Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)
It Begins With Desire
Carrying a cross would not have been an appealing thought to the first-century disciples following Christ. Crucifixion was a common occurrence. The Romans perfected the craft of slowly killing a man with surgical precision with thousands nailed to crosses all across the empire. Golgotha was a place of crucifixion stinking with the smell of death. Many had suffered the cruel privations of humiliation and torture in the place where Jesus was crucified. The cross of Jesus was a frequently used piece of wood that had the blood of men filling its gaps and crevices. Birds flocked around the place of the skull feeding on the rotting remains of previous criminals left to die. Everything about the picture of crucifixion was a scene of horror, incredible suffering, and intense smells revolting to the nostrils of everyone.
Jesus called me to Him with an appeal to carry a figurative cross. The illusion of the price paid in cross bearing was the cost a man would pay to be a disciple of Jesus. This would not be a matter of choice whether to take up a cross or not. The only way – with no exceptions – to be a follower of the Son of God was to take up a cross daily and follow Jesus. A. W. Tozer explained the price of crucifixion when he wrote, “To be crucified means, first: the man on the cross is facing only one direction; second: he is not going back; and third: he has no further plan of his own.” The sanitized version of this crucifixion has led many to believe they can follow Jesus without taking up a cross. There is not only a price to be paid to be a Christian; it is a high cost. The will of man has become void, empty, and of no worth. Any man who comes to Jesus must empty himself of everything. Taking up a cross demands surrendering the total will.
The picture of the cross is the invitation Jesus used, drawing men to His kingdom. Before the cost of the cross is accepted, there must first be the desire of the heart to bear a cross, experience the suffering of crucifixion, and the willingness to endure until the end. Desire is where it must begin. Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me.” Until this commitment is met, there will be no cross bearing. When the heart is not dedicated to suffering for Christ, they bear a plastic cross with wheels. There is no suffering. A cost has not been paid. The desire is to follow Jesus on the easy path. If there are conflicts involved, the heart is unwilling to comply. Desire is the total dedication of facing Jesus and asking for a cross.
The Romans gave Jesus His cross, but now the Lord delivers His cross to His followers and demands they desire it. Before a man is nailed to the cross of Jesus, he must confess his desire to be crucified. The irony of discipleship is Jesus had no choice when He was crucified and now demands all who come to Him choose to take a cross. That is where desire comes in. God will not force anyone to bear a cross. The cross of the Christian is one taken with a fervent desire to be like their King who suffered on a Roman cross and was without sin. Desire demands a choice. Bearing a cross is the ultimate sacrifice of self. When the desire is lacking, the commitment fails.
Picture for a moment standing at the cross of Jesus and seeing His suffering. As the Son of God dies, Joseph and Nicodemus come and take the body down. You raise your hand and tell the Roman centurion that you would like to be nailed to a cross. He asked you why and you tell him your heart’s desire is to be crucified like the man from Nazareth. The Romans comply. Your desire is fulfilled. Glory to God. Like Jesus was buried and arose, you suffer crucifixion and one day die so that you also can raise from the dead to the glory of the Father. And that was your desire at the beginning.