He said to them all, `If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me'. Luke 9:23
`Let him take up his cross daily'. This further command can only be fulfilled by one who has accepted yesterday's condition of discipleship: `Let him deny himself.' There is no discipleship without the cross, and throughout the New Testament it is clear that death is the pre-requisite of life. `Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit' (Jn 12:24). It is obvious that the disciples who first heard these words had little idea of the shame and suffering that the cross would mean to their Master and themselves. Before the end of their lives they had come to understand their Master's words to the full.
Jesus said that the cross must be taken up. This means that it is not imposed upon us, but something that we voluntarily take up. And it must be taken up daily. It is a temptation to us, who have become `conformable to his death', to come down from the cross -- as it was to him at Calvary.
The cross has been for so long the symbol of the Christian faith that its real significance has often been forgotten. Yet our Lord's words have clear meaning for disciples everywhere and in every age. to some, to take up the cross means physical death. To all, it means living a `dying life' -- we are to `present our bodies a living sacrifice...which is our spiritual worship' (Rom 12:1).
Campbell Morgan summarises the meaning of cross-bearing: (i) refusal to compromise with sin, (ii) bearing the consequences of sin in others, (iii) the uttermost of compassion. And the reward of crucifixion? That I may know him and the power of his resurrection! (Phil 3:10).
O cross that liftest up my head
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life's glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
Further reading: Phil 3:7-14.