Take Up Your Cross
Setting The Stage
In Matthew 10:5 through 23, Jesus has just given his disciples the "limited commission" to preach the good news of the kingdom to the people of Israel. Having given them their instructions, he then warns them about what to expect, and it is not pleasant. Jesus instructs them to be wise, but harmless. He cautions them to be wary of men, because men are not to be trusted. Men will try them in the courts. They will beat them in their synagogues. They will be brought before governors and kings because of their commitment to Jesus.
Jesus encourages them with the promise of inspiration during these hardships, and assures them that they will always say that which God desires. In verse 21, Jesus continues his warning to the apostles with descriptions of family betrayals of disciples as a consequence of following Him. In spite of the predicted persecutions and hardships, Jesus expects His disciples to remain faithful, even unto death. He offers them some comfort with the promise that God's judgment upon Israel will be soon.
Matthew 10:24 "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. :25 "It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! 26 "Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. 27 "What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. 28 "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 "Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 "Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33 "But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 10:34 "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 "For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man's enemies will be the members of his household. 37 "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
Matthew 10:38 "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 "He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it.
Quotations from NASB.
Become Like Jesus
Matthew 10:24 and 25 contain one of the first great principles of discipleship. Simply, the disciple is to become like the master. Disciples of Jesus are to become as much like Him as is humanly possible. It is to be their goal. Paul echoed this principle when, in Galatians 4:19 he wrote, "My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you--..."
Triumph of the Faithful Disciple
Contrary to the beliefs of many, when one becomes a Christian, God does not remove all trials, problems, and difficulties from life. Indeed, Jesus warns the disciples that it will be just the opposite. If the world crucified the master, Jesus, what could the it be expected to do to the servant of the master? If they charged Jesus with working through the power of Satan, what will they say about His servants? Surely no less evil charges will be made against them. In spite of these dire happenings predicted for his disciples, Jesus says God is watching- watching and caring! So no matter what happens, do not hesitate to stand for truth. Then Jesus makes one of the grandest statements of encouragement you will find anywhere when He says, "Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven." No matter what the world does to you, stand for Jesus and His word, and when judgment day comes, Jesus will stand with you before God! What wonderful encouragement to stay faithful. No matter what the world manages to do to His disciple, Jesus will not forsake him, and when the final reckoning takes place, Jesus will stand with him before God and say, "This one has been faithful. He is mine." That will be the disciple's ultimate triumph!
Warning to the Unfaithful Disciple
In contrast to Jesus' defense of the faithful disciple is his warning for the disciple who is diverted from his service by the pressures and threats of the world. Jesus tells that disciple, "But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven." Where the faithful will experience the ultimate triumph, the unfaithful will experience the ultimate rejection, and will be denied by Jesus, just as he denied Jesus. What a tragedy for one who at one time knew Jesus.
Jesus then restates His warnings, with an emphasis on the difficulties that will arise between the disciple and his family. Perhaps the greatest challenge to faithfulness one will encounter will come, not from the stranger, but from those who are loved. Family rejection has caused many to turn from the faith, and this is Jesus' warning. Jesus says very clearly that he must come first. No matter how close or dear family members may be, they must not be allowed to come between the disciple and his Lord.
The Demand to " ...take his cross..."
In Matthew 10:38, Jesus makes one of the most significant statements of His life when he says, "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me." What does he mean, "...take his cross...?" In our day, this expression has been so trivialized that few really know its meaning. We hear someone say about a chronic illness, "That is just the cross I have to bear." Others will jokingly say about their wife, "She is my cross in life." In other words, any thing that may be perceived as unpleasant or a trial is considered to be the cross one is expected to bear.
A Life Forfeit
This is not the way Jesus used the phrase, "...take his cross..." To understand Jesus' use of the figure, one must place himself on the streets of Jerusalem during the first century. Imagine standing on a street corner talking to a friend, when you hear a commotion down the street. You turn and look to see a squad of Roman soldiers coming toward you. In the midst of them is a man struggling with a cross. This was a common sight. It was not unusual and you had seen it before. You knew what was to happen. Soon the man you were watching would be outside the gates of the city. He would be forced to the ground and nailed to the very cross he was carrying. The cross would then be raised to an upright position and he would hang there until he was dead. This was the picture created in the minds of those who heard Jesus. Jesus was not asking for a token commitment. Jesus was asking for total commitment. Jesus was saying that he wanted your life. Just as you knew that the life of the man who was carrying that cross no longer belonged to him, but belonged to Rome, so Jesus is saying that in order for one to be his disciple, their life will not belong to them but will belong to Him! Just as the life of the one struggling down the streets of Jerusalem with a cross was forfeit to Rome, so the one who would become the disciple of Jesus will forfeit his life to Jesus. Jesus will be the one to determine how that life will be conducted.
A Wonderful Paradox
In order to hear Jesus confess him before God, the disciple must forfeit his life to Jesus. So Jesus concludes, "He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it."
By Ney Rieber
From Expository Files 2.2; February, 1995