lies the way by which he shall be broken. As I read my New Testament I am bound to make the death of Christ central. I have heard it said that it is not the death of Christ that matters, but His life. My answer to that is, go to your New Testament and mark every reference to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, and see what you have left.
So, come to the cross. Is it the place of the martyr? Think of Latimer and Ridley, with their fingers flaming, and hear Latimer say, “Be of good cheer brother Ridley, for we shall light a candle in England to-day that shall never be put out”. And we learn that whatever we may have to suffer for Christ, we can still sing in the deep waters. But Jesus did not sing, He cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” - “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me”? The darkness was absolute, as He trod the winepress alone.
I cannot understand those who say that the crucifixion is a manifestation of love and yet deny the vicarious sacrifice. There is no manifestation of love without the vicarious sacrifice. Apart from that He is only flinging away His life for no reason at all.
What was it? “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself”. What does that mean? That word reconcile is a very difficult word to translate from the Greek. It can be translated “God was in Christ making friends with the world”. The friendship was in God, not in the world and that is the proper meaning of the word as I find it in the New Testament. “I implore you in Christ’s stead, be reconciled to God”. God was in Christ making a reconciliation with the world. That is the meaning. “If your brother has anything against you, first be reconciled to your brother”, not if you have something against your brother, but he against you, make a friend of him. When the New Testament says “be reconciled with God” it means make a friend of God, for He is already a Friend to you.
God was in Christ conducting the reconciliation of Himself with the world, making friends with the world, so that there could no longer be a barrier on God’s side. The barriers are all on our side. That was the meaning of Calvary. The frown of God’s eternal judgment upon sin was cancelled at the Cross and God was ready and able to make friends, “a just God and a Saviour”.
2. Crucifixion in Christ.
This is the usual point that is emphasised concerning the cross. We are crucified IN Christ. We have DIED in Christ. “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. Now this must be approached as the mediatorial sin atonement for mankind. Jesus our great representative, gathering up our fallen humanity into His own great boundless life. How can one man bear the guilt of another? It is not fair! Of course it is not fair. Who ever said that one man bore the sins of another? “Great is the mystery of godliness. God manifest in the flesh”, not one man bearing the sins of another. He is the all-inclusive, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. His life is vaster than a million humanities. I believe that the sacrifice on Calvary could have saved a million worlds, but nothing less than the pouring out of the soul of the Divine Man could have saved a single soul, and once it had been poured out it was like the boundless ocean of God’s love, without shore. “For in Christ all the fulness of the Deity lives in bodily form”, that is your guarantee. The sinless One, the maker of our race, the fashioner of our humanity, the Lord of the ages, it is HE that has gathered up for Himself our little race, into His own great heart, and sucked out the poison, and made salvation possible for whoever will believe in Him. The GOD-MAN is representative and substitute and so everyone can say, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me”. My little life was there, it could not be left out because His mighty sacrifice was great enough to take in all the guilt and sin of countless multitudes.
‘When I survey the wondrous Cross on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.’
And that is the simple way of salvation. The beginning, not the end. Just accept what Christ has done for you. His ransom. His bearing of your cross. That is the entrance into life.
3. Crucifixion with Christ.
“If anyone will come after Me, let him take up his cross and follow Me”. What for? It is to be crucified with Christ. The cross of the disciple and the cross of the Master are merged in one. It is to be crucified in fellowship with Christ, and therefore with Christ. There is only one cross. When you take up your cross to be crucified and mount the hill Calvary, you discover it is His cross. Crucified with Him. We find ourselves crucified in Christ, and our sins are washed away in His blood, and then we accept the fellowship of His death and consent to be nailed to the cross with Him. We die with Him.
We are at the beginning of a great story now. We die to the law and the judgment, and the curse and menace of the law no longer have any power for us. Christ nailed the ‘writing’ that was against us, all the curses of the law and their power to judge and condemn us, to the cross, and there they remain for all who are crucified with Him. We are no longer under the law, we are dead to it. We are dead also to the dominion of sin. Free from the law, yes, but free unto holiness, not free to sin. “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” It would be a very bad thing to die to the law and to be alive to sin! But the same hand that nails the law to the cross nails sin to the cross and we are dead to sin that we may live unto holiness. We are also dead to the dominion of Satan.
4. Resurrection with Christ.
“Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever looses his life for Me will save it”. You rise again, death is not the last word. Death is only the gateway into life, the condition of life. Do not forget that we need the resurrection of Christ to complete the Calvary work. He died for our sins and rose again for our justification. The resurrection would have been impossible without the mighty victory of Calvary. On the other hand, Calvary would have been a defeat if there had been no resurrection. We are risen with Christ. If we follow Him we are going to find our life, to rise again, and we do not have to wait for the morning of the third day, we rise immediately because Christ has settled the matter.
What does life mean? We sometimes leave out some very wonderful things. Life involves personality. When I rise with Christ I am somebody. It is a great thing to realise that Christ has come, not to make nobodies of us but to make something worth looking at. He is going to be “admired” in His saints, and glorified in them that believe. He is going to be proud of them. Depreciate yourselves as much as you like, but do not depreciate the New Man that Christ has made within you. “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” We want to live for the glory of God, which is perfectly right, but God is also spending a lot of thought upon making beautiful beings out of us. That is why He is taking such pains with us. “They shall be Mine”, says the Lord, “when I make up My jewels”. I am glad to believe that He is making something of me that He can look at with pride. “I am going to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there you may be also”. I cannot live without you any longer.
But personality involves development, an onward movement according to God’s will, day by day, working out in us, “to will and to do His good pleasure”. If you want to know the will of God, here it is, “To the law and to the testament. If they walk not according to this law, surely there is no life in them”.
Then personality involves defence. Life is to be defended. That is the history of things in this world of ours. Defence, in our case, against the world, the flesh and the devil. If you have the new life, unquestionably you are up against it, up against Satanic power. But we are well fortified. We have ample and complete resources in Calvary and the empty grave. In the crucified and risen Christ we have ample resources, and they are within the reach of every believer. I do not know why people object to the word ‘overcomer’, because every believer must be an overcomer. If you are not an overcomer you will be overcome.
There are resources, and thank God they are being used by thousands, by praying Christians who have not yet received all the light and illumination that I believe the Lord has been pleased to give. For even when there is not full knowledge there is still the Saviour, ‘and Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees’. That does not mean that it is useless to understand the devices and strategy of the Evil One. It is most important and useful. You need to employ all knowledge to meet this Satanic enemy, to defeat him and to stop his ravages. But there are times when we cannot exactly see what his strategy is, it baffles us, and no one should think that you must know every technical stratagem of Satan before he can be defeated. If I do not know, my Lord knows, and when I am baffled I say, ‘Lord, I do not know this particular business, but You know it altogether, and I stand with You at Calvary, and in Your resurrection. Fight the devil for me and drive him away’. When we get to extremities, the Lord is just in His glory and will work for us.
And above all things, be fearless. That does not mean be foolish. “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation”. It means that you do this with a sure confidence that you are victorious through your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and are not going to win by a narrow and uncertain margin. We are more than conqueror through Him that loves us.
Life involves self expression. In proportion as you express your life you keep it. God wants witnesses. Life must witness, or it will dwindle. He wants you to go out now with the fulness of your resources in Jesus Christ and gather in others that shall swell the chorus and sing aloud, “The Lord God Omnipotent Reigns”.