There was a day in the middle of all the hoopla, when great crowds were streaming after him in the fever of bandwagon excitement, that the Master turned to them and said something they surely didn't expect; something we don't care much for; something we "explain" by assuring ourselves of what it does not mean. He said: "If any one comes to me and hates not his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:25-27)
"Cannot be my disciple." He says it three times in nine verses so I presume he meant us to take it seriously. If you don't hate father and mother you can't be my disciple. If you don't take up your own cross and follow me you can't be my disciple. If you don't renounce all you have you can't be my disciple (14:33). What's he got against families and parents? What's he got against my wanting to live life with my own agenda?
None of this has that soothing sound we'd expect from a "gentle Jesus meek and mild" but it wasn't the only time he said something like that. Earlier he spoke of his own approaching violent death and immediately added (Luke 9:23-24), "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whosoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it." There's that cross business again and what's worse he has thrown in a "daily" experience of it. It's not very soothing. On the whole I think we prefer the sound of, By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you love one another. There's room to maneuver in those words, you can sort of debate what love is and who's included in one another; besides, the word "love" has that wooing sound we like so much.
Take up your cross every day and follow me. There's something flat and toneless, something uncompromising about a stake that's cut to get yourself hung on. "You want to be mine?" he asks, eyeing one of the big pre-prepared stakes lying around. "Grab one of those and follow me."
I suppose there are some things you could never say with a smile and that might be one of them.
It was probably on that very occasion when he said he was to be die violently at the hands of the religious leaders that Peter strenuously objected to that kind of talk (Matthew 16:21-23). I might have said Jesus was irritated by Peter's, "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you" except that I think that "irritated" isn't nearly strong enough. I think Jesus was passionately angry with his friend. I wonder what made Jesus so inflexible when it came to the cross issue? "Get behind me, Satan!" he says to Peter. "You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men."
What do you make of that?
Then turning to the rest of the disciples he said abruptly, "If any man would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." What's all this taking up crosses business?
And "follow" him; follow him where? Where do we think he was going dragging a cross?
And, again, what does he have against parents and families that would lead him to talk like this (Matthew 10:34-37): "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law and a man's enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."
Whatever else is true about all this, cross bearing must become personal to us for we're told to take up "our" cross. Luke has Christ speaking to "all" and speaking of "any man" so the call to take up the cross is not confined to a particular group of disciples or leaders. And we're told that it is to be a "daily" experience (Luke 9:23). It's clear from this that the call is not just an initial commitment but something that is to be renewed as discipleship develops.
It is perfectly proper to emphasize the cross of Christ as God's initiative and God's self-revelation and it's proper to teach that this divine initiative and self-revelation is the ground for all human response. After we have done all our obeying we recognize that it is all God's drawing (John 6:44,65; 12:32) and after we've worked ourselves into a well-earned grave for God we will gladly confess that it was the grace of God in us that worked in us (1 Corinthians 15:10). All of that is true but this also is true: We must obey and work and make the cross our own. Words have no meaning if our response is not required in the words, "If any man will come after me let him take up his cross and follow me."
We know what God's view of and purpose in the cross of Jesus Christ is because he has told us [well, something of it]; but Jesus Christ insists that he must know what our view of and response to his cross is. When Peter in Matthew 16:22 rebuked Jesus for talk about the cross Jesus bluntly shoved him aside with the accusation, "Satan!" It mattered supremely to Christ how Peter (and everyone else) stood in relation to the cross because he insisted that if anyone wanted to come after him that person had to deny him or herself and take up the cross (16:23-24). To refuse to do that meant death (16:25). Christ wasn't calling on his Holy Father to take a stand regarding the cross—that he already knew (16:23) but he certainly called on us to take a stand.