Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Good Friday, Gospel Saturday Special
Volume 8 No. 472 March 28, 2018
V. Reflections For Passion Week

Are You Bearing Your Cross?

by Forerunner Staff

Jesus had to be crucified for our sins. Crucifixion, not uncommon in New Testament times, was a horrible execution reserved for slaves and hardened criminals. Roman conquerors kept their subjects in line by openly exhibiting this most gruesome and most feared execution. Nobody in his right mind would ever volunteer for such an end!

Or would he?

When you counseled for baptism, you probably said you were! Did you understand what you were committing to? Are you prepared to be crucified? Are you bearing your cross?

Jesus voluntarily gave His life for us on the stake. He never shied away from challenging - indeed, demanding - His followers do the same! Matthew 16:21-24 is one of these occasions. When Christ announces that He Himself would have to be sacrificed and resurrected, Peter rebukes Him for such a thought. Jesus chastises Peter for his comments, saying that Satan had inspired his words! Then Jesus adds in verse 24, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."

Luke 9:23 reads that we must take up our cross daily. It is an ongoing act! During pre-baptism counseling, ministers often read Luke 14:25-33, commonly called the "counting the cost passage." Christ teaches us here that when we decide to be His disciples, we are making a covenant with God to carry our own cross. If we are not bearing our cross daily, we are not a disciple of Christ (verse 27). Tied with this is Paul's statement in Philippians 3:10 that part of knowing God is "being conformed to [Christ's] death."

We need to understand what it means to "bear your cross"!

The practice of crucifixion ended centuries ago. How then can we bear our cross? Let's look at four ways we are crucified with Christ.

Sacrificing the Self

The most common Greek word for "sacrifice" is thusia, meaning the act or the victim of sacrifice, literally or figuratively. It refers to the act of offering - to destruction or surrender - something precious for the sake of something else. The same word can refer to the offering itself.

Jesus set the standard in explaining what "bear your cross" means. His crucifixion was foreordained before the foundation of the world (I Peter 1:20). The Father and the Word planned and agreed to every step of the process in careful detail. No one forced Jesus to lay down His life; it was totally His own choice (John 10:17-18). He knew long before it happened that He had a date set with the executioner! What pressure and stress He endured as the last few hours neared! No wonder He sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44)!

After Adam and Eve's sin, God hints broadly at His coming sacrifice for man (Genesis 3:15). Adam and his sons are instructed in performing sacrifices, types of Christ's sacrifice, which explains God's displeasure with Cain's wrong approach and attitude while sacrificing (Genesis 4:3-5). From this time, sacrifice becomes a common theme among God's people, as they sacrificed valuable, clean animals from their herds or flocks (II Samuel 24:24). A sacrifice has to cost the offerer something, or it would not be a sacrifice!

In Jesus' case, His sacrifice cost Him dearly! He sacrificed everything for us (Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 9:26) - His life, title, rank, privileges, comforts, security, and power. In some translations of Philippians 2:7, the margin reads that He "emptied Himself." He obeyed to the point of death, "even the death of the cross" (verse 8). His offering set the pace and raised the standard.

In any discipline, good students imitate their teacher and walk in his steps (I John 2:6). Thus, Paul says we are to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), another way of saying "bear your cross" moment by moment, day by day. This is why Jesus, in Luke 9:23, precedes his comment about a disciple taking up his cross with "let him deny himself." Paul himself said he was being poured out as a drink offering in God's service (Philippians 2:17). Up to its last minute, his whole life after his calling was a living sacrifice.

Ways to Sacrifice Ourselves

These days, "rights" are on everyone's lips. Society urges us to demand our rights in any given situation. Certainly, there is a time and place to claim a right, but more often we should be willing to "deny ourselves" and let someone else indulge in his "rights." This takes a willingness to "carry our cross," to sacrifice, to relinquish, to forgo our rights.

If we want to become a more effective sacrifice, we would greatly benefit by studying and meditating on this topic. It is so extensive that a whole series of articles could be written on "sacrificing the self." We can give up our lives inch by inch perhaps even more effectively than all at once. For example, some claim to be willing to die for Christ, but are not prepared to sacrifice a parking spot so the more elderly can park closer to the door. Are we willing to be a cheerful giver in all kinds of situations, even when no one notices? Nobody but God, that is!

We often think about sacrificing in the big ways and omit our day-by-day opportunities. Who sacrifices or serves the most in the home? Who is most willing to be inconvenienced - and serves cheerfully? Great is his or her reward. Do we practice this idea moment by moment in the privacy of our homes, as an example to our children?

The best opportunities to sacrifice our time and money come when it is a burden to do so! Think about that! These opportunities are never convenient, nor do they set appointments. They just pop up, and we may have to sacrifice something important to fulfill them. As one writer said, too often the problem with living sacrifices is that they have a habit of crawling off the altar at the last second, just when they are needed!

Many of us have already sacrificed a close family because of our "strange" beliefs. Some have given up choice jobs over the Sabbath and Feast of Tabernacles. We have all "sacrificed" money that could have gone for vacations or retirement investments in order to obey God's tithing laws. At least that is what a financial planner would say!

Sacrificing entails giving up something we want or need for the common good. It is a sacrifice to keep our mouths shut when we feel like giving someone a piece of our mind. Are we willing to make these kinds of sacrifices - or do we indulge our human nature?

It is a sacrifice to defeat temptations of all kinds, when our nature cries out for instant gratification, be it for alcohol, illicit sex, materialism, too much food, "saving face," gossip, etc. The apostle Peter reminds us that, when we really understand what godly suffering is all about, we will lose interest in sin - and will cease from it, no longer pursuing our former lusts (I Peter 4:1-3).

Paul perhaps says it most eloquently in Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ: it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Are we willing to give up the "self" and all its rights, if need be? Can we dare say with Paul, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me"? Incredible! But that is our goal.

Later in the same book he adds: "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). Are we really willing to give up what the world has to offer us? Are we willing to give up the world's values, entertainment, approbation and esteem? To many, it is a sacrifice, but we cannot simultaneously befriend this world's values and God (I John 2:15; James 4:4).

Suffice it to say, that "bearing our cross" deals with willingly sacrificing ourselves, our wants, desires and needs, for others and the things of God. It is being willing to lose our lives for His sake (Luke 9:24).

Suffering Shame for Jesus

A crucifixion involves incredible shame. It was a hardened criminal's execution, conducted in the most shameful way: with the victim naked on the stake. The Bible refers to the "shame" of the cross, and how Jesus endured it for us (Hebrews 6:6; 12:2). Though we deserved that cruel and shameful criminal's death, Jesus stepped in for us, not ashamed to identify with His sinful brothers (Hebrews 2:11).

After that, do we dare feel shame at being identified with Him, His cause, His way, His life? We sometimes do, perhaps without even knowing it! Do we dance an embarrassed two-step around questions coworkers may ask us about the Feast, or Days of Unleavened Bread or the Sabbath? Are we ashamed to admit we are devoted Christians?

Look long and hard at this. Jesus says that after all He has done for us, if we are ashamed of Him, He will be ashamed of us before His holy angels (Luke 9:26). Paul writes that He considers it an honor to be counted worthy of suffering shame for our Savior. He certainly was not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16). We may be hard on Peter for denying His Master, yet we may do the same in spirit, when we try to hide that we are Jesus' followers.

In the coming years, persecutors will no doubt try to make God's people ashamed of being out of the mainstream. They may affix literal labels and signs to our clothing and houses, much as the Jews endured in Nazi Germany. We may be reviled, spit upon, hissed at, laughed at, ridiculed and mocked for our beliefs. Who knows how soon this could happen? Jesus certainly endured sneering and ridicule for us while suffering on the stake.

How will we react when we must suffer shame for Him? Will we feel it is more than we can bear and deny our Lord? Or will we bear the shame with grateful dignity that God has counted us worthy of representing our great Savior who bore our shame for us on a lonely hill called Calvary?

God has forewarned us about these things - even given us examples of how to react. When the early New Testament church began, the apostles were frequently threatened and beaten in efforts to stop their preaching. Notice what Luke records for us after one such occurrence: "So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41).

Our turn may come soon. God give us the grace and power to uphold His holy name when it comes!

Persecution and Martyrdom

Ultimately, Jesus' crucifixion is about His persecution and martyrdom at the hands of the Jews and Romans as representatives of all mankind. God has often tested and tried His people in the furnace of persecution and martyrdom. Sometimes, it was no doubt as a witness to others of His people's conviction about their beliefs and their God. These were the men and women of God's spiritual hall of fame "of whom," Paul says, "the world was not worthy" (Hebrews 11:38).

"All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12). Have some of us been lulled into a sense of false security, thinking that we will not suffer persecution in these end times? Do we think God has promised to protect us 100% of the time from any persecution or martyrdom?

Just because God apparently promises some a place of safety for the last few years before Christ's return does not mean we will not have to endure heavy persecution before He removes us there! In fact, Jesus forewarns that we may have miniature flights, in a sense, prior to the main one - fleeing from city to city in pursuit of peace and safety. The context is just before the return of Christ:

And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:22-23)

It is likely that God will allow some of us to die because of who we are and what we believe - before those who are "worthy to escape" flee to a place of safety. Whether or not that happens, we should be willing to die for God and mentally prepared for it. Jesus soberly teaches His disciples - including us - that "whoever loses his life for My sake will save it" (Luke 9:24).

We have had it very easy until now. The kind of peaceful assembly most of us have enjoyed is unparalleled in most of human history. Much of the time, God's people had to worship in secret. "They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented" (Hebrews 11:37).

It was dangerous to claim to be a true follower of Christ for most of the last two thousand years. In the apostles' day, our brethren were crucified alive and their bodies used as human torches for Nero's garden parties! Historians recount how lions tore Christians apart while a perverted Roman crowd cheered. Some accounts describe our brethren as calmly singing hymns of praise as the lions charged. Even Paul says he "fought with beasts at Ephesus" (I Corinthians 15:32). During the Crusades and the Inquisition, many of our spiritual forefathers also gave their all for their beliefs.

Our turn may be coming. Be praying for the strength and conviction not to deny our Lord if our turn comes, as well as for the ability to jump for joy and be "exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).

Of course, we need to be aware of not giving our persecutors any just cause to bring charges against us. If we suffer from our own sins, crimes or stupidity, then we had it coming to us. But if men say "all kinds of evil things against you falsely for [Christ's] sake," then that is a different matter.

So carrying our cross daily also means being willing to suffer persecution and die for Christ.

Why Go Through All This?

Why should we carry our cross and all it means and implies? It sounds painful, risky, shameful and certainly means being willing to give up our lives. What is in it for us? Peter asks the same question of Jesus, "See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?" (Matthew 19:27).

In Jesus' case, because He was perfectly willing to give up everything and be crucified for us, what happened? Paul answers in Philippians 2:9-11:

Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Before honor is humility. Before blessings, we must often be willing to sacrifice. Once God sees that we will give our lives, He gives us eternal life. When we humble ourselves, He elevates us in His time and His way. Jesus assures his disciples that those who have willingly given "houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life" (Matthew 19:29).

Of course, whether we live or die, we should do all to and for the glory of God. He, in His grace and generosity, has promised that He will share His glory, His power, His eternal life, His riches and honor forever and ever with all those who are willing to carry their cross for His name's sake!

Imagine being an heir of God! Actually, we cannot imagine it! If a person were told he was named as an heir in a billionaire's will, he would be ecstatic! Yet when we read of being heirs of God, some of us yawn! God have mercy on us for not valuing more highly the promises given to the faithful! Notice just a few such scriptures given for our encouragement:

» The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
(Romans 8:16-18)

» . . . and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
(Romans 9:23-24)

» Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, he also will deny us.
(II Timothy 2:10-12)

So never forget the instruction of our Savior: Willingly share in His suffering, and He will willingly share His glory with us. Willingly conform to His death, and He will grant us eternal life. Willingly take up the cross daily, and follow Him, and great will be our reward. Having been conformed to His suffering and death, we will truly be His brothers. And we will rule with Him and be co-heirs with Him in His Father's Kingdom.

© 1998 CGG
Source: Forerunner, March 1998

To Live, We Must Die

by Bill Onisick

"He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it."
- Matthew 10:39

I must confess that my busy life does not provide me a great deal of time to read for leisure. It has been this way for years. Through high school and college, I can probably count on one hand the number of books I read that were not for class. Perhaps it was because this particular book would not take too long to read, or maybe it was because my wife told me that she enjoyed it and that I should read it - whatever the reason, I did the unthinkable: I opened the book.

I remember that the title grabbed me: Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson. Intrigued to learn life's greatest lesson, I plunged into the book to learn what this lesson was.

Many of us can think of a role model or mentor who inspired and helped us get through difficult times. Usually, it is someone who is a bit older and wiser, who had more experience in life and an ability to pass some wisdom on to us.

For the author, Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, a professor who had taught him in college some twenty years earlier. Through Mitch's four years of school, Morrie became much more than a teacher; he was a trusted friend and advisor. On the day of his graduation, with tears of thanks in his eyes, Mitch had promised to stay in touch with his mentor, but somehow, the business of life took all his time, and he lost contact with Morrie.

Mitch became a highly successful writer, engulfed with work. Years of his busy life passed by in which he hardly had time to notice even his wife and family. Shortly after his wedding, Mitch had promised to start a family with his wife, but in all his accomplishments, that day never came. He also lost contact with many of his friends and family members. To him, there simply was not enough time for both success and relationships.

He had occasionally thought about his old mentor and his many lessons on life, but an occasional thought was all the time he had. Then, some twenty years later, by sheer chance, he was reconnected.

A Final Course

As for Morrie, he was in his 70s when he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. ALS eats the body's nerves from the inside out, starting with a person's legs and working up. As the disease takes hold, the victim becomes frozen inside the lifeless cocoon of his body, while his mind is perfectly awake and aware. After just a few years, even the help of an oxygen machine cannot thwart mortality, as the lungs fill with poisonous phlegm and breathing becomes impossible. A diagnosis of ALS is a certain death sentence.

As his health deteriorated, Morrie wrote short articles about living in death's shadow. A feature story appeared in the Boston Globe, "A Professor's Final Course: His Own Death," which caught the eye of Ted Koppel, who featured Morrie on "Nightline." By chance, Mitch was flipping channels more than a thousand miles away when he went numb as he saw his old professor on television. He watched in horror as Morrie—his friend and mentor—explained what it was like to know that he was dying.

For the next fourteen weeks, Mitch flew into town and attended his final course from his old professor. "Lessons on How to Live" was taught each Tuesday afternoon in Morrie's home. The class consisted of one professor and one student. Each week brought a new topic under a common theme. They talked about the world, about feeling sorry for oneself, about regrets, about death, about family, about the fear of dying, about money and love and culture and forgiveness.

Each week Morrie's life-devouring disease took more of the freedoms of life that are so easy to take for granted. Finally, after losing all ability to care for himself, on the fourteenth week after the fourteenth class, Morrie died.

While battling to make the most of his remaining time, Morrie had developed many sayings:

» Accept what you are able to do and what you are not able to do.

» Accept the past as past without denying it or discarding it.

» Learn to forgive yourself and to forgive others.

» Do not assume that it is too late to get involved.

» In order to live, we must first learn to die.

This final saying is the focus of this article.

Losing and Finding

We all know that we will die, but we do not believe it, Morrie said. If we believed it, we would do things differently. So, we kid ourselves about death, Mitch said. Yes, Morrie replied, but there is a better approach: to know that we are going to die and to be prepared for it at any time. That is better. That way we can actually be more involved in our lives while we are living.

Morrie advised Mitch to imagine a little bird on his shoulder each day—a little bird that asks, "Is today the day?" We need to ask ourselves, "Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?"

Morrie never thought about death before he became ill. He admitted that he was like everyone else, not believing that he would die. While we have all known someone who has died, most of us separate ourselves from that experience. We just do not like to think about it. After all, it is a long way off, right? So we walk around on autopilot, caught up in the business—the busyness—of life. However, when we finally believe that we are going to die, we see things much differently. Like Morrie, our perspective changes and with it, our priorities.

Morrie did not know God's truth. As Mitch states, he borrowed freely from all religions. But there is some real wisdom in his words. When we learn how to die, we learn how to live.

When we really think about it, we spend so much of our time on things of low importance. When we realize that our time is limited and quickly running out, a sense of urgency overtakes us, and we make changes. Our new perspective changes our attitude and our actions. Jesus says in Matthew 10:39, "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." Commentator Albert Barnes explains:

The word "life" in this passage is used evidently in two senses. The meaning may be expressed thus: He that is anxious to save his "temporal" life, or his comfort and security here, shall lose "eternal" life. . . . He that is willing to risk or lose his comfort and "life" here for my sake, shall find "life" everlasting, or shall be saved.

This scripture is one of six similar scriptures scattered through all four gospels (Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24; 17:33; John 12:25).

Jesus attaches a double meaning to the word "life": a lower, physical, and temporal meaning and a higher, spiritual, eternal meaning. Christ warns us that we must make an entire sacrifice of the lower for the higher. For if we do not completely and wholeheartedly surrender the lower for the higher, we will lose both. "When we learn how to die, we learn how to live." Indeed, to learn how to die physically is to learn how to live spiritually (Romans 6:6; II Corinthians 5:17).

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26)

As Christ tells us, if we want to seek Him, we must follow Him and surrender to God everything—our wills, our bodies, and our lives. The self must be denied because our carnal mind is driven by pride and an underlying belief and desire that we must get things for ourselves. We must subsequently live our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), following Christ's example of complete submission to the Father's will. If we are anxious to save, to preserve, our physical lives and/or to put our security in physical things, we will lose our spiritual lives.

Those who seek to gain the world's physical treasures (Matthew 6:19-21) will lose the Father's spiritual treasures. All of the world's physical treasures are not enough to purchase one eternal life, but if we are willing to sacrifice everything—and it takes everything—if we, with complete trust in Him, put everything in our faithful Creator's hands, we will find everlasting life.

"Get" or "Give"?

Herbert Armstrong once wrote in a personal letter to another minister:

. . . I simmer down the way of God and the way of the world in two very small words—"get" and "give." This world is geared to the way of "get." That is the way of vanity, self-centeredness, coveting, lust and greed, jealousy and envy, rebellion against authority, competition which leads to strife, violence and war. The way of "give" is out-flowing love, harmonious co-operation, serving, helping, sharing, giving.

In spiritual principle, the latter is the way of God's Law, the Ten Commandments—the former the way of Satan. . . . ALL the unsolvable problems, troubles and evils in the world are caused by the fact the world lives by the "get" principle.

How plain and simple. In order to live, we must learn how to die. We must put to death our carnal, selfish minds and the way of the world—the way of "get"—and we must replace it with the way of God—the way of "give."

Mitch Albom concludes his book by stating how much he would like to go back and talk to the person he was twenty years earlier. He wanted to tell him to ignore the lure of advertised values and to pay attention when loved ones speak, as if it were the last time he might hear them. He wished he had gotten on an airplane twenty years earlier and regularly visited the man and his family who had made such a difference in his life.

None of us can undo what we have already done, but as Morrie said, it is never too late to make a difference. Morrie never had the benefit of God's truth, but he seemed to know the difference between the way of get and the way of give. He knew that the way of get—no matter how outwardly successful—never satisfies.

In order to live, we must first learn to die. We all know that we are going to die, but do we really believe it? The fruit of belief is action. And the benefit of learning how to die physically is to learn how to live spiritually.

As Christ tells us in Matthew 10:39 and its parallel scriptures, if we want to know Him, we must surrender everything to God. He instructs us to follow His giving example of total self-sacrifice in devotion to God's will. He teaches us to deny the self because our carnal mind is driven by the way of get, which always forces us off the right path. Finally, He advises us to sacrifice entirely the lower, physical, temporal life for the higher, spiritual, eternal life. For if we do not completely and wholeheartedly surrender the lower for the higher, we will lose both.

In our daily prayer and self-evaluation, we should ask ourselves, "Is today the day? Have I surrendered everything to God and am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person that God wants me to be?" We must remember that life can end in an instant, but we are to live in the fear of God, not in the fear of death. In order to live, we must first learn to die.

The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 1:20-21:

. . . according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Paul's earnest desire was to glorify Christ in all circumstances. His desire to glorify Christ superseded all personal interests, including being released from prison and spared from death. Paul intensely hoped and trusted that, despite the severe trials he was undergoing, he would persevere with boldness—even to death—to the glory of God.

He declares that his sole purpose for living was to glorify Christ. Paul's aim was not get. His purpose, to which he devoted himself with passion and zeal, was to give everything to glorify God. He understood that, if it was God's will, there was great advantage in dying above that of living.

© 2009 CGG
Source: Forerunner, July-August 2009


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