He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Mark 8:34 (NRSV)
This verse contains three conditions of becoming a disciple or follower of Jesus.
If you “want” to be his follower…that is a condition – it is your decision; Jesus will not load you up on the next Gospel bus. Each account of Jesus calling someone to follow indicated an offer, never a command.
Following voluntarily presupposes that the opposite is also a possibility – that some choose to not follow. Those who choose so are called “the lost”. The rich young ruler went away from Jesus and the supposition is that he was lost. Judas began to follow, but was lost. Following or not following is a personal decision. This is the “entry-level” of Christianity.
For those who choose voluntarily to follow, there is a second condition:
Jesus was probably speaking to almost exclusively a Jewish crowd. They would have heard and understood Jesus to be talking about the process of proselytizing, or becoming a convert to Judaism. When a Gentile wanted to convert to Judaism he had to renounce all his previous beliefs and separate himself from past friendships and acquaintances, even family. He had to promise to never turn back. He was then considered “newborn,” a person of new life.
Jesus was demanding that we “trash” our old thinking and just follow him like our Gospel song, nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.
Have you ever danced with someone? Now, I’m not talking about the kind of group dancing that is popular in clubs; we’re talking ballroom stuff. In the groups, everyone does his own thing; in ballroom forms there is a lead and the partner follows.
This is the kind of relationship we have with Jesus.
Here’s Jesus’ lead – take up your cross.
The disciples knew what Jesus was saying. Twenty years before there was a rebellion against Roman authority in a little town called Sephoris. It was only 9 miles from where Jesus lived. A man named Varus, a farmer of Galilee, organized the farmers of the area into a rebellion army. They attacked and killed all the Roman soldiers of the garrison at Sephoris.
Rome sent in the armies, and scattered the armies of Varus, about 10,000 men. Most of them went back to farming. But the Romans captured about 2,000 of them. The historian, Josephus, records that they were going to teach the rebels of Galilee a lesson not to be rebels. They took them, one by one, along the road out of Sephoris, and crucified them. They would put one on a cross, and then walk down the road until almost out of sight, and then crucify another.
They went in every direction out of Sephoris, all over Galilee, until they had 2,000 rebels on 2000 crosses. As you walked the roads of Galilee you were never out of sight of a crucified rebel.
None were allowed to be taken down; they were to rot there on the crosses. If anyone took one down, another Galilean citizen would take his place. Jesus was 10 years old when this happened. He knew what he was saying about taking up a cross.
Jesus is not interested in leaders; He needs disciples who will give up their lives. Are you willing? Are you really willing to step up and offer your life in exchange for His? Following a God like that is a big decision!
There is a story about the artist Rodin, who one day saw a huge carved crucifix beside a road. He immediately loved the artwork and insisted on having it for himself. He purchased the cross and arranged to have it carted back to his house. But, unfortunately, it was too big for the size of the house. So, of all things, he knocked out the walls, raised the roof, and rebuilt his home around the cross.
If your God is not big enough to place first, before everything you know, and have him re-design your life, He’s not the God of Scripture.
Is YOUR God big enough to re-design your home, your family, and how you spend your days?
That’s’ what it looks like when you walk under ashes.